The Information Architecture Institute
A conference on designing
complex information spaces of all kinds.
New York City, October 4 and 5, 2007

Archive for September, 2006

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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Jake Barton, Interaction Design in a Physical Space

This talk will address how does interaction design, an ordinary issue for the web, explodes in unexpected directions when applied to physical space. What happens to accepted conventions when applied to the city streets, or museum atriums? Does it create opportunities for interaction between audience members in real time? Can we encourage multi-modal interactions between participants? Does it offer the chance for persistence within a single location?

See the entire program.


Dave Cronin’s Presentation: Art for the Public: Supporting a visitor-directed museum experience

The Getty operates with the mission of making its museums, gardens and extensive collections of artwork accessible and engaging to a diverse audience of visitors. This talk will discuss how the Getty and Cooper worked together to rethink and expand the way kiosks, handhelds and the Web are used to enhance and enrich the visitor experience by providing context-appropriate access to an immense body of content about the collection and architecture.

See the whole program.

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Conversation with Jake Barton, Local Projects (to be continued)

When I asked around about whom I should invite to IDEA who has done interesting work with complex information spaces in museums, I repeatedly was pointed in the direction of Jake Barton from Local Projects. Local Projects is perhaps best known for StoryCorps, an environment for collecting stories in public places. Jake was a finalist for the 2006 National Design Awards. In this conversation, Jake introduces the kind of work that Local Projects do, and we’ll get into the issues of designing for environments.


Peter Merholz: Jake, thanks for taking the time for this conversation. Looking over the website for your studio, Local Projects, I see you create “collaborative storytelling” and “environmental media”. What do you mean by those? How is your approach different from what I might already be familiar with?

Jake Barton: “Collaborative Storytelling” projects are bottom-up content systems. User-generated stories are collected, curated, and edited to create a select number of incredible stories. Because they occur in public spaces, our projects differ from similar web-based projects, creating a very rich and complicated interaction sequence that leverages the density of urban experience on top of storytelling.

“Environmental Media” projects are films and interactives made at an architectural scale. We are using storytelling to create narrative experiences that fill entire walls or buildings, fusing together large-scale Times Square electronic billboards and small-scale touch-screen interactives into a new experience. “More is different” is the phrase used by Steven Johnson in Emergence for how scale changes everything, and it fits here too: What happens to an interface when ten people can work on it simultaneously? How can you create a film experience that immerses you from every interior surface of a building?

PM: What do you plan on talking about at IDEA?

JB: IDEA is a special opportunity to talk about how interaction design, an ordinary issue for the web, explodes in unexpected directions when applied to physical space. What happens to accepted conventions when applied to the city streets, or museum atriums? Does it create opportunities for interaction between audience members in real time? Can we encourage multi-modal interactions between participants? Does it offer the chance for persistence within a single location? We’ve found that seeing similar problems solved for different spaces (physical vs. web) helps highlight what solutions are specific to the platform, versus the design challenge itself.

PM: I guess the logical follow up to that is, “Such as…?” What kinds of similar problems have highlighted platform-specific solutions?

JB: For example, bottom-up content systems, which I would apply to both bulletin boards and collaborative storytelling projects, work quite differently in Museums and public spaces, whose very peculiar attributes change the types of stories and content that people will engage in.

Museums don’t tend to lend themselves to persistence, like a community-based site or bulletin board relies on, because people generally visit a site once a year. There is a constant flow of strangers, much more a group of passersby, then a community of people beholden to each other and their reputations. I haven’t seen good examples of digital interfaces for commuters, but they would be an interesting hybrid of these two models.

So you get less easily into conversations, but can get a depth for the “collective collage”, some group archive that has a group of individual submissions whose collective adds up to a larger item, which websites have a hard time matching, specifically because the screen is small, and doesn’t show the large collective very well.

I’ll show some built and one proposed project that deal with variations on this theme, including one large-scale ambient interface for commuters and residents, that has bottom up reporting on traffic and news.

[to be continued…]


What David Guiney from the National Park Service plans on speaking about


Amidst a sea of stars, a personal highlight for me with IDEA is having the National Park Service contribute. David Guiney sent along the outline of what he plans to discuss. I thought I’d share it to tantalize you!

Session 1:
Communicating the Stories of our National Parks
Complex Information and Diverse Media Solutions

The National Park System

  • Natural areas — e.g.,Yosemite NP, Everglades NP
  • Historical and cultural areas — Gettysburg NMP, Cabrillo NM
  • Trail parks and systems — Lewis and Clark Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Recreation areas — Lake Mead NRA, Gateway NRA
  • Special sites — The White House, Statue of Liberty
  • The NPS Message Project

The Palette of NPS Media and Programs

  • Personal services
  • Events
  • Signs
  • Wayside exhibits
  • Museum exhibits
  • Historic furnishings exhibits
  • Publications
  • Brochures and handbooks
  • Park-produced publications
  • Bookstore sales
  • Web sites
  • New media
  • Audiovisual programs
  • Theater programs — new Selma to Montgomery film excerpt

Session 2
Communicating the Stories of our National Parks
The Challenges for Media Professionals

» NPS Innovations in Park Media— Harpers Ferry Center
The Center was established in 1970 to bring media specialists together in one place to share talents and resources. What have we learned from this experiment?

» Centralization (HFC, regions) vs. local control (parks)
In the mid-1990s the NPS shifted power from central offices to parks, making it more challenging to effect develop and enforce national standards in media. Who should set the media standards?

»Government model vs. business model
NPS media professionals are asked to work more like contractors in the private sector, but remain under the constraints of a bureaucracy. How can media planners, designers, and producers thrive in this sometimes contradictory environment?

» Insular model vs. partnership model
NPS sites have always been islands of government real estate within a secure boundary. Now we are more and more dependent on partners and volunteers to greet visitors and develop media. Are park rangers and NPS designers on the way out?

» Information (facts) vs. interpretation (minds & hearts)
Facts have lost favor in the NPS, with more energy going toward relevance and making emotional connections. What is the proper balance between information and inspiration?

» The virtual vs. the real
There have been reports that visitation to parks is declining, perhaps because many people, especially the young, are preoccupied with computers and digital media. Should the NPS be offering lots more digital and virtual experiences, or should we be focusing on providing opportunities to see and appreciate the real things that make up our natural and historical heritage?

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Meet Dave Cronin!

Dave Cronin is the Director of Interaction Design at Cooper. A little birdy told me he is working on About Face 3.0, following up Alan Cooper and Robert Reimann’s book. At IDEA, Dave will be talking about design work he did on the GettyGuide, a suite of interactive tools, including kiosks and mobile audio players.

The GettyGuide design project has a lengthy write up in Design Interact.

Here’s how Cooper talks about the solution:

The Cooper team and the Getty collaborated to develop a system which played to the strong point of each platform. The handheld device is predominantly used as a tour guide for both directed and undirected exploration of the galleries and grounds. The handheld also allows visitors to bookmark any work of art in the galleries. When the visitor then places the handheld next to a kiosk, the bookmarks are automatically downloaded, enabling the visitor to access the wealth of information about the bookmarked works on the larger display of the kiosk.

The kiosk provides several different ways of finding and browsing its deep stores of knowledge, from direct methods such providing indexes of the works in nearby galleries and the ability to search on a variety of criteria, to more associative methods of browsing through related works of art.

The GettyGuide system was also designed to integrate with the Getty Web site, enabling visitors to access their bookmarked works of art from the comfort of their own homes, allowing them to return to the pieces that intrigued them on their visit to the museum, as well as bookmarking pieces from the Web site, creating a tour to follow when they arrive at the museum.

Both the handheld and the kiosk were designed to be location-context-dependent, providing access to information about nearby works of art and architectural features as well as encouraging visitors to continue to explore nearby points of interest, both physically and virtually. By offering content based upon visitors’ physical location, visitors can move fluidly between a traditional directed tour and a more serendipitous experience where visitors are able to follow their interests and reactions.

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Information visualization conversation with Fernanda Viegas and Mike Migurski (to be continued…)

Fernanda and Mike will be talking about the latest actvities in information visualization at IDEA, on October 24.. I’ve goaded them into engaging in an email conversation, the first part of which I’m reprinting here.

Fernanda: At the conference, I’m hoping to talk about how to “democratize” visualization use (following successful deployments such as the NameVoyager vis) and I’ll demo the new public visualization site we’re building in our group. Michal got a peek of it this weekend [At FooCamp].
Even though we got a conversation started, I don’t think we got to any conclusions about how to do our presentations.

Michal, what are your thoughts on this?


Michal: I like what you’re saying about democratization, though strangely enough I’ve always used the term “downmarketing” in the same context, as in making the techniques we use understandable and desirable to a wider range of people. The NameVoyager project is a perfect example of this. Is there a reason you’re using a political word while I use an economic one? Is that the difference between coming out of academia and research environments vs. having a service-oriented design firm?

That may be a good starting point.

Fernanda: You ask an interesting question. I’m not sure what the difference is between my “democratization” and your “downmarketing” but I can tell you a bit more of where we’re coming from.

Screenshot from Themail, described below

Martin and I have been building visualizations for a while now and it’s recently become clear to us that whenever we make a visualization public, it takes on a life of its own and becomes a much more powerful artifact. To give you an example, when I was finishing my thesis at MIT, I was working on visualizing people’s email inboxes. I was super cautious about privacy and made a point of always explaining to my users (the owners of the email archives being visualized) that they would be the only ones looking at those visualizations. I explained to them that I would never show those images to anyone else without their consent. Well, as soon as people started playing with the visualizations, they wanted to share the images with others!! They started sending screen shots to friends and family and they would call others to sit with them and look at the images together. Users were using the images as social artifacts for reminiscing and storytelling. Martin’s experience with the baby name visualization was very much along the same lines in the sense that it allowed hundreds of conversations to get started because of the visualization.

Meanwhile, if you look at the academic information visualization community, researchers aren’t focusing on the social side of their applications. Infovis folks love to explore techniques that allow them to scale the data they are showing. But what happens when you scale the audience that’s looking at a visualization? This is the question we are currently exploring.

So I guess our “democratization” efforts don’t necessarily attempt to make visualization techniques simpler as much as they try to support social activity around visualization viewing (things such as: how can you support conversation around visualization?).

I hope this helps. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Peter: I love your insight, Fernanda. I’ve long been frustrated with the state of information visualization, because it seemed to offer such promise, and yet languish for so long. And I wonder if you’ve hit on a key — visualizations are taking off, of late, because they serve a primarily social role; they enable sharing between people.

It reminds me of one of the simple, but genius, moves of Flickr. Whereas other photo services defaulted to “private” sharing, Flickr defaulted to “public”. This allowed for the rapid development of community.

Information and data visualizations seem to be taking off as artifacts suitable for sharing. I’m reminded of the buzz a couple years ago around, which visualized your tags (and this before the prominence of tag clouds). This allowed you to create a kind of visualized avatar of yourself. (Which in turn reminds me of “Personal Dictionaries”, an art project from 1995, where people’s additions to their word processor’s dictionary were overlaid on their photograph.)

Anyway, back to your point, I think a key success of the NameVoyager is to keep the data being visualized *super simple*. It’s almost like there’s an inverse relationship between the complexity of the data, and the complexity of the conversation around the data. And I suspect Mike saw some of this around Mappr…

Michal: Fernanda, the sharing aspect of the forthcoming piece you mentioned at Foo was, I think, a total masterstroke. Peter, some background: similarly to how you describe people communicating insights (e.g. “note how Adolf drops off in the 1940’s”) via the NameVoyager, Fernanda & Martin’s new piece provides a “comment on this” feature, which saves the viewer’s state along with a thumbnail screenshot. This way, the comments section attached to each dataset is augmented with tiny screenshots that show what the commenter was looking at when they decided to respond. It’s a super elegant solution to the problem of synchronizing views of changeable data.

I agree with Peter’s opinion about the relationship between complexity and popularity. It’s a lot like pop music in that way - provide a hook that can be hummed, and then backfill the complexity into the production and subtext for longevity. The KLF’s book “The Manual” articulates this more effectively than anything else I’ve seen, and has served as a foundation for most of my interests for the past 4 or 5 years. An effective visual interpretation of information hides the same kind of subtlety in a simple presentation.

Digg Labs

Probably the point at which our focus differs most from IBM’s is that we’re currently fixated on liveness - data that changes as you view it, typically because it’s being generated at the same time. The recent Digg Labs work is the most high-profile version of this we’ve got, but we’ve attempted to approach it with other pieces that change from day to day or hour to hour. It’s related to Peter’s mention of sharing, since a lot of interesting or constantly-shifting data is from social sites like Flickr or Digg. Those are the places where change happens fastest and matters most to people. I like the idea of visualization as an alert system for social information rather than a contemplative one, and we’ve made efforts to spur projects with this characteristic.

A side effect is that visualization of live information turns out to be a lot more TV-like than NameVoyager or similar work. Extispicious and Personal Dictionaries both remind me of the quiz craze on LJ (e.g. “what kind of Hostess baked good are you?”), whose output was very badge- or avatar-like. I’m not sure if the same impulse can be drawn out of something live, or whether perhaps viewing live-but-narrow data is actually quite a different experience from manipulating static-but-deep data. Fun fact: the original drafts of our Digg work were called “The Ultimate Stoner Tool”, because author & blogger Om Malik said during some panel that his favorite activity was smoking dope and watching Digg Spy scroll by.

[[to be continued…]]

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