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August 27, 1999
For a good time, call 760-733-9969
after 2pm Pacific Time.This is a limited time offer! If you don't call today, you might miss it!

"Factors and Principles Affecting the Usability of Four E-commerce Sites." Title says it all.

August 26, 1999
Treasure trove of trenchant treats.
Excuse the alliteration. It's just that I get excited when stumbling upon as fabulous a collection of writing as is available for reading at Max Bruinsma's web site. Max writes about all manner of design for the incomparable Eye magazine, among other publications. It's definitely to be bookmarked for later reading.

Of particular immediate interest is the First Things First 2000 manifesto, an updated tract against the abject consumerism of commercial design. It's a treat to have such great thought freely available!

August 25, 1999

A practitioner speaks. Taylor (a very smart, very tall, very bald man whom you should pay lots of money to do clever Web things, or hire to sit on your side of the table and intimidate clients) developed the Star Wars comic/cartoon I pointed to yesterday, and responded to my musings:

But what will allow you to move comics online? Scott's vision is a good one, but quite academic. While it retains more of the roots of what comics are, the form positions it more as a museum installation or a monument, then a populist art form. Comics have always been a mass medium, that's always been a heavy influence in it's development.

I don't actually think that comics can make the jump to the screen as comics. The differences in the medium and the expectations that the audiences have or are developing are too great. Instead I'm noticing how multimedia, computer games, web pages, and operating systems are using comic languages and tools to solve problems and evolve. Look at Ultima Online's heavy reliance on the word balloon, or how the process of panel closure and composition works on your Mac GUI.

Comics may not survive the jump into the net intact, but by attempting the jump they will help pollenate the computer medium and lead to a unique hybrid art form, one that is as much comics as it is cinema, or graphic design, or multimedia.

August 24, 1999
Smart thoughts about comix.
In Chicago I shopped at the incomparable Quimby's, a store specializing in alternative printed media--comix, zines, small press and self-published books. Therein I purchased The Imp #3, a beautifully designed and throughtfully written zine devoted to the work of Chris Ware. (And I know want to find #1, about Dan "Eightball" Clowes.) The Imp features prominently in this fairly engaging introduction to the fringe-dwelling world of underground and alternative comix.

Obviously, I've been thinking quite a bit about bringing comics online. I agree with Scott McCloud when he says, "Multimedia plus comics is not multimedia comics--it's multimedia." Too often folks think that since this medium allows you to animate and use synced sound, you should exploit that. However, that simply turns comics into cartoons (Hi Taylor!). However, there are interactive elements to exploit that wouldn't violate the sanctity of the spatial nature of comics art, and could, in fact, extend it.

Magic Lenses are an interface widget that have yet to catch on, though they're very very cool. The idea of a Magic Lens is that you can take any visual scene (which is just an amalgamation of data) and apply a lens to it, and derive a new representation of that information from that scene. Magic Lenses hold a lot of promise for online comics--they use the malleability of the screen in such a way that they can extend and enhance the information in a comic panel without interfering with the magic of comics.

Some Magic Lenses are truly programmatic. Say you have a string of numbers. You could apply a magic lens to them that adds all the numbers up. Or you could apply a magic lens to them that charts the numbers on a graph.

Other Magic Lenses are more simply presentational. I created one for DHTML that is an X-Ray machine. You can find it here (click DHTML Experiment, then select X-Ray). The tech here is simple--overlaying two graphics, and only showing the part of the one "on top" that is pertinent. But the effect proves quite powerful.

Magic Lenses got their start at Xerox PARC. Here's their page describing them (with some lame applets).

For some good thought on Magic Lenses: http://www.go2net.com/internet/deep/1997/04/23/body.html (featuring the world's yuckiest magic lenses applet)


What does this all mean for comics? Well, you could have a straightforward comic panel. But let's say some character has, I dunno, X-Ray vision. The reader could "turn on" his vision and see the panel from his perspective--perhaps revealing some key clue or whatnot. Or to extend that, use Magic Lenses to allow us to see a scene from different character's different points of view. I dunno. Something to think about.

August 23, 1999
Go, meme, go! Now you, too can be an Internet superstar. Sign up with Blogger.com, and create your own blog. Everybody's doing it! Why should you choose Blogger.com over, say, Pitas? Flexibility! In particular, the fact that your blog is stored at the URL of your choosing. Like this. And with a rudimentary knowledge of HTML, you can format it just how you like it. [On a side note, it makes me feel like a proud papa to see the "blog" meme spread. And got me wondering what's at Blog.com. Oddly enough, it's something like a blog! And has been around since June 1998, long before the term was coined. I can't quite figure out what is the blog of Blog.com, though.]

More From You Good People. My brain's a little bit slow here in petermeland; happily, I've got sooper-smart readers to do all my thinking for me! Following through on our data-information-knowledge-wisdom discussion of days past is Joe Clark, design roustabout.

What do we mean by terms like information, data, and knowledge? In the field of knowledge management, a host of definitions have been advanced, most of which cluster around similar conceptual landmarks. In my view, information can be thought of as facts that may be useful, with data a subtype of information that, due to its form (e.g., numbers; statistics), abundance (e.g., gigabytes of data in a Web site's hit logs), measurement system (e.g., astronomical units), or other structural features, requires added human cognitive effort.

(Data are sometimes upwardly mobile, movin' on up to honest-to-God information and knowledge. Lots of people in major Western cities know exactly where you stand with a T-cell count of 50 or 750 and can offer immediate advice and tell their own tales. Mention your triglycerides, though, and eyes glaze over. Blood pressure, percentage of calories from fat, sodium, gas mileage, computer megahertz, airplane and airport designations, flier miles, and UV indices are other examples of upwardly-mobile data.)

Knowledge, on the other hand, unites information with experience, heuristics, emotion, intuition, and other generally subjective properties of the human mind. (Indeed, the information/knowledge distinction parallels the brain/mind distinction.)

Facts are a form of information understood to be true by one party, usually within the conversation. (Truth, however, can be manufactured; for a fictional treatment where facts are rather more allegorical, read the novella by Yann Martel, The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios.)

August 20, 1999 [Iowa City, IA]
Why Didn't I Think Of That? The Bewitched Project.

August 19, 1999 [Iowa City, IA]
Information Flow. Paul pointed to LifeStreams, an interface and technology designed to help us keep track of the overwhelming amounts of information coursing through our lives. I clicked through the demo, and am left with these questions:
1. Um. How do you buy it? I never saw the word "buy," "purchase," or "order" anywhere.
2. Have you used it? Played with it? And by "you," I mean peterme readers. If so, let me know what you think.
3. What's with that interface? It looks almost as overwhelming as the information it's trying to wrangle! I think for something like a LifeStreams, more progressive disclosure is called for. (And how is it that I've only now found out that Apple's Human Interface Guidelines are available on the Web?)

Mailing List Madness. Quite a few interesting threads are turning up on the mailing lists I'm on. Webdesign-l (the best general Web design and development list out there) features a discussion on graphic design v. information design and the nature of titles in this field. Here's what I just wrote:

The point made about the fluidity of titles and responsibilities is a good one, so please read the following with the understanding that I'm not proposing absolutes, but wanting to engender further discussion.
Having worked with a lot of graphic designers (and lucky enough to be exposed to some of the most brilliant in the field) I've basically divided them into two (oversimplified) camps:
1. Design As Beauty
2. Design As Function
The former come from the world of advertising, promotions, packaging, etc. They tend to fail in the world of Web design.
The latter tend to perform old-school information design--maps, transit system literature, signage, etc. They tend to excel in the world of Web design. (The folks at MetaDesign are the prime example of this kind of graphic design.) Still, they tend to approach information as a static substance, and are ill at ease exploiting the dynamism of new media.
With respect to "information architecture," "information design," "interface design," etc., this is a much tougher nut to crack. In the San Francisco web industry, the job title "Information Architect" has taken root for the person who does those kinds of things.
Unfortunately, "information anything" is insufficient to describe the breadth of responsibilities that are typically undertaken in that role. Information design is a part of my user-centered methodology, but there's a whole practice of user research that isn't necessarily accounted for by that title. For the sake of completeness, I prefer the moniker "user's experience designer," though it's clunky. "Experience" implies that one designs more than information structures, and is cognizant of the entire interaction the user has with the product.
At Zefer in Chicago, such practitioners are labelled "cognitive engineers," an intriguing title that I find a tad too manipulative--"I am here to engineer your cognition! You will think what I tell you to think!"

This post on the CHI-Web mailing list provides business cases for user-centered design--great for convincing those with the purse strings that this process actually provides positive results.

Shiny sparkly. It turns out I had my nails (fingers and toes!) manicured and painted silver the day before lemonyellow applied glitter eye makeup. Must be something in the air. And it's a damn shame more het boys don't allow themselves such delightful indulgences. It's fun!

August 18, 1999 [Chicago, IL]
BYOB - Be Your Own Boss. Richard pointed me to the shiny new Guru.com, a resource for independent professionals. Ever since I started freelancing, I've bemoaned the lack of Web resources for folks like me. It's great to see someone fill that need.

August 17, 1999 [Chicago, IL]
Resistance is futile.
Ad parody is the subject matter of this article on Wired News, which in turn points to Jason Kottke's Simply Porn, my posting of which knocked off a couple of my allotted 15 minutes. As the article mentions, the Web is the best thing to happen to pointed parody and satire--quality memes spread extremely fast, often to the frustration of corporations who are unused to not having total control over their image.

August 16, 1999 [Grand Rapids, MI]
I should be sleeping. But I finally scored some dial-up access, and I was jonesing for an internet fix, and foolishly, I looked at my site, and thought, "Hrm, it needs an update."

So, some flotsam and jetsam as I write to you from Grand Rapids, MI.

Small-town internet. I spent Friday night hanging out with Leon, IA's entire Internet industry, my friend Lisa (in fact, the one site listed in Yahoo!'s Leon directory was designed by her), and staying at the Leon Motel.

Here's a picture of me standing under a plaster elephant eating a Buster Bar outside the town's Dairy Queen.

Information design writing, Jon Carroll-style. Writing daily is hard. How to fill that space? I shall utilize The San Francisco Comical columnist Jon Carroll's let-the-readers-write-it-for-you method, where you simply reprint what has been sent in. So, not only do I do no actual writing, I also get to give my site the patina of "community" by encouraging a "dialogue" among its readers. Shall I IPO now?

Anyway, Tim Gasperak, whose job title should be "Design Mack Daddy," and who has posted a fabulous presentation on the design of garden.com, wrote in response to my August 10th "practicin' perfesser" ramble:

Here are some thoughts/definitions to further supplement your discussion on information.

Information: knowledge obtained by research, observation, study or instruction in a form allowing for its recommunication to others enabling a state of knowing. It is synonymous with "facts" or "intelligence."

This most certainly implies both the processes of receiving and transmitting, and alludes to the designer's ability to shape both sides of that process.

It also reminds me of the construct:
data + meaning = information
information + design = knowledge
knowledge + experience = wisdom

So you have to know the other components:
- inherently chaotic
- structure imperceptible
- devoid of meaning
- culturally, personally, physically, motivationally and environmentally bound
- what users know about the info space
- mental models
- vocabulary
knowledge: - an organized body of information

Jessamyn, who is a librarian and thus knows more about information than you, wrote in:

We used to say in library school that the difference between information and knowledge is the difference between having Christy Turlington's phone number and having Christy Turlington.

I suppose I have neither information nor knowledge, then.

People Who Get It. Within this distressingly small group is Zefer, an agency headquartered in Chicago, but with offices elsewhere. Their Knowledge section contains briefs on writing RFPs and how to best use system errors. The former reminds me that Fire Engine Red also offers RFP guidance--very helpful for clueless potential clients.