Out and About: Steve in Ottawa
October 17th, 2012
Last week I was in Ottawa speaking at Carleton University as well as delivering the closing keynote for UXcamp Ottawa. Here are some photographic highlights of my time there. Look for the rest of my pictures on Flickr.
Joseph Henri Maurice “The Rocket” Richard
Suzy Q Donuts.
The Canada Hall in the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Depicting 1000 years of history, this was an outstanding exhibit. In addition to the familiar elements of contemporary museum design, it had just enough realism, sort of the heightened-fakery from a movie studio backlot. The open-ended design enabled an immersive stroll through recreations of the past. As you wandered you could go in and poke around stores, schools, mills, airports, and so on. It was almost like being in a holodeck, strolling through time (and from east to west).
Building environmental control module or splash screen for circa 1974 television news magazine?
Recreation of the Robert Frank image used on the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street cover.
Stickers stuck to poles outside of the National Gallery. I took the picture without knowing what the heck I was looking at, though. It was only when I got my ticket for the National Gallery and was asked to put the same sticker on my clothing did I realize how those poles ended up like that.
That about covers it.
Out and About: Steve in Brisbane
September 14th, 2012
I got back last week from two weeks in Australia, traveling around as well as speaking at UX Australia in Brisbane and Service Design Melbourne. Here is the third of four posts with some of the highlights (see 1 and 2 previously). All my pictures are making their way to Flickr, as well.
Hmm. Update: Golden Casket is a lottery company, not the store itself. And “casket” more typically refers to something like a treasure chest than a coffin. The language discontinuities wonderfully surprising!
Brilliant idea to highlight a positive so specifically.
Burger King, in some parts of Australia, is Hungry Jack’s.
While the text and icon evoke the fleeing-immigrants signs seen in Southern California and Arizona, this supposedly refers to a traffic island in the middle of the street where pedestrians can wait if they are caught in the road when the light changes. However, this location had no such island.
Dolphin attendance. What can we infer about the dolphins with the dashes in place of checks? Or the dolphins with a line through the week?
From the Gallery of Modern Art (or, if you prefer, GOMA), biomorphic scooters.
“I never stopped loving you” reminded me of the iconic “I love you so much” graffiti-cum-icon in Austin. One is in an art museum, and the other is on the side of a building.
The piece is called Distillery: Waveforming. It uses biofeedback, as you clip a pulse oximeter to your earlobe and the iPad display starts to play mellow music and visually echo your heartbeat. It was like a digitally-induced high. I hope we all get one soon.
Observing Dublin (part 1 of 2)
February 8th, 2012
Last week I was in Dublin for the IxDA Student Design Challenge (more on that coming soon). I had a chance to stroll about (in the cold!) and get some pictures, here are a few favorites, with part 2 coming tomorrow.
You can’t understate the prominence (relevance?) of Guinness
The Museum of Natural History. A big, big room crammed with more dead stuffed animals than you possibly imagine.
Occupy and social media.
Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott.
Aspiration meets reality.
Local hero Colm Meaney.
The Liffey at night.
Samuel Beckett Bridge.
Services you didn’t know you needed.
August 22nd, 2011
Ferreting Out Fake Reviews Online [New York Times] – We recently worked with a client exploring how online reviews impact purchase decisions. It’s a fascinating, emergent space . Our focus was more on using reviews than creating reviews but we surfaced a lot of insights around authenticity and more importantly, credibility (choosing who to believe is fundamentally different than identifying what is “fake”).
“For $5, I will submit two great reviews for your business,” offered one entrepreneur on the help-for-hire site Fiverr, one of a multitude of similar pitches. On another forum, Digital Point, a poster wrote, “I will pay for positive feedback on TripAdvisor.” A Craigslist post proposed this: “If you have an active Yelp account and would like to make very easy money please respond.” The boundless demand for positive reviews has made the review system an arms race of sorts. As more five-star reviews are handed out, even more five-star reviews are needed. Few want to risk being left behind. Determining the number of fake reviews on the Web is difficult. But it is enough of a problem to attract a team of Cornell researchers, who recently published a paper about creating a computer algorithm for detecting fake reviewers. They were instantly approached by a dozen companies, including Amazon, Hilton, TripAdvisor and several specialist travel sites, all of which have a strong interest in limiting the spread of bogus reviews.
Curator Andrew Robison decides what goes into National Gallery’s emergency box [WaPo] – Extant Cold War scenarios are aging out faster than naming your kids after soap opera characters, meanwhile there’s an overwhelmed-by-stuff story lurking in here. What would you take from your house if you could take 3 things in 30 seconds? If you could take 20 things in an hour? If you had three days to pack a large duffel bag? These decisions are terrifying ones and for all our curation, enthusiasm for collection, etc., the accumulation of analog and digital artifacts alike is continually proving to be one of the defining problems of our time.
But in an emergency, not everything can be saved, and so he carefully ranks which works should be spared. The Canaletto is an obvious candidate for his top-priority list of 74 works on paper, but if it is included, something else has got to go. In 1979, with Washington worried about 52 hostages in Tehran and terrorist threats at home, Robison’s boss asked him to create a big container for works of the highest value. If catastrophe hit, the container could be spirited away to an undisclosed location. Today, Robison has seven boxes in two separate storerooms – four for European holdings, three for American. These do not include the museum’s 10,000 photographs, 3,800 paintings and 2,900 sculptures, outside of Robison’s purview and mostly too big for any mad dash out the building. In the two storerooms that Robison asked not be photographed or their locations disclosed, the black, cloth-lined boxes, each the shape of very large books, bear the label “WW3,” drawn in calligraphy. These in-case-of-World-War-III containers lie ready for any possibility, and in Robison’s absence, security guards have a floor plan that shows their exact location, like an X on a pirate map.
August 17th, 2011
Children With Autism, Connecting via Transit [New York Times] – Fascinating to learn first that the structure of trains appeals to kids with autism and even more fascinating to see that museums are adapting their programming to address this population specifically, a new mission that presumably reaches far beyond their original charters.
Like many children with autism spectrum disorders, Ravi is fascinated by trains and buses, entranced by their motion and predictability. And for years, these children crowded the exhibitions of the modest New York Transit Museum, chattering about schedules and engine components and old subway maps. Now, the museum, and others like it, are moving beyond accommodating the enthusiasm for trains and buses among children with autism and trying to use it to teach them how to connect with other people – and the world. The museum created a “Subway Sleuths” after-school program for 9- and 10-year-olds with autism that focuses on the history of New York City trains but seeks to make the children more at ease socially.
Intel uses sci-fi to understand possible tech uses [San Francisco Chronicle] – Compelling notion (see an interactions article I wrote about a similar topic) but the article is so slight that I have to wonder how exactly they are using these tools to drive a different approach to design or to impact specific products.
The chipmaker is trying to speed along the [cultural] change by reaching engineers in a language they understand: science fiction. Last year Intel hired four sci-fi writers to study the company’s latest research projects and produce an anthology, “The Tomorrow Project,” envisioning how cutting-edge processors might be used in the near future. The is to help Intel’s engineers design chips tailored to specific consumer uses with wide market potential. Intel’s sci-fi publishing arm is an extension of its 12-year-old social science division. The division assesses technological trends by sending anthropologists and sociologists to hang out in living rooms, senior care centers and hospitals. The logic behind the effort: Understand how technology is used, and you’re more likely to design chips people will buy.
Nat Allbright, Voice of Dodgers Games He Did Not See, Dies at 87 [New York Times] – I’m impressed with the notion of a broadcaster stitching together a continuous narrative based on tiny fragments of information. While mainstream broadcasting has obviously changed radically since then, there are echoes today in Twitter and #hashtags in breaking-news situations.
he took bare-bones telegraph messages transmitted by Morse code (“B1W” for Ball One Wide); embellished them with imagination and sound effects; and then broadcast games that sounded as if he were in the ballpark hearing, smelling and seeing everything, from steaming hot dogs to barking umpires to swirling dust at second base. Over a decade, Mr. Allbright broadcast 1,500 Brooklyn Dodgers games without seeing a single one. When so-called progress killed this splendid occupation, he came up with a new business: taping vanity broadcasts of imaginary sporting events, where the customer became the star. Just insert a name.
Sesame Street pair Bert and Ernie ‘will not marry’ [BBC] – A long-running joke about the mysterious relationship between the two Muppets turned serious recently when it was co-opted by social activist types who wanted to see gay marriage reflected in the show’s narrative. Groups representing blacks and gays have frequently and appropriately called attention to their lack of visibility in mainstream media, but this particular effort attempts to take control over the story direction in order to serve their particular agenda. Let’s not conflate the intent and the method. The producers of the show, after decades of ignoring the “are they are aren’t they” chatter, respond and explicitly acknowledge the reality of Bert and Ernie as characters, only.
Sesame Workshop, which produces “Sesame Street,” put an end to any wedding planning on Thursday with this brief statement posted on its Facebook page: “Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets™ do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”
Adventures in Consumption
August 15th, 2011
Here’s a bunch of examples of surprise, delight, dismay and beyond from my recent interactions in the consumo-sphere.
From the travel section at The Container Store. Lots of fun little bottles for packing your unguents and potions for travel. Nalgene bottles are guaranteed not to leak, even in the unpressurized airplane cargo hold. Given that the most you can carry onto a plane under TSA regulations is 3 oz., that seems like a likely size. Nalgene doesn’t make that size, despite sufficient demand that The Container Store has printed up a special sign to try and deflect the inevitable inquiries. What are those conversations like between the Nalgene sales rep and the buyer from The Container Store?
Paying online for the San Francisco Chronicle. In addition to the cost of the paper, I can also add a tip for the carrier, or donate some money to NIE. Not a misspelled Monty Python reference, it’s Newspapers in Education (I Googled). You’d imagine they’d get more uptake if they told us what it was they are asking for money for.
From the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “No peeking” (and “come back”) is so much nicer than “keep out.” And so knowing; of course when you see an installation-in-progress you are curious! The SFMOMA acknowledges that curiosity and harnesses the energy behind it to encourage you, rather than discourage you.
The menu at Oyaji in San Francisco. We see the risk of software that uses default form entries when you end up with Spider Roll that consists of “Give a brief description of the dish.”
At Crate and Barrel, shoppers can send a text to the manager to give feedback about their shopping experience. I hadn’t heard of this service (from recent Google acquisition TalkBin) before.
A travel poster advertising Alaska. And bears. Funny, friendly bears. Who, if you read the news, keep eating people.
A poster from a local cafe advertising Elizabeth’s range of services. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more tangible demonstration of the importance of specializing in your positioning. While I’m sure Elizabeth is wonderful and if I got to know her I’d trust with everything including yard maintenance and meal preparation, but to a new customer, someone who is qualified to look after precious offspring isn’t therefore qualified to look after precious animals (and in fact my be less qualified…do you want your toddler in a house full of someone else’s dogs?). Pick what you are good at and sell the one thing. If you need to diversity, create a range of separate messages.
Rooms at the Edgewater Hotel in Seattle have lovely specialized bottles of hair care products that reflect their brand and overall attitude. Unlike most hotels with their tiny (3 oz.) sample bottles, these are big, easy-to-handle bottles like you might have at home. A sign warns you that it’ll cost you $25 to take them home, so you know it’s good stuff. Mind you, on the housekeeping cart are these ketchup-and-mustard-evoking-bottles with stick-on labels that are used to refill those lovely bottles. Delightfulness denied.
Pike’s Place Market in Seattle. Past the faulty grammar (How the elephant got in my pajamas, I’ll never know!) the motivation for this extreme warning is clear enough.
The ice cream menu at Cold Stone Creamery. Random, unfunny, unintegrated product name puns. One evokes James Bond, but why? None of the others do. Other names are silly but decidedly not clever. My favorite is Cookie Minster, made with mint, so you’d think it’d be Cookie Mintster but no. Not that.
Photographer Michael Schmidt on Failure
June 18th, 2010
Photographer Michael Schmidt, from the exhibit Grey as Colour
at the Haus der Kunst in Munich.
I once described myself as a dead-end photographer, meaning that I always wander into a dead end and find no way out. I then accept this condition and at some point I am back out. This means that failure is an integral part of my work process.
All This Machinery Making Modern Music
August 3rd, 2009
At the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels, I took a picture of an old picture, presumably of the RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer
The museum is filled with every crazy variation on musical instruments you can imagine (and then beyond) so this struck me because it doesn’t connote musical instrument the way everything else did. It looks like an old computer. Well, sure, old electronic music tech was computer tech. In the lab, at least. This didn’t come from two people banging sticks together and liking the noise, it came out of a computer lab, and so the destiny of that sort of musical instrument is cast from that point of origin.
Physical objects evoke a reaction and interpretation (of meaning, of function, of value) based on the symbols we’ve learned. Products, especially those based on advanced technology, will naturally reflect the assumptions of their creators (without some sort of intervention or um design) about form, interface, and thus meaning, function, and value.
See more of my Belgium pictures here.