|ISSUE 31||News & opinion | May 2002 | updated 6/13/03|
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meets usability: report from CHI 2002 conference
About a month ago I was in Minneapolis for the CHI2002 conference (CHI-that's "Computer-Human Interaction" to you). This year AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) joined in with a co-sponsored Experience Design Forum.
As an AIGA member who spent 20 years as a graphic designer and the last 5 as a designer educator focusing on interactive design (that's "Experience Design" to AIGA), I went hoping to gain a better understanding of the "other" side: usability.
Graphic designers are often accused, with some justification, of simply "making things pretty." Or these days, making things "cool." On the Web this translates most often into those infuriating Flash interfaces that take a minute or two to load before you can do anything on the site.
Usability guys, on the other hand, are often lumped in the category staked out and defended by Jakob Nielsen: humorless, artless, "just the facts, ma'am." No fun, no imagination, relentlessly driven by statistics and rules. On the web this means text-heavy, plain and unimaginative sites, like Jakob's.
Well, Jakob was there in person. He doesn't have horns on his head, as some imagine. He admitted to perhaps overemphasizing utility over beauty at his own site. Yet he came across as having a genuine interest in speaking out for the masses of people who use the Internet daily to find information, and who are served poorly by websites which focus more on how they look than how they work. He's got something to say, though his message may be overshadowed by his relentless self-promotion as the "guru of usability." I still recommend his book Designing Web Usability, reviewed here.
Design is a verb
Dan's statement "Design is a verb" reflected much of what I saw and heard in sessions throughout the week. As educators, our focus need to be as much on the process as the product. Many workshops were organized around discussions of how things got designed rather than the specific outcome.
Brian Fisher summed it up like this: "If the problem is properly framed, answering it is easy."
A sidelight: without Post-It notes, the design process might grind to a halt.
In an information session at CHI, Ms. Crampton Smith described the Institute as as something of a cross between a monastery and an airport, with a focus on the ways people interact with communications and computers.
The logo, shown here, is an updated version of the Bauhaus logo. Institute Ivrea clearly sees itself as heir to the tradition begun in 1919 by the original Bauhaus: "The building of the future."
In their first term Institute students take courses like "Designing Desire," "Harnessing Technology," and "No Man is an Island." Sound like the typical course catalog? The research and projects that come out of this are similarly unconventional. The methodologies students outlined were both rigorous and humane in their approach.
Projects that students described in their presentation at CHI included "FARAWAY," various objects designed to communicate the connection between individuals in different locations. Each person would have a similar object. When you held yours, the other would light up or warm up, indicating your presence to your loved one.
Another project, "Wearable Dreams," tried to create responsive clothing based on the person's interests and desires. An outdoors-y person might wear a jacket that had strips that lit up to indicate North. In other words, a wearable compass for a person who loved to hike and travel.
Unfortunately the deadline to apply for admission this year just passed (May 20), but there's always next year. In the meantime, visit the Institute's website.
And the winner is...
This year's competition focused on students only in the Greater Cleveland area. Next year we may open the competition to the world. If you're interested in entering, or are a high school teacher whose students may be, visit the website and sign up for our mailing list.
here we come
-Al Wasco, May 22, 2002
I'm living six blocks for the Mississippi in the crescent city. Making masks, ignoring technology. It took me eight months and a new girlfriend to hook up a telephone. The South, what can I say.
If you want your book give me your address
or come down and get it. If you write back soon give me a little time
to respond, I want to send a lagniappe as interest.
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