The Information Architecture Institute
A conference on designing complex information
spaces of all kinds.
Seattle Public Library, October 23-24, 2006

Jake Barton, Local projects

It’s unfair to play favorites, especially on a conference blog, but Barton’s talk about his Local projects work was my favorite so far, hands down. He packed a summary of various conceptual, creative and interactive gems, into a single talk, blending ideas from NPR’s this american life, to Alan Lomax’s global jukebox, with the magic of generous experience design.

Most of the projects shown were variations on the theme of connection: finding ways to help people connect with each other through some kind of technological mediation: sometimes paper and pen (Memory Maps), sometimes videocamera (JetBlue), and other times a table and a microphone (StoryCorps). Many were mobile (thus the Lomax reference), enabling them to serve a unique kind of cultural purpose, traveling to towns and villages where exhibits this clever, and reflective, rarely arrive.

Its clear the folks at Local projects are doing some amazing work: I just wish I knew where there next project installation will be so I can check it out in person.

-Scott Berkun


Design in the Getty museum

It was a special thrill to hear Dave Cronin talk about the interaction design work Cooper did at the Getty museum, as I’d visted there a couple of months ago. Its always fun to retroactively rebuild an experience, knowing something now, in the present, about how that experience was constructed.

The talk was mostly case study about their design process: the challenges of public museums, the diverse needs and types of people who visit, and the basic problems of wayfinding in public spaces. As its a Cooper design project, I wasn’t surprised to hear about their use of Personas. Having used the system I can say first hand the project was a success, as I used their interactive kiosks to both find art in the musuem, and understand the history of other art I’d already seen inside.

It was a clear, straightforward and interesting presentation, visually rich with screenshots and images (taking advantage of the visually interesting museum itself), but slightly too well packaged in feel to fit a “designer talking to other designers” vibe - and as the clients are quiet visible in the case study, I can understand the challenge of wanting to inform, but without rallying against a client: a tension all designers feel about client based work. Any inside scoups or tales of design turmoil on the scale of what it took to build the actual Getty center, will have to wait for side conversations, perhaps over drinks, with Mr. Cronin himself.

-Scott Berkun


National parks and design

David Guiney, from the National Park service was up next, in two distinct parts.

In part one, I wasn’t sure in David’s talk how well aimed it was at the audience - my takeaways were glancing blows: how the signage and weatherproof displays at historic and natural sites work to frame what’s seen. WIthout them they’re just landscapes - famrs, fields, mountains. But those little displays carry the heavy burden of context, information and an ad-hoc, single-shot-of-whiskey, taxonomy. People don’t spend much time at those displays, but it colors and frames everything they see afterwards whether they’re aware of it or not.

More than anything else, part one of his talk made me curious about their processes - they clearly thought deeply about their design work, but they have the extra challenge of designing in support of nature, rather than than giving the design work the spotlight. I hoped to hear more in part 2 after the break, and I was right.

Part 2 was framed around 5 themes:

  1. Facts vs. Feelings
  2. NPS with in-house design, or outsourced
  3. No park is an island
  4. Virtual vs. real
  5. Acceleration of quality

David threaded through these topics without a single bulleted point list - most of part1 and part2 were scenes from parks, examples of signage, maps, or interpreative displays, and in part 2, shots of the designers working together to make all those things happen. Instead of giving a case study, David weaved his own tales and experiences as a park ranger in various parks to hint, jab and touch on the themes of those 5 bullet points (which, in an act of smart design, were the same 5 bullets found on the questionaire he handed out).

In looking at the various examples of design work, the examples of NPS maps, the neatly folded gems they hand you when you enter national parks, brough piles of positive memories: I love those booklets and the cartography of those maps. Yet I’d never really thought of them as designed things: they were so functional and essential in my mind that they faded into the experience, as all good design is supposed to do.

Just like the paths and trails themselves, these small bits of design material divide the park in ways that most visitors never even think about, which is amazing (helping people connect with nature) and scary (how do they know they’ve provided the right choices?) at the same time.

-Scott Berkun


Opening Salvo: Linda Stone’s keynote

Looks like I’m first to post - am I guilty of attention defecit disorder? You decide :)

FIrst up was Linda Stone, offering several resonant points about our continually distracted attention spans. She didn’t use slides, by intent, making the point that audiences, such as those in SCRUM or standing meetings, benefit from slight discomfort, as it forces attention. But i wondered: do slides distract, or help tell stories? I think it all depends on how its used). the difference is in the hands of the speaker).

Highlights for me were all about awareness: She made it impossble not to notice the people in the room on laptops, the baby crying in the rafters, the odd cell phone ringtone, or the library noise in the hall. If nothing else I left her talk more aware of the things asking for my attention, and my freshly empowered ability to, at any time, refuse them if I desired.

But I wondered how to use this awareness as a designer, and a consumer. Can attention really be saved at the design level, if the product in question is a television commercial? Or anything that has the intent to earn, or (gasp) steal, attention? With these questions now in mind, I thought Stone’s keynote was a suitable warmup for the more design focused sessions to come.

-Scott Berkun


Linda Stone: Opening Keynote

Designers have a special sensitivity and resonance with mass consciousness. Linda Stone has studied how the way we use our attention impacts and is impacted by mass consciousness. From multi-tasking, to what Stone calls, “continuous partial attention,” to focus and uni-tasking, Stone tracks twenty year social cycles, bringing a sense of context to our current, always-on lifestyle.


Dan Hill: The New Media

Drawing from work in both strategic and operational areas at the BBC in London, I’ll explore some of the ways big media companies are approaching the new media landscape. Far from being marginalised by Web 2.0-style operations, I’ll argue that broadcast media can be reinvented to take advantage of both its traditional strengths and the new environment it finds itself in. I’ll highlight the course we’re plotting between between the top-down, fully-articulated, designed, broadcast models and the fully-participative, emergent, vernacular, open-ended, networked models. Essentially believing there is some value in both, and lots in their potential fusion. This will include examples of strategic work defining the design and navigation principles around the next generation BBC website as well as tactical steps towards this, drawn from interactive products and services made at BBC Radio & Music. This will include using hosting music festivals in Second Life, explorations of ‘Lost’ mapped onto graphical scores, spurious relationships between urban planning and designing media systems and tricks for getting design ‘into the boardroom’.


Robert Kalin - O Advantageous Interfaces

A series of six discrete five-minute talks, chosen in a random order after Robert gets on stage. The subjects will range from the history of interfaces for relieving ourselves to Marshall McLuhan’s short-sighted visions of how the Web reprioritizes our senses to how Etsy is just a beginning in in the young medium that’s yet to invent itself.


Alison Sant - TRACE: Mapping the Emerging Urban landscape

Digital networks and wireless technologies are radically reforming the contemporary notions of urban place. As network technologies increasingly become the carriers of geographic annotations, they create an urban dynamic in which our orientation to the city is no longer based purely on static landmarks, but on a notion of the  city in which spatial references may become events. This talk explores the emerging wireless landscape and references TRACE, a collaborative mapping project created by Alison Sant, to examine the interplay of wireless networks with the corporeal experience of the urban landscape.


Ian White - “Design of Data”

As a commodity, data serves as glue, binding people with experiences, hardware with software and theory with practice. It holds little value on its own, but through a marriage with context, data can be transformed into nonfungible, compelling and actionable information. Through examples of geospatial data and across industry, this talk will address how a context of use informs that which we seek to understand.


Next-Generation Libraries Panel

Libraries, long considered stodgy dusty places for books, are experiencing a renaissance, shifting to become more responsive to their communities and the individuals who use them. This panel will explore the next generation of libraries from three distinct

1. Edward Vielmetti, networking technology pioneer, recently began his Superpatron initiative, an attempt to allow library patrons the ability to engage directly with their library’s technology in order to get the most out of the institution. Ed will talk about his
experience “opening up” libraries covering such topics as:
- how I found the techies at the library
- how RSS feeds change library services
- co-developing a simple protocol, PatREST, w/AADL developer
- Jon Udell’s Library Lookup project
- non-library innovations like Book Burro and LibraryThing
- looking beyond big vendors for innovative ideas

2. Paul Gould, designer from MAYA, was instrumental to the redesign of the Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh. This marked a remarkable attempt to design the physical and virtual spaces with the user foremost in mind. Paul will talk about how entities such as libraries can create a framework that provides a common direction and co-evolutionary path for what, although interesting and useful, might otherwise be isolated or divergent efforts. Paul will use examples from MAYA’s work with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to talk about such specifics as user-centered design, information architecture, and organizational change.

3. Deborah Jacobs, City Librarian for Seattle, will discuss the evolving role of the library as a hub for the community it serves, and, naturally, share her experiences with the development of the new Central Library, perhaps the most significant new piece of public
architecture in the last decade.

See the entire program.


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