IDEA 2009: An Interview with Leisa Reichelt

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As IDEA 2009 draws closer, the IA Institute is conducting a series of interviews with the speakers for the conference. As Director of Events and Marketing for the IAI, I fill a variety of roles and lead the charge for the IDEA Conference this year, as well as get to Interview the IDEA Presenters (which I proudly share with Greg Corrin in this case).

For this interview, I was able to ask a few questions with Leisa Reichelt. If her name is not familiar to you, it’s possible you’ve heard of the term "ambient intimacy" that she coined (and frankly, is quite too often NOT cited as the source for that).  You can learn more about Leisa online at disambiguity where she blogs. You can also be on the lookout for Drupal 7; I hear she had a thing or to do with that…

Where do you go and what do you do to recharge, find inspiration, or renew your creativity?

I think the most guaranteed way to get myself into an inspired and creative state is to spend a few hours in an art museum – I particularly love being so close to the Tate Modern in London, but just remembering visits I’ve made to the Pompidou, the Guggenheim in NYC & Venice (I am a complete sucker for the Modernists) and I can almost feel my mind open up and think about what the future could be like and all the different ways to approach communicating what we’re thinking and feeling and believing.

At the completely other end of the scale, I also draw a huge amount of inspiration from my Twitter network and the tiny little nuggets of ideas, ourselves, and what we make of our world. I’ve also recently taken up crochet as a way to try to switch myself off for an hour or so in the evening – it is kind of like my equivalent to meditation, I guess.

And the other thing I find really valuable is to travel and spend time in different parts of the world. It is so easy to think that there is only one way of living, of seeing the world, and the best possible antidote to that is travel – I think that it is incredibly important as a designer to remind myself that ‘my way’ is just one of very many, and it is alarming how quickly we can forget this if we continue to surround ourselves with everything that is familiar.

As a parent, I often find myself “accidentally” teaching categorization and sorting to my kids. As a parent, do you ever find yourself trying to teach some tricks of the trade to your child?

Ha ha! No, not yet. I’m just trying to get him to put everything into one container at the moment (my boy is 18 months old and resisting the concept of ‘cleaning up’).

At this point it is all about him teaching me, actually. I have an iPhone that he has been using for a few months now, initially just as a music player for his nursery rhymes when we were in the car, but now he has several programs on the phone that are there specifically for him (Koi Pond, Bubbles and Peekaboo Barn for parents with iPhones – I recommend them!) I am constantly astounded at how skilled he is at interacting with my iPhone – not only for the applications that are designed for someone like him, but he can actually find the application on the phone, launch it, hit ‘Start’ (not settings) – I think it’s amazing and it makes me think a lot about what the world will be like for him, where these kinds of interactions will be a part of every moment of the life that he can remember. It’s exciting!

Drupal is many things; in addition to being a content management system it can be used for social networking and community organizing—how are you and the Drupal community working to make it better at supporting social interactions and experiences?

For the Drupal 7 release, the main thing that we’re trying to do is to make the Drupal platform and the wide range of tools that it makes available for social interaction and community building online more widely accessible to non-developers. At the moment, it can be a pretty daunting experience for someone who is new to Drupal or who doesn’t have a developer background and we’re trying to improve that experience by developing a system wide design that is more focussed on the ‘content creator’ role than it has been in the past. We’re not specifically aiming to make it better at supporting social interactions & experiences, but I do hope that is one of the outcomes of the work we do.

As a designer for a prominent open source community project, what have you found to be the keys to success in working with open source developers, specifically on the usability and experience fronts?

Ah, I’m not sure that we have yet found the keys to success – it is a big journey for everyone involved. Some things that have worked well though has been to clearly articulate some goals and/or principles for the project that can be easily repeated by the community throughout the project (for example, some of ours are to ‘focus on the content creator’, the ‘design for the 80% rule’, and the ‘use smart defaults’ rules) – defining these early on really helps people understand the direction you’re heading in, and then later on, helps you to explain why you’re suggesting approaches that may be unexpected.

Sharing the way that we work, I think, has also been very useful – we (Mark Boulton & I) really wanted to avoid any sense of design ‘mystique’ and to really show what designers do, how we work, the processes and methods we use. I think this does two good things – it helps people understand why designs are they way that they are, but it also makes design and designers more approachable and understandable, and perhaps even encourages some people to start integrating some of our practices into their own way of working. For example, I know that since we did the ‘crowdsourced usability testing’ and really made the process of doing a short usability test really transparent, there are some developers in the community who now actually do some observational research as a part of their practice now, which I think is beyond excellent.

We’ve also had to learn to shape the way that we work to suit the community a little – we need to be ready to explain, in detail and often, the rationale behind almost every pixel on a page. This is pretty heavy going at times, and not really a great way to get design implemented, but it really has made sure that we’ve really thought through why things are designed the way they are – it makes for a very thoughtful process.

I know many of my friends who are developers are excited—and possibly a bit nervous about the next version of Drupal being released. How do you think members of the UX community will receive it?

Oh gosh, I don’t know. I’m nervous too!

Anyone who has been following the process on should know what to expect because we’ve been posting screenshots of the work for months and the overall principles of the design of the next version have been out on the table since about April this year. I really believe that the user experience of Drupal 7 will be a significant step forward, and will make the experience of using Drupal for content creators and ‘clients’ of Drupal developers much, much better.

Having said that, there is a lot that we would have liked to have done to make Drupal 7 a truly game-changing release that we weren’t able to get over the bar. We had really hoped that with Drupal 7 non-developers would be able to build a site of reasonable sophistication that looked good within 30 mins of installing Drupal, and I don’t believe we’re going to achieve that goal this time around. I’m pretty proud of what we’ve achieved, though, considering the speed at which we’ve had to work and the complexities associated with the project – I hope it sets a good benchmark for what can be achieved when designing with a community.

You are currently in the UK, but have worked in Australia and on multi-national projects in the past. How important is local knowledge and understanding of cultural nuance in the design of social interactions online?

This is such a tough question and I go back and forth on it all the time. In some ways it is incredibly important and in other ways it is amazing how unimportant it is. I think it depends a lot on what you’re socialising around.

I think that if you are designing anything for cultures that you’re not native to – whether that be another country or an existing community – you really need to try to immerse yourself in that culture and to make sure that you’ve got a lot of great access to natives of that culture to help you make good decisions and avoid dumb oversights.

Having said that, I also think that we have much more in common, universally, and that there is a lot to be said for focussing on that.

Language is the real kicker though. I quite often have other English speakers (in the UK and US) look at me as though I’m speaking a foreign language and I realise that I’ve inadvertently slipped into speaking ‘Australia’ – I can’t even tell what is ‘Australian’ and what is not because I always thought I was just speaking ‘English’ – what a myth that is! (I’m also waiting to see if you’re going to change all my s’s into z’s when this is published!)

So many of the times that I’ve witnessed disagreements and hostility arise in an online community, the culprit has been language – mostly because so many of the important discussions are held in English only, and people are forced to engage using a non-native language – sometimes things come across entirely differently to how they are intended because the original intent gets lost in translation. Assuming best intent is such an old guideline but one of the most important and one that I’ve clung to over the past 12 months or so!

Do you think online communities culturally assimilated by virtue of the medium or still strongly affected by state and regional norms of culture and behavior?

This is a great question and I had to ask my Twitter network what we seemed to agree on.

1. see above re: language (see, I told you it’s the real kicker!) – language is the most likely reason for us to cluster online in a geographically influenced way which creates an environment where state and regional norms are likely to prevail, however; 2. it’s an ongoing negotiation and changes over time and is different from network to network (Anthony Gedden’s work on the Theory of Structuration is worth checking out if this is an area you’re interested in)

My experience has been that the more mature, geographically diverse and subject focussed the online community, the more likely they are to have a culture and behaviour that is unique to itself and to the more general ‘medium’ of ‘online community’ than it is to the norms of the individual participants ‘offline’ cultures. It is a constantly shifting environment though and endlessly subject to change both as the number and characteristics of its constituents varies, and also as particular behaviours are imposed onto the community (I’m thinking of how communications have to change in order to include participants who don’t read code, for example – one of the shifts that the Drupal community has been making in recent times).


About Leisa Reichelt

Leisa Reichelt is a freelance design researcher & user experience designer who has worked with global brands, innovative startups and open source communities to help them deliver great online experiences for their customers and community members.

You can learn more about Leisa on the Speakers Page and the Program Page of the IDEA Conference website.

About IDEA (Information Design Experience Access) 2009: Social Experience Design

IDEA2009 brings together the world’s foremost thinkers and practitioners: sharing the big ideas that inspire, along with practical solutions for the ways people’s lives and systems are converging to affect society.

These days, you can’t be socially engaging without considering the experience design. IDEA2009 brings together like-minded people who want to continue the exploration of Social Experience Design.

Pattern Languages for Interaction Design

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Will Evans stalked and captured Erin Malone, Christian Crumlish, and Lucas Pettinati to talk about design patterns, pattern libraries, styleguides, and innovation. Erin, Christian, and Lucas are leading a workshop on design patterns at this year’s Interactions in Vancouver; and, Erin and Christian are writing a book on patterns for designing social spaces for O’Rreilly.

An interaction design pattern is not a step-by-step recipe or a specification. It’s a set of things we’ve learned that tend to work in clearly defined situations as well as some known issues that need to be balanced or sorted out or otherwise addressed. A pattern is closer to a checklist than to a mock or a wireframe.

*How did you get your start in Interaction/Information Design?*

*Christian Crumlish (Xian):* I came from book publishing where I wore many hats over the years (editor, author, agent). I ended up in technical publishing (“computer books”), an aftermarket made possible by shoddy user interfaces. This piqued my interest and the Web democratized information architecture, interaction and interface design.

*Erin Malone:* I actually started out as a print designer and Art Director. I went to grad school at RIT around the peak of CD ROMs. I did a project in Hypercard (in 1993). I thought I was going to do interactive education CDroms when I graduated but then the web happened. I taught myself HTML and came out to California to build Adobe’s first website, and I’ve been doing web applications and interactive work ever since.

*Lucas Pettinati:* I studied Architecture in college after realizing that one doesn’t learn how to design GUIs in a Computer Science program. My first job out of college was at an internet startup where I did general design work but it wasn’t until I created a user flow diagram that I fell in love with the principles of IA and Interaction Design.

*Who do you look to for inspiration?*

*Lucas:* I’m a huge Edward Tufte fan and am always trying to think of ways of displaying information. One of my oddest inspirations came from a Piet Mondrian painting; it helped me visualize a way to display a cluster of available flights relative to their price and departure time.

*Xian:* I steal from everyone. I think we should be careful not to throw out too much of what we knew from print design and layout, typography and rhythm.

*Erin:* I am a big proponent of looking to the past as well as the future. My work is very grounded in what I learned as a graphic designer – typography, color theory, readability etc. I have recently added motion and time as factors to design for. I also believe in looking at nature for inspiration – how things interact, human gestures, the landscape. Etc.

*Christopher Alexander, in his book, “A Pattern Language,” and his talks and papers seems to come from an ideological perspective. What role do you think ideology has in interaction design and in patterns in particular? Do you sometimes face questions or issues where your design decisions are influenced by political, ethical, or ideological considerations?*

*Xian:* For another time perhaps we can address how the pattern language movement has evolved and splintered since Alexander et al.’s beginnings. I think there is always an underlying ideological set of assumptions, examined or not, explicit or not, transparent or not.
That’s only a good thing if you make it so.

*Erin:* I think having a grounding behind the decisions you make is important. Ethics play a big part in many people’s decisions – in the type of work they do as well as the way to design a certain interaction. Being ethical and non-destructive is important as a designer. I think Alexander wanted to enhance and support the human condition and propagate positive interactions between people. That was the ideological perspective for his approach to developing a pattern language. I don’t see anything wrong with having that same attitude as an interaction designer.

*Xian:* I’d say if anything I see ethical dimensions to design problems more often now than ever before, perhaps because of the way our always-on digital interfaces are permeating everyday life more and more thoroughly. In fact, Erin and I agree that there are ethical factors in at least _some_ of the patterns in our forthcoming book, Designing Social Interfaces.

*I’m interested in your take on building corporate pattern libraries. Some companies, like Endeca, are creating a proprietary library for faceted navigation. Is there is an obligation for practitioners to share their design patterns?*

*Lucas:* No, there shouldn’t be an obligation to share a design pattern – but much like the Open Source software movement, I think the future of pattern libraries lies with the participation of a broad community. The important thing to remember is that design patterns are living things. They can evolve over time and are adapted and refined as new technologies emerge. For example, a mere five years ago, the gesture-driven interfaces were in their infancy. Today, we have devices like Apple’s iPhone that rely on flicks, pinches and drags as core patterns for how to interact with the device.

*Good point – and in fact, gestural interfaces have now become such a part of the mainstream—between iPhones and those election maps on CNN—that people in our field aren’t surprised to see Dan Saffer’s new book, “Designing Gestural Interfaces”.*

*Christian, do you agree with Lucas that there’s no obligation to share? Do you think they should be open so they can evolve and become more widespread?*

*Xian:* I don’t personally think there’s any inherent obligation (certainly not in the sense of a mandatory, enforceable one) to share patterns. Over time un-shared patterns probably have limited utility. Patterns are a bit like tamagotchi. If you don’t keep tending them they die, and they’re social in the sense that they thrive and become more refined and useful and subtle the more people are able to engage with them.

*Erin:* For every corporation out there interested in building their own library, almost all of them will want to keep some, if not all, proprietary. I believe that as firms create their own library, they’ll see benefits in adopting open and shared patterns. After all, why reinvent the wheel when there’s already a fine, well-adopted and understood approach to a problem. On the other hand, they will develop a subset of highly proprietary interactions that become brand differentiators. These are the things they can patent and call attention to in a competitive landscape. After a certain point, though, many of these patterns will become part of the vernacular landscape and therefore more open.

…a subset of highly proprietary interactions [can] become brand differentiators. These are the things [companies] can patent and call attention to in a competitive landscape.

*Is a private corporate pattern library simply a style guide? People sometimes confuse the two. How are they different?*

*Erin:* In my mind, the pattern library is the architecture of the system, and the style guide is the wallpaper and paint color. The brand and style guide may change more often than the patterns — the interaction solutions. A certain instance of a pattern — with it’s skin and specific points of interaction and behavior — may also be promoted to a standard in the style guide for various companies as part of their brand experience and there’s nothing wrong with that.

*Xian:* Pattern libraries are often presented as an alternative to, and improvement over, corporate style guides. This is usually based on the idea that they tend to be maintained on an intranet as living repositories rather than as occasionally published brand guidelines in a binder on your shelf. Secondly, a case can be made that thinking in terms of patterns and following one of the semi-standard ways of exploring each pattern can provide for more stable, longer lived guidelines that aren’t as brittle as specs (though they can and should of course point to today’s specs and assets).

*So you fundamentally believe that the difference may lie in their velocities and life span?*

*Xian:* Yeah – To clarify, patterns are on a slower pace layer than most style guides, but the truth is that — yes — you could safely describe most real, existing pattern libraries as a kind of style guide, but a living, moving one.

*Lucas:* It’s easy to get all these different tools — corporate guidelines, style guides, brand values, etc. — mixed up with a pattern library. Pattern libraries address the need of a consistent interaction. Analogously, style guides address the need of a consistent aesthetic, and brand values address the need for a consistent outward image. Though they each serve a unique purpose, my opinion is that keeping these tools as separate entities is by far the easiest way to ensure that design quality will suffer. Integrating of all these different design tools with an engineering code library is what — I believe — is at the heart of a successful plan for communicating design consistency across an organization. This should be the heart of a private company’s pattern library — a way to provide interaction, visual, and engineering consistency for a range of products.

*I have heard it argued that use of design patterns and pattern libraries removes creativity and innovation from the solution-finding process? Do these criticisms have merit?*

*Xian:* I don’t really think that argument holds water. I do understand the concern, and it’s totally possible to apply patterns mindlessly or to force their use inappropriately, but, to my mind, patterns focus innovation and creativity on the leading edge of the problem: the unsolved part.

*Lucas:* As designers, we all want to innovate and take a crack at defining the details of a design. In that respect, using a pattern library does constrain some of the choices that one makes. But this is a very superficial way to look at the benefit of using a pattern library . In reality, a pattern library should house the _archetypes_ of common interactions and help the designer select a solution that best fits the current project. Projects have deadlines and the use of a pattern library helps designers quickly — and confidently — craft parts of a design so the bulk of their time is spent designing what’s unique, rather than what’s common. Think of it this way: the pattern library is like a compass. It’ll tell you what direction you should go in, but it’s up to you to figure our how to get there.

“…The pattern library is like a compass. It’ll tell you what direction you should go in, but it’s up to you to figure our how to get there.”

*Xian:* An interaction design pattern is not a step-by-step recipe or a specification. It’s a set of things we’ve learned that tend to work in clearly defined situations as well as some known issues that need to be balanced or sorted out or otherwise addressed. A pattern is closer to a checklist than to a mock or a wireframe. Patterns can’t do the design for you.

*Erin:* I agree with Christian here. Critics say patterns remove creativity. But that’s like saying that having only 64 crayons in the pack removes creativity. Constraints are a fact of life. Patterns are just tools to guide decisions. Converting every pattern to a component solution with skin and code will limit a designers options but they still have to resolve how it will all go together in a cohesive way — how the hierarchy of information guides the user; how pieces move from one into another; how to keep things from clashing or being confusing. And, in almost every design problem I’ve seen, there are also one-off, new problems to be solved. So I think the criticism is a cop-out.

*Xian:* Agreed — and of course some pattern libraries are really more like catalogs of UI widgets, and a catalog of widgets can be slapped together to create poor design, but I don’t think you can pin that problem on patterns.

*Okay, so patterns don’t kill innovation, people do! Taking a different tack, do you think the use of design patterns and libraries are an effective way to train people new to interaction design?*

*Xian:* I think it’s part of a well balanced breakfast, but there are a lot of fundamentals of design, interaction, and information that come first.

*Erin:* Pattern libraries are tools. Just like having a stencil set and understanding of things like gestalt and readability. The library can be a great reference for designers to start with, to help uncover questions and considerations they might not have considered before, as well as offer ideas for quick solutions to easily solved problems.

*Lucas:* Consuming pattern libraries does not in and of itself create good interaction designers. Writing patterns, on the other hand, is something I feel helps new interaction designers better understand why some designs work and others don’t. Anyone interested in becoming an interaction designer should understand that even when using pattern libraries, there’s an awful lot of original design needed to complete a project.

*”Designing and Building with Patterns and Pattern Libraries” workshop at Interactions ’09*

Erin, Xian, and Lucas are leading a patterns workshop at Interactions ’09 in Vancouver. “Designing and Building with Patterns and Pattern Libraries” is a hands on workshop where participants will come away with some practical experience spotting patterns, describing them, and thinking about how to apply them to design work.

You can find out more about the workshop on the Interaction ’09 website: “”:

Christian and Erin’s book, Designing Social Interfaces, has a website where you can contribute to, refine, and discuss social design patterns: “ “:

IDEA 2008: An Interview with Elliott Malkin

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Even if you’re trying to find one, the connections among Elliott Malkin‘s body of work are hard to see. Part family history, part science project, part home-movie, his projects span genres that, initially, seem incidental. Yet many of his web-based projects—whether they investigate “butterfly vision” or install digital graffiti throughout lower Manhattan—are connected in one simple way: they all explore unofficial signals in public space. Taking on the invisible and the imagined, his projects invite viewers to imagine things that operate beyond their perception.

His latest project, Graffiti for Butterflies, is even further afield from his typical subjects as it deals with natural science. By directing Monarch butterflies to urban food sources it “is the equivalent of a fast-food sign on a highway, advertising rest stops (waystations) to monarchs traveling through the area.”

At the upcoming IDEA conference, Malkin will discuss some of his more renowned projects, as well as some material not yet seen online. I recently got some of his time to find out more about it.

Liz Danzico: As an artist, your work investigates the overlap between memory, information, and physical space. How did you begin investigating memory as a key part of your subject matter?

Elliott Malkin: I’m actually not that interested in memory in the abstract. I’m more interested in what’s stored there, namely, the memories. For a time I was obsessed with reconstructing the life of someone I had never met, my great-grandfather Hyman Victor. I enjoyed the process—excavating memories from those who knew him. But I was probably more interested in the traces of him that remained in the physical record, first at his gravestone, then on microfilm inside government archives.

Ultimately, I found much of the information about Hyman on genealogical websites. While the memories continued to disintegrate everywhere else, on the Internet they seemed fairly well preserved (though even these will fade.) I compiled the results of this investigation at Everything I Know About Hyman Victor. I also created a device called Cemetery 2.0 that attempts to address the limitations I saw in the way that information about people is preserved.

LD: What kinds of limitations were you seeing, and how did Cemetery 2.0 intend to remedy them?

EM: Mainly that gravestones tend to provide little information about the life of a person beyond their name, date of birth, and date of death. Almost all other information about the person’s life is decaying in public archives, dispersed in fragments across the Internet, and, sadly, fading away in survivors’ minds. My idea for Cemetery 2.0 was to bundle all surviving information with their actual grave. I did this by establishing a wireless connection to the world’s most comprehensive online genealogical database, where amateur genealogists are constantly uploading and revising records about their forebears.

LD: How has an investigation of your family helped you explore information and memory? Do they mind being the public subject of your art?

EM: I suspect Hyman Victor would have appreciated his great-grandson taking an interest in him. But I take it you’re asking me about my video projects, such as Family Movie, in which I have my parents reconstruct scenes from our trove of Super 8 home movies from the 1970s. They’ve seen themselves on the big screen and on my website, and seem to get a kick out of it. As for my interest in my family, it’s probably an expression of self-absorption. That said, I tend to widen my definition of self to encompass broader categories, such as American Jew. But not all of my work deals so directly with myself or my family. I have a feeling that when I finish Mother’s History of Birds, my autobiographical streak will be satisfied.

LD: Your latest project, Graffiti for Butterflies, seems to deviate from your previous work in that it deals with natural science. How does this project fit within the larger evolution of your work, if at all?

EM: Well, it uses graffiti, which are unofficial signals in public space, something I’ve dealt with numerous times in my previous work. In eRuv I put semacode stickers on various street corners to reconstruct a sacred space that once existed on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In Modern Orthodox I took it a step further, using graffiti to demarcate conceptual boundaries directly onto the surface of the city. In both of these cases, my audience was human. In Graffiti for Butterflies, my audience included butterflies. And there is a further connection to my other work dealing with the invisible or the imagined, in that the ultraviolet aspect of the graffiti operates beyond our perception.

LD: What are the differences between designing for humans versus designing for, well, non-humans? How can you understand your audience when there’s no empathy, or possibility for empathy, between you and them?

EM: It can be argued that I don’t have much empathy with my human audience, but that’s a separate question. When designing for butterflies, I make assumptions about butterfly behavior based on my 7th grade-level understanding of Monarch butterflies. I know that they can see ultraviolet light and that they migrate through massive swathes of North America on their way down to Mexico each winter. So I created Graffiti for Butterflies to instigate some thinking about forms of interspecies communication that are, so to speak, symbiotic: aesthetically stimulating to humans, nutritionally beneficial to butterflies.

LD: What will you be talking about at IDEA?

I’m going to discuss my projects that deal with information and public space. I’ll start with some of the work I alluded to above pertaining to the eruv, a symbolic boundary erected around Jewish neighborhoods as part of the observation of the Sabbath, including eRuv and Modern Orthodox. I’ll also discuss Cemetery 2.0 and Graffiti for Butterflies, with plenty of material not seen on my website.

LD: By day, you work as an information architect for How does your work as an artist influence your work as an information architect?

EM: It’s not clear how they might influence one another in any explicit sense. At The Times I work within a set of organizational requirements. In my personal work, I define my own requirements. At The Times I iterate on established design patterns to help produce a consistent, quality user experience (and help invent entirely new patterns when necessary).

In my own work I think I see patterns, though I am able to control or distort these patterns in ways that would be absurd and unproductive in a professional context. And to me this draws an essential distinction between design and art. Design has a functional purpose. Designers have clients and external requirements. Art has any or none of the above. It has distortion for the sake of distortion, if I want it to. Or it can solve real-world problems. It’s up to me.


About Elliott Malkin

Elliott Malkin is an artist and information architect whose work explores the intersection of memory, information, and physical space. His work has focused on the eruv, a symbolic boundary erected around Jewish neighborhoods as part of the observation of the Sabbath. This includes eRuv, a virtual reconstruction of an eruv that once existed in lower Manhattan, and Modern Orthodox, a next-generation eruv constructed with lasers and surveillance cameras. Many of Elliott’s other projects concern the use of new media as a proxy for memory. His short film Family Movie is a reconstruction of scenes from his family’s collection of home movies from the 1970’s. He is also the creator of Cemetery 2.0, a device that connects gravestones to the genealogical database of the Mormon Church. His most recent work is Graffiti for Butterflies, a project designed to facilitate interspecies communication between humans and monarch butterflies in urban areas. Elliott is originally from Chicago and currently lives in New York City, where he works as an Information Architect for The New York Times. His work has been featured at Eyebeam, the International Documentary Festival, and The Contemporary Artists’ Center.


About IDEA (Information Design Experience Access)

This conference addresses issues of design for an always-on, always-connected world. Where “cyberspace” is a meaningless term because the online and offline worlds cannot be made distinct. Where physical spaces are so complex that detailed wayfinding is necessary to navigate them. Where work processes have become so involved, and so digitized, that we need new processes to manage those processes.

This conference brings together people who are addressing these challenges head on. Speakers from a variety of backgrounds will discuss designing complex information spaces in the physical and virtual worlds.

User Experience Week

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User Experience (UX) Week was held in San Francisco, CA from August 12 – 15. Boxes and Arrows, in co-operation with Adaptive Path, interviewed speakers in UX, IA, IxD, and Human Factors. Many thanks to the entire team at Adaptive Path for the opportunity to share these conversations with the communities of practice.

Sketches from UX Week

T. Scott Stromberg from 404 User Experience Design and Ty Hatch of Ty Hatch Design captured the UX Week presentations with some quick and brilliant sketches. They were kind enough to share their observations with Boxes and Arrows.

T. Scott Stromberg Sketch Notes
Ty Hatch Sketch Notes

Session Slides from UX Week

Adaptive Path is adding session slides gradually to their website from presenters and workshop leaders. If available, Boxes and Arrows has linked directly to these presentations below.

On with the Show!

Subscribe to the Boxes and Arrows Podcast in iTunes or add this page to your account:

iTunes     UX Week theme music generously provided by Sonic Blue

UX Week Keynote DiscussionPeter Merholz and Don Norman
UX Week 2008 kicked off with an on-stage conversation between the President and founder of Adaptive Path, Peter Merholz, and industry legend Don Norman. Don wrote the founding text on user-centered design, entitied, “The Design of Everyday Things“, and also coined the term “user-experience” while at Apple in the early 1990s.

They talk about the importance of the semantic differences around common issues in business like ROI from a design perspective, the necessity to look beyond the “all mighty dollar,” the importance of being passionate about your ideas, and knowing ultimately all team members want to create great products and services for other people.

Don shares his insights about the UX Week presentation given by Microsoft’s Jensen Harris around the usability of the Ribbon in the latest version of MS Office as well as the exciting future that lies ahead for all in the UX field.


Being a UX Team of OneLeah Buley
In this conversation, Experience Designer Leah Buley from Adaptive Path shares some of the lightweight techniques that she and her team use to explore a variety of solutions quickly and how to enlist the support of non-team members in the UX process.

We talk about the video biographies of other team members at Adaptive Path and how all started out from humble beginnings – some in fields that had little to do with what we think about today as traditional UX projects – and how those experiences have helped in building great products and services.

Leah outlines the advice she gives in her conference talk Being a UX Team of One.

Videos from On-Stage Presentation
Leah was kind enough to share the videos she used in her presentation. Thanks again, Leah!

  • Watch members of Adaptive Path describe their first job in User Experience
  • Watch as Pam Daughlin answers the question When did you first discover UX?
  • Watch various members at Adaptive Path share their thoughts on what’s hot in User Experience at the moment.

  • Download

    Story Telling for User Experience DesignKevin Brooks and Kim Lenox
    Senior Interaction Deisgner at Adaptive Path, Kim Lenox chats with Kevin Brooks, the Principle Staff Researcher for Motorola Labs about his workshop entitled “Storytelling for User Experience Design“.

    They discuss various aspects of Kevin’s presentation including the importance of structure and patterns to guide creative endeavors. One critical aspect is listening when striving to be a remarkable storyteller within your own organization.

    Kim shares her art school experience where the criticism of her art helped her gain the confidence necessary to be a successful Interaction Designer.

    Kevin also discusses his upcoming publication about storytelling with Whitney Quesenberry. Learn more about his book at Rosenfeld Media.

    Download Kevin’s presentation from UX Week.


    Unpacking Stories to Serve People BetterIndi Young
    Indi Young talks about the importance of continuing to ask “why” enough times to get to the core reasons for any individuals’ behavior or actions and how to convert stories into mental models. Her workshop “Unpacking Stories to Server People Better” includes these themes and more.

    We discuss the elegant way in which mental models can provide a visual representation of these behaviors and support elements that foster the likely repetition of any action.

    Indi also talks briefly about how her book from Rosenfeld media, “Mental Models – Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior,” can help others create these visual tools.


    We’ll Always Have Paris: What Makes a Memorable Service Experience?Jennifer Bove and Ben Fullerton
    Jennifer Bove from Huge and Ben Fullerton from IDEO sat down with me shortly after their presentation to discuss ideas from “We’ll Always Have Paris – What Makes a Memorable Service Experience.”

    We explore the six key elements about what it takes to design services that keep people coming back for more.

    We probe into the dynamics of service design from real-world examples of business that provide unique experiences. One shoe company will actually order a pizza for their clients as well as order products from competitor sites to keep their customers satisfied.

    Jennifer and Ben outline why people get excited about intangible services in the same way they lust after the latest shiny toy that just came out on the market.


    ben: A Prototype for Democracy in the 21st CenturyDave Wolf
    Dave Wolf, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Cynergy Systems was kind enough to join me for this conversation about his presentation “ben: A Prototype for Democracy in the 21st Century.”

    We talk about Cynergy’s awarding winning application “ben” at the PhizzPop competition – a National Design and Development Challenge sponsored by Microsoft.

    “ben” is a series of interconnected, cross-platform applications that leverage the power of Microsoft Silverlight, Windows Presentation Foundation, Live Services, Twitter, VoIP technologies.


    TV With an API! – Current at the Collision of TV and the InternetRod Naber and Dan Levine
    TVs in trouble! It might be terminal, but Rod Naber and Dan Levine from Current TV urge everyone not lose hope just yet. Discussing their presentation “TV with an API! Current at the Collusion of TV and the Internet” Rod and Dan describe how using their cable and satellite TV network along with their social news website, Current is experimenting across both media, looking for a cure.

    In this conversation we talk about how Current got started, the power of the community in generating content for Current News, and how the Internet is allowing users to create ads for companies. All this could change the way marketing approaches innovative solutions for their customers.


    A User’s Guide to Managing Experience TeamsMargaret Gould Stewart and Graham Jenkin
    Google’s Margaret Gould Stewart and Graham Jenkin discuss their experience and ideas from their UX Week workshop about managing UX teams. Topics covered in this conversation include:

  • Prioritization and project tracking
  • How to gain insight into career development paths within a user experience team
  • Finding out about performance management
  • Discovering how to tailor your own management style
  • Margaret and Graham also tackled other tough issues during their session, such as:

  • Building a culture of constructive feedback
  • Developing leadership within a team
  • Effectively managing team dynamics
  • Evangelizing user experience practices
  • Managing stakeholders
  • Margaret and Graham also had participants of their workshop develop haiku’s about the importance of working with and managing UX Teams. They were kind enough to compile this collection of Haiku’s from the workshop for you. They also provided an example of the leadership cards. These cards can be printed off and shared with members of your team about which characteristics of a leader they deem to be most essential. Not every leader will be strong in all categories, however. Such information can help leaders understand the expectations of those they are working with on a daily basis.


    New Paradigms for Interaction in Physical SpaceJake Barton
    Jake Barton gave an emotionally powerful presentation at UX Week entitled “New Paradigms for Interaction in Physical Space“.

    As the interaction designers for NPR’s StoryCorps and the co-leaad designer for the National September 11th Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center, Local Projects is creating new paradigms for interaction by tackling physical space.

    Jake talks with me about how the interaction design process bends, accelerates and sometimes completely falls apart, when applied to the global community.

    You can download Jake’s Presentation from UX Week.


    Conversation with Adaptive Path’s New CEOMichael W. Meyer
    On the last day of UX Week I had the pleasure of chatting with Adaptive Path’s new CEO Michael Meyer about his impressions of UX Week and the opportunities that come with this new position.

    We discuss his past experiences as a nuclear engineer, time spent in the US Navy, as well as working at some of the leading design firms in the world such as frog and IDEO before arriving at Adaptive Path.

    My heart-felt thanks to Michael and the entire team at Adaptive Path for allowing Boxes and Arrows to share these conversations with the community.


    IDEA 2008: An Interview with Andrew Hinton

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    As IDEA 2008 draws closer, the IA Institute is conducting a series of interviews with the speakers for the conference. As Event Coordinator for IDEA, I fill a variety of roles, including the Interviewer of IDEA Presenters (which I proudly share with Liz Danzico).

    This is the second interview in the series, and this time I pulled the name of Andrew Hinton, Lead Information Architect at Vanguard, from the virtual hat. You may recognize Andrew as the presenter of the closing plenary for the IA Summit in Miami this year. Andrew’s blog is Inkblurt and don’t be surprised if you end up engrossed in it and feel as if you are getting a free education!

    RU: How did you get your start in Interaction/Information Design?

    AH: As far as technology-based work, I did some very rudimentary interface work when I was learning a bit of Apple BASIC & Pascal back in high school. But I’d say my first real challenge was when I had a job at a small medical office as their office manager, and all they had was a typewriter and a telephone. I talked them into getting a computer (a Mac Plus), and buying a database package (something called Double Helix), and letting me build a client accounts system for them.
    Trouble was, I had to design it so that my exceedingly tech-phobic co- workers could use it, which forced me to think hard about interface design.
    Of course, that was just a part-time job when I was in graduate school. My academic background (Philosophy, Literature & Creative Writing) taught me a lot about making difficult ideas understandable with language — and I think that’s at the core of any information- design challenge. That background continues to be a help for me.

    RU: How did you get your start as a presenter?

    AH: I’ve been doing stuff in front of crowds since I was a kid. Everything from playing music in a bluegrass band when I was about ten to oratory and debate in high school. Plus drama & choir and the band I had in college. Then there’s the teaching I did while in grad school, and I won’t even go into the preaching I did as a teenager in a big suburban Southern Baptist church.
    As far as speaking at conferences, I started sending in proposals to the IA Summit and got one accepted, and sort of got on a roll.

    RU: What should the audience take away from your talk?

    AH: Well, I suppose details are still emerging. The topic is context, and what technology is doing to upset our deeply ingrained assumptions about context — socially and otherwise. But in general, I’d say I’m more interested in asking questions than answering them. That is, I hope it gets people talking.

    RU: Who do you look to for inspiration?

    AH: That’s tough. I’d have to say my major inspiration is my kid. She’s the future I’m designing for, in more ways than one.
    In terms of people I read or look up to, for me it’s all over the place. I grab inspiration from wherever I can find it. Lately I’ve been really into watching presentations from the Long Now Foundation, for instance. The one by Will Wright & Brian Eno is especially amazing. But I also find my imagination-head needs input from things like movies, fiction, biographies, documentaries about almost anything.

    RU: You’ve mentioned your daughter before–both in presentations and at least a couple of times in some of the post-IA Summit Y! Live sessions that we were both in. She seems like a really great kid, and as a daughter-daddy myself, I think it’s great when I hear others in our community really getting in to “the future as our children”. As crazy as our worlds can be with work and other obligations, the IA / IxD / UX world seems to be ripe with really great parents.
    What’s your favorite way to communicate with people who aren’t in the same room with you?

    AH: I like a lot of different methods — and one thing I love about this age we live in is the great variety we now have for communicating. There seems to be a whole new species of communication cropping up every few years, and they all seem to emerge from the nuanced needs we have for how we connect. So, really it’s very contextual for me. I like whatever tool feels most suited for the kind of communicating I’m trying to do at the moment.
    It’s easier to say my least favorite — that’s the garden-variety conference call. So little context, so little sense of physical reaction. Plus the awful noise-reduction circuitry on most speaker phones makes it even harder to pick up on subtle verbal cues. I always come out of conference calls feeling anxious & exhausted.

    RU: And now, a 2-parter. A lot of people know your name, have heard you speak in the past, quote your blog, and you’re thought highly of (this interviewer is included in that group). How has being a presenter and conference-attendee helped you improve upon your career?

    AH: Presenting has been a big help, mainly in my own head. By that I mean … First, the pressure of presenting on a topic forces me to grapple with it in a rigorous way I’m too lazy to do otherwise, which results in having my ideas sorted out in my work a lot better as well.
    Second, it’s a decent confidence boost that helps me stick up for the user with more authority than I might otherwise be able to in the daily grind.
    Even just going to conferences has been very helpful though. The User Experience Design world is so distributed and virtual — we’re all in each other’s heads, mediated through electronics and words.

    Periodically being able to look each other in the eye is incredibly important to keeping all that grounded.
    And I don’t know how this “thought highly of” business got going, obviously you’ve never seen me after a conference call!

    RU: Part 2. What would you recommend to people who are just getting started in the field and who are interested in becoming more active in the industry—or who just want to follow in your footsteps.

    AH: It means a lot to get involved in your community of practice. You don’t realize what an impact it makes on people around you, but it’s huge. Find some problem that needs solving that tickles your fancy, some skill or service that the community could benefit from that you get a kick out of working on, and dive in. Lurking is fine at times, but if you want to be “active in the industry” you have to engage. You can engage the conversation at any level, as long as you have a sense
    of humor & perspective about it. And read all kinds of stuff — don’t just read “design” crap all the time. We all breathe each other’s air way too much, and it’s important to get ideas from outside the UX bubble.
    As for my footsteps, I don’t recommend them — mainly because I don’t know that I could’ve walked those steps on purpose if I’d tried. Which is to say, follow what obsesses and excites you, whatever crazy path that might take you down, and there’s probably somebody somewhere willing to pay you for doing it well.

    RU: I’ve said to many people that a lot of us have not come by our current roles honestly. That is, almost everything that you stated above. I’m trying to say that I think your footsteps are fairly common for the more “seasoned” folks in the industry. Do you have an opinion on where the User Experience Designer of tomorrow will evolve from?

    AH:There are already formal curricula out there that are bringing older practitioner skills and learning into the User Experience space, and from what I can tell they’re doing a great job. If I hadn’t burned out on graduate education long ago, I’d consider going to a program myself. That said, I think UX is inherently a hands-on practice, and has to be done to be understood. Doing the work is the only way to get better at it. So whether newer folks get a head start on that from internships or studio work in school, it’ll be necessary eventually anyway. The other thing is that, this field is evolving so quickly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we continue to see people from many other fields coming into the fold and showing us new, amazing things they know how to do that we hadn’t thought of. For example, I keep running across news items from the neuroscience world (which is exploding lately with amazing new knowledge) and finding it incredibly applicable to UX work. UX design will always need cross-disciplinary input, and practitioners who adapt and evolve with the work itself.


    About Andrew Hinton

    Since 1990, Andrew Hinton has worked as a designer, instructor, writer and consultant of various stripes in the healthcare, financial, consumer and manufacturing industries. Clients have been small and large, including Fortune 500s such as American Express, Shaw, Wachovia and Kimberly-Clark. Andrew is now a Lead Information Architect in mutual-fund giant Vanguard’s User Experience Group.

    From his pre-Web education, Andrew holds a BA in Philosophy, an MA in Literature and an MFA in Writing. He’s a regular speaker at conferences like the IA Summit, and sometimes writes for publications like Boxes & Arrows. His current obsessions include Communities of Practice, social design factors, what games teach us about design, and the meaning of context in digital spaces.

    A co-founder of the IA Institute, he serves on its Board of Advisors. He also keeps a home on the web at


    About IDEA (Information Design Experience Access)

    This conference addresses issues of design for an always-on, always-connected world. Where “cyberspace” is a meaningless term because the online and offline worlds cannot be made distinct. Where physical spaces are so complex that detailed wayfinding is necessary to navigate them. Where work processes have become so involved, and so digitized, that we need new processes to manage those processes.

    This conference brings together people who are addressing these challenges head on. Speakers from a variety of backgrounds will discuss designing complex information spaces in the physical and virtual worlds.