Monday, June 02, 2003

(continued from previous post)

(1, 2 and 2, 12) Gunther Kress gave two presentations that called on much of the same data and examples, "Reading Images: abstract v. concrete representations" and "Multimodality: representation and new media." Good visual examples provided solid structure here, but would not be properly represented in this forum. One of the very elegant examples he used was to analyze the role of cultural traditions in the Chinese written language and their effect on cognition and role in communication. Specifically he looked at the very rigid conventions for forming Chinese characters and the dynamic inter-relationship with the Chinese culture, as well as the factthat the need to center those characters influence communication standards in print advertising. He also reinforced the widely accepted focus on human and social needs being the appropriate driver for designing information.

(1, 5) Elizabeth Sanders presented "Participatory Designing: information and adaptation." A systematic look at the evolution from a passive to participatory paradigm, Elizabeth sliced the progression from doing -> adapting -> making -> creating in a variety of ways, building to the thesis of adoptive design, attributed to Tom Moran. While there is definitely a movement toward more individualized and adaptive/adoptive design, I wonder if adoptive design will prove to be culturally viable as it will make experience overly individualistic and minimize the "shared culture" that we experience through consumption of mass cultural artifacts. While adoptive design certainly has some role there are valid cultural reasons that the paradigm will not shift completely.

(1,9) Karel van der Warde presented "Producers, Regulators and Users: balancing conflicting demands in medical information." This was a very sobering presentation, calling attention to the awful Information Design with regard to medical-related labelling and information space - including examples that resulted in patient death and devastating mis-treatment. Karel's passion for the subject came through in the content, use of humor and his physical presentation, to include a plea for substantive change in the relationship between the health care system and legal considerations. His four basic criteria for what medical information should be - valid, reliable, accurate and trustworthy - is good basic criteria for any situation where people are relying on good information for their basic well being.

(1, 11) Rune Pettersson was scheduled to present "Gearing Communication to the Cognitive Needs of Receivers: findings from visual literacy research" but did not end up attending the conference. A copy of his paper was available and he was grouped into this category.

It was an excellent collection of presentations, perhaps not pulling together to make a tightly wound unified whole, but covering a number of interesting elements pertaining to knowledge presentation. In total, both conferences and all four days, an excellent experience!

Sunday, June 01, 2003

2by Two Conference - The Future of Knowledge Presentation

The last two days of the conference were a much more traditional format than the first two. 13 different presentations were given to the entire congregation on principles and practices (thanks: David Sless) pertaining to affect, cognition, behavior, communication, interaction, graphic design - and more. During the final discussion section we evaluated the domains of the different presentations based on David Sless' process for Information Design. Presentations were grouped in the stage of David's ID process that they best represented, with some presentations crossing boundaries. I will follow that structure in sharing a bit about all of the presentations that were given (parenthetical reference preceding the speaker's name indicates overall chronological order of presentation, followed by which day the presentation was made on):

(4,1) Corin Gurr presented on "Cognition and Diagrammatic Representation." Talking about the communication of diagrams from the perspective of designing large systems, Colin provided some good, basic information. One item of particular relevance to people less versed in information design is his "Order of perpetual salience," providing a structure for which visual differentiators are easiest to perceive:
1. Position along common scale
2. Position along identical, non-aligned scale
3. Length
4. Angle-slope
5. Area
6. Volume
7. Colour.
In plain English, that means differentiation by position along a common scale is very *easy* to perceive whereas differentiation by colour is (relatively) more difficult to perceive. Nice rule-of-thumb.

(6, 1) Barbara Mirel and Leif Allmendinger presented on "Visualizing Complexity: getting from here to there in ill-defined problem landscapes." Their presentation focused on a model they used in the grocery industry for communicating domain and causality based on collected data to assist decision making. The visual representations were well concepted and executed. Their analysis looked at basic issues of causality related to adding or eliminating brands, based on existing data regarding brand purchase decisions. It would be interesting to know if their analysis has been cut to the point of considering correlations between the purchase of different *products* as well as just different *brands* to accurately estimate the resonant effects on all sales that dropping Brand A for Brand B will have. In other words, while some brands may control little market share, if they are "sticky" their participants may change grocers altogether, making that brand a valuable one for overall revenues. With that (and greater) additional complexity to the model their visual approach also would increasingly make more sense.

(7,1) Jorge Frascara presnted "Prospect and Flow: making environments intelligible." Very much based in principles, Jorge's engaging style helped to ground the content and engage the audience. While his "case" building to full prospect interfaces is too involved for this forum, he made a valuable clarification about purpose in action: he clarified that "we look in order to understand - not in order to see." His point being that the purpose for acting (visually) is to understand, as opposed to just see. Given the important relationship between information and understanding, this is another way of seeing Information Design as a vital macro understanding dicsipline that naturally crosses almot all manifest domains.

(8,1) Roman Duszek presented "Warsaw Subway Information System / The Design Process." Roman has absolutely beautiful visual language and sense for storytelling, making this my choice for the most pleasurable overall presentation. Quick moving, largely driven by visuals and exhibiting real personality, Roman walked through different considerations, iterations and process steps before showing the final deliverable. The most memorable moment was at the end of his presentation, when he ironically displayed a slide that showed a single sheet of paper that contained all of the graphics used in this major, important project that undoubtedly took many months for him to complete. It is the perpetual problem of designers in general, but information designers in particular: our solutions are so complex, spanning even enterprise levels, that successful planning and production is quite expensive. Yet, the final deliverable may not "look" like much. So much that we do is in the process stage, and utterly lost on clients. As I am writing this, and thinking more about the domain of Information Design in juxtaposition to it, Roman's process for this solution is quite similar to solutions for enterprise digital communications infrastructures, as an example. The difference is that Roman is thinking in a physical domain while digital communication infrastructures (from a problem solving perspective) are largely done in the metaphysical; then, Roman's production language is visual and graphical, while the digital communication infrastructures are written and in programming. Another example underscoring the broad domain of ID.

(13, 2) Aaron Marcus presented on "Driving Miss Daisy: vehicle/driver user interface design." A very enjoyable and informative presentation, Aaron used a study for BMW and theoretical prototype "Executive Driver Control Panel" as structure for exploring the domain of vehicle/driver user interface design. The eventual model that we may be moving toward is largely customizable, very similar to having different settings for different people using the same computer. Of course, implicit in this was the reality that entertainment and communication devices are creeping more and more into the driving experience, raising the issue of safety. AM+A is based on decades of really excellent work, and these vehicle/driver user interface design projects are another example of that in practice.

No presentations were categorized in this way. To clarify the term, benchmarking is testing the existing domain as a basis both for guiding the design to come, and for testing the final product.

(3, 1) Krzysztof Lenk and Paul Kahn presented on "Diagrams for Communication Between Designer and Client." This specifically focused on communicating the value proposition of information design/architecture to clients in a way that generates the sale. Paul used a prototype Flash diagram that showed the inter-relationship between domains within a project and the importance of what his company brought to the process in the ultimate success of the overall project. While interesting enough as a model for helping to sell our services this presentation also talked a bit about cultural specifics and differences and the role that they play in how we sell - in this case exploring the mindset of French middle managers. Nice.

(8,1) Roman's presentation was included in this group, the second of three groups it qualified under.

(10, 1) Wes Ervin presented "Strategies for Visualizing Financial Risk." Wes applied his charismatic style to the issue of broad consumer financial information, pointing out how misleading and ineffectual current "information" really is. This was a good example of how the use of tools that are part of Information Design - such as graphic design and statistics - can cloud reality as opposed to provide understanding. Indeed, the misrepresentation of information by financial service providers threatens the financial well-being of many people who - looking at what information they are given - think they are making one decision when in fact they are making another.

(13, 2) Aaron's presentation was included in this group, the second of two groups.

No presentations were categorized in this way.

(8, 1) Roman's presentation was included in this group, the third of three groups it qualified under.

MONITORING (this is a cyclical step connected to both Scoping and Specification/Production)
(1, 1) Neil MacKinnon gave the keynote, "Symbolic Interaction and Knowledge Presentation." With the overarching point that affective meaning and reaction are as important as cognitive understanding, Neil went from academic examples and principles to a fascinating database-driven software application that represents affective meaning through visual and mathematical representation, including participant-friendly graphical "faces" that communicate types of affective response. While the many layers of the application were interesting, one nugget that can be used by Information Designers concerned with affective effects are the three attitudes of affective associations that were identified:
1. Evaluation (from Bad/Awful to Good/Nice)
2. Potency (from Small/Weak to Powerful/Big)
3. Activity (from Inactive/Slow to Active/Fast)
In other words, through viewing those three areas of identification as continuums that define affective associations, we can begin to better understand what creates perceptions of affect and anticipate those inter-relationships, proactively designing for them.


Saturday, May 31, 2003

2by Two Conference - Day Two Notes (one day late)

Some people say their dog ate their homework as an excuse for not updating the conference journal. Not I. Last night I had too nice of a time tipping pints with new friends. Tonight, I left my (paper) journal with conference notes at the residence of the Austrian consul on the 67th floor of Lakefront Tower (or something similarly named) and don't have enough information to provide a good report.

No, really. I mean, could anyone make *that* excuse up?

I actually can provide a fair summary for Day Two without my notes but will need them for Day Three so...

On the second day I was part of the User Studies group. This was a particularly enjoyable panel, including some really wonderful minds and a variety of excellent presentations. There were two presentations on very interesting (developing) software products to assist user research. There were four presentations on case studies on user research, two of which introduced good general processes and two others that provided some definite specificity regarding their respective domains. My presentation was about the word "participant" as a replacement for "user," which is well covered ground for those familiar with my writings.

As a deliverable, our session suggested two different strategies for chapter outlines for "the definitive book" on user studies (again, I don't have my notes so this is from memory):

Iteration 1
1. Why conduct user studies?
2. Definitions
3. History of User Studies
4. Ethical Issues
5. Variables in User Studies
6. Conducting research
7. Integrating user studies into the design process
8. Vernacular Design
9. Managing data
10. The future of user studies

Iteration 2
1. Foundations of user studies
2. Exploring context
3. Strategy and planning
4. Conducting research
5. Managing and analyzing data
6. Testing results
7. Integrating results into the design process
8. Future of user studies

I am quite exhausted after three days, not to mention the late nights! I am looking forward to the final day but rather need to get some sleep if I'm going to be worth anything for it...

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

2by Two Conference - Day One Notes

Not many conferences are four day affairs, but this multi-conference collaboration between the Institute of Design (Chicago) and the International Institute for Information Design is one such event.

The first day proved solid. An invitation-only conference, the participant base numbered around 50 on the first day. The small size not only encourages close interaction, it also ensures that the participant base is very focused on the issues at hand and qualified to be a meaningful part of a high-level discussion on them. This provides a strong platform for making meaningful progress and perhaps producing meaningful deliverables.

For the first two days, we split into four groups of interest: User Studies, Methods, Research and Collaboration. My day was spent with the Collaboration group. With 12 participants, two co-moderators and a sharp assistant, the group engaged in lively conversation about collaboration-related topics. A fair amount of focus was spent on the educational/academic domain, particularly in reconciling the capabilities of Internet learning with the advantages of a traditional higher education. We also began to delve into a taxonomy for collaboration and the activities related to collaboration, most directly manifesting in our individually defining what "collaboration" is, in furtherance of perhaps suggesting an accurate domain.

I had the opportunity to make a presentation but particularly enjoyed the presentations of and comments from the other participants:

Chris Barlow presented about the re-definition of creativity. In particular he underscored the importance of *social factors* and *trust* in a collaborative environment. Given that a successful collaborative effort includes experts from a range of specialties, it is only through social factors and trust that we can respect one another's domains and successful collaboration can take place. This point should not be lost; I have experienced it in practice myself. It reinforces the importance of better understanding humanity in an emotional and cognitive sense in order to make progress in our various domains, including collaboration.

Roger Remington made a presentation on the National Graphic Design Archive, outlining not only what it did and why but the challenges that it faced. What began to resonate with me through Roger's presentation - synthsized with comments made previously - is the lack of clarity in individual roles, relationships and domains in the world, leading to rampant inefficiency and an inability to realize (what should be) easily attainable success. Most specifically, and something that is near to my heart, visionairies are not allowed to be visionairies, because people do not understand and respect their domain; likewise, specialists and not allowed to successfully fulfill tactics in their core areas, because the boundaries are not respected and non-experts participate at an inappropriately high level. We need a meta map of domains, from which we can draw lines in order to understand which lines can (and should) be crossed as part of successful collaboration and when certain people need to keep responsiblity and authority in their particular slice of the process. I'm lucky enough to be somewhere that is making these sort of definitions for our own internal application, but the lack of broader understanding and definitions is a detriment to broad success.

Chris made an excellent point that collaboration is not an intrinsic good, it is only a tool that is sometimes appropriate and sometimes not. Right now, and I've felt this in the AIGA in particular, there is a "movement" afoot that seems to condone collaboration in all domains when it is not always appropriate or the best approach. A good tool, yes, but not always applicable.

Dietmar Winkler pointed out that collaborators often try to keep *control* of a process outside of their domain, or after their functional involvement or specialty is already over, to the detriment of the project. This was an excellent point. I myself have been guilty of that sort of behavior and have seen how that can be a detriment to the collaborative process and eventual deliverable. Education or strong leadership of the collaborative team are two possible methods to successfully combat this.

Arlene Gould talked a bit about EcoDesign - a movement toward the synthesis of business and the common good. That is something I need to learn more about.

Some good conversation started about resistance to change or unwillingness to participate in situations that threaten to create change. Multiple people suggested that change is only resisted if the ideas or the communication is bad. While I do not agree with this categorically, many of my own failings in making change can be tied back to poor communication, in particular. When we feel people resisting us, we should explore ourselves first, then look for the disconnect with others.

Ruth Lozner made a wonderful point about humanizing interaction - that by revealing vulnerability and connecting in a personal way we are able to develop trust and more productive interactions. Good stuff.

Jay Rutherford pointed out that the effort to make individual designers more "creative" is not the correct focus; rather, we should be building a better process, identifying broader functions and relationships in order to improve multiple domains and promote collaboration. Yes indeed!

The conversation at this time led me to think about the vital need to *map how people think* so we can team them in complementary ways. Achieving success and maximizing human resources should be an easily scientific process, not unstructured alchemy. By better understanding how people think and operate we can engineer a more productive reality.

Alain Rochon gave a good presentation on creating a process and standards for a project to simplify governmental public communication in Quebec, Canada. His primary thesis was that writing and graphic design complement one another, sharing space in the information, structure and usability domains while splitting on the tactical levels of visual presentation (graphic designer) and writing, language and terminology (writer). While not groundbreaking, this continues to reinforce the basic roles and process in non-digital visual communication deliverables. It also is another example of "information" being at the top of the heirarchical structure and needing a multi-disciplinary approach to appropriately design. A good quick take-away are the two questions his participants brought to the overall project: 1. What prevents easy understanding? 2. What are ideal ways of simplification?

Regina de Oliveria Heidrich presented on International Exchanges, focusing on her University Center Feevale in Brazil and extending an open invitation for any other universities to participate in a collaborative network with her school. Good stuff.

Jill Dacey gave a presentation sharing her (hopefully) successful collaboration with the International Institute for Information Design to secure over $350,000 (U.S.) of funding from the U.S. Government and the European Union in furtherance of international information design curriculum. Let's keep our fingers crossed and thank Jill and the other participants for doing good work that could have positive effects for everyone in information-related fields.

Jay Rutherford wrapped up the formal presentations with a detailed review of the Medienquadrant program at Bauhaus University in Weimar ( This spawned an extensive conversation about online learning, referenced at the beginning of this post. Jay's thesis was that social interaction is critical - he cited a Patricia Kuhl quote - and that Internet delivery of college courses is not necessarily a good thing.

In this breakout alone, five continents were represented. Amazing. The diversity of participants and the really high level and thoughtful contributions from the assembled groups was something special. I can't wait for tomorrow!