We do more than look

March 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

We’ve all heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but an enjoyable landscape isn’t simply a pretty picture with the right colors and a strong design. We do more than look at landscapes, after all. We walk through them. We sit in them. We appreciate them with all our senses.

– Evelyn J. Hadden, Beautiful No-Mow Yards


Finding a true problem space

August 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

‘There are people who are already making reusable pads and doing great stuff. There was no use for us to make a better pad,’ Iwai says. Their approach was to create an affordable, easily transportable kit that would help girls wash and dry their reusable pads in relative privacy.

An Innovative Solution To Menstrual Hygiene In Developing Countries


August 21, 2015 § Leave a comment

The most important point, perhaps, is a meta one: A reminder that no specific routine guarantees success, and the only thing that matters is having a routine and the persistence implicit to one. Showing up day in and day out, without fail, is the surest way to achieve lasting success.

Famous Writers’ Sleep Habits vs. Literary Productivity, Visualized

At its best, a …

September 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

At its best, a pattern can distill the wisdom of the past, reveal the potential of the future, and link with other patterns to form a language to guide a process. Patterns help us consider the essential elements as we undertake the creation of something new or the evaluation of something old. Designing with patterns does not lead to a preconceived result but to an infinite variety of solutions based on specific conditions.

Max Jacobson, Murray Silverstein and Barbara Winslow, Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design

Over a career o…

September 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

Over a career of working on housing and homes, architects develop an instinctive sense for the basic pattern, the underlying order that defines a home; and each project, though it requires the patient work of new discovery, is also a process of applying this underlying pattern, manifesting it anew, learning another of its infinite forms.

Max Jacobson, Murray Silverstein and Barbara Winslow, Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design

Rockstars don’t…

March 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

Rockstars don’t share — neither their ideas nor the spotlight. Team cohesion breaks down when you add individuals with large egos who are determined to stand out and be stars. When collaboration breaks down, you lose the environment you need to create the shared understanding that allows you to move forward effectively.

Jeff Gothelf, Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience

Hell yes.


Objects mediate…

March 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

Objects mediate our relationships. When we are relating to the world, we call the object a tool. When we are relating with the unseen, you may call it a religious object. When we are relating to other people, we may call it the bottle of wine we bring to the party. The movement of an object from me to you, or from my group to your group, says something about the kind of relationship we have or want to have.

Encounter Cooperation (an interview with John Terrell, Regenstein Curator of Pacific Anthropology at Chicago’s Field Museum)

Don’t worry about the size of your headline font in week one.

February 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Don’t worry about the size of your headline font in week one. You don’t need to nail that perfect shade of green in week two. You don’t need to move that “submit” button three pixels to the right in week three. Just get the stuff on the page for now. Then use it. Make sure it works. Later on you can adjust and perfect it.

From “Getting Real: Ignore Details Early On,” by 37 Signals. The whole essay is awesome.

As it is in UX design, so it is in all design.

October 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

The more cities spend on bike infrastructure, the more important it becomes to make sure that money is spent wisely. One way to measure success in this area is to lay down bike lanes or paths and see if ridership grows. Another is simply to ask riders what facilities they prefer. Both approaches have their drawbacks: The former assumes transportation officials know best and relies on correlations that hopefully reflect causations; the latter may put too much emphasis on hypothetical options and not enough on actual behavior.


A potentially more instructive way to see what riders want from a bike route is to follow riders, in real-time, as they choose a bike route. A trio of transportation researchers led by Joseph Broach of Portland State University recently did just that. In an upcoming issue of Transportation Research Part A, Broach and company report a series of nuanced rider preferences that could help designers create more comprehensive bike facilities and help cities implement these facilities more efficiently.

via Atlantic Cities

“I really believe that you learn best when you’re making things.”

October 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

— Dan Sinker, in the epilogue of The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel

Rest in peace, Bill.

September 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

User experience architecture as problem-framing

September 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

One of the things we saw from the best designers is their use of prototypes to explore the problem. The prototype is the instrument they used to uncover previously hidden constraints and to see the shifts in the outcome of the design.

– Jared Spool, Exploring the Problem Space Through Prototyping

I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept lately — prototyping as a way to think about the problem — and how it relates overall to my role in bringing concepts to life. Early on in my first full-time job as a user experience architect, I remember taking wireframes and sketches to a feedback meeting and feeling like a failure when, 5 minutes into the discussion, there were so many problems with the concept pointed out.

It took me a while to realize that early sketches, wireframes, and prototypes are never going to be “right.” That’s not the point of making them. I may present them as potential solutions, but in reality I’m creating them to facilitate a discussion about what we’re trying to do and what our goals and limitations are. Only then can we begin to understand what the real potential solutions might be.

People want more choices. / More choices make people sad.

February 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

“People will often want more information than they can actually process. Having more information makes people feel that they have more choices. Having more choices makes people feel in control. Feeling in control makes people feel they will survive better.”

Susan Weinschenk


“The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose.”

Barry Schwartz

The Problem with Starting with a Problem

June 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Defining the first step [in a person’s decision-making process] as problem recognition may imply the ‘problem’ has an objective existence, independent of the customer—and the producer. Framing the decision process as problem-solving suggests the customer is a ‘rational actor.’ The danger is that people often act more on emotion than by rationally calculating self-interest. And their definitions of problems depend on their point of view and are often formed in conversations with others—including producers. Indeed part of the innovation process is reframing an existing situation to create consensus around a new definition of a problem.

Hugh Dubberly and Shelley Evenson, The Experience Cycle (written for Interactions Magazine)

Khan Academy and Computer Imagination

May 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sal Khan of Khan Academy was on Charlie Rose today, and it made me remember how awesome his TED talk was. I love what he says about the value of being able to watch a video tutorial over and over or stop it in the middle and go back to a part you want to review until you really get it. It’s a great example of what one of my grad school faculty members, Marty Siegel, calls computer imagination — exploiting what computers (more specifically YouTube-mediated video in this case) do well that other mediums don’t. Letting kids go at their own pace with “lecture material” for homework has created an opportunity to use classroom time for exercises, where kids can work on problems either alone or in groups and get feedback from the teacher before they have to turn something in.

We came to a similar conclusion about the usefulness of video that you can watch as many times as you want during the Not Enough Cooks in the Kitchen project, and that led us to envision video-recording and library/archive features for our kitchen video chat app. This would not only allow people to create digital keepsakes of their lessons with family and friends but also give them the opportunity to review the techniques they were shown as many times as it took to make them their own.

Making Things

April 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

“This focus on delivery must underpin everything we do. It’s understandable for designers to want strategic roles, as we encounter tactical limits. But in claiming the territory of design thinking, we must never forget the design doing, where true craft and talent turns thought into results.”

From “The Fall and Rise of User Experience,” keynote speech by Cennydd Bowles at IA Summit 2011

Mark Rolston from Frog Design on Research

March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

“It’s less about data and more about beginning to empathize. … The strongest outcome is our stories—a way to bring the customer along. You can do it with metrics and data, but that often [omits] the critical aspects of the data. It’s trying to make these human factors much more tangible.”

Frog Design: ‘Chinese soccer moms’ and why software is king

“Let us be inspired by good designs”

February 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

“The world is not filled by bad designs because people do not care or do not try. There are bad designs all around us because good design is difficult. I am much more fascinated by the fact that, despite the difficulty of design, good designs can also be found all around. It is amazing how often good designers are able to come up with designs that defy the complexity and difficulty of the challenge at hand.”

Erik Stolterman, “Upset by Bad Design or Inspired by Good Design”

Erik Stolterman has been studying and educating designers for many years, and he knows an incredible amount about what it takes to produce great work. He wrote the post from which the above quote is taken about a year ago, when I was working on a really tough project at Designkitchen and needed the encouragement to keep searching for opportunities within the constraints.

I completely agree — good design is difficult, and as Erik reminds his students (I used to be one), it takes patience, practice, and constant reflection. Even as we, as designers, are humbled by our own design challenges, it can be easy to criticize the work of others without considering the barriers they might have faced. We’ve all done it at one time or another. But what good does that non-constructive criticism do anyone? Jason from 37 Signals recently posted a similar sentiment.

Erik has recently become the editor of Interactions Magazine, and I’m excited to see the direction he and his co-editor take it. Best of luck, Erik!

Update: Andre Torrez and Jason Kottke just posted commentary about this topic as well. I know it’s a topic that always resurfaces from time to time, but I’m glad people continue to speak up about it. From Andre’s post: “I think making the right choices when you face them is the best way to say how things should be done. Having empathy for people doing what you are doing is as important as having empathy for your own users.”

Mobile Phones and the “Village Green”

December 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

“Think about the typical, brief ‘village-green’ conversation: ‘Hi, how’re you doing?’ ‘Fine, just off to the shops — oh, how’s your Mum?’ ‘Much better, thanks’ ‘Oh, good, give her my love — see you later’. If you take most of the vowels out of the village-green conversation, and scramble the rest of the letters into ‘text-message dialect’ (HOW R U? C U L8ER), to me it sounds uncannily like a typical SMS or text exchange: not much is said — a friendly greeting, maybe a scrap of news — but a personal connection is made, people are reminded that they are not alone. Until the advent of mobile text messaging, many of us were having to live without this kind of small but psychologically and socially very important form of communication.”

From Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox (p. 87)

Although I think there’s something to be said for the mobile-phone version of the “village-green” conversation occasionally getting in the way of meat-space conversations (we’ve all been sitting across from someone who was too engrossed in their text conversation to have a proper chat with us), I tend to agree that texting, and mobile phone use in general, is filling a personal-connection void that exists, particularly in big cities like the one where I live. That’s a comforting idea amidst all of the doom-and-gloom analysis of our mobile culture.

Interviewing Moms with Their Kids

October 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

When a mom asks you if you would like her four-year-old to sit with her while she talks to you, and then she immediately says, “It could get a little crazy,” you might be thinking to yourself, “No, this will be great! It will give the interview color! Realism! Sweet!” You are delusional. It will not be sweet. It will be squirmy. Very squirmy. And loud.

Ask for some paper and crayons. Tell the child that it’s very important for your research that she draws you a cartoon of what her average day is like. You only ask very special people to help with this type of research. If you’re lucky, this will buy you 5 minutes of peace in which the mom will think of way better things than you ever could to occupy her kid’s time.

And don’t forget to solemnly take the cartoon at the end of session, put it in your notebook, and give the child an awesome sticker. You remembered the stickers, right? Bonus points if you send the mom a thank-you note with the cartoon included, letting her know that it has served its purpose in your research and is now a present for her.

Sketching with Travis

June 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

photo of our interface sketches for a recent pitch

Our interface sketches for a recent pitch

Usually the UX team is spread one-to-a-project where I work, but every once in a while we get to collaborate, and we have such a great time. Working with the designers and developers at my company gives me perspective that’s really valuable, but i also think my work is always better when it’s pushed forward by design critique from one of my fellow UXers.


June 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

I love, love, love this video. To this day, I vividly remember being in kindergarden and playing in a sort of tinkering room I got to go to about once a week. The room included all kinds of wood blocks, real hammers, nails, screwdrivers, etc. (in a public school, no less), and we were allowed to just mess around in there for about half-an-hour — the best half-hour of the week.

Moving Day

May 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

Just wanted to make a quick note that I’ve moved my portfolio and résumé back to my old stomping grounds, carmentastreet.com, complete with a fresh design.

The Role of the Citizen in Design

April 6, 2009 § Leave a comment

Whether we’re city planners or interaction designers, it seems we come up against the same questions about the value of involving those for whom we design in the design process. As I’ve been studying city and regional planning forums for my master’s capstone research, I’ve come across some conversations that are eerily similar to those that still sometimes happen between designers in my own field. From the Cyburbia forums (registration required):

Submitted by jaws on Sun, 2006/07/23 – 1:28pm.

Citizenship has nothing to do with how roads and pipes and squares are going to be built, anymore than citizenship entitles you to decide how everyone’s shoes are going to be made. You’ve appropriated the notion of citizenship into a sphere that is completely irrelevant.

Submitted by Lee Nellis on Mon, 2006/07/24 – 7:45am.

Ah, the technical delusion.

Citizens should have EVERYTHING to do with where new roads, pipes, squares, etc. are to be built. They are the ones who are going to use them. They are the ones who will be impacted by them. That is why planners are not technicians (and why engineers who listen poorly, if al [sic] all, have messed up so many communities), but facilitators and educators.

There is, of course, a technical aspect to all of these facilities. Citizens are not going to have much to say about the actual piping schematic of a sewage treatment plant, but they are/should going to have a lot to say about the impact a new plant will have on the pace of growth and the quality of life. The reality is that efficiency cannot and should not be our goal in planning (in the actual construction of a plant, of course). Our goal has to be to help folks actualize their citizenship – and that is a messy, inefficient process.

Despite the vocal holdouts, many city and regional planners have been employing participatory design methods (mainly charrettes, interviews, and focus groups) perhaps even before interaction design existed as a profession. We may be working in different mediums, but I think this is yet another example of how designers of any object, system, place, or service have a lot to learn from one another.

Bike Map Press Release

December 3, 2008 § Leave a comment

One of these days I’ll get around to writing a proper post about my summer fellowship project [update: I finally posted about it on my portfolio site], but for now, I’ll just mention that IU put up a press release about it today!

The basic story is that I spent the summer researching bicycling for transportation and then created what I would call a “first generation” bike map of the City of Bloomington using the Google Maps API. I learned an incredible amount during the project — I’ll give more details in a few weeks when the semester is over and things start to calm down a little around this place.

Safe Streets for Everyone

October 24, 2008 § Leave a comment

“In Bogota, our goal was to make a city for all the children. The measure of a good city is one where a child on a tricycle or bicycle can safely go anywhere. If a city is good for children, it will be good for everybody else. Over the last 80 years we have been making cities much more for cars’ mobility than for children’s happiness.”

Former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Penalosa, via Streetsblog

My capstone project has slowly been taking shape over the past month, and at the moment I’m hoping to focus on the development of tools that will help urban planners conduct health impact assessments. I want to remember the quote above because it’s a good reminder of why I’m passionate about pursuing this project.

Check it: MS Word is baroque.

October 20, 2008 § Leave a comment

From an old post I started and never published in Feb. 2008:

In my Experience Design course, we’re spending the month of February talking about experience design criticism and how it can inform our work. It’s fun to see how my training in literary criticism is helping me understand this way of thinking.

The first article we’ve read on the topic, “Criticism as an Approach to Interface Design,” by Olav Bertelsen and Soren Pold, yields this “juicy quote,” as my professor would say:

“Word can be seen as renaissances [sic?] in the sense that it builds on the tool metaphor and aims to incorporate a WYSIWYG interface. However, the abundance of new functions and domains, such as the inclusion of DTP functions, web publishing, support for reviewing and collaboration, has led to a baroque mannerism in the interface.

“Understanding the stylistic development from renaissance to baroque – a development that is not only referring back to the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries but is relevant whenever new expressions develop, mature and decay – is key to envisioning new designs for hybrid tools such as a word processor” (p. 26).

For more on interaction design criticism, you can check out the blog series my professor, Jeffrey Bardzell, wrote on the topic.

Bring the Extra-Sticky Post-Its

October 9, 2008 § Leave a comment

Last week in Interaction Design Methods, we collected all the research our team has been conducting this semester and created an affinity diagram.

Affinity diagramming takes a long time — bring rations!

Affinity diagramming takes a long time — bring rations!

It was a grueling process to transfer all our notes to post-its and arrange them into categories that made sense, but in the end, we developed some helpful insights that have pushed us further toward nailing down a design direction for our project.

As a team, we were surprised at the usefulness of the resulting diagram because our research had been seemingly unrelated up to that point — contextual inquiry with the city volunteer-matching program, ethnography at a local community garden, and a focus group of Bloomington citizens about their attitudes toward “buying local.”

Me, Augusto, and Xiaohan, transferring our research data to post-its

L to R: Me, Augusto, and Xiahan, transferring our research data to post-its

I’m eager to try this method out again with a future project — definitely with my capstone. Our instructor and associate instructor were nice enough to provide us with pictures of the workshop.

Our Related Readings

  • Beyer and Holtzblatt (1998). Contextual Design. Chapter 9.
  • Kuniavsky (2003). Observing the User Experience. Chapter 8.

Csikszentmihalyi is helping me resist online shopping today.

September 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

“The addiction to objects is of course best cured by learning to discipline consciousness. If one develops control over the processes of the mind, the need to keep thoughts and feelings in shape by leaning on things decreases. This is the main advantage of a genuinely rich symbolic culture: It gives people poetry, songs, crafts, prayers, and rituals that keep psychic entropy at bay. … We very much need to learn more about how this inner control can be achieved. Then objects can again be used primarily as instruments rather than as projections of our selves, which, like the servants created by the sorcerer’s apprentice, threaten to drown their masters with relentless zeal.”

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1993). Why we need things. In Lubar, S. & Kingery D. (eds). History from Things: Essays on Material Culture.

Newsflash: Making it Pink is Not Enough

September 13, 2008 § Leave a comment

The Ottawa Citizen recently posted a story about a developer in Texas who used some participatory design techniques to involve local women from the community in the creation of a new shopping center. I love that the final design is a mixed-use space that integrates more than just shopping and has a major focus on greenery instead of concrete.

Mr. Montesi added that Watters Creek was not any more expensive to build than other projects; it’s just that the money was allocated differently. For example, in response to the women who were consulted, more money was spent on landscaping than is typical for such a project, and less on making the buildings look impressive.

“They said: ‘We don’t much care about the buildings, we care about the landscaping.’”

All of which was a revelation to Mr. Montesi, who concluded that attracting a female shopper “definitely wasn’t about painting the buildings in pastels. It wasn’t about making the buildings look feminine, it was about making the place more friendly to the women who use it.”

via Ian via Brand Avenue

Indi Young on A List Apart

September 12, 2008 § Leave a comment

I am loving this new article in A List Apart, “Look at It Another Way,” written by Indi Young of Adaptive Path. It’s incredibly reflective of what we talk about every day in my master’s program.

Defining groups by their relationship to your product blinds you to the relationship they might have with products you haven’t thought of yet.

It’s awesome to see a piece like this, written by a UX rock star, on A List Apart (and it’s her second article here in the past year, no less), which is read by so many people who spend a great deal of their time at work getting their hands dirty with code. It reaffirms my belief that the web design industry as a whole is waking up to the need for solid interaction design that puts people first.

Bad Tools, Accessibility, and Playing to Writers’ Strengths

September 12, 2008 § Leave a comment

We could talk all day about why terrible tools are so prevalent. (In my experience, the reason why a terrible tool isn’t replaced is because someone senior paid $500,000 for it and sure as hell isn’t going to admit a mistake and scrap it.)

– From Accessibility in a Suit and Tie by Bruce Lawson, for Vitamin

So much of this article rang true for me in my experience as a university web designer. Although I was at a nonprofit, many of the issues related to getting buy-in from the top were the same.

I particularly appreciated what Bruce says about teaching CMS contributors to write their content in HTML. I think many people overlook the fact that HTML that has been created using web standards should make sense to any good writer — at its base, HTML just gives us a way to label the parts of our work (the main heading, the subheadings, the paragraphs, the figures/images, etc.), which we all learned to do in third grade or so. In my experience, writers don’t get fired for thinking explicitly about the structure and organization of their prose.

Igor: a man of taste

August 23, 2008 § Leave a comment

My favorite line of the New York Times story about Igor, the infamous Toronto bike thief:

As the police gathered the mounds of bikes, they also found cocaine, crack cocaine, about 15 pounds of marijuana and a stolen bronze sculpture of a centaur and a snake in battle.

Because even heartless bike thieves appreciate the finer things.

Globe Graphics: Human-Centered Design

June 18, 2008 § Leave a comment

The newspaper graphics for the Boston Globe on Javier Zarracina’s portfolio site are out of this world. I came across them in the perfect way — a post from Lifehacker about the naps graphic (watch out for the window resizing when you click through), not highlighting the design itself, but the information it conveys. I was totally engrossed and spent significant time with it, reading every word.

When I was in journalism school, there seemed to be a general feeling that newspapers like USA Today ushered in an era of dumbed-down print media through greater use of graphics and lower word counts at the expense of the almighty writer’s more detailed coverage. Although I agree that some stories require the unique type of in-depth investigation that a long-form story can provide, Zarracina’s graphics exemplify the effectiveness of human-centered design created through collaboration of writers and artists.

On Pushing Through Your Crappy Phase

June 6, 2008 § Leave a comment

In the video below, Ira Glass talks about accepting and getting through that time we all experience, where the work we produce is not as good as our own ideas of what good work looks like. Even though he’s talking specifically about radio writing and reporting here, as many other bloggers have pointed out, his pep talk can be applied to any skill we are in the process of developing.

I’ve just finished my first year as a master’s student studying interaction research and design, and it has definitely been a humbling experience for me. The type of work I hope to build a career around requires a keen critical eye in combination with research and design skills that will take me years to fully develop. This video was a comforting reminder that hard work and dedication really does pay off in the end, even if you have to spend significant time bumbling around a bit in the interim.

Mmmm, yogurt. Ain’t I a woman!

May 12, 2008 § Leave a comment

Have you ever considered, while watching … well, basically any commercial that’s marketed to women, the ridiculousness that is the “commercial lady dance?” She sways, she twirls, and if she’s really loving whatever crap the commercial is telling us we’re not good enough without, she throws her hands up in the air and really breaks out the smooth moves! It’s hilarious and cringe-inducing at the same time. In that spirit, Current TV and infoMania bring us an ode to the yogurt commercial.

via Feministing

Prototyping a Museum Experience

April 23, 2008 § Leave a comment

Hold on to your hats – I’ve got lots more cycling stuff to come! My group for a course called Experience Design is iterating on a prototype for a museum exhibit about what a true bike culture is like, and I thought I’d post one of our early, low-fidelity versions. We’re going to do the final one this weekend life-size, but this one gives a good idea of where we’re going with the project.

The video you will see in the background is used with the permission of David Hembrow, who has also shot lots of other fun first-person videos while cycling around Assen, the Netherlands, where he lives and operates some awesome-looking cycling tours. Thanks, David!

Once again, it’s important to note that this is a low-fidelity, early-version prototype. The goal of creating this one was to make sure it had the feeling we were going for before we spent significant time building something large-scale and fully developed.

First-Person Cycling Videos

April 18, 2008 § Leave a comment

For an end-of-semester group project, I’ve been collecting online videos taken by people riding their bikes in different cities around the world, and I thought I’d share the fruits of my labor. Working on the project, by the by, has been super fun and rewarding — for Experience Design, my team and I have been charged with prototyping a universally accessible museum exhibit. I’ll post about details and the final result after we turn it in, but for now, I hope you enjoy seeing what it’s like to ride a bike in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Colombia.

I want to be Cycle Chic!

April 7, 2008 § Leave a comment

Now that spring is here, I’m even more sad that I feel too scared to ride my bike around town. Maybe I’ll pluck up the courage to ride to the grocery store on the sidewalk one day soon. In the meantime, I can dream about living in stylish and bike-friendly Copenhagen:

Cesarean = Cyborg = Whoa.

February 23, 2008 § Leave a comment

Once I realized that contemporary obstetrics is a system that is co-created by obstetricians and women, each of whom have much to gain from deconstructing organic childbirth and reconstructing it as technological production, I was forced to look again at the human-machine interaction that characterizes this reconstructed technobirth — at the strong symbiosis between the woman and the technology; at the way in which it removes the chaos and fear from women’s perceptions of birth and at its perfect expression of certain fundamentals of technocratic life. … I began to see the mutilation and prosthesis of technobirth as the fullest metaphoric expression of life in the technocracy, which I define as a society whose central organizing mythology constellates around a technological progress that will culminate in transcendence of all natural bounds, including both biological and planetary limitations.

Robbie Davis-Floyd, “From Technobirth to Cyborg Babies: Reflections on the Emergent Discourse of a Holistic Anthropologist.” Paper presented to the annual meeting, American Anthropological Association, Washington, D.C., 1995.

I read this passage as it was quoted in the fourth chapter of my professor David Hakken‘s book, Cyborgs@Cyberspace?: An Ethnographer Looks to the Future, and was totally creeped out. A week later, I’m still thinking about it and how it relates to other texts I’ve been reading lately about childbirth, particularly in the United States.

David Hakken uses the above passage to introduce a section of his book that argues, if I understand it correctly, that unlike Davis-Floyd’s account — in which she seems to become a cyborg on the operating table — we have always been cyborgs, from the time that human beings began to use tools. From page 72:

Even if the justice of such a boundary were demonstrated, the contrast would be between one form of technologically mediated humanity/cyborg and another, not, as Davis-Floyd presents it, a contrast between a purely biological human and a highly technologically mediated cyborg. … In sum, my Cyborg Anthropology stresses how humans have been quite “cyborgic” from early in the emergence of the species. Technology is so deeply implicated in human existence that it is a core aspect of our being.

The idea that we have always been cyborgs, regardless of whether the technology we incorporated was external or internal to what we think of as our individual bodies, makes sense to me, but it doesn’t make Davis-Floyd’s description any less eerie. And although she suggests in the passage that both doctors and mothers may be comforting themselves with the vision of cyborgian birth as a way to remove danger from the process, it is clear from her other writings that she, like me, sees flaws in this way of thinking:

The metaphor of the body-as-machine and the related image of the female body as a defective machine eventually formed the philosophical foundations of modern obstetrics. Wide cultural acceptance of these metaphors accompanied the demise of the midwife and the rise of the male-attended, mechanically manipulated birth. Obstetrics was thus enjoined by its own conceptual origins to develop tools and technologies for the manipulation and improvement of the inherently defective, and therefore anomalous and dangerous, process of birth.

Robbie E. Davis-Floyd. “The Rituals of American Hospital Birth.” Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, 8th ed., David McCurdy, ed., HarperCollins, New York, 1994, pp. 323-340.

This is not to suggest that obstetrics isn’t an important safeguard in high-risk birth situations, but several researchers make a powerful argument that the culturally accepted technological interventionist approach to low-risk childbirth in the U.S. is more dangerous for mothers and children than natural childbirth. For this reason, and despite my agreement with David Hakken’s assertion that our “cyborgization” (is that a word?) began long, long ago, reading Davis-Floyd’s description of the cyborgian birth experience gave me Mary Shelly-style heebie-jeebies.

Opting in, opting out

January 22, 2008 § Leave a comment

In honor of the craziness today surrounding Microsoft’s opt-in IE8 rendering announcement, I bring you an opt-in/opt-out comparison list.

Things that should be opt-in:

  • Junk mail
  • Pesticides in my food
  • Appendage severing

Things that are better as opt-out:

  • A free, delicious cookie served at 2 p.m. daily
  • Organ donation
  • Having the web page you designed render in the newest version of IE

New Thinking With Type in 2010

January 13, 2008 § Leave a comment

Ellen Lupton is working on an expanded version of my favorite type book, Thinking With Type, to be released in 2010. Too bad 2010 is two whole years away, but at least I get to say “twenty-ten” in my head when I think about it, which still sounds very futuristic to me. Maybe I’ll travel to the book store on my hoverboard when the new version debuts.

via I Love Typography

Austin Extravaganza

January 12, 2008 § Leave a comment

There’s nothing I like quite as much as a frilly dress movie, except perhaps a Jane Austin frilly dress movie. Thusly, for the next several Sundays, you will find me plopped down in front of a television somewhere watching The Complete Jane Austin, which, a good friend just reminded me, begins tomorrow night. Bless you, PBS!

Flying Club Cup Meets Take Away Shows

December 21, 2007 § Leave a comment

As if I weren’t already in love with Take Away Shows — I just came across their videos for every song of Beirut’s newest album. Fantastique!

The video for Forks and Knives might be my favorite one:

Anil Dash: a guy who gets it

December 19, 2007 § Leave a comment

I found this snippet from Anil Dash while coincidentally cleaning out my Google Reader backlog today:

Adding features like comments from sources in a news story to Google News is an admirable attempt to bring unique value to aggregated news stories. But tasking a technology team with the duty to solicit and manage these comments ignores the fact that verifying, recording, and reporting a source is fundamentally an act of journalism. By trying to shoehorn a work of research into a primarily technological process, the news team faces the chance of fraud, abuse, error, or most likely, low participation and eventual abandonment.

An awareness that some types of information gathering require judgment and reasoning that’s not well-handled by even the most clever algorithms would help Google make its transition into being a company that creates original content.

Preach on, brother. This is why I love reading Anil’s stuff — he thinks like a journalist and a supergeek.

OMG, I almost forgot about Blue Beanie Day!

November 26, 2007 § Leave a comment

I just got this pic in under the wire. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating — thank you, web standards!

Straight to the Source

November 15, 2007 § Leave a comment

For perspective on accessible web code from a blind web developer, check out Aaron Cannon’s recent North Temple post, “The Accessibility Cookbook: A Recipe for Disaster.” After all the talk about alt attribute text, it can still be easy to get wrong, and Aaron highlights the importance of finding a balance between being descriptive when the image adds meaning and knowing when to leave the attribute blank.

He also mentions Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance by Andrew Kirkpatrick, et al., which I am slowly working my way through. One thing that I’ve already taken away from the book is that “skip navigation,” which has unfortunately become an industry standard, is not all that helpful to text-only users. In my redesign of the Mizzou Graduate School website, I opted for the recommended 〈a href="#main-content"〉Main content〈/a〉, which more directly tells people where the link will take them.

I removed North Temple from my RSS reader a little while ago because I found that many of the posts were not relevant to me, but luckily Cameron Moll (who works for the LDS church) pointed to Aaron’s post.

Stephin Merritt: Two-day Song Writing Challenge

November 6, 2007 § Leave a comment

Savor some Stephin Merritt goodness to tide yourself over until the new Magnetic Fields album comes out this January by checking out “A Man of a Million Faces.” He wrote the song in two days as an experiment for the first installment of a new NPR series, Project Song.

My favorite part of the feature story is when Stephin names two separately recorded snare beats “Agnes” and “Billy” to help keep them straight for himself and the engineer. Maybe this is a common naming convention for song writers, but I like to imagine that only Stephin Merritt thinks to use the name Agnes.

IU and Mizzou Earn C’s in Sustainability … Yikes

October 25, 2007 § Leave a comment

The College Sustainability Report Card 2008, created by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, gives my alma mater and my current university C’s, which is sadly an improvement from last year. According to the executive summary (PDF), 31 percent of schools scored better.

Note to self: do a little Googling before making notes to self

October 25, 2007 § Leave a comment

Silly me — I should have known some smartypants had already come up with a solution to my problem. It’s not a Greasemonky script, but I can use Library Lookup bookmarklets courtesy of Jon Udell to see if my library has the book I’m looking at on Amazon.

FYI, you can grab bookmarklets for the following libraries from these pages:

Still not sure about Indianapolis Public Libraries or Indiana University, but it looks like I can build a custom bookmarklet pretty easily. They both use catalog systems made by SirsiDynix — I just have to find out which ones.

Note to self: library/Amazon Greasemonkey script

October 25, 2007 § Leave a comment

Must learn how to do this for the B-town Public Library and the IU Libraries:

As has been mentioned before, I’ve produced a Greasemonkey script to add notification to Amazon surfers if the currently displayed book is in the Cincinnati Public library.

(source: Mark Mascolino)

I Learn Things: “Typography: Beyond the Font”

October 21, 2007 § Leave a comment

As with list item bullets, it is traditional for opening quote marks to be placed in the left margin.

While avoiding a slowly encroaching abyss of unfinished homework, I finally got a chance to check out the slides from Jeff Croft’s presentation, “Typography: Beyond the Font,” (3MB PDF) from the 2007 Webmaster Jam Session, Dallas. For the most part, it was a great review of the principles I’ve learned over the past year, but I also picked up that new bit.

Pickin’s from ALA Web Design Survey 2007

October 18, 2007 § Leave a comment

The results of the ALA Web Design Survey 2007 are out, and I was especially excited to check out the fancy PDF report b/c I was a respondent.

Interesting (to me) notes:

  • The second largest group of U.S. respondents were from the Midwest (p. 9). Now that I’m sure I’m not alone, where is my local chapter of the Markup & Style Society? If you think I’m kidding, you obviously haven’t met me.
  • “Women make up significantly greater percentages of the information architects (22.8%), usability experts (24.7%), web producers (24.5%), and writers/editors (41.6%) than they do of other titles” (p. 30). Yeah, that’s me.
  • “The job titles that consistently show higher earnings than the sample as a whole are: accessibility expert, creative director, information architect, interface designer, usability expert, web producer, and web director” (p. 31). Sweet!
  • “Respondents who are project managers and information architects indicated the highest satisfaction with their work” (p. 46). Super sweet!
  • “There is only a slight increase in earning from high school graduates to junior college graduates, and a similarly slight increase from bachelor’s degrees to master’s degrees ” (p. 33). Not sweet, says the master’s student!

Where’s the pretty?

October 18, 2007 § Leave a comment

Just downloaded In Rainbows and felt all empty inside when I popped open my media player and saw no cover art. A quick google search later, though, I see that Jon Hicks is all over it.

I picked Shaun Inman’s, but I also really liked the ones designed by Jon, Ben Darlow (comment #12), thetrew (#24), Chris Glass (#30), and another Jon (#97 & #98).

Don’t be a tool . . . apologist

October 1, 2007 § Leave a comment

I found myself doing a large amount of head-nodding while reading Jeff Croft’s recent short post about the difference between knowledge of web code and software and knowledge of design principles.

. . . I think employers often value knowledge of tools too much when it comes to hiring web designers. . . . So what is valuable? Judgement. Logic. Creativity. Ability to learn quickly. Ability to work under pressure. Experience. Empathy. Design theory. Design history. Opinions. Decisions. And so on.

I look back at some of the first sites I created after learning XHTML and CSS, and although I was proud of myself for tackling these new languages, I soon realized that just knowing them would not make a site’s type readable, the navigation comprehensible, or the layout well organized. It’s taken a whole lot longer begin to develop those more abstract skills than it did to browse a few books and websites to figure out the difference between an ⟨h1⟩ and a ⟨p⟩ element.

I would not call myself a member of the “any idiot can create well-formed code” camp because I believe that it does take experience and analytical thought to use the right code for a given situation. However, I agree with Jeff that a vast difference exists between interface-design knowledge and design-tool knowledge. In fact, since I’ve been studying design principles, I feel that I have a better understanding of how to use the tools in my kit.

For example, until about six months ago, my use of line-height and margin in CSS was somewhat arbitrary and based on little more than eyeballing. Now that I’ve investigated the vertical rhythm principle, these properties have more valuable meaning in my work.

I would add to Jeff’s list of potential employee desirables that a person should not only be a quick learner, but should also have the curiosity and drive for self-improvement that will lead them to reach beyond their base skill set, whether it be in design principles or code/software chops, to seek complimentary knowledge. Figuring out how to express that in a job posting might be tough, though.

This required reading just Blew My Mind.

September 23, 2007 § Leave a comment

Welcome to a new tag in my notebook: “This required reading just Blew My Mind.” Here’s a little tip about grad school that you probably already know. In grad school, you read. A lot. And if you’re lucky, some of it might even Blow Your Mind. But then you have to go on and read something else that may or may not Blow Your Mind, and either way eventually you forget the preceding Mind Blowing reading. So I’m going to start jotting down some of these things so I don’t forget them.

Your Body Is a Wonderland!¹

Item no. 1 comes from “Plastic Brains, Hybrid Minds,” a chapter in Natural-born cyborgs by Andy Clark (as opposed to Andy Clarke, who, BTW, has also Blown My Mind in several passages of Transcending CSS). OK, so we’ve already got some awesome stuff here, including plastic brains and cyborgs, but it gets better.

Clark says that our conception of our bodies can extend beyond the actual matter that comprises them if we are “tricked” in the right way.

He lists several party tricks, devised by another researcher², that you can try to confirm this, including one where you, blindfolded, sit behind your friend in a chair with one index finger on her nose and one on your own nose. (You’re remembering that joke about picking your friends and picking your nose, aren’t you? You are so crass.) Another one of your friends, standing beside both of you, uses your index fingers to stroke and tap the noses of you and your friend with exactly the same rhythm.

After less than a minute of this synchronized nose-tapping, about half the subjects report a powerful illusion. It is as if their own noses now extended about two feet in front of them. . . . To make sense of this close and ongoing match between arm’s length tapping and end-of-nose sensation, the brain infers that your nose must now extend far enough for the arm’s-length tapping to be causing the feelings. So your nose must be about two feet long. (p. 60)

Whoa. That required reading just Blew My Mind. “To recap, human brains (and indeed those of many other animals) seem to support highly negotiable body images” (p. 62).

¹ This is what Ian said after I told him about the article. Who knew that a song he loves to hate so much would come in handy in a conversation about cognitive science?

²V.S. Ramachandran, professor and director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego at the time the article was published

Welcome to the world, redesign!

September 23, 2007 § Leave a comment

I am proud to announce the unveiling of the new University of Missouri-Columbia Graduate School website today!

screen shot of the new Mizzou Graduate School home page

Unfortunately I will not be in Columbia to celebrate — I left to start a master’s in information science at Indiana University just before the final user testing phase of the project. Steven Richardson, my supportive supervisor at Mizzou, is the one copying all the new pages onto the server and taking care of the inevitable little fixes today. A hearty thanks to him, as well as to Janey Osterlind, our talented graduate assistant, for their contributions to the project. I would also like to thank the Mizzou central Web Communications team, who offered advice throughout this redesign process that has greatly improved the final result.

This project took me the better part of a year to complete, from initial research, to information architecture, to content editing, to hand-coding XHTML (including microformats), to visual design prototyping and CSS coding, conducting as much user testing along the way as possible. I truly believe that this version of the site will improve the user experience for applicants, students, staff, and faculty.

I hope to write more about particular details of the redesign in the future — I’ve learned so much working on it!

Married to the Benjamins

June 23, 2007 Comments Off on Married to the Benjamins

I’ve been waiting for an investigation like One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding, by Rebecca Mead, to hit the mainstream since Ian introduced me to White Weddings a few years ago and I began to really think about what having a wedding would mean to me.

Despite the eye rolling brought on by Mead’s writing style, which includes what Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post calls “some of [the New Yorker]’s oldest pet tics, in particular an excessive use of the reportorial first-person singular,” she makes some truly chilling points about the expectations associated with getting married in the United States today.

Mead contrasts the real history of the American wedding with the wedding industry’s rewriting of it in a chapter called “Inventing the Traditionalesque.” She cites a 1939 study from the American Sociological Review called “The Cost of Weddings,” which reveals that a third of brides at the time did without an engagement ring and that the average cost of the wedding was the 2006 equivalent of $5,700 — a pittance in comparison to the $28,000 that the “American Wedding Survey’s” selectively chosen brides (mostly the readers of Condé Nast’s wedding magazines) are paying today on average.

Mead follows up this revelation with a hilarious, but also cringe-inducing, reminder of the wedding industry’s stake in our collective memory of nuptial tradition:

The traditions of not having an engagement ring or a bridal gown or a wedding reception or a honeymoon are those that the wedding industry has been more than happy to see whither away in the seventy years since the Timmons’s survey was conducted. The industry’s definition of a traditional bride is one who embraces the trappings of Bridezilla culture with enthusiasm, and her less enthusiastic counterpart is, understandably, a problem. When Vows magazine, a trade publication for wedding-dress retailers, featured an article on the “non-traditional bride,” it noted that such customers “don’t always make ‘good’ brides because they’re often uncomfortable starring in the role of ‘girl in the big white dress'” and warned retailers that the nontraditional bride was dangerously apt “to forget the wedding and prepare for the marriage.”
One Perfect Day, page 56

If that’s what it means to be nontraditional, sign me up.

In the Beginning, There Was the Catalag, Part I: Academic Programs

June 10, 2007 § Leave a comment

Serious nerding out ahead!I recently completed one colossal step toward the information redesign of the Graduate School’s website—overhauling the way we list our academic programs.

I hope to write more about the background of this redesign, including details of the new information architecture I built, but for now I’m skipping ahead.

In the process of the creating the content inventory for our 500+ page site, I noticed a disturbing situation: three separate lists purporting to be the official “Fields of Study” index existed. And they were all different! Gulp.

Even among the first three items in each list, the inconsistency is apparent.

Screen shot of the Catalog list
Screen shot of the Fields of Study list
Screen shot of the Admission Requirements list

The Troublesome Trifecta

In several cases, a program would be called a different name on each list. For instance: is it “Biomedical Sciences,” “Veterinary Medicine – Biomedical Sciences,” or “Basic Biomedical Sciences”? Is it “Learning, Teaching and Curriculum,” or “Curriculum and Instruction”?

How Did This Happen?

As far as I can tell, the three-list disaster was rooted in two major issues: a failure to see the three lists as connected content, and a focus on ease-of-use for the staff at the expense of usability for our audience.

Early in the process of conceptualizing a redesign of the Graduate School website’s information structure, I recognized the disconnect in the minds of our staff between the Graduate Catalog (fully online for several years now) and the rest of the site.

I will probably talk more about this in another post, but in this situation, as in many others, this mental separation had been the impetus for a repetition of information on the site—once for the Catalog entry, and at least one more time in an area of the site outside the Catalog. Rarely were all instances of these originally identical bits of content updated at the same time, and the result was a mess of conflicting information.

So that accounts for two lists (one inside the Catalog and one outside), but this problem was compounded by our need for a content management system that we didn’t have. We were putting a teeny tiny bandage on this gaping wound by housing a third list (which linked to admission requirements for each program) within a database that could be edited directly by our admissions supervisor.

The Solution

I chose to work toward the creation of one master list—an official part of the Graduate Catalog—that would include all relevant information about each academic program, including a link to the program’s website, admission requirements, faculty, courses, degree requirements, and all the other details that were currently listed in the Graduate Catalog entries. As with the rest of the Catalog, any mid-year changes to the entries would be made using the <ins> and <del> elements, an idea borrowed from the way I had once seen amendments to the U.S. Constitution presented.

Luckily for us, we will be moving our site into the University’s new content management system after our redesign, allowing our admissions adviser to have access to our ever-changing admissions requirements for each program.

The Naming of Things

One of the first steps was to figure out how to make the index of programs easy to browse. Each degree or certificate program has an official, registered name—but we weren’t always using it, because sometimes the official name didn’t actually describe the program very well. Some of the academic programs that administered the degree and certificate programs were also engaging in some creative (but unofficial) renaming, which meant that prospective students would not always know the official names.

Book Indexing to the Rescue

Luckily for me, I had recently learned quite a bit about the principles of indexing through a freelance job in which I indexed a book edited by one of my former professors. The professor had introduced me to the indexing instructions from the Chicago Manuel of Style, and I decided to use its guidelines for cross-listing entries as a starting point.

After I separated the official names of the degree and certificate programs into broad categories based on those used by U.S. News & World Report and alphabetized them within the categories, I added cross-listings anytime I thought prospective students might look under another name. For example (Note: The hyperlinks don’t actually go anywhere.):

Digging Into the Content

Figuring out the index was easy compared to the task of combining the content attached to each of the three lists, which had never really been edited and formatted for the web before. After four weeks of solid work, I finally added all the necessary subheads, combined conflicting information about admissions requirements into accurate summaries, and managed to fix most of the other grammar and factual errors.

Next week I hope to conduct some user testing to make sure that my work has really resulted in a more usable framework for our poor students, who have been dealing with some confusing content for far too long.

The Dispiriting Realism of the “Manageable Debt Load” Calculator

June 3, 2007 § Leave a comment

I had a major stress fest a few weeks ago, induced by a late scholarship offer from a top-choice school that I had completely written off as too expensive. After a few days spent aimlessly freaking out, I finally started crunching numbers, based on the financial aid office’s estimated costs and a couple of online student debt calculators.

The best calculator I found was FinAid’s Student Loan Advisor, which uses your field of study to tailor your estimated starting salary and show whether the necessary repayments would be realistic for you.

Using the calculator, I realized that even with the scholarship and part-time work during school, I would be paying back something near $11,000 every year for 10 years — a financial risk that I am not willing to take. Fortunately, I have another perfectly good (and much cheaper) choice, so things aren’t so bad.

I’m a little bumbed that my final decision came down to a consideration of cash, but at the same time, there are so many unknowable variables in the graduate school search — will I really like the faculty? will I get along with my classmates? what will the work load be like? will I get enough out of the courses? how much better will my job prospects really be? — that it was comforting to have a cut-and-dry choice in the end.

Al Gore on Charlie Rose

May 31, 2007 § Leave a comment

I just finished watching Charlie Rose’s interview with Al Gore at the 92nd Street Y in NYC, which reminded me of why Charlie Rose’s show is awesome — I loves me some rational dialogue. It’s free from the link (as opposed to $0.99 on Google video), but I’m not sure how long they’ll keep it up on the Y site.

Swapping My Paperbacks

May 24, 2007 § 1 Comment

Last weekend I joined PaperBackSwap, a site where you can list books you’d be willing to send away to a loving home in exchange for credit toward a new (to you) book for yourself. I had heard about this before on my crush site Lifehacker, but it was the article about book-swapping websites in my newest issue of Bust that really got me thinking:

Who has room for a personal library in a studio apartment, or the deltoids to transport so much reading material with every change of address?

Swapping Lit, June/July issue

I’ll be moving in a few months, and although I’m not Thoreau-ish enough to get rid of the entire overflowing collection in my bookcase, I thought it was time to trade in a few things I’ll never read again instead of letting them sit on the shelves.

So far I’ve sent away four of the initial ten books I posted, which isn’t bad I think, considering that I just signed up. The problem now is that I’ve got four credits burning a hole in my Internet-pocket, and none of the books on my wish list are available. Ah well — this is a good exercise in patience, a virtue in short supply for me sometimes.

The verdict? PaperBackSwap seems pretty awesome if you want to get rid of some stuff and then have the used-bookstore experience of browsing for nothing in particular, but if you’re searching for a specific title, you might have to just pony up the cash at Amazon Marketplace or elsewhere.

Les Concerts À Emporter

May 15, 2007 § 1 Comment

I am loving Les Concerts À Emporter (“Take-Away Shows”) by La Blogothèque, a site that asks bands who are touring through Paris to play an acoustic song or two in public settings — out on the street or, in the case of the Arcade Fire, in a freight elevator.

Other favorites of mine so far include Andrew Bird walking around Montmartre (in the video above) and the Guillemots on a stairway, also in Montmartre (at least I think — that entry is in French, and I can’t really read French anymore). The videos I’ve seen so far have an intimacy that leaves me feeling all warm and fuzzy. I will definitely be signing up for the podcasts.

Update at 10:38: And I just found one of Jens Lekmam playing one of Ian’s favorite songs (this one links to another site called Daily Motion, where La Blogothèque also hosts its videos).

I took the ALA survey. So should you!

May 13, 2007 § Leave a comment

to the survey

If you’re a web professional and haven’t taken the survey over at A List Apart, hop on over and give it a go. It only took a few minutes for me to complete, including the diatribe about ill-fitting job titles that I wrote in the comments section. No word yet on when the results will be posted.

Hello world!

May 13, 2007 § Leave a comment

OK, here we go.