ARCHIVE: February, 2006

On Product Design

Inventor Dean Kamen on product design:

“I try to understand the basic laws of nature. Beyond this, I do very little research as to what the product should be. You would never get the iBOT by doing research on wheelchairs. If you do “product research,” the product that you end up with will be similar to what already exists. For example, if you went out to people who make wheelchairs and said, “I want to make the next great improvement,” they would typically conduct focus groups with people who use wheelchairs. And these wheelchair users, operating within the context of their existing wheelchairs, might ask for things like a new cup holder. They saw a great cup holder in a minivan and realized that their wheelchair didn’t have one. So they ask for a cup holder, or some other incremental improvement. You have to start with basic question: if this person is now missing this amount of functionality, is there some alternative to a wheelchar that is both dramatically better and not prohibited by the laws of physics and the current state of engineering and technology?

“Focusing on the problem in this fundamental way allowed us to understand that wheelchair users need to have the same small footprint on the ground as you and I so they can navigate around areas and obstacles as we do. They need to have their eyes and hands at the same level as a standing person, so they can see over counters and get things down from shelves. They need to be able to get water out of a faucet. And so on. In order to achieve any of these things, we looked a how fully functioning humans do it. They do it by being dynamically stable – by constantly adjusting themselves to maintain balance. Balance is a preprequisite condition to living in a world that is architected by people who walk around balancing themselves. So we decided to forget about wheelchairs and focus on the real problem. The real problem isn’t locomotion – wheels solve that problem fine. The real problem is that these people typically lost their ability to move around while also physically elevating themselves within a small footprint, which requires dynamic stability. Solving this problem would dramatically improve their lives.”

( I already posted about it in a different context here: The Moment of Innovation, but I’m so fond of it I’m going to post it on Bokardo, too. )

Excerpted from: Make Magazine, Volume 4

Malcolm’s Got a Blog

On Malcolm Gladwell’s Blog:

“In the past year I have often been asked why I don’t have a blog. My answer was always that I write so much, already, that I don’t have time to write anything else. But, as should be obvious, I’ve now changed my mind.”

(via Anne Zelenka)

On Business Value

Jason Fried on the business value in Web 2.0:

“It’s about value — something the new web set seems afraid to 1. create, and 2. charge for. I don’t know why people are afraid to charge for their services, but here are a few ideas: 1. they don’t think they’re good enough, 2. they are afraid to offend some people, 3. they think profit and idealism don’t mix, and 4. peer pressure (“come on, man, everyone’s doing the free”).”

On Web Standards

At this point in time, the best web applications aren’t built using web standards.

Web technologies, yes, but these sites certainly do not validate, which if you ask any standardista, is absolutely necessary. Joe Clark states the most extreme view: “It indicates not merely unprofessional Web-development practices but outright incompetence.”

However, I think this is the wrong message to send to fellow web designers. Designers should not dismiss sites simply because they don’t validate. They should judge sites on completely different criteria: usefulness. After all, the three sites I mentioned above are some of the most useful sites out there…are their designers unprofessional or incompetent?

The answer is not “no”. It’s “who cares?” Who cares whether or not the designers are incompetent if they consistently deliver their users a great user experience? Certainly not the folks who are happily using the sites…they wouldn’t care a whit. The fact that a site doesn’t validate says more about the designer’s priorities than it does about their competence.

So instead of tearing down designers whose code doesn’t validate, let’s re-evaluate our work by asking what is the most important thing we can do to make our user’s experience better? Let’s question the questioners, and not view the world in black (does validate) and white (doesn’t validate). Some time ago I wrote a long riff about why we are having trouble articulating design.

Anyway, here’s a start:

The most important standards on the Web are not technological, they’re social. They are the standards that software and web sites need to reach before people find something useful. If you can, yes, use web standards to make your app more accessible, or to save on your bandwidth costs, or give you better visibility among your peers.

But standards are a false idol, and praying to validation is putting technology before humans. The mere act of validation doesn’t suddenly make something accessible to all, so judging designers on validation doesn’t say much either. Don’t make standards validation an absolute necessity if they’re going to hold you back from coming up with something like Gmail that completely changes the way we use the Web.

A Freelance Project

I’ve been out of freelancing for some time, but here’s a site I designed for the woman who photographed our wedding.

Living Proof Photography by Jeanne Henderson.

For those code divers, notice that I used Dreamweaver templates (the horror!) so that I could set up Jeanne with Contribute, with the ultimate goal of transitioning maintenance over to her in the future.

If you’re getting married and live in New York’s Capital region, check her out. Her photography packages are a great value, especially if you want everything digital like we did.

On Passive

Greg Yardley, on Yahoo’s Counterproductive Pyramid:

“Once you start believing 90% of your audience is passive you can’t help but shape your existing communities and design new ones with the passive consumers in mind.”

Web 2.0 Talk – Leveraging the Network

Here’s the slide deck for a talk I gave on Web 2.0 for the Greater Boston Chapter of the ACM, a non-profit educational and scientific society of computer professionals in the Boston area.

Web 2.0 – Leveraging the Network (2.74 MB pdf)

In the talk I spoke about how Web 2.0 companies distinguish themselves by leveraging the network of which they are a part. Brittanica, for example, has had a web site for quite some time and were slow to leverage the network in any particular way. Wikipedia, on the other hand, exists only because they used the available network to improve their contents communally. And Wikipedia, of course, is a much, much more popular site.

Continue Reading: Web 2.0 Talk – Leveraging the Network

On Faith

Scott Karp, in In Media, Only Ideas Matter:

“So I don’t think that blogging and Web 2.0 will destroy culture — it will burn hot with a lot of valueless activity but will ultimately fade to the soft glow of true value. I have faith in the power of ideas and the power of human insight — and I have faith that talent will always find a way to be heard above the noise (no matter how loud it gets in here).”

On Noise

Derek Powazek on gatekeepers:

“So now, my fellow bloggers, I beseech you: Ignore the numbers. Ignore the lists. Blog what you love and the rest will follow. Everything else is just noise.”

The Evolution of Information Grazing

One lens through which to look at the recent innovation in the memetracker space is frustration. If you look at where the frustration is in how we track memes (ideas), you can get a decent picture of where the innovation is going. If you want to predict the future, find the frustration!

Like an antelope eating grass on the Kalahari, grazing is eating small quantities of food at frequent but irregular intervals (Apple Dashboard dictionary). Recently, the term grazing has been adopted to describe our efforts at finding information on the Web. The following is a very general picture of the four types of “grazing” we’ve gone through, or are going through now. Each level had it’s own share of frustration, which led (or is leading) directly to the next level.

Continue Reading: The Evolution of Information Grazing

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