Posts tagged “writing”

Steve’s War Story: Giggling and Grunting

I originally posted this in 2006, and revised it slightly for Interviewing Users. I thought it was time to add it to the War Stories archive and so here’s the original version.

As we rang the doorbell, my colleague and I unconsciously straightened, preparing ourselves for that all-important first impression, that moment when our research participant would come to the door and size us up. We waited for a moment, looking at each other as we heard footsteps, mustering a smile as the inside door opened.
“Hello,” I offered, “Are you Brian?”

As I began to state the obvious, that we were here for the interview, he grunted, opened the screen door, and as we took hold, he turned around and walked back into the house. We glanced at each other, and stepped into the foyer. What did we know about Brian? Our recruiting screener told us he was 22, lived with his parents, and his brother, and was employed part-time. The rest would be up to us to discover.

It was 7:30 in the morning and we were taking our shoes off in a strange house. Eventually someone beckoned from the kitchen, and we came in. But already we were out of sync. The kitchen was small, with an L-shaped counter, and a small table for dining. The mother was at the end of the L, working with bowls and dishes and burners on the stove. The father was perched against the counter, while Brian, and his younger brother sat at the table. The father was a small man, while the other three were quite large. The room wasn’t intended for the six of us, so we managed to set ourselves up for our interview in the only place we could; at the far end of the counter, at the far end of the table. We wedged ourselves (one behind the other) on small chairs, pulling our knees in, our paraphernalia of notepads, documents, video cameras, tapes, batteries etc. clutched in close. It wasn’t ideal, but we hoped we could make it work.

But then the real challenge became clear – although Brian had agreed for us to meet and do this interview, he was actively disinterested. We were positioned 45 degrees behind him, in his blind spot. With his physical bulk, he managed to loom over his food in a way that eliminated even any peripheral eye contact; somehow this was something a smaller person couldn’t have done. His brother sat across from him, echoing his posture.

We had recruited Brian specifically, but of course, here we were with the entire family. We pressed ahead, explaining our study, and starting in with our planned questions. Since Brian was the person with whom we had the arrangement, we focused our attention on him. He would not respond, beyond one word answers (which sounded more like grunts), and the occasional glance up to his brother, causing them both to giggle.

My colleague and I avoided looking at each other (it may have not been physically possible, given the tight quarters) for fear of displaying our despair at the situation. Sure, we had arranged this interview, but the cues we were receiving were making it clear the arrangement wasn’t worth much. At this point, we had already woke up quite early to do this interview, so there was no point in giving up. If they changed their mind explicitly, they’d let us know, and we’d leave. Meanwhile, what else was there to do but press on? I asked questions, with very little response. I tried the brother, at which point Brian bolted out of the room for a few minutes, without a word. The brother was only slightly more amenable than Brian, mostly interested in making critical comments about his parents (to Brian’s great grunting enjoyment) as much as provide any actual information.

Indeed, the mother and father seemed not to have been warned that we would be coming; although I directed some of the questioning towards the mom, she reacted with pretty serious hostility, informing us (in the context of an answer to a question) that they did not welcome strangers into their house, and (while she was preparing food) highlighted the intimate nature of food preparation as a symbol, and that was even less open to strangers. The message was very clear.

But again, what could we do? Pressing on, until asked to leave, under the explicit agreement we had made, seemed the best approach. We asked our questions, following up on the information they had shared, listening closely, looking for clarification, offering up as much space as we could for them to talk, all in trying to build some flow and dialog. Even though the message was negative, at least the parents were willing to talk to us. And so, the young men faded out of the conversation, and the interview eventually switched over to the parents. Two hours later it turned out that we had completed an excellent interview with them; they each had great stories about our topic area, and revealed a lot of background about their family, about growing up, about their activities, and even their perspectives on what made the United States the country it had become.

Before we left the house, the mother insisted on cooking up some fried bread fresh and hot for us; admonishing us that “no one comes here and doesn’t get food” – reiterating the intimate nature of food she had mentioned at the beginning, but this time as a compliment rather than a shield.

As soon as we left the house, my colleague turned to me and said “I don’t know how you pulled that off; I thought we were done for and would have to leave.” I was very pleased with how the interview turned out, especially because it began at such a low point, but there was little magic to it. I didn’t try to solve the big problem of the complex dynamic we had walked into; I focused (especially at first) on just the next problem; the immediate challenge of what to say next. I was certainly keeping the larger goals in mind of how to cover all the areas we were interested in, but I was focusing my energy as an interviewer on the next thing. And by working at it in small pieces, bit by bit, the dynamic shifted. As interviewers, we had to compartmentalize the social experience of the event – the extreme discomfort and awkwardness of the early part of the interview, and just stick to our jobs. We didn’t handle the situation that differently than any other interview, and it served as a testament to our approach – listening, following up (and showing that we were listening by the way we followed up), building rapport and trust, bit by bit, until there was a great deal of openness and great information.

Years later, it’s obvious that there are better ways to communicate with the participants ahead of time to screen out unwilling participants. For example, the person who is going to be in the field should always speak live to the person they will be visiting before they day of the interview just to get that person-to-person communication started early, so both parties can get a sense of each other and start to feel comfortable (or agree that it’s not a good fit and move on to someone else). But, given the diversity of people, we will always end up interviewing people who are more or less comfortable with the process, and it’s our job to make them comfortable in order to get the information we are interested in. Doing so may make us uncomfortable ourselves, but with practice we must learn to set aside the social dynamics and focus on the question asking and listening that will make the interview a success.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Has Microsoft Word affected the way we work? [The Guardian] – It’s interesting to reflect on the obvious and also the thoughtless ways in which the tools we use shape the way we write, and what we write. I know that I’m not alone in having a different writing process and style based on the interactions/affordances of WordPress, Word, PowerPoint, etc…

Consider first the name that the computer industry assigned to it: word processor. The obvious analogy is with the food processor, a motorised culinary device that reduces everything to undifferentiated mush. That may indeed have been the impact of Word et al on business communications, which have increasingly become assemblies of boilerplate cliches. But that’s not been the main impact of word processing on creative writing, which seems to me to be just as vibrant as it was in the age of the typewriter or the fountain pen. But has word processing changed the way we write?…The most interesting academic study I looked at found that writers using computers “spent more time on a first draft and less on finalising a text, pursued a more fragmentary writing process, tended to revise more extensively at the beginning of the writing process, attended more to lower linguistic levels [letter, word] and formal properties of the text, and did not normally undertake any systematic revision of their work before finishing”.

How to Write [Barnes & Noble] – Distractions are obviously distracting, but also extremely critical to the writing process. It’s funny because it’s true!

Step Two: Seltzer. Doesn’t a tall class of icy cold seltzer sound delicious right now? Maybe with a slice of lime? Your lack of seltzer is no doubt what’s holding you back from greatness. If only you had seltzer, then the words would pour out of you-like seltzer out of a seltzer bottle and maybe just as bubbly. Check the fridge. Maybe there’s still some club soda from the New Year ‘s Eve party. Is club soda the same as seltzer? What club served it first? That’s a pretty boring club. Am I right? Hahaha-yeah.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Art.sy’s ‘Genome’ Predicts What Paintings You Will Like [Wired] – Although the article deals more with the carefully controlled art market, I’m mostly intrigued by this quantitative translation of the ineffable. Pandora is a successful proof of concept (though I suppose we might debate it’s ability to deliver on it’s promise); I am waiting for the donut genome project and its recommendation engine. [Hah. Mere seconds after posting, I come upon this. Pretty close!]

On its screen, the Warhol painting-that is, the phone’s rendering of the laptop’s picture of the painting-was now surrounded by tiny thumbnails of other artwork, painted or made by diverse artists and dating from multiple eras, including the present day. According to Art.sy, these works all share the same DNA, so to speak. Cleveland and a team of art historians have spent the past year studying thousands of works and compiling a list of their distinct and measurable elements. The result is the Art Genome, composed at present of more than 550 “genes”: attributes of fine art that range from the simply factual (the medium, the color palette) to the undeniably subjective (the “movement” a work falls into, or its “subject matter”). Using these attributes, Art.sy’s recommendation engine can evaluate a piece on the fly and suggest relationships with other works, presenting those results on any device-even, eventually, a phone.

Saving Humanity from Homo Sapiens [SHfHS.com] – Just from a cultural collision perspective, I like the conflation of techno-nihilism and not-for-profit advocacy. Two great tastes!

The greatest threats to humanity lie in technologies humans have invented. From the danger of nuclear war or catastrophic global warming to the looming threat of future technologies such as self-replicating nanobots and powerful artificial intelligence, SHfHS is dedicated to finding ways to ensure that humanity continues to progress without snuffing ourselves out along the way. There are people trying to do the good work of saving humanity from potentially destroying itself, but they need our help. That’s what Saving Humanity from Homo Sapiens is all about: finding the people doing the best work to prevent man-made X-Risk and supporting them. You can help.

The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot [Dirty 30s!] – Once again, art reduced to a formula. Here, there’s no pretense that doing so remains within the realm of art. In general, I find these deconstructions fascinating as artifacts, whether or not they produce quality output.

This is a formula, a master plot, for any 6000 word pulp story. It has worked on adventure, detective, western and war-air. It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words. No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell. The business of building stories seems not much different from the business of building anything else.

Here’s how it starts:

1. A DIFFERENT MURDER METHOD FOR VILLAIN TO USE
2. A DIFFERENT THING FOR VILLAIN TO BE SEEKING
3. A DIFFERENT LOCALE
4. A MENACE WHICH IS TO HANG LIKE A CLOUD OVER HERO

One of these DIFFERENT things would be nice, two better, three swell. It may help if they are fully in mind before tackling the rest.

A different murder method could be–different. Thinking of shooting, knifing, hydrocyanic, garroting, poison needles, scorpions, a few others, and writing them on paper gets them where they may suggest something. Scorpions and their poison bite? Maybe mosquitos or flies treated with deadly germs?

To thwart porn, colleges are buying up .xxx sites [AP] – The introduction of new domain suffixes means new flavors of pre-emptive domains. It was amusing more than a decade ago when companies like (say) Starbucks bought (or battled over) domains like (say) starbucksucks.com. The likely misappropriations of a college brand are slightly different, a this story reveals.

The University of Kansas is buying up website names such as http://www.KUgirls.xxx and http://www.KUnurses.xxx. But not because it’s planning a Hot Babes of Kansas site or an X-rated gallery of the Nude Girls of the Land of Aaahs. Instead, the university and countless other schools and businesses are rushing to prevent their good names from falling into the hands of the pornography industry. Over the past two months, they have snapped up tens of thousands of “.xxx” website names that could be exploited by the adult entertainment business. “Down the road there’s no way we can predict what some unscrupulous entrepreneur might come up with,” said Paul Vander Tuig, trademark licensing director at the Lawrence, Kan., school.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Reading, writing, and calculations…

Like Pandora? Try A Literary Offshoot, Booklamp [flavorwire.com] – The folks at Flavorwire gave the book-recommendation engine Booklamp a little ammo, with comic results. Such as the “Lyrics of Sting” being recommended based on enjoying Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” I tried to play too, but I lost interest after a cursory search for some of my favorite books and authors came up altogether empty.

BookLamp.org is a new website that is similar to Pandora – it creates algorithms and breaks down your book preferences by main themes. For instance, if you liked White Teeth, then Booklamp discerns that you’re into: Culture, Life/Death/Spirituality, Extended Families, Explicit Language, and “Elements of Time.” This results in some odd recommendations, such as The Cestus Deception (Star Wars: Clone Wars) by Steven Barnes. (Really? Because we are just never going to be in to that.) However, another suggestion was The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis, which makes some sense. So click through and see what hilarious, interesting, and arguably accurate choices we found on our trip through the site.

Slowpoke: How to be a faster writer. [slate.com] – So it’s not just me! Agger’s quietly funny column includes some aha’s into the process of writing, some moments of vigorous nodding-and-agreeing (such as in the intro, excerpted below) and a rare banana-nut muffin pop-culture reference.

Hunched over my keyboard, I’m haunted by anecdotes of faster writers. Christopher Hitchens composing a Slate column in 20 minutes-after a chemo session, after a “full” dinner party, late on a Sunday night… So what’s holding us back? How does one write faster? Kellogg terms the highest level of writing as “knowledge-crafting.” In that state, the writer’s brain is juggling three things: the actual text, what you plan to say next, and-most crucially-theories of how your imagined readership will interpret what’s being written. A highly skilled writer can simultaneously be a writer, editor, and audience. Since writing is such a cognitively intense task, the key to becoming faster is to develop strategies to make writing literally less mind-blowing.

Do you Suffer from Decision Fatigue [nytimes.com] – Daily calculations become more taxing as they mount, to the point of fatigue; the effect is exacerbated by glucose levels. More wild-cards in trying to understand how people make decisions. Lots of great stories of research projects throughout the article.

No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts…Once you’re mentally depleted, you become reluctant to make trade-offs, which involve a particularly advanced and taxing form of decision making. In the rest of the animal kingdom, there aren’t a lot of protracted negotiations between predators and prey. To compromise is a complex human ability and therefore one of the first to decline when willpower is depleted. You become what researchers call a cognitive miser, hoarding your energy. If you’re shopping, you’re liable to look at only one dimension…When there were fewer decisions, there was less decision fatigue. Today we feel overwhelmed because there are so many choices. Your body may have dutifully reported to work on time, but your mind can escape at any instant. A typical computer user looks at more than three dozen Web sites a day and gets fatigued by the continual decision making – whether to keep working on a project, check out TMZ, follow a link to YouTube or buy something on Amazon.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Oh, Etsy. How could you? [Authentical] – [Smart take on process failures in Etsy's recent misstep. User research can make a big difference] It's hard for me to believe that if Etsy had conducted user research and even informal but realistic usability testing on the idea that they would not have quickly seen the privacy violation. They could have avoided the damage control they now have to deal with because of the breach of trust they've had with buyers who already love the experience of shopping there.Etsy could have avoided the problem and discovered a possibly great idea for engaging buyers even more. Where was the business plan for allowing search of users? How does having social "circles" support the business model, exactly? How would the social media strategy be supported on the back end? More than all that, let's look at others who have gone before us: Beacon on Facebook and Boden USA come to mind. What happened there? What could the Etsy team learn from those mistakes? Oh, and, why duplicate Facebook in any way?
  • [from julienorvaisas] The Art of the Police Report [Utne Reader] – [Collett provides a fascinating exploration of one cop's ability to achieve expression while governed by the formidable constraints of police report writing.] Writing is the one constant in a cop’s daily life. As with everything in the department, strict rules govern report writing, and as with any dangerous undertaking, the department will train you to do it properly. The most despised class at the police academy is the one that teaches writing. The incident report he’ll learn to write is the factual narrative account of a crime. Every event a cop responds to generates a report. Crime reports are written in the dispassionate uni-voice that’s testament to the academy’s ability to standardize writing. They feel generated rather than authored, the work of a single law enforcement consciousness rather than a specific human being. So how can I identify Martinez from a single sentence? Why do his reports make me feel pity, terror, or despair?

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Revealing the Man Behind @MayorEmanuel [Technology – The Atlantic] – [Professor/former punk zine publisher comes clean as author of Rahm Emanuel's apparently epic fake Twitter feed. Atlantic makes a case that it represents a new kind of fiction.] @MayorEmanuel is a new genre that is native to Twitter. When you try to turn his adventures into traditional short stories or poems, they lose the crucial element of time. The episode where the mayor gets stuck in the sewer pipes of City Hall just does not work when the 15 tweets aren't spaced out over 7 hours. It's all over too fast to be satisfying. There's no suspense. This is also a piece of fiction that could interact with reality in real-time. So, when right-wing Michelle Malkin lauded @MayorEmanuel, he could tell her to eff-off. The character could be right there with you when the Bears lost, when snow blew in or as Rahm visited Google. He created fiction both out of what was happening and out of what you, yourself, were living. And he did it for five months. It was serialization in a sense, but alive.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] A manifesto for the simple scribe – my 25 commandments for journalists [guardian.co.uk] – [These are just a couple of Radford's commandments, written based on his years of experience as an editor at the Guardian. Most of these apply beautifully to any kind of writing.] Here is a thing to carve in pokerwork and hang over your typewriter. "No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand." And here is another thing to remember every time you sit down at the keyboard: a little sign that says "Nobody has to read this crap."

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] StatSheet Is Writing Sports Stories With Software [NYTimes.com] – [And you thought mainstream sports writing was formulaic now…] I asked Michael W. White, a specialist in the field of natural language generation, for his professional opinion of the quality of the writing. We visited the StatSheet site for Ohio State’s team and looked at the write-up of its Nov. 12 season opener, written expressly for Buckeyes fans: ”Ohio State Gets 102-61 Monster Win Over North Carolina A&T.” “Ohio State has already started living up to monumental expectations with a good first game,” it began. “On November 12th on their home court, the Buckeyes waxed the Aggies, 102-61.” The story had 10 sentences and 156 words. Over all, Professor White said, it read “pretty well.” He praised the first sentence as very good and said the use of “waxed” in the second was a nice touch. Then he pointed out some glitches. It was a bit overeager to show that Ohio State was undefeated so far this season, when its record was still just 1-0.

Because you *want* the words to rhyme

Eminem, interviewed recently in Rolling Stone magazine, reveals just a bit of his creative process, linked to a childhood impulse. While his “compulsion” isn’t one we all share, it evokes other behaviors from that time in our lives. Nice that Marshall has managed to use his to inform, if not define, his art.

How do you go about putting together a verse?
Even as a kid, I always wanted the most words to rhyme. Say I saw a word like “transcendalistic tendencies.” I would write it out on a piece of paper – trans-cend-a-list-tic ten-den-cies – and underneath, I’d line up a word with each syllable: and bend all mystic sentence trees. Even if it didn’t make sense, that’s the kind of drill I would do to practice. To this day, I still want as many words as possible in a sentence to rhyme.

Also important is the idea of a simple activity that will help you develop your creative muscles, an idea I explored in Skill Building for Design Innovators

I also enjoyed this insight about Eminem’s approach because it reminded me of some fun fieldwork a few years ago, where we met a young rapper who demonstrated his process for us, flowing from using looped music to freestyle against, a workbook where he’d write up a ton of lines, picking and choosing based on what worked when rapped aloud.

Sometimes I’ll write a song in just one sit down and it’s perfect, I don’t even touch it. For me, like I’ll feel good about it. Sometimes it’s just crap, and that’s fine, because I feel like you get out the crap and then you can pull the little gems out of it. Or even if it’s just one paragraph of a song I wrote, I’ll take that and piece it into other songs. In this case, I would sit down and open a file and then I’d just listen through it, see if there’s anything worth keeping.

His process (which developed into some exciting design implications for our client’s products) became a bit of a meme around the office, eventually becoming iconified thusly:

See thoughts on creativity, previously from Jack White and Will.i.am.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] On the Road – Complaints of Poor Attitude in Airport Body Scans [NYTimes.com] – [Why does a change in process and design generate such a dramatic change in behavior?] By far, most readers wrote to complain about screeners who were rude. Helaine Fendelman said she felt as if she were in a cage as a screener “yelled at me about why I wasn’t paying attention to those who had proceeded me” through the machine. Elizabeth Wiley wrote of the “generally bullying air of the experience.” Melissa Hickey said a screener “barked orders at me as if I were a common criminal.” Bob Michelet agreed with my view that being ordered around was a “boot camp-like experience,” as he put it. Mary P. Koss said she didn’t like being “yelled at” after a screener decided her fingers were not forming a triangle as instructed while she held her hands over her head. “When I exited the machine, I was yelled at again to stand in place,” she said.
  • [from steve_portigal] Starbucks "Olive Way" test store aggregates Starbucks concepts [The Associated Press] – [While I applaud Starbucks for focusing on the quality of their core product – the coffee – I'm not sure that their secondary product – the experience- will benefit from closeness to the baristas. They need to makeover the staff brand before customers will seek them out] What succeeds at Olive Way will most likely be spread to other Starbucks stores around the country. With muted, earthy colors, an indoor-outdoor fireplace, cushy chairs, and a menu with wine from the Pacific Northwest's vineyards and beer from local craft brewers, this 2,500-square-foot shop in the Capitol Hill neighborhood will reopen in the fall with espresso machines in the middle. The machines at Olive Way will be part of what executives call a coffee theater. Counters will be narrower — a slim as a foot in some places — to bring customers closer to baristas; the machines will brew one cup at a time to extract deeper flavor from beans. The store will be the chain's only location that sells beer and wine in the U.S
  • [from steve_portigal] Introducing New Core77 Columnist Steve Portigal! [Core77] – [I'll be writing something monthly for our friends at Core77]

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Gathering insights by having people hand write their stories [DMI News & Views] – Asking people to tell us stories has repeatedly proven to be a rich and productive avenue for important insights. We ask people to tell us a story about a relevant event or experience. For instance, tell me about the last time you baked something from scratch. Or tell me about the last time you purchased a car. We try not to set too many rules or give too much guidance. We let them determine where the story will begin. This, after all, is what we are looking for. We ask for the story to be in writing—and ideally the story will be handwritten, if the logistics permit. We ask for the story to be as descriptive as possible—and we ask that the story be illustrated with pictures (hand drawn stick people or cuttings from magazines or from the Internet).
  • 100 Records: Project turns on fictional jackets [SFgate.com] – Exhibiting as "100 Records", Sonny Smith, a San Francisco musician, artist and writer, commissioned nearly 100 artists from around the world to create the artwork for 100 45 rpm record jackets that represent more than 60 fictional bands and singers.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Steven Levy on How Gadgets Lose Their Magic [Wired] – "Any sufficiently advanced technology," Arthur C. Clarke wrote in 1962, "is indistinguishable from magic."…This applies to all the similar fruits of Moore's law. In the past 40 or 50 years, such mind-stretching advancements have become the norm…We all, I think, have become inured to Moore's law. The astonishing advances that once would have brought us to our knees are now reduced to a thumbs-up on Gizmodo. They're removed from the realm of magic­ – they're just cool gear…As technological magic becomes routine, I wonder whether a visit to a preindustrial society might teach me more than it teaches them. The only thing more fascinating than our technology is the idea of getting along without it. Maybe the way to recapture the magic is to turn all that stuff off.
  • How Tony Gilroy surprises jaded moviegoers [The New Yorker] – Gilroy believes that the writer and the moviegoing public are engaged in a cognitive arms race. As the audience grows savvier, the screenwriter has to invent new reversals. Perhaps the most famous reversal in film was written by William Goldman in "Marathon Man,.” Laurence Olivier, a sadistic Nazi dentist, is drilling into Dustin Hoffman’s mouth, trying to force him to disclose the location of a stash of diamonds. “Is it safe?” he keeps asking. Suddenly, William Devane sweeps in to rescue Hoffman. In the subsequent car ride, Devane wants to know where the diamonds are. After a few minutes, Hoffman’s eyes grow wide: Devane and Olivier are in league! “Thirty years ago, when Bill Goldman wrote it, the reversal in ‘Marathon Man’ was fresh,” Gilroy says. “But it must have been used now 4000 times.” This is the problem that new movies must solve. “How do you write a reversal that uses the audience’s expectations in a new way? You have to write to their accumulated knowledge.”
  • Secret of Googlenomics: Data-Fueled Recipe Brews Profitability [Wired] – [Echoing some of what I wrote about in a recent piece for interactions "We Are Living In A Sci-Fi World"]
    It's a satisfying development for Varian, a guy whose career as an economist was inspired by a sci-fi novel he read in junior high. "In Isaac Asimov's first Foundation Trilogy, there was a character who basically constructed mathematical models of society, and I thought this was a really exciting idea. When I went to college, I looked around for that subject. It turned out to be economics."
  • What is the Status Quo Bias? [Wisegeek] – A cognitive bias that leads people to prefer that things remain the same, or change as little as possible. People will make the choice which is least likely to cause a change. This can also play a role in daily routines; many people eat the same thing for breakfast day after day, or walk to work in exactly the same pattern, without variation. The inability to be flexible can cause people to become stressed when a situation forces a choice.

    It explains why many people make very conservative financial choices, such as keeping their deposits at one bank even when they are offered a better rate of interest by a bank which is essentially identical in all other respects.

    While this provides self-protection by encouraging people to make safer choices, it can also become crippling, by preventing someone from making more adventurous choices. Like other cognitive biases, this bias can be so subtle that people aren't aware of it, making it hard to break out of set patterns.

  • Sports, sex, and the runner Caster Semenya [The New Yorker] – There is much more at stake in organizing sports by gender than just making things fair. If we were to admit that at some level we don’t know the difference between men and women, we might start to wonder about the way we’ve organized our entire world. Who gets to use what bathroom? Who is allowed to get married?…We depend on gender to make sense of sexuality, society, and ourselves. We do not wish to see it dissolve.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Steve contributes to Deconstructing Product Design book


Deconstructing Product Design: Exploring the Form, Function, Usability, Sustainability, and Commercial Success of 100 Amazing Products is a recently published book by William Lidwell and Gerry Manacsa. The book is essentially a crowdsourced-and-curated critique of some notable products. I was thrilled to be included among an esteemed set of contributors including friends and peers like Jon Kolko, Dan Saffer, Rob Tannen, and Trevor van Gorp.

The book steps through the 100 products (including such items as Bratz Doll, Kryptonite-4 Bicycle Lock, and Vicks Forehead Thermometer) and describes the product, while including commentary from a number of contributors.

For example, here is the iPhone page, with callouts (each of which are described on a facing page), and commentary along the bottom by me and Rob Tannen.

Here’s a mostly readable version of my commentary

I also comment on other products, including Moneymaker Pump and Pot-in-Pot Cooler.

Check out reviews at Core77 and Designing for humans and buy the book at Amazon.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • IST2010ENG/ EDEBIYAT / 40 Districts 40 Books by 40 Authors: ‘My Istanbul’ series at Tüyap 2009… – My Istanbul is a monumental project of 40 books in which 40 distinguished authors told their own districts.

    40 authors born and lived in Istanbul wrote their own feelings, thoughts and memories in their own style about 40 districts of Istanbul for this project originated from the idea that every district has a different story, a different identity and a different spirit.

    Realized in cooperation with Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Literature Directorate and Heyamola Publications the project ‘My Istanbul’ will display Istanbul’s recent history by the words of witnesses while each district is being re-interpreted by sui generis views of the authors.

  • Jake Cressman – Part of the Hot Studio team that won the Portigal Consulting/Core77 1-Hour Design Challenge! Congrats, Jake!
  • CONGRATS: Hot wins ‘The Future of Digital Reading’ design challenge – Designers + Beer = Fun: Late on a Friday afternoon, a group of Hot’s designers and a good-natured friend gathered in Hot’s biggest conference room. We spread books of all sizes out on the conference table, salty and sweet snacks in every corner, and several six packs of beer on ice. What more could you need? We watched segments from Portigal Consulting’s video where they outlined their findings, and paused a few times to discuss amongst ourselves. After we got comfortable with the background material, we divided into a couple teams, each focusing on a different approach

    The winning SuperFlyer concept came from a collaboration of Shalin Amin, Holly Hagen, Leslie Kang, and our buddy Jake Cressman.

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