Scaffolding

We Are the Magicians

Maximilien Luce, Morning, Interior, 1890, using pointillist technique

We all make magic every day. Don’t think so? Then consider this, we conjure up complete worlds of information with a mere suggestion, just a bit of outline, a stroke or two, a few words, a spatter of color, a dash of melody. We literally make grand visions from just a trickle of data. This is true for those who design and those who consume information. Let’s first explore our ability to comprehend very incomplete information. Take pointillism — an art movement (technique) that required artists to create images using points of pure color — why are we able to “see” the complete image from a mere collection of dots? With just a collection of colored dots, we are all able to imagine the mood, understand the story, visualize the universe behind this painting. You can say: “well, the artist was great at using dots.” But it is not just dots that we are good at. We reconstruct our reality from little bits of incomplete data all day every day of our lives. Consider the tone of voice of the person who answered the phone — you can easily tell the mood and even guess at the personality of that…

Review eBook: Affordances and Design

Manches a Gigots

Victor Kaptelinin, a Professor at the Department of Information Science and Media Studies, University of Bergen, Norway, and the Department of Informatics, Umeaa University, Sweden, just published an eBook with Interaction Design Foundation: “Affordances and Design.” I was asked to write a review of this book and provide some insights into using affordances in interaction design and HCI. Let me start by providing the definition of affordance as given by Donald Norman: In his eBook, Victor Kaptelinin provides the history of the idea of affordance from its initial introduction by James Gibson in 1977 to the present day. The eBook’s bibliography and reference section is a great place to start the exploration of this topic for anyone new to these ideas. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t help much if an individual is looking for some guidance on how to apply these ideas in practical situations during interaction design or HCI design. For clarity’s sake, allow me to give a very brief explanation of affordances, from their roots to the present time. When James Gibson first introduced the concept of affordances, he focused on physical environment — what actions are possible? And the set of these action were invariable — just because…

Design for Social Good

Social engineering is way of designing products and situations which actively encourage people to behave in a desired way — Nudging for Good. EDF Challenge “Sharing energy in the city, 2030” seems an ideal circumstance for social engineering for the greater social good. The basic question is how do we as designers find ways to incentivize individuals to save energy? How do we make a bit of personal sacrifice an attractive option for most? How do we “nudge” people to behave in a socially responsible ways when it comes to energy use? First, it makes sense to break up the problem into several user categories: personal energy sharing, family sharing, neighborhood or community sharing, city or village sharing. At each level we expand the circle to involve more and more individuals, and so we need a different approach for each category. Each category has a set of pressure points on which social engineers can apply pressure to achieve the desired changes. Once we identify the user groups targeted for “nudging”, game theory can be used to find the most attractive options. While there are numerous strategies that can be borrowed from game theory to incentivize the desired energy sharing behavior,…

Building and Sustaining Online Communities

Pope Francis said an interesting and insightful commentary on online social media: “The Internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity… The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgement, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression. … The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests.” In other words, communities have the power to limit the range of views to only those that they seems culturally appropriate — a small subset of active users can completely change the group dynamics of a community. The responsibility of the managers to find their way to create and sustain healthy communities. I’ve been building and supporting communities for a while. It happened organically — I needed to help a client start a project and build a following around it; then another client needed something similar; after a dozen years (or more), I’ve found myself creating guidelines for communities and the people who help manage them. Below is some of my “wisdoms” from…

Tools to Jump-start Product Design Process

product design proposal: user groups

I often encounter the Blank Page Syndrome among our clients. They have an IDEA, but find it difficult to translate the nebulous desires into plans and actions that become a business. I hear a lot: “I know what I want, I just don’t know how that gets translated into something tangible.” The problem though is that most times, these individuals don’t know what they really want. And my job as a designer is to do product design therapy to uncover the real needs and separate them from vague desires. There are a few strategies for this (cognitive scaffolding for the design process). From the point of view of the final product, it is important that the client buys into the ideas and makes them their own. When I hear my words spoken back to me a few weeks into the process, I feel more confidant that the final result will be the practical manifestation of my client’s desires. Define the Categories of Product Users When one runs a business, selling products or providing services, it’s important to keep in mind that in most cases it’s not about you (typical mirroring error). The products and services have to appeal to end…

The WHY Question

The “Why” questions are important part of design: Why are we building this product? Why would users want it? Why us? Why now? Why this technology? The value of any question asked during the design process is in how the answer to that question helps advance the project; or help the design group bond; or reveal a significant insight into the problem that the group is trying to solve; or help clarify the use scenario; etc. All such questions are about moving the project forward. But it is easy to get sidetracked here, and I saw just that at the NIH biomedical research design brainstorming meeting. Before I proceed, let me describe a bit of background research and give a concrete example when the wrong answer to the Why question jeopardizes the design solution. About ten years ago now, we were asked to design a set education materials for the San Francisco Zoo. The problem was lack of structure for school visits. San Francisco public schools allow all elementary school children to visit the city zoo once a year. That’s a lot of school children…and a lot of visits per kid. But do these students learn anything during these visits?…