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

Archive for October, 2006

Cheeseburger in Paradise.

A fun read for you Info Architects:



-Kate Peterson

PS: Isn’t it funny that I can choose uncategorized and various other categories to categorize my post? Can anyone explain the ”meta” category to me? I thought meta was an html tag for search engines??? 


Audio and some slides

We have audio from every talk, and slides from many of them, free for download. Enjoy!

Day 1

Peter Merholz’ Introduction. Slides (PDF), MP3

Linda Stone. No slides, MP3. Questions and answers MP3.

David Guiney, Designing Across Multiple Media for the National Park Service. Slides to come, MP3
David Guiney, Addressing the Challenges of Designing for the National Park Service. Slides to come, MP3.

Dave Cronin, Art for the public: supporting a visitor-directed museum experience. Slides, MP3.

Jake Barton, Interaction Design in a Physical Space. Slides (PDF), MP3. Jake also showed a few movies during his talk: Building Timelapse movie. Jetblue booth movie. Timescapes sample chapter movie.

Ian White, The Design of Data. Slides (PDF), MP3.

Ali Sant, TRACE: Mapping the Emerging Urban Landscape. Slides to come, Part 1 MP3, Part 2 MP3.

Day 2

Stamen Design, Project Work. Slides with no movies (7.37 MB PPT), Slides with movies (164.78MB ZIP), MP3.
Fernanda Viegas, Democratizing Visualization. Slides (PPT), MP3.
Stamen and Fernanda Question and Answer. MP3.

Dan Hill, The New Media. Slides (PDF), MP3.

Next-Generation Libraries panel:

  • Deborah Jacobs, No slides, MP3
  • Ed Vielmetti, No slides, MP3
  • Paul Gould, Slides (PPT), MP3
  • Question and Answer. MP3

Robert Kalin, O Advantageous Interfaces! Slides (on Rob’s site), MP3.

Bruce Sterling, Closing Keynote. No slides. MP3.

Comments (8)

Bruce Sterling, opinion extravaganza

If Kalin opened the door, Sterling ran through the door, tore the door down, peed on it, and then, to the applause of the crowd, set it on fire. In a rambling 30 minute well received opinion extravaganza, he began by reflecting back at the conference with tidbits from the talks: short quotes delivered out of context and with dramatic, but sarcastic, inflections.

The intent seemed a combination of mild ridicule, curiousity, reflection of our narrow focus, entertainment, and a reminder of how serious (too serious) we take ourselves.

But I wondered: Could you ever have an effective conference that was not vulnerable to this kind of exercise? (e.g. Couldn’t he have done the same exercise in the closing comments at a medical, construction, sports, legal, or novel writing conference, or any conversation where people were trying to share knowledge & opinion with each other?). But again, perhaps that was part of his point too: I don’t know. The talk moved through ideas in spirals, with high velocity and low structure: I’m uncertain about what he thought his points were.

If there was a conceptual anchor, it was this: there is a world of more serious problems that need to be dealt with: Some are reflected in (a book he took time to promote), but more generally in how economies fail to transition out of dependence on things. He asked us, as designers, architects, visualizers, to fix this problem: to fix it now. That it was this gap that everything hinged on and he passionately emplored us to take action (admiting that the how of this request, was, well, hard to figure out).

He wandered in and our various sub topics (the role of voids in design, the inevitable failure of all attempts to design things or fix the world, and others I did not catch) entertainingly eviscerating various sacred cows and white elephants - although he mentioned he wasn’t going to soft-shoe the crowd, his charmingly wise-ass delivery was so disarming that in a way, he did effectively soft-shoe through much of the talk: I don’t think his points had time to strike their full depth, their coating of humor and passion slowing their penetration, until he had left the stage.

Other notable quotes:

“If you cut up the present, the future bleeds through” - W. Burroughs

“(They say) since there are 50 million blogs, some of them have to be good. Well, No. That’s like saying if you have 50 million toasters, some of them have to fly at supersonic speed.” - B. Sterling

“If love is your only metric, it’s your Achilles heel.” - B. Sterling

- Scott Berkun


O Advantageous Interfaces, Etsy’s Robert Kalin

Somehow, some way, during Tuesday’s afternoon break, the conference began a slow right turn into philosophy, contention, and larger topics. And it all began with Etsy’s Robert Kalin.

The talk was one 1/3rd cultural analysis, 1/3rd digital philosophy and 1/3rd about the history of his website and business, On the analysis front, he challenged the assertions of Linda Stone, claiming instead that for the younger generations that have grown up with so many digital demands for their attention, there is no sense of loss: it’s entirely normal for them to manage this many interactions, just as its normal for Gen-Xers to deal with TV, stereos, computers and other simultaneous inputs that their parents could not handle. Ripple in the pond was a common metaphor in his talk.

Robert KalinI wondered about the boundries of this argument: just because a technology can be assimiliated doesn’t mean it’s benefical or good for culture, human psychology, or human survival. There has to be some thinking about the impact these technologies, that we barely understand (as we’ve just made them), have on culture, society and psychology (See Neil Postman’s Amusing ourselves to death).

On digital philosophy: he briefly mentioned Mclluhan, a trickster of a philosopher who’s often (mis)credited with predicting and explaining many of the challenges of the digital age, but quickly moved on to the semiotics of interfaces, and how every successful UI model reveals something important about a particular culture (Urinials were a brief example, with a hat tip to Duchamp).

The history of etsy was told in brief - started as, a site to sell handmade products done for a professor’s wife’s friend. They liked the core ideas, had learned from their mistakes, and launched soon after. Kalin believes that innovation in design can be a way to differentiate and establish brand, despite other’s abilities to copy or mimic those traits. They work remotely (IRC): Kalin in Brooklyn, others in NJ, FL, Philadelphia and elsewhere. Kalin expressed that his own vagabond background (some art school, some music performance, stints at various colleges, some construction work, etc.) deeply impacted his views on design, culture, and more.

One point raised during Q&A was the curious, if not contradictory, relationship between Stone’s comments, etsy’s value proposition of the authenticity of handmade goods, and’s construction as a cutting edge, uber-dynamic, web 2.0 experience. Can a website be an authentic experience if it’s trying to be innovative and buzzword compliant? Does the medium (wink to Mclluhan) impact how authentic you can be?

I left the session with more questions than answers, both about Kalin’s opinions, the signifigance of, as well as whether value systems can work independent of a particular mode of communication.

Intellectually it was the most challenging (and in places frustrating) talk of the conference, that is until Sterling’s closing notes.

-Scott Berkun

Comments (2)

Next generation libraries

After a fun, fast dim sum lunch over at O’Asian it was time for what I hoped would be the anchor session of the conference, Next generation libraries. bringing together library design, information systems and design into one nice, thoughful, synthesizing panel sandwich. I was not disapointed.

Things started with Deborah Jacobs, from the city library of seattle, sharing stories about the Seattle library’s development, Koolhaas‘ design ideas, and what the library means to Seattle. Sadly had to leave on library business berore the full on panel Q&A began.

Next up was Edward Vielmetti, (known by many as the man behind Superpatron), who spoke about his involvement with his local Ann Arbor library. He explained the challenges libraries face to keep pace with technology, demonstrating how his own library, and other services like LibraryThing are doing their best to serve their patrons. (Sadly I missed the middle part of his talk, for biological and employment related issues. If you have notes, please share).

Rounding out the session was Paul Gould from Pittsburgh based MAYA design, on his work with the Carnegie public libraries. He kicked off his talk with a 1950s career advice video on becoming a librarian (”Are books your friend? Do people like you? Than maybe librarianship is for you!”). He followed up by walking us through various library environments with obvious wayfinding, flow and interaction problems. and MAYAs role in revising their system thinking for how the library functioned.

His talk included gems about how libraries civilize people - a claim that made the signifigance of the Internet, Web 2.0, and various other obsession prone technologies of our field seem suddenly shallow (Does e-mail civilize people? tag clouds? folksonomies? Like Stone’s plea for making our lives better, the questions circling around this phrase stuck with me for most of the afternoon)

-Scott Berkun


Dan Hill, The new media

Dan Hill (BBC & gave what might have been the greatest unintentional experiment in mass communication at the conference - his fantastic slides hinted at many interesting crossover ideas, but was unfortunately combined with a sound experience that left most of his utterances incomprehensible. I was seated 5 rows back, on the far side stairwell from the podium, but despite my attempts to relocate to beter audio conditions, couldn’t make out most of what he said (And afterwards I learned I wasn’t alone). Between a low range podium mike and his informal delivery, many of his words didn’t make it intact to my ears.

But that said, I’m far more intrigued to get my hands on his slides than any other material at the conference. So what follows is an extrapolated recap of what the ideas that reached my ears (or were invented for my by my little brain).

Key points:

  • Interactive media is out of the designers control. But can a designer design with an out of control medium?
  • Other media has paths we can follow. He offered several fascinating examples from music, including George Crumbs spiral orchestral score - a design pattern Hill applied to both the lost TV series as well as interaction design.
  • Urban planning - (He scored points for refering to LeCorbustier’s work as insane but beautiful, a sentiment I share). Explored how these models of interaction can be borrowed from for digital works.
  • Composers vs. Performers. He offered that design for interactive, social systems demands thinking more like a composer, who’s work is interpreted by others, and designers, who’s users make use of the spaces for their own aims. He suggested that co-creation is a better model for designers that the designer as solo-artist many are trained to have.

If Hill makes his slides available, and I hope he does, it’s definitely worth a thoughtful look. Even without consistently comprehensible audio, I found many layers of ideas in his carefully designed deck.

Dan also wins 10 presentation award points for the best historically relevant audio/visual aids: including a rare LP of one of John Cage’s experimental works on LP.

-Scott Berkun

Comments (1)

Visualization: Fernanda Viegas from IBM

Post HistoryFernanda Viegas began by putting visualization in context: something I was thrilled to hear. She explained that visualization is often seen as an expert to expert interaction: lab coated data-junkies making complex data visualizations for other similarly addicted minds. Her goal, or at least the goals of some of her projects, is to humanize visualization and use it as a tool to help people understand the data in their lives. Rock on.

First up was PostHistory, a tool for e-mail users to see their e-mail usage in a new way. She discovered that, despite her efforts to protect privacy, people were thrilled to share what they saw and learned with each other (seeding her above stated goals for visualization).

Next up was a walkthrough of Martin Wattenberg’s NameVoyager, of Internet fame (I’d seen this a dozen times, but so impressed by its consumer styled appeal that I didn’t associate it with “data visualization”) exploring some of the questions raised by the emerging community around the data (takeaway: you’re doing something right when you get normal people to voluntarily spend their free time playing with data).

She ended the talk showing some of the new work she’s doing at IBM, soon to be up and running at The Visual Communication lab website. Of particular note were new ways to help communities form around data, including ways to thumbnail, reference and bookmark particular views, making it easier to share the particular customized visualizations people find when exploring on their own.

-Scott Berkun


The visualization confab: Stamen design

Michal and Eric kicked off what should be dubbed “the morning of visualization” with a series of interesting visualizations from their work at Stamen - These guys have a huge advantage, presentation-wise, as all there stuff makes for instant demos. They started with, which was philosophically similiar to the Local projects work, that aimed to bring people together. It was easy to see in works like this how putting things in a visual context, one as colorful and inviting as the one they designed, changes the nature of dialog and radically simplifies complex data. The isolated feel connected, and the connected can see the impact of the work they’re doing.

They followed up with demos of their work on San Francisco cabs called cabspotter, mappr (a flickr based visualization), and digg labs. Cabspotter (pictured above) reminded me of a spartan koyaanisqatsi, converting time into images and making technology seem organic. (Although Not sure how to use this if I’m waiting for a cab, other than to distract me from the wait?)

The last project they showed was from digg labs - a visualization of how news items get noticed, shared and publicized in the openly democratic digg system. While certainly fascinating to watch, I couldn’t help but ask what questions this sort of data would help answer: I suspect these visualizations mean signifigantly more to the community of digg reporters, than outsiders like me. Not that I didn’t want to watch this for hours anyway. I left these demos thinking of them more as models, rather than as applications: what other kinds of data sets can you plug into these visualiations, and what new meanings would you find? I don’t know, but I sure am curious.

Scott Berkun


Shameless self-promotion

If you’re looking for more postings related to the IDEA conference, I’m blogging the sessions (most of them, anyway) over at hegemony rules.


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


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