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August 08, 2003
 

Seriously unproductive time.

Next week Valeria and I are heading off to the Alps.
See you in a little while.


Walking in Val D'Ayas, Val d'Aosta.


Posted by fabio sergio | 11:41 AM | permalink


 

Connected appliances.

A bit of a buzz around the old idea of a screen fridge, possibly because there's a camera now that points inwards and posts pictures of what is in your fridge, so that you can check them while at the supermarket and stock accordingly.
It used to be all about magnets, now it's pixelated postcards from your refrigerator.

Leaving all other Cooltown scenarios aside I just wonder: why the surprise?
A few years ago the hot thing was "your appliances will be able to talk to one another", now your fridge has got its own weblog.
If you ask me that's simply evolution of the species.


Posted by fabio sergio | 11:40 AM | permalink

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August 07, 2003
 

Undo.

Chris Heathcote's recent grief with the closing behavior of some applications has had him wish for some sort of "über-undo" feature.
His desire speaks about moving from an action-based to a state and time-based UI paradigm.
Think Photoshop "history" feature on steroids.
This concept has been intriguingly explored by Sony's Jun Rekimoto's with his research on "Time Machine Computing" (download PDF overview here, 1 Mb), which I discovered through Carsten Schwesig.
Rekimoto approached things from an information-centric point of view, as a way to make accessing files and folder easier by using time as context, but his solution would for all purposes also ease Chris' pain:

"In principle, all the user activities performed on computers are permanently archived.
File creation and modification logs, web visiting histories, and email sending/receiving histories are examples of user activities.
Some other external information sources, such as web news, can also be integrated in the userís history.
"

The funny/scary thing though is that the whole idea of undoing things has oozed beyond its originating realm.
Raise your hands if you've never thought "undo" after sending an email half-way through writing it, or even after dropping your mobile phone off a sea cliff for that matter (not that it has...er...ever happened to me, mind you).
Now add to that that there are people like Neil Gershenfled, who leads the MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms, interested in taking the bit-based programmability of digital artifacts and applying it to the atom-based nature of the things that surround us (via Jonathan Jaynes).
Remember nanotech assemblers in Gibson's "All Tomorrow's Parties"?
Uh oh.


Posted by fabio sergio | 1:52 PM | permalink


 

Typing (Minority) Reports.

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.", Arthur C. Clarke.

A few months ago I tried one of the new virtual keyboards.
The magic-feeling thing about it, I remember, was that you could actually type in mid-air, as the touch-sensitive plane is active whether there's a solid surface underneath it or not.
I also remember commenting that a 3D projection, instead of a 2D one, would have made Minority Report feel like a book from Jules Verne in the shortest time.
Silly me.

The NY Times just published "A Business Out of Thin Air", an article on holographic keyboards (might require registration).
If you care to know more: Holotouch.


Posted by fabio sergio | 1:48 PM | permalink


 

Visional Virtuosos.

While the recently (re)ignited discussion on "what we should call ourselves and why" rages on, Molly brings a smile to the melee with the The Interaction Architect Job Title Generator.

Favorites after hours of clicking pleasure: Problem Publisher, Coherence Director, Ubiquitous Artist, Relationship Deviser.
New title of choice: Visional Virtuoso.


Posted by fabio sergio | 1:46 PM | permalink

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August 06, 2003
 

Yin, Yang.

Simon Tsan's "Feel factor" juxtaposes design philosophies at IDEO and Sony:

IDEO:

"How does a design project get going? "Our process starts with team building", says IDEO's design lead, Paul Bradley, ...once the team is assembled, it's time to venture out and "see people" ... which is about finding out the needs of the consumers ... [so the design team] understands how they use products, how they relate to them. Sometimes we videotape it, we photograph it and we interview them.
Then we fold the information we get from users together with the company's brand that we're working for, knowledge about the market and the context the products will be used in and we create what we call "point of view", and that becomes the driving vision for the designers, or the concept that we're developing that the whole team sort of shares."
"

Sony:

"Sony runs one of the most secretive design centers in the technology industry. In fact, meeting end users to determine their needs isn't found anywhere in its design methodology.
"Basically, we do not research the market since our goal is to create a new market", says Masaharu Kashii, general manager of Sony's Creative Center in Tokyo.
A startling admission given the flood of devices Sony has poured on the market over the years.
The principle of "Always doing what has never been done before" ... has been the driving force of the Sony Design Center since its formation in 1961.
Now ... the goal remains pretty much the same: to create new markets rather than satisfy existing ones.
This philosophy is perhaps best summed up in the words of the company's co-founder and honorary chairman, Akio Morita: "If you survey the public for what they think they need, you'll always be behind in this world.
You'll never catch up unless you think one to 10 years in advance and create a market for the items you think the public will accept at that time."
"

The article reminded me of the old myth about teenagers invited for a test on portable stereos.
Question: "What would you like the color to be, black or yellow?".
Answer: "Yellow! Everything is black, black is lame".
On the way out, as a reward, portable stereos: stack of black ones, stack of yellow ones.
Off teenagers happily went, all with their black stereos.

As a strong advocate of User Centered Design practices I often find myself questioning my own beliefs, especially when it comes to coming up with truly innovative concepts.
How much can be really tested, or drawn from research?
How much do you trust your "gut feeling" when it comes to design decisions?
Should the designer be a translator or a catalyst?
From a business point of view is it more important to create needs or to meet them? Is there a difference?


Posted by fabio sergio | 4:34 PM | permalink


 

Stranded in your own memory palace.

You know I've been long fascinated with the Art of Memory and Memory Palaces.
Every now and then these mnemonic techniques come handy, and I've put them to good use more than once, creating a vivid mental picture and associating semantic content to elements of the image.
What has happened lately is that I have lacked to add context to such an image, and what I have now are a couple of totally useless last names, "Norton" and "Cappel" (or possibly "Capphel"), evoked by the image of a classic, racing green, English motorcycle (Norton...as in Norton Commando), ridden by a lanky German man wearing a horsemanís cap (Cappel...yes, go figure).

The thing is that...er, well...I have no idea of who these two gentlemen might be.
I have tried with the omnipotent Google to no avail.
I think Norton and Cappel possibly wrote a book I really wanted to buy, or maybe they are architects, who knows.
If you can shed some light and help me gain my sanity back in the process I'd be really grateful.
Really.


Posted by fabio sergio | 4:20 PM | permalink

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August 05, 2003
 

Tip-Tap for the Thumbs Generation.

Multi-tap text input on traditional mobile phone keyboards, whether aided by predictive software like T9 or not, remains one of the most clear-cut examples of how, when it comes to technology, people will willingly go through inordinate amounts of pain to do what they consider to be valuable.
Unsurprisingly, and with typical emergent, unplanned synchronicity, quite a few companies have been lately proposing similar tricks to make the texting experience of mobile phone users more enjoyable.

Ever read a book on graphic design and encountered the de rigueur paragraphs on the importance of negative space?
Somebody apparently realized that there was potential to be unleashed by focusing not on the buttons, but on the areas between the buttons themselves.
Welcome to RL Software Technologies' UniTap, Softava's Q12 and Digit Wireless' Fastap keyboards.
While the first two basically rely on monitoring multi-button presses to enable users to enter non-numeric characters, the third one adds tiny inter-button keys to pretty much achieve the same effect.
All three keyboards claim to have been thoroughly user-tested, and to significantly improve text input speed over other alternative methods/hacks.


From left to right: the UniTap, Q12 and Fastap keyboards.

From left to right: the UniTap, Q12 and Fastap keyboards.


One possible caveat is that these concepts might weaken the ability for users to rely only on tactile clues and feedback, and not on visual ones, to exploit their phone's texting potential.
If you've ever tried entering a number, or even typing a message, while your eyes are busy supporting you on other tasks, you'll know what I mean.
In such cases tactile feedback and muscle memory should be enough to effectively use your mobile, and just for that reason there are usually barely-noticeable studs on or around the #5 button on your phone's keyboard that act as tactile reference points, a home from which to start your blindfolded explorations.
This subtle tactile anchor might be hard to replicate effectively on the complex, over-populated surface of these new keyboards, so that it could become harder for users to type or dial a number without actually looking at the device.
In this sense the Fastap keyboard seems to be the best of the lot, with its raised, smaller alphabetic targets, and its larger, lowered numeric keys, while the UniTap is possibly the worst, with its totally undifferentiated, micro-studded surface.
Then again all of these prototypes are just that, prototypes, so final implementations are likely to address and solve these issues.

What also remains to be seen is if these approaches will fare better than previous (unsuccessful) attempts to break away from the status quo.
In other words, will devices sporting these keyboards look too foreign to customers on the shop-room floor, or even to phone manufacturers, who should ultimately endorse (one of) them?
Standards are hard to emerge and to beat, and we tend to be pretty sedentary animals, especially when it comes to our cognitive processes.
My doubts in this case have to do with considerations around perceived complexity vs. perceived benefit.
The functional improvement could be unequivocal, once the new layout has been tried, but people might not be willing to play guinea pig yet another time, especially after having finally mastered a difficult task, albeit with unapt means.
My 2-cents worth is that to succeed these keyboards will not only have to prove their worth in sheer usability terms, they will also have to overcome our mobile-texting-induced Stockholm Syndrome.


Posted by fabio sergio | 2:33 PM | permalink

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August 04, 2003
 

Meta-virus.

Funny.
Ben Hammersley mentions this verbally-creative Metafilter thread.
His comments, well, follow suit.

Meme-logging is infective.


Posted by fabio sergio | 6:22 PM | permalink

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August 01, 2003
 

Restraint. Beauty.

Had slipped from my radar lately but Coudal Partners remains a great source of inspiration...and I've always loved their use of black and white images that come to life on rollover.
Coudal's new logo, inspired by the marble floor of the church of San Miniato al Monte, near Florence, attests to their laudable approach to the creative process:

"We wanted a mark with a touch of mystery, one that suggested an intersection of faith and commerce.
Something that had a strong, simple geometry but also made an overtly historical reference.
There's a lot of talent in the studio and it mostly comes to the surface through the application of craft.
Knowing the basics of typography, writing, composition, is the path to freedom.
Restraint is critical, but it only comes with confidence, with faith.
On a hill above the city of Florence sits the Romanesque church, San Miniato al Monte.
Its white marble floor is dotted with this bold black circle, enclosing an elegant cross.
Its energy focuses inwards, then outwards, a metaphor appropriate for the work we do.
"

I subscribe every single word.

More along similar lines over at Z+ Partners, where the Z+ Blog, "Pointers and commentary on the future of design, branding, innovation, sustainability and other emerging issues." is well worth a daily visit.
While you are it also check out Andrew Zolli's (the Z in Z+) "Pixelvision: A Meditation", announcing the upcoming 50th birthday of the pixel.

Finally ID magazine announced its annual design awards (via Jonathan).
Staying true to the title of this entry I found the Memorial Bridge, by the Croatian 3LHD Studio, particularly moving.
Couldn't help but being reminded:

"When we find a mound in the woods, six feet long and three feet wide, raised to a pyramidal form by means of a spade, we become serious and something in us says: someone was buried here. That is architecture."


Posted by fabio sergio | 11:57 AM | permalink

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