IA conference 2010

I am at the IA Konferenz 2010 in Cologne (my hometown). Would have been a crime to miss this conference here. Met James Kalbach , Søren MuusJason Hobbs (I owe him a written commentary to his talk) and others…

I need to write more but until I find the time to do that I suggest to look at the twitter tag feed #iak10.

Update: Presentation slides start to arrive on slideshare.net.

Track 1 from IA Konferenz 2010


Fast Company: Is Information Visualization the Next Frontier for Design?

This article asks wether or not Information Visualization is a field on its own in Information Design:

If we’re going to live in a world driven by data, the thinking goes, we need a simple means of digesting it all. We are increasingly a visual society, and our understanding of the world is increasingly made possible by this new visual language.

… and …

Designers have historically excelled at finding insightful ways of looking at complex problems. Visualization will likely play a prominent role as design evolves beyond the consumer economy (selling $2,000 poufs and other high-end furnishings) and helps create efficient new forms of buildings, food distribution and transportation.

Two Red Dot Design Awards for Hobnox

I forgot to post this here: Hobnox won two Red Dot Design Awards for the website and the Hobnox Audiotool. Unfortunatly the Red Dot website does not list the achievement – and there is no statement from the Jury either.

The Audiotool also recieved the Flashforward Award 2008 – which is rewarding the best Flash projects worldwide.

BTW: There will be an major Update to the Audiotool as soon as Flash Player 10 is released. New features of the 10th player allow a more reliable Java-free playback and – this is big – the possibility to record sessions to MP3. Saving a work for later continuation is following soon.

Design podcasts

As there are more and more programs offering podcasts I think there is more interesting content appearing in this subscription format that is interesting for design:

  • DESIGNsuisse
    A german/swiss language series from swiss television mostly with portraits about designers and/or design agencies. These are spotlights about design processes and help to demystify design as a service instead of an artform.
  • Cool Hunting
    Cool Hunting is a daily update on ideas and products in the intersection of art, design, culture and technology, and features weekly videos that get an inside look at the people who create them.
  • Elektrischer Reporter
    This is a “more or less experimental” podcast by the german news magazine Handelsblatt. It features stories about internet culture.
  • Diggnation
    A weekly “boulevardesque” commentary of two guys about the weekly top stories on digg.com. Running for over 2 years now.
  • Icon-o-cast
    This audio podcast is presented by Lunar Design. Explore and demystify the world of design.
  • School of Visual Arts New York
    A series of different podcasts from the SVA NY.
  • UIE Brain Spark
    This site features several podcasts (e.g. “The Josh and Jared Show”) related to “User Interface Engineering”.

There are much more for sure. I’ll just leave it here now. If you know a podcast of interest for designers, let me know.

Luke Wroblewski on Design thinking

On the »SHIFT« conference Luke Wroblowski presented his ideas about »Design thinking« (see his post here).

I think there is a lot of refreshed awareness in die business community about what »design thinking« might be and if it can help to improve business processes, services and products.

Right now it seems there is a lot of very hypothetical talk about that. And as Luke Wroblowski shows by quoting other designers, it is also a very open what »design thinking« is. But there are some prominent figures propagating the concept, so I expect business people and economists will start to discuss what (or what not) »design thinking« may be good for.

Design and organisations

I had a phone conversation with a friend who works in a planning department of one of the largest corporations in the world. We were discussing the experiences of many employees in large organisations (she is a fan of Dilbert therefore).

I was reminded of the »Design and organisations« seminar I did five years ago. I love to browse the accompanying weblog once in a while. Everytime I do, I am confident, that I will offer another seminar like this one day. I still think that there is a huge potential for designers to work on “inhouse communication”. Many corporations employ designers only when it comes to communication with outsiders – mostly customers. Many don’t sense a strategic possibility for design when communicating to their own employees. Ironically – whenever I talk about that with people – most people agree that inhouse communication is an issue.

Dave Pollard wrote a fabulous and brilliant post last year about the psychology of information and why people often do not share information within an organisation. Designers really have (or should have) the skills to implement and operationalize many of the “effective workarounds” he proposes.

Simplicity in Linz

Tobias, Tim and Konstantin visited the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz. The topic was »simplicity«.

They have provided some insightful comments. With the exception of a presentation of John Maeda (video, website) there seemed to be little progress in the discussion about the notion of simplicity.

Obviously the term »simplicity« is a term that can’t be defined in itself. Its meaning depends on what you apply it to. It is a term that qualifies a relation between activity, the skill and the required effort to perform or learn a task. It is not the object in itself, that is simple, but it is the usage that can have a “simple” quality.

The develmopment of the web in the last five years is a good example: there is an increase of activities users can do with no or only minimal effort or skill. Web applications are toolisations of data creating options for users to perform.

The Flickr Map (see my post yesterday) is a perfect example: The designers of that application have really thought through almost every possible interaction detail and provided clear interaction styles (e.g. How can I split a group of photos at a given spot? How can I add a group of photos to an existing location? How can one see that location on a given photo?). For the developers of the Flickr Map application this meant a lot of programming, testing and debugging. And this development cost was rewarded: 1,3 million photos were geo-coded in the first 24 hours.


Tobias Jordans finally finished his diploma thesis: ScoutPress. It’s a system based on weblog software (WordPress) that allows foundations and fragmented organisations to effectively communicate and organize the scattered and distributed information. Tobias used the German Scout Association (DPSG) as a live example (therefore the project name) but it is in no way limited to this interest group. He really did go beyond setting up a weblog system and remain waiting what emerges. Her identified driving factors and success stories and thus designed a publishing practice that meets the need of the individuals throughout the organisation. In this sense his approach is a model for any kind of large-scale weblog utilization.

Screenshot of Scoutpress

The system is in use and will officially launched in September 2006. Tobias developed some Plug-Ins that make WordPress even easier to use for not-so-blogging-savvy users.

The rediscovery of function in product design

The ACM IT magazine publishes an article written by Andreas Pfeiffer titled »Why features don’t matter anymore: The new laws of digital technology«. He lists ten fundamental rules for the age of user experience technology. The article begins with this:

The iPod was never sold on the grounds of its technical merits: Apple hit a gold-mine by marketing a cool new way of integrating music in your life. Even when Apple announced the iPod with video, it presented it not as the best multi-media player in the universe, but as a cool new way of watching “Desperate Housewives” and other TV shows.

This observation applies a meme to marketing that I often present in one of my lectures: the differences in the definition of the term »functionality«. In a system-centered perspective functionality is based on features and potential things one could do. In a user-centered perspective functionality is based on tasks and actual actions that are performed. With simpler words: »Functionality« is not about what I could do with a system in theory, but rather what I am actually doing in practice.

This is really hard to understand for developers who tend to focus on the feature list of a system and then suggest users just need more training to get the most out of the product. The marketing would make packages filled with things you could do (if only you would be a power user enough to handle that power!). But the daily frustration with software that is oh-so powerful taught users to become sceptical: they’d rather buy something that does few things right than something that does many things wrong.

I think the iPod was never appealing as a standalone product but rather as a piece of an integrated and thought through product system with the Music Store and iTunes as “missing pieces” for anything you could possibly do with your music: listening, ripping, mixing, collecting, burning CDs, archiving, shopping, gifting, subscribing – and taking it with you on the go, to a party or in the car. In the WIndows-world you had all this functionality spread over different applications and hardware from different vendors – which often requires mere luck to get everything to work without problems.

Update: Tim Bruysten pointed me to this funny parody: How would the iPod packaging look like if Microsoft would have designed it?

Design Sites

I just want to raise the attention to these invaluable sites (some of which have been in my Blogroll for years):

I recommend theses sites to all students. And by the way: ALL of them have an RSS feed!

3rd International Design Research Conference in Brazil

Next week there’ll be another conference on Design Research in Rio De Janeiro. Unfortunatly the conference website is extremely lousy. I can’t even remember a conference website with so superficial and useless information. Obviously the organizers don’t want to get too international.

First of all I was suprised to read “3rd international conference” in the announcement, which suggests there have been just two other conferences on that topic. But if you look at the prior conferences listed you’ll notice that they just count national conferences and the attribute international may be a matter of wether or not there are speakers from other countries invited. From an organizing committee of an international design research conference I expect a) to list any design research conference in the history of the planet and b) to title their event »3rd Brazilian Conference on Design Research«.

Secondly the list of papers is not available in English (wasn’t that a conference with “international” in the title?). If that wouldn’t be lame enough, the accepted papers are listed without any author names and abstracts – which basically makes this list useless for any kind of research (Wasn’t “research” in the conference title as well??).

Thridly, even though the conference is happening next week, there is no program available so besides some preview remarks on the start page there is no information whatsoever who is actually speaking at this event. Even the past two events are not documented beyond a list of accepted papers (again without any author names or abstracts).

Maybe I should apply to the 4th international conference with a paper called »What does ‘state of the art’ actually mean for Design (Research)?«.

Podcasts from thePreparedMind.com

Christopher Gee is running a weblog subtitled »a blog about the graphic design industry«. He is doing interviews with people from the design profession about various topics. It is very helpful that Christopher listed some issues raised within each interview. So you get an overview before listening to the audio.

I quote from an interview Chris did with GK VanPatter (founder of NextD.org) about Innovation Leadership and misleaded design educators:

There is sort of a misdirected sense in the [design education] community that there is a place and a table for designers that will always be there. It’s a fallacy. That place, there’s someone sitting there and we have to compete for that place. And our design educators just don’t get to that. They still are educating people like »That is your destiny. That is you place and your table because you are a designer and designers are always going to lead design!«. That is history! It’s a fantasy! It does not exist! We have to compete for innovation leadership roles.

I couldn’t agree more. It has been my personal experience and I see it everywhere. And I feel the same that many design educators don’t get it and instead stick to old models of the role of designers in business.

Density, Simplicity and Continuity

I am currently working on defining three seminars that lay out a foundation for design education. These courses are not oriented towards the formal and technological aspects of media, but rather focus on the psychological and cognitive questions involved with almost any design work. This is what I came up with:

  • Density: Designing for effectiveness (mostly looking at Information Design)
    Questions involved: How dense can display of information get? How much information can be groked in short time? How can designers organize the attention of recipients/viewers? What do we need to know about cognitive psychology and perception research, to find the best way of communicating visually? How can we identify and build upon archetypes that are available to most humans? etc.
  • Simplicity: Designing for efficiency (mostly looking at Interface Design)
    Questions involved: How can we avoid things getting too complex? Is there an absolute measure to complexity in contrast to an obvious relative measure? Why do we instantly feel products beeing »easy to use«? How can we improve our understanding of the »usage context« when designing things? When do things become too simple and thus do harm instead of help? When does »making things simple« become an end it itself? etc.
  • Continuity: Designing for adequacy (mostly looking at Interaction Design)
    Questions involved: Is there a »psychology of interaction«? Can we learn from the concept of »flow« introduced in psychology for designing interactive systems and services? Can we identify an area inbetween intuition and concious decision making? Do we have the right epistemocogical tools at hand to identify problems in design work in regard to »fluent interaction«? etc.

I plan to sketch out these three topics as being foundation courses – not as a research agenda. You might start from there into any direction within the design profession. One might work on this theoretically, but one might also use any kind of pracitcal design problem or test case to explore the questions raised.


Ecolanguage.net uses visual animations to explain economical and ecological processes. The animations are planned for a common visual code to represent all issues involved with economy and ecology. They have just three types of transaction: yellow represent energy, red represents money and black represents information.

It comes pretty close to what I intended with the seminar called »Density«. In fact the assignments of that seminar started with visualizing the Grandfather Economic Reports by Michael Hodges. But in »Density« the focus was not so much on the visual code, but rather how visual representations allow rapid understanding. These two ideas are pretty close together. But »Density« is exploring the cognitive limits of understanding information in short time.