August 12, 1999
Last night's Rye: Old
Potrero. A libationary experience nonpareil. A succulently
smooth single malt rye, a throat-threatening mix of fire
and pleasure. Though not widely available, it can be found in your
Francisco restaurants, and, happily, my local,
where it's the most expensive drink they serve.
Old Potrero is a product
of the Anchor
Brewing Company, which, surprisingly, has no official web presence,
and I can find little good information about it. If you know of
it at all, it's through the company's beers, most notably Anchor
Steam (the Web is amazing in that I was able to find what the beer
looks like under a microscope, and I think this
sign would look great in my kitchen.)
Anchor Brewing is run
by Fritz Maytag.
Scion of the appliance empire, he turned to professional brewing
in 1965. His interests run beyond fermented beverages, though--he
is the same Maytag of the world renowned blue
August 11, 1999
Sucking. A series
of posts on Yahoo's message boards explicitly outlines how and
why you cannot bookmark pages in BroadVision, because of an integral
flaw in their product's design. It's pathetic, really.
It has also come to my
attenion that BroadVision suspects that I've been put up to posting
my "BV Sucks" page
by Vignette, a top competitor.
Doubly pathetic. My views are my own. And I've let Vignette know
the problems I think their system has. Simply, I'm just fed up with
BroadVision shitting all over the internet landscape.
However, the market seems
to think differently. BVSN shares just
keep going up and up. 20% today and nobody quite knows why.
August 10, 1999
perfesser. Astute petermeme
reader David Parker
wrote in with a response to my post about problem-solving
and information design.
made me think of a question I had asked myself. I was wondering
about the apparently subtle differences in definition between
the words "data" and "information," "knowledge" and "learning,"
"intelligence" and "wisdom," and looked them all up in Merriam-Webster
to see what they had to say. They defined "information" as: "the
communication or reception of knowledge
or intelligence." (emphasis mine)
"I had never thought of information being differentiated
as either communicated or received. And then I wondered: Do information
designers manipulate the communication of the information or the
reception of the information? Or is there a difference? Your statement
quoted above makes me think that perhaps it is, or should be,
the reception that information designers must concentrate on."
What I find most interesting
is how the first definition of "information"
focuses on the act, not the content; typically when I think
of "information," I think of the latter. If we apply the
former definition when thinking of "information design"
it adds an interesting twist--we're not simply designing the data
itself, but the method by which it is transmitted.
The notion of Communication
Design appeals because it forces designers to remember that
information isn't a substance like clay, waiting to be molded and
simply understood. Information requires a delicate tango
between sender and receiver.
To follow up on David's
musings, I don't think you can manipulate the communication of the
information wthout affecting the reception of the information. But,
I think he's hit on interesting point of intention, of where the
designer fits in the process. If you look at the classic Transmission
Model of Information[spawns a new window], it's pretty clear
that information designers fit in the "transmitter" box,
shaping the data coming from the "info source," and the
audience in the "receiver" box, and there's that annoying
potential for noise in between. In order for information designers
to achieve higher success, they need to better get themselves through
to that "receiver" box.
That page points out
many problems with applying the transmission model to person-to-person
communication, most notably that it neglects the tight feedback
loop from receiver to transmitter to help overcome any noise. However,
the model (unfortunately) holds well for mass media, suggesting
what we already know--little communicating or informing is actually
happening. Right now, the corporate Web is far more a mass medium,
but opportunities for heightened communication are definitely
possible thanks to The Network. Google is an example of a technology
that benefits from the feedback of many to provide better information.
This has become something
of a ramble, hasn't it?
Well, it's also opened
up some interesting channels for exploration.
of the panopticon is a treasure trove of thoughts and pointers
on cultural theory and new media literacy. Part of its mission is
making obfuscatory critical theory more understandable.
and Communications Studies site has tons of tasty links. And
I love the take-off on "under construction."
August 9, 1999
It was about
10 months ago that I told a friend
with whom I'd bitched about the lousy state of fiction writing about
this haunting and lyrical story in the New Yorker by "some
Japanese author" whose name had escaped me. She correctly guessed
that it was Haruki
Murakami, and encouraged me to find more of his work. Since
that time I've been surprised by how often he has come up among
my web design
I wonder what Zeitgeist
Murakami is tapping into that is encouraging the spreading of his
meme in this group. I cannot put my finger on it. His stories are
subtly fantastic--characters inhabit a world very much like ours
but with slight differences. I think a key point is the aplomb with
which his protagonists face bizarre situations--they never get too
excited, upset, or bent out of shape. They're ciphers that accept
what's happening, no matter how weird (I'm now thinking of "The
TV People" in The
What spurred this reverie
was that I found The
Wind-up Bird Chronicle on remainder for $5. Gorgeous hardbound
edition, jacket cover by designer extraordinaire Chip
Kidd, with art from Acme
Novelty Librarian Chris
Ware. Look for it at your local remainder-carrying bookstore.
This is the best Murakami
interview I found.
August 8, 1999
Geek Household Hints. Bored on the potty? The
Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning
Information make great bathroom reading!
August 7, 1999
issue of First Monday is a treasure trove of deep thinking
on free software and intellectual property, honesty in news media,
and the receiving of email. Slurp!
The elder speaks.
emailed me responses to the thoughts I posted yesterday. I thought
I'd share his wisdom with y'all.
the 180-degree rule is one concerned with the sagittal plane.
The violation of this rule can be even more jarring than the 180-degree.
Especially since most movie shots are focused on the human (or
other) head. The sagittal plane is the line runing from front
to back, dividing the head into left and right sides. If the camera
is just a few degrees to one side of the nose for one shot and
the next shot is just a few degrees to to other side, the head
or heads will seem to jerk from one side to the other even though
there has been no actor movement at all and the 180-degree line
has been completely maintained.
On the meaning of "educate":
In case you
didn't know this: the Latin roots of educate are e- out,
and duce - to lead or draw. So the eduation process is
a drawing out of the student what he can functionally know and
understand. It cannot be poured into him.
Edified? If so, maybe
you could help him out. He's looking for a decent sub-$1000 Windows
laptop. Thoughts? Is sub-$1000 just too low to expect quality? Let
me know--I'll pass your collected wisdom along to him.
August 6, 1999
Lots o' thoughts on information design. So, I've been reading
Design, a collection of essays on the emerging field. Obviously,
it's led to my jotting down a bunch of notes.
First off--I'm teaching
a class titled "Advanced Concepts in Information Design"
this fall (in November/December) at the Multimedia
Studies Program at SFSU. The fall schedule is not yet online,
but you can request a catalog. The class requirement is "Information
Design for the World Wide Web I"--this was to weed out those
not really interested. If you're interested, but haven't taken that
class (and don't want to), let
me know. It will be on Mondays, November 8 - December 6, 6:30-9:30.
Okay. Some nitty-gritty.
I'm currently thinking through the various methods of information
design--not the form, and not the content, but the process by which
designers provide structure to the information. I've got three so
1. Information-centered information design. This is "let
the information speak for itself.". You break down the information
and data into its smallest and most discrete bits, observe and analyze
patterns, and represent those. This is the Tufte
approach. (Obviously, Tufte brings the eye of an artist to his approach,
but his basic methodology is accessible to everyone). This stuff
tends to be best for non-interactive representations of data, statistics,
natural phenomena, etc. I find it falls down in the design of interactive
systems--people typically want to solve problems, not hear the data
2. Editorial information
design. This has been practiced by book and magazine publishers
forever. This is where an expert structures information in a way
to best educate, present, or otherwise explain something to the
reader. This works very well for education, training, getting across
new ideas, knowledge, information. Web sites that work with this
model include online publications and corporate information sites.
It, too, fails to work well in interactive systems where people
want to achieve a goal--the 'experts' often get in the way of the
user, or prescribe a single path though many equally valid possibilities
3. User-centered information
design. This is what I focus on, and guides 75% of my information
structuring decisions. Following a methodology,
you discover your user's needs and desires, and create a space that
best suits their processes for solving a problem. This method is
great for designing interactive systems where the user knows what
they want to do--say, shopping. It's cumbersome for more editorial
design, because there's no real goal at hand--people just want to
read something. Though, in the information architecture of CollegeEdge,
we took a user-centered approach to the editorial, because its content
was built around a well-understood process, applying to colleges.
I don't want to suggest
that you choose one or the other, or that one method is superior
to another--good information design is a combination of all three
in appropriate measures for the situation at hand.
duh. Reading the book made me formally realize something I had
kinda known, but never thought of in quite that way. See, I label
myself a "Problem Solver," suggesting I solve other people's
problems. What chapter 5 pointed out is that it's not me, but my
audience--my job is to design a system that helps people solve
their problems. If you get too wrapped up in solving the problem
of the design of information, you forget that the goal is to help
your audience--and that the information they use to do this is typically
an intermediary between their desires and the solution. Information
design is very much about getting rid of all but the essentials,
not merely designing information because you have it at hand.
So far, chapter 4, "Human-Centered Design" has been the
most down-to-earth and straightforward. And is riddled with substantive
morsels such as
scientific view is obsessed with the notion of "the one best
way" (witness the mathematics of convergence or Leibnitz's
attempts at an exact language) and with rule-based systems. All
of this is deeply problematic. For example, an active trade unionist
will tell you that an effective way to stop anything in its tracks
is to "work to rule." It is all the little things we
do outside the rules, through our sense of purpose, that keep
everything going. (Pg. 60)
I do take slight issue
with his hierarchy of verbs: "You program a robot, you
train an animal, but you educate human beings."
A couple years ago, my dad bestowed much wisdom by telling me, "You
can't educate others, you can only inform them. People have to educate
A couple days ago I
grew exceedingly frustrated with a friend not understanding Coleridge's
"willing suspension of disbelief." It has only to do with
form, nothing to with plot. Here's a good
discussion of the concept. (Look around  and click
that "4" footnote.)