Click ‘n Play

I spent today looking at ~60 entries to Exhibit A, and thought I’d share some thoughts on what I saw.

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising, considering this is an AIGA event, but the number of sites that used images to display text was shocking. Designers have *got* to get over this need for typographical control. An example is The Willey House, devoted to a residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s a striking site, engaging aesthetic, but frustrating in its graphic heaviness.

ex_massing
Still, though, the Massing Model was pretty nifty. Which the house grow before your eyes!

ex_design_04
The Design Online 04 is a remarkably clever online design exhibition. It’s design-y, but has some interesting innovations — “Entering” from stage right, the floating navigation (that you can close), and that you can page through the entries with the arrow keys.

ex_snowdays
The most delightful site was Snow Days, where you design a snowflake to share with the world. For internet news, the most fun is conducting a search, and seeing how the results appear. It might give Google some new ideas.

ex_bamboo
Bamboo Design‘s site is remarkably simple, and fairly clever, but the only reason I’m noting it is for the surprise I had when clicking across the navigation bar.

ex_hypercow
Also created by Bamboo is Hyper-Cow, a site promoting a new caffeinated milk beverage. It’s, um, pretty crazy. I don’t know if it accomplishes any viable business goal, but it’s a blast.

The Brilliance of Eternal Sunshine

The only movie I’ve seen in theaters in the last coupla months that’s truly worth the price of admission (if not more) is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be finding much of an audience, even with Jim Carrey in the cast. The irony being, this is probably Carrey’s single best performance ever. Definitely his best dramatic performance.

What excites me about this movie, is that not only is it a good, smart, touching story with brilliant performances, but it’s also a real piece of *cinema*. It understands its medium and takes advantage of it. For an audience, any film’s first frame is the beginning — there is no “before” (even if there is a backstory of some sort). Eternal Sunshine intuitively gets this, and plays with it in a way that is quite ingenious, and unlike anything I’ve seen.

What surprised me was the emotional depth. Kaufman’s prior movies banked on irony and wryness. This one feels more mature, while retaining its cerebral mindfuck.

Go see it. In a theater.

Kill Bill Vol. Lame

So, a week ago, I saw Kill Bill, Vol. 1 on DVD, and enjoyed it more than I had predicted. It’s basically a fun action movie, with stylized fight scenes, and, well, it’s fun.

So, last night, I saw Kill Bill, Vol 2, which is receiving crazy critical accolades. It sounded like it would be even better, with more emotional and narrative heft.

Well, it’s got more of something alright. Dialogue. Endless scenes of people talking. People that you’re not terribly interested in. There are some nifty action bits (Pei Mei’s tutelage, the fight with in trailer), but there’s also some crushing character stupidity (The Bride opening the trailer door, seemingly not expecting any response).

Anyway, if you’re a fan of the first, don’t assume you’ll like the second (though, you’ve probably seen it already). It’s surprising, considering that this was once one movie, how different the two halves are. It makes me wonder if Tarantino fiddled with it, when it became two movies. Because if this is how it was originally laid out, it kind of just doesn’t make sense.

Oh well.

Mini-thoughts on Minneapolis

I’m in Minneapolis for a few days. Primarily as a judge for Exhibit A, an interactive design case study competition.

But also to enjoy the city. I’d last been here in 1997, and remembered it fondly. So I came out a few days early, and have done a fair amount of wandering and hanging out.

Some thoughts/observations/whathaveyou…

  • There are more people smoking in Minneapolis.
  • Minneapolis is *not* a dog city. This surprised me, because it’s culture/feeling is one of a dog city. But you just don’t see them that much.
  • Minneapolitans love their coffee, but they don’t like it very strong. There are coffeehouses everywhere, and I’ve had a variety of good coffees — but all brewed somewhat weakly.
  • Minneapolitans love their free wi-fi. Every coffeehouse seems to have it — even those that don’t promote it.
  • This is probably the best bicycle city I’ve been to in America. Flat, lots of bike lanes. It’s definitely part of the culture.
  • Minneapolis is inordinately proud of its habitr–errr–skyways. As a Californian, I have trouble understanding the good around creating a system that avoids The Outside. Isn’t that a sign? Shouldn’t you leave if you don’t like The Outside?
  • Minneapolis is a lot more ethnically/racially mixed than I had presumed.
  • Something’s amiss downtown. On a Thursday at 3pm, walking down Nicolette Mall (a kind of main drag), the place felt empty. And this is the heart of downtown.

    I’m sure more will come. But that’s enough for now.

    –peter

  • Caterina told me to

    1. Grab the nearest book.
    2. Open the book to page 23.
    3. Find the fifth sentence.
    4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

    The Best American Science Writing 2003

    We descend the Bodingo peninsula, an elevated ridge of land south of the park’s border that runs down into Likouala aux Herbes swamps.

    Points and Lines – User Research Analysis Goodness

    One of my favorite sessions at the IA Summit was Laurie Gray’s case study on ethnography of stockbrokers and their trading methods(2 MB PowerPoint. It’s got Laurie’s notes, so you can really follow along).

    There’s a lot of good in it, but what most excited me is how Laurie used a simple visualization to better understand what she had observed, and to demonstrate how the current system under consideration satisfied the approach of its users.

    On Slide 10, she introduces the set of simple oppositional continua that emerged from her observations:
    laurie_1
    In her talk, she mentioned how she didn’t hit upon these herself — she was working closely with a subject matter expert on her client’s side, and the two of them were able to come up with this.

    So, then they took each subject, and plotted their approach along these various lines.
    laurie_2
    Not particularly revealing.

    But then they had an insight. If they separated “Brokers” from “Planner/Advisors”, and considered them separately, a trend emerged. First the Brokers:
    laurie_3

    Then the Advisors:
    laurie_4

    In her talk, Laurie pointed out that her client hadn’t considered these as two distinct audiences. They’d identified one “user type.” Her research and this analysis made it clear that there were two distinct groups, with significantly different approaches.

    She was able to take this one step further, by plotting how the current web-based system functioned along these various axes.
    laurie_5

    I love this last graph. It clearly demonstrates that the current system is designed for brokers, and that the planner/advisors are likely having to fight against it. This makes apparent a clear opportunity for the client to pursue.

    In general, I just love this set of visualizations. While such attribute-oppositions are common in things like branding and positioning (where you place “your company” along such lines and compare it to other companies), I’d never seen it used as a user research tool. And it proved quite powerful. First in providing the insight around the two distinct user groups. And then in mapping the current system and demonstrating opportunities. Good on Laurie, and something to add to the methodological toolbox.

    Brad DeLong Thinks — You Should Listen

    From a political point of view, I’m something of an anomaly — a free-trade liberal. (Hell, a free-trade quasi-socialist).

    Brad DeLong, economics professor at Cal, and former economics advisor in the Clinton Administration, recently posted to his blog a piece he co-wrote with Stephen Cohen, “Thinking About Outsourcing.”

    I continue to find Brad’s thoughts and passion inspiring, perhaps surprising since the subject is, well, the dismal science. He’s able to clearly articulate why free trade, and yes, outsourcing/offshoring are good things, but that it needs to be qualified with a social safety net, which will help mitigate the inevitable shifts within a national economy.

    Enterprise Content Management is a Process, Not A Technology

    My business partner Jeff just wrote an essay titled, “Why Content Management Fails,” about the pitfalls of standard CMS implementations. CMS vendors have spent years trying to convince customers that content management is a technology, and with the right solution, the problems go away. But in talking to people at organizations big and small, we hear again and again that CMS projects fail. In digging around, we came to the essential realization that “content management” is a process, not a technology.

    While we’re far from being the only ones who figured this out, it’s surprising how firmly held the technological orientation is. It’s tempting to blame the vendors (who are in the market to sell Big Applications and all the costly services that go with them), but the bulk of the responsibility goes to the organizations who are not willing to face reality when it comes to the difficulty and complexity of managing content, and thus are easy marks for the supposed magic bullet that solves all their content problems.

    At Adaptive Path, In our research and development around content management, what became clear is that the way to address “the content problem” is to separate the “content development” and the “content publishing” aspects of the process. At the outset, focus your content management efforts on the latter — develop strong metadata, develop templates, and treat the CMS simply as a database, a content repository.

    Once the people in the organization are comfortable with publishing content in the new system, then they will, on their own, realize that the system can also make the content development processes run smoother. As Jeff points out, if you try to start with the workflow reengineering, you’ll just incur resistance and ire from your staff.

    Jeff has developed, with some assistance from me, a really strong one-day workshop on Making Your CMS Work For You, which he’s giving on May 20th in Chicago. (Use the promotion code FOPM for 15% off!)

    With our user experience mindset, we ended up developing an approach that is a paradigm shift from “business as usual” with CMS implementations, and should, frankly, help organizations save thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars, in person-hours and technology costs. One of the workshop’s strongest takeaways is that the vast majority of enterprise websites don’t need fancy CMSes. With a smart approach in place, these website can, in fact, perform *better* with no-to-low-cost tools.