Me, Michael Bierut, and User Experience Week 2006

Part 2 of my conversation with Michael Bierut has been posted.

In this installment, we touch on ethics, politics, and designing tangible futures. Lots of good stuff. Some favorite passages:

“I also sometimes hear that, for instance, design adn politics don’t mix. Sure they mix. Everything mixes. The goal is to seek an integrated life, which is what I think Tibor did. You may be a designer with special expertise, and certainly that’s why a client would retain your advice. But try not to answer as a designer. Try to answer as a citizen, as a human being, and as a designer.”

“Being able to make vivid counterfeits is one of the joys of being a graphic designer, and one that we don’t take enough pleasure in.”

“I never talk about “educating the client.” I hate that phrase. Almost always it’s the designers who need the education, not the client, not the audience.”

Michael, of course, is speaking at Adaptive Path’s User Experience Week 2006. If you register before July 1, you can save $100 off the standard price.

AND, if you register with the promotion code FOPM (Friends of Peter Merholz), you’ll save an additional 15%. That’s an additional $284!

Because of the all-star nature of this event (Steven Johnson, Michael Bierut, among others), and the great content (everything from designing for museums to user research to business strategies to Web 2.0… and more) we forecast selling out (we’ve sold many more seats this year by this time than ever before). So, if you’ve been thinking about it, register now.

IDEA 2006 – Three new speakers announced!

Over the past week I’ve had some great discussions with people whom I wanted to present at IDEA 2006.

And in that last week, I’ve lined up three new speakers:

  • Fernanda Viegas, IBM Research, History Flow
    Fernanda will address the upsurge of visualizations online, and how more and more people are able to visualize their own data

  • Robert Kalin, Etsy.com (next-generation commerce and community site)
    If you’ve used Etsy, you know it’s a marvel of content, commerce, and community (if a bit frustrating to navigate at times). Robert will talk about what’s influenced the design of Etsy, and how the Web is still in its infancy in creating engaging spaces for people to interact with.

  • We will also have a representative from the National Park Service’s publications center, responsible for the cross-media design of brochures, exhibits, and online media.
    Long time peterme readers know I love NPS design. I’m thrilled that we’ll have a representative share with us how they do it. How they tie together an astonishing array of materials and maintain high quality.

    You can sign up for deep discounts if you register by June 26!

  • peterme wikipedia contrail

    Finally a blog meme I like.

    Darin Morgan – writer of three brilliant and one good X-Files episodes
    Lesson 3 – hip-hop song (no entry)
    Lily Tomlin – American actress, in the current movie A Prairie Home Companion
    Robert Osborne – host on Turner Classic Movies (I was trying to see if they at all mentioned why he walks with a limp)
    Double Dee and Steinski – innovators of hip-hop and audio and music sampling
    Stephen Colbert – Catholic guy with great hair
    Truman Capote – American author; short; gay
    Martini (cocktail) – just where *did* it originate?
    Bastard_pop – another term for what Double Dee and Steinski do, it seems
    Ötzi the iceman – Stacy overheard me talk about the website “Etsy.com” and thought I was referring to this archaeological find
    Bennett Miller – Directed the movie about Truman Capote
    Dickie Goodman – an original bastard pop artist
    Millennium (TV series) – from the creator of the X-Files; Darin Morgan wrote for this show, too
    Ocean Beach (San Francisco) – doing some history research on Ocean Beach
    United States housing bubble – looking for Nigel Holmes’ infographics on America’s housing debt (never did find it)

    Don’t you all know what each other is going to say?

    So, one of the things that is explicit for me in planning IDEA is that I *don’t* want the usual suspects speaking. I’m feeling particularly good about this as I look over at the latest cause of conference buzz, Aula.

    The main public event features Clay Shirky, Joichi Ito, and the follow on private event includes Dan Gillmor and Dan Hill (also speaking at IDEA) and danah boyd and Adam Greenfield and Matt Jones and Timo Arnall and Justin Hall and Cory Doctorow and Ross Mayfield and all I can wonder is, “Don’t you all know what you’re going to say already?” I’m getting increasingly frustrated in these events (Etech is guilty of this, too) where it’s the same old people singing much of the same old song.

    Why aren’t things getting shaken up more? Or are these just excuses for friends to hang out fabulously in public?

    The World of The Sinister

    I live with one, and work with at least two others.

    I’m talking left-handed people. The most recent episode of Quirks and Quarks, CBC Radio’s weekly science program, has a lengthy and interesting segment on what causes left-handedness (MP3, 20 min) (hint: still not quite known), and typical traits of left-handers. If you’ve got a left-handed person in your life, it’s worth listening to! (And considering subscribing to the Q&Q podcast!)

    Stories of the George Foreman grill

    From the It’s old but it’s new to me department comes this story of the George Foreman grill as a means for the impoverished to prepare a meal.

    I recently subscribed to a bunch of new podcasts, including NPR’s Hidden Kitchens, and this was the first download. It’s remarkably touching, particularly hearing George explain his upbringing, and how the grill that bears his name unintentionally became a point of utility and pride for those in adverse situations.

    Thoughts while reading the premiere of IN: Inside Innovation

    Its process of creation stirred controversy in the blogosphere. Last week, the first issue of BusinessWeek’s Inside Innovation appeared to the world. Here are my thoughts as I read it.

    - Marissa Mayer on the cover? Really? Did BusinessWeek feel a need to “catch up” to Fast Company? Do magazines talk of a Mayer gap? (Or, more likely, a woman gap?)

    - Hmm… that Nokia phone sure is pretty. I wonder, though, if it’s an example of “pretty device, shitty user interface.”

    - The tools and trends stuff seems pretty cool, and potentially useful. Though a bit scattered. I do like the idea of investing in a “customer experience” index fund.

    - Hmm… that Swedish car sure is pretty. Why, though, is it starting to feel like the layout of this magazine is all about encouraging as little copy as possible?

    - Oh, here comes the future of journalism — blog posts as magazine copy! That’s a cheap way to develop material. And look, it’s “interactive,” because it included comments from the original blog post (one by Steve. Hi Steve!). How To Get Copy Without Paying For It!

    - Also, in the last paragraph of that blog post, Nussbaum uses the word “cool” twice in two sentences. Is Nussbaum the Dave Winer of innovation? I think so!

    - O Patrick Whitney, with your eyes closed, and that smile — do you want to kiss me?

    - Though, yeah, the Institute of Design pretty much gets all this stuff better than anyone else… At Adaptive Path we’ve now hired two folks from their program, and have another as an intern this summer.

    - So now BusinessWeek has anointed 25 people as their “champions of innovation,” but have said almost nothing about how they were chosen, except for a brief “IN talked with innovation consultants, thought leaders, managers, and drivers of change inside corporations for this list.” That’s rigorous enough for me!

    - Christ. More fawning coverage of Marissa Mayer. Why doesn’t this article uncover the fact that there are whole swaths of Google who do what they can to avoid her? That they choose projects that don’t report up to her because she’s a terrible design critic? Or how she got her influence?

    - Uh oh. “9 Notions of Innovation“? Is BusinessWeek falling into the facile magazine editorial trap of Numbering Things?

    - What a pretty spread on pages 22-23! So many photos! So little copy! Oh look–Marissa reads Bruce Nussbaum’s blog!

    - Yes, it’s interesting that 17 of the 25 “innovation champions” are women (though, again, how were they chosen?), but as the slide show proves, 24 of 25 are white Westerners. How do you take seriously a list of innovation champions that includes no one from Japan, South Korea, or China?

    - Steve already said what needs to be said about “the ethnographer”

    - I actually quite like the indata infographics — clever, attractive, informative (though don’t play so well on screen)

    - I like the Keep the Change story, too, though it’s frustrating that BofA wouldn’t let BusinessWeek actually name the “innovation and design research firm in Palo Alto, Calif” or the “four researchers from a West Coast consulting firm.” That’s not really exhibiting partnership on BofA’s part.

    - I’m sorry, but inBlogs wins the award for “content-free” page in this issue. What are essentially three links are given an entire page, with meaningless whiteboard-scribblings as a backdrop.

    - The Xbox page – uh, okay.

    - Though falling under that cliched magazine editorial trap of Numbering Things, the Five Key Strategies for Managing Change is probably the single most valuable material in this entire issue (too bad it’s at the end, after you’ve already thrown the magazine across the room). I appreciate Dev’s quest for evidence (setting metrics and getting data), and suggestions on relationships (finding buddies and aiming for quick hits), because we’ve seen all these things succeed in our work.

    And now some concluding thoughts…

    - What’s with the breathless prose? The copy in this issue is so rah-rah it would make an editor at FastCompany blush. You cannot take something seriously that isn’t critical.

    - *This* is the design that ended up causing all of that hullaballoo? I mean, while it’s definitely easier on the eyes than standard BusinessWeek fare, it’s remarkably conservative and dry. And every one of the illustrations is unflattering.

    We’ll see how this evolves come next quarter. I hope for some writing with *teeth*.

    Don has a point but…

    In a recent essay, Don Norman bitches about the tendency among designers and researchers to call the people who are the subject of their efforts anything but, well, “people.”

    And I think he has a point — words do matter. Though I think he overstates the point — those other labels (well, except for “consumer,” which I’d like to see banned) have use as well.

    Still, in a rant that features the phrase “we design for people,” why on earth would Don not acknowledge Henry Dreyfuss’ watershed book, Designing for People? (There’s also the brilliantly titled “Housing as if People Mattered”).

    20 Minute Book Review: jPod

    (Written on the commute to work, which lasts 20 minutes.)

    My colleague Janice attended the super swanky D conference; among the schwag bag items was Douglas Coupland‘s latest novel jPod.

    I’ve been reading Coupland’s work since Generation X, and have found it to be wildly uneven. I distinctly remember enjoying that debut book (though I’ve never looked at it since), while distinctly remembering his sophomore work, Shampoo Planet. I’ve actually become a fan of his non-fiction work, particularly Souvenirs of Canada — it’s actually in some funny small ways helped me better understand Stacy.

    Anyway, jPod is a kind of spiritual successor to Coupland’s Microserfs. I do remember enjoying Microserfs, particularly in how it seemed to capture an experience that resonated strongly with me. Whereas Microserfs follows a group of Microsofties who strike out and create their own Silicon Valley startup (and this was in 1995, well before the height of the boom), jPod is about 6 video game developers working for a soulless video game company in Vancouver. With rare exception, we see the world through the eyes of Ethan, an almost-30-year-old single guy with crazy parents, a mercenary brother, and an obsession for work and photographs of gore.

    Coupland very much does that “Douglas Coupland” thing of explicitly engaging with the Zeitgeist to reflect on his characters — countless references to video games, Google, buying things on eBay, geek culture, Western-Asian intersections, travel to rapidly developing China, etc. etc. At first it comes off somewhat awkward and showy, in a kind of “Look! It’s relevant! It’s talking about the kinds of things in my life!” way.

    Though set in a world that hyper-references the real one, characters and their actions pretty quickly defer from anything that could be called normal or expected. In short order you have a biker getting killed, and being buried by Ethan and his mom in a housing development, with no show of emotion whatsoever. Another character’s legal name is John Doe, changed from his all-lower-case name (I forget what it is) given to him by his arch-lesbian-activist-antiphallic mother. A mysterious Chinese man, Kam Fong, essentially has the power to do whatever he wishes. And so on.

    That surrealism caught me off-guard at first, as it runs strongly contrary to the kind of hyper-reality that Coupland utilizes. But I found it to be the novel’s true saving grace — people behaved in strange, quirky ways that you’d want them to behave in, not that was necessarily “real” or felt germane to the character as developed.

    Though, such behavior also made it hard to identify with characters. Much of the time, you don’t feel like you’re *in* the novel — you feel distance from it, like your watching what is happening in a snow-globe or something. There are moments of true emotion (Ethan and Kaitlin’s courtship-cute has some of this), but the bizarro behaviors described make it hard to really engage.

    I guess my only other real comment about the book is that, unlike Generation X or Microserfs, jPod already feels dated. The internet world in the book is stuck on eBay and Google and totally misses the social networking and community aspects of the Web that are what people like his characters would truly engage in. Satirizing video game development mindlessness also feels subtly dated. I guess what I’m saying is that his book probably won’t capture the Zeitgeist of those earlier works, because it didn’t attempt to forecast Zeitgeist, and things simply move too fast.

    That’s not really a complaint though. I should make it clear that I devoured this book in just a few sittings (all 450-some pages of it), and found plenty to keep me wanting to read more. It will definitely resonate with people around my age (33) and with my interests (design, technology, internet, pop culture, media, etc.), and places a revealing lens over aspects of our lives. I don’t know if it’s worth full-price retail — considering how quick a read it is, probably best as a library book. But it’s definitely worth the time spent with it.

    The Small Things

    Living with an archaeologist, and having spent a very little time at her dig site, I came to appreciate how it’s about the small things. Hell, when I was digging, I was excited to be digging up rocks, because at least it wasn’t just sand or dirt.

    Anyway, Stacy reports a major find on her site: an 1884 nickel. It might seem a small thing, but as Stacy points out, this is a community that hoped to abolish a cash economy. What does it say that they had coins around which they (theoretically) couldn’t exchange?

    Congratulations to her and her crew.