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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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

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.

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