March 31, 2006
Astoria, OR - The Good and the Bad
Last night, we stayed in Astoria, OR, after a day of driving from Seattle.
Washington proved a little disappointing to me -- we didn't have the time to head north up the Olympic peninsula, so we headed due West to Aberdeen and then Long Beach, which were just not all that interesting. Though Long Beach did have a killer pinball arcade.
We continued south and found nothing worth stopping at until we got to Astoria. We ate at Gunderson's Cannery Cafe, where I got an excellent Manhattan, and a tasty order of Laksloda -- a Scandinavian preparation of salmon and potatoes. Oh, and the desserts, a berry cobbler and a Pavlova, were divine.
We stayed at a delightful little motel, the Crest, the was dog-friendly (and didn't charge extra for pets!).
We tried to get breakfast at a popular spot in town, the Pig 'n Pancake, but the quality of the coffee and food was *so bad* we couldn't eat it. Avoid at all costs.
It was unfortunate that our last experience in Astoria was so poor, as the rest had been delightful!
(We then proceeded in search of Mist, OR, which we found, but, upon arrival, wondered why we bothered looking. I'm writing from Portland, and we're on our way toward the Cascades, and Crater Lake, shortly.)
March 28, 2006
IA Summit 2006: Closing Plenary
Yesterday, I had the honor of presenting the closing plenary for the 2006 IA Summit.
You can download the slides, with notes. (6.5MB PDF)
I had tough shoes to fill. Andy Dillon's closing plenary last year was excellent.
Giving a closing plenary is a nerve-wracking experience. I realized I had a hard time relaxing and enjoying myself at the summit, because in the back of my mind, I was continually tweaking my talk.
It's also a bit scary to be the person to Say Something Meaningful to an audience. This was perhaps the first talk I've ever given that had an explicit emotional bent, where uplift and inspiration were essential qualities.
Delivering the talk was an amazing experience, and I am glad to have done it.
March 24, 2006
What You Don't Drink, Serve
I'm in Vancouver for the next 6 or so days. The first four are devoted to the IA Summit, and then Stacy and I plan on staying a couple extra days to look around. (If you are a Vancouver reader of peterme and want to get together, email me.)
Anyway, this morning I wandered into the closest coffeehouse, Fahrenheit/Celsius Coffee. Looking at the choices, I asked the man behind the counter which roast is best. "I don't drink coffee," he replied. I turned to the woman behind the counter, "Me, neither."
Oops. By that point, I couldn't really turn and run, so I forged ahead with a cup of French Roast. Which was not a great cup of coffee -- brewed bitter and acidic.
But, really, mostly I was surprised that a coffeehouse would be run by people who don't drink coffee.
March 22, 2006
Off My Chest
Maybe it's the forthcoming IA Summit. It's also probably my role as president of the IA Institute. But I feel obliged to stand up for my peeps (information architects), who have been oddly denigrated in this passage from 37Signals' "Getting Real" book:
Go for quick learning generalists over ingrained specialists
We'll never hire someone who's an information architect. It's just
too overly specific. With a small team like ours, it doesn't make
sense to hire people with such a narrowly defined skill-set.
What I don't understand is why 37Signals singled out "information architect" as the bugaboo job title.
It would have made a lot more sense to me if they had said, "We'll never hire someone who's just an information architect, or interaction designer, or graphic designer." Their point is that they need generalists not specialists.
But for some reason they decided to pick on a single profession. And of all the professions they chose to pick on, they chose the one that I consider to be (historically) the most generalist, so that doesn't make sense either. "information architects" typically do a lot more than information architecture.
All of which confirms my belief in the shallowness of 37Signals' views and rhetoric.
March 19, 2006
BSG + FSM
So, I finally got around to finishing the season finale of Battlestar Galactica, and...
there they are on New Caprica, and Chief starts rousing his union members with a speech that sounds oddly familiar. And I realize, Hey! That's the speech Mario Savio gave standing on a police car during the Free Speech Movement protests. Any Cal graduate is familiar with that speech -- you'll see it at least once during your time there. And I thought, "Damn! It's pretty cool that that speech has such resonance over such a long period of time."
The power of well chosen words, spoken from the heart.
You can listen to it here. The passage used on BSG begins at 0:59.
Bruce Sterling dissects me
In a highly entertaining post on his blog, Bruce Sterling has at a passage from my conversation with GK Van Patter. It's a remarkably bit of linguistic and conceptual insight; Bruce is like a cat with a toy, bouncing it between his paws, picking it apart, not out of malice, but because that's what he does.
March 17, 2006
So, an article on The Street.com worrying about Apple's relative lack of R&D investment, spurred commentary by 37 Signals and Victor that, hey, maybe that's okay, which echoes something I wrote over two years ago, which is how interaction design innovation for the Mac (both from Apple and other software vendors) occurs not from R&D-fed entities, but mostly through small teams.
March 16, 2006
South by Southwest Afterthoughts
A few takeaways from the 2006 South by Southwest Interactive conference (other than my head cold):
It's not about the contentThe last time I attended SxSW was in 2002, and I stopped going for a while because I was so upset at how poor the content had gotten. This year, I didn't let it get to me. So while the content was mostly unengaging, I didn't care, because the socializing was tops. And any excuse to visit Austin is welcome.
That said, there was some decent contentAdam Greenfield's Everyware talk (book in stores now!), Prof. Gilbert's "Make the Right Decision" talk, Jeff's panel on designing for next generation web applications, and bruces' rant-like coda were worth sitting through.
Let's Put On A Web App!The prevailing themes for the conference seemed to be a) the ease of creating web products and b) starting businesses to sustain them. It's interesting to see the independent spirit that, in 1999, was largely around more artistic expression and creativity online has shifted focus towards sustainable pursuits.
Apart from Jeff's Talk, Design was Served PoorlyI went to two other panels on "design," and was dismayed. The first, on "Traditional Design and New Technology" was a surreal bitchfest where traditional designers moaned that the web didn't have the emotional resonance of a Penguin paperback cover. Particularly distressing were Mark Boulton's reactionary diatribes suggesting that the Web doesn't have the emotional resonance of a car. (And look at that link to his personal site! He can't get 6 words in without the phrase "award-winning"! What is it with designers and these meaningless meaningless awards?)
Also, the "Dogma-Free Design" panel should have been renamed "Content-Free Panel." After an initial poke at design dogma (Flash 99% bad, web apps need ethnography, other stuff I forget), the panel went on a meandering journey that lead nowhere. It was clear they had no criterion for the success of their panel, and so it just became on unfocused discussion around what whomever was speaking thought of design.
DJ Mel ROCKS THE HOUSEI lead a muthafuckin' conga line while DJ Mel spun on Sunday night. He definitely got the nerds onto the dance floor, and we had a great time.
Styn on The People's VideoHalcyon interviews me, and a bunch of other folks at the conference (including luminaries such as danah and Craig) on the subject of video in the hands of the masses. If you wonder what I sound like with a hoarse voice and a head cold, download it. (18 MB)
My favorite photo of me
Seems appropriately confrontational. Thanks Brian!
It was also great...To get quality time with Tom Coates, Eric Rodenbeck, Heather Hesketh, and many others I don't see enough of. And there's little as amusing as Micki with laryngitis. It's not quite oxymoronic or ironic... just... funny.
And in Austin...Blackmail, Toy Joy, Spider House: Still got it. Jo's -- getting a bit too popular for its own good. Home Slice Pizza: Dear god was that good. Las Manitas: has the quality gone down? I wasn't blown away. Amy's Mexican Vanilla: there's no way you can go wrong.
Technorati Tags: sxsw
March 14, 2006
Bruce Sterling doesn't use key commands
I sat next to Bruce during a session at SxSW. He was typing like a demon, but when he wanted to move what he'd written between apps, he selected "Copy" from the drop-down menu, and then "Paste" from the drop-down menu in the other program.
March 09, 2006
Slip of the finger
In an IM chat to a colleague, I almost typed it as "sanctum santorum."
Which strikes me as deeply oxymoronic.
Information Architecture + Service Design + Web 2.0 = crazy delicious!
So, here's what's been rattling around my head for a while.
If I identify with any one specific field, it is information architecture. The IA Summit continues to be my favorite conference, the IA mailing lists continue to be my favorite discussion places, and conversations with other IAs continue to be my favorite mental gymnastics.
My passion for information architecture has lead to my seat on the board of the IA Institute, my organizing of events like the workshop with MAYA last December, a forthcoming Big Event in October (details to come), mentoring up-and-coming IAs, and the closing plenary at the IA Summit this year.
One of my current points of "voice advocacy" (as GK put it) is the application of information architecture practices and principles to domains other than the Web. Complex information environments are all around us, and all can benefit from thoughtful information architecture.
Another point of current passion is service design. The more deep research I do, the more it becomes clearer that to best serve users, you have to look beyond specific artifacts or domains, and to all the interactions ("touchpoints") people have in an experience. I'm sitting on BART train as I write this, and believe me, BART could stand to have some explicit service design -- the signage, the vending machines, the turnstiles, the web site, etc. etc.
Something that strikes me as missing from the bulk of service design dialogue is an appreciation of information architecture. Service design seems to borrow a lot of tools from interaction design (heuristics, personas and scenarios, prototypes), but little from information architecture.
This is why the MAYA case study was so exciting to me -- being set in a library, it was painfully evident that information architecture needed to be applied to that physical space and those experiences. I would argue, though, that, say, BART could also benefit -- from things as basic as controlled vocabularies of terms to items as complex as better serving tourists encountering the system for the first time.
The other thing that frustrates me about the current discussion in service design is that it favors a strong, top-down, architectural approach. "We are going to study a whole service, and then we are going to design explicit solutions to satisfy that whole experience." Anyone who's ever designed anything complex knows that there are inevitable breakpoints -- that you can't design failure out of a complex system.
But what you can do is leverage principles from another emerging field -- Web 2.0. (Now, I know it might seem counterintuitive to talk about Web 2.0 in a non-Web context, and this is why I've always hated that term. But we're stuck with it for now.) Look at the defining attributes that Brandon identified: user contributed value; long tail; network effect; decentralization; co-creation; remixability; emergent systems.
I think there are real opportunities for service design to embrace these bottom-up approaches. I encourage designers to fight their desire to *control* the experience and instead find opportunities for the actions of the users of the service to contribute value -- to figure out what the "architecture of participation" means in the service world. This could definitely include the use of the web to augment an experience service. But I'm sure creative folks can identify solely "real world" activities (one that comes to mind, with the approach of the IA Summit, are Birds of a Feather sessions planned on-site.)
Retail strikes me as a huge opportunity here. At bookstores, for example, Instead of store-planned book discussions, author readings, and the like, to give tools to the people that pass through the space to create their own events. Sure, it will feel a bit chaotic, but man, would you have remarkable customer loyalty.
And then, an open question for me: how do you apply bottom-up approaches to mass transit systems like BART?
March 06, 2006
Design Appropriateness - When is Ugly Okay?
Robert Scoble got some blogosphere buzz over his post on "the role of anti-marketing design." He makes some excellent points about the 'authenticity' of ugliness. It resonates with commentary that my business partner Jesse James Garrett makes in his discussion of MySpace:
If the default presentation and the common areas of MySpace had cleaner, more professional designs, users might hesitate to customize their spaces, feeling intimidated by having their amateur design work side-by-side with the professional-looking defaults. Instead, the unpolished style invites users to try things out, telling them they don't have to be professional designers to participate.
I think Scoble makes a mistake, though, calling out that we're "sick of committee-driven marketing." I don't think we're sick of it; we just know when it's appropriate and when it's not.
When we seek ideas for music to listen to, we don't worry about too much about site appearance -- the person's voice and authenticity suffices.
But if I'm looking for medical advice, I'm wary of site's that look like they were designed by a 10 year old. And I know this because there's been a study. BJ Fogg, Sliced Bread Design, and Consumer Reports assessed the credibility of financial and health care web sites for expert and non-experts. What they found is, in retrospect, not all that surprising. Visual design cues are an important indicator of credibility for non-experts. Whereas for experts, it's simply about the content.
This makes sense. A non-expert cannot judge the credibility of the content, so he relies on other elements that help him estimate a source's credibility. It's no different than the professional wearing the $2,000 suit.
Now, you don't want folks in $2,000 suits serving your coffee at your favorite coffeehouse, or suggesting movies at the video store. You want the person who "looks like you." The same thing goes with websites.
Websites that rely on content created by others (such as MySpace and eBay) have realized the benefits on "ugly" design -- it's more approachable for dealing with people on a one-on-one basis.
But if I'm buying enterprise software, if I'm about to throw down $500,000, you better believe that I'm looking for "committee-driven marketing," and I'll be happy when I see it.