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

Archive for web design

Interview with IDEA attendee Scott Berkun


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I last spoke with Scott Berkun in person at OSCON 2005, just a few months after his first book; “The Art of Project Management” was released. I was working for his publisher, O’Reilly Media then, and we were all a bit surprised at how well Berkun’s book sold in a market filled with books about project management. The reality is, Scott’s years of hands-on experience in designing and leading creative development projects were instrumental in connecting with readers through practical insights. No slacker, Berkun was already bouncing ideas off me and the ORA publisher for his latest book, “The Myths of Innovation“. A Seattle resident, Scott attended IDEA in 2006 and I thought I would take this opportunity to do a short interview with him.

IDEA Q: IDEA brings together designers from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines to address the challenge of designing complex information spaces. What did you learn about the creative process and innovation at IDEA 2006? Did any of these lessons make it into your new book “The Myths of Innovation”?

Scott: All design is problem solving and IDEA 2006 showcased how storytellers, architects and visual designers share the same challenges: finding new ways to solve problems for people. The myths of innovation book is related, as it explores the patterns of innovation that we often overlook in how new things have come to be. There are definitely strong connections between what designers, and innovators, try to do.

IDEA Q: In recent writings and presentations, you talk about decision-making authority and specifically with regards to the IA, product designer, or usability engineer role in authority over design or usability issues. Can you explain what you mean by this? Is there really that much of a split in your view between being a Decision maker and being a Consultant? Are both roles needed in the innovation process?

Scott: It’s always good to know who in the room is going to call the shot - otherwise everyone spends more time fighting for power than actually trying to solve problems. I think designers can play the decision maker role, but they have to then be willing to incorporate business, political and engineering constraints into their decisions. But yes, both roles are useful. Consultants can take bigger risks in their ideas since the final decision isn’t theirs - it can be empowering not to be final decision maker.

IDEA Q: What was your “ah ha” moment of IDEA 2006?

Scott: The most amazing thing I saw was Cabspotter by the folks at Stamen. Not sure how useful it is, but I was entirely mesmerized.

IDEA Q: Will you be attending the 2007 conference in October in NYC?

Scott: What could be better than NYC in October? I hope to be there.

About Scott Berkun:
Scott is an author, public speaker and consultant. He worked as a manager at Microsoft from 1994-2003, on projects including (v1-5) of Internet Explorer, Windows and MSN.

He started his own consulting practice in 2003. Wrote the best seller “The Art of Project Management” (O’Reilly 2005) and “Myths of Innovation” (O’Reilly 2007). And teaches a graduate course in creative thinking at the University of Washington.

He’s an excellent speaker for hire, and frequently performs workshops, talks, and courses for organizations, conferences and the occasional living room couch.

Scott grew up in Queens NYC, studied design, philosophy and computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, graduating with a B.S. in Logic and Computation (’94). He currently lives somewhere deep in the woods outside of Seattle, Washington.

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Audio and some slides


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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.

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Bruce Sterling, opinion extravaganza


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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 worldchaning.com (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

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O Advantageous Interfaces, Etsy’s Robert Kalin


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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, etsy.com. 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 getcrafty.com, 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 etsy.com 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 etsy.com’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 etsy.com, 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

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Dan Hill: The New Media


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Drawing from work in both strategic and operational areas at the BBC in London, I’ll explore some of the ways big media companies are approaching the new media landscape. Far from being marginalised by Web 2.0-style operations, I’ll argue that broadcast media can be reinvented to take advantage of both its traditional strengths and the new environment it finds itself in. I’ll highlight the course we’re plotting between between the top-down, fully-articulated, designed, broadcast models and the fully-participative, emergent, vernacular, open-ended, networked models. Essentially believing there is some value in both, and lots in their potential fusion. This will include examples of strategic work defining the design and navigation principles around the next generation BBC website as well as tactical steps towards this, drawn from interactive products and services made at BBC Radio & Music. This will include using hosting music festivals in Second Life, explorations of ‘Lost’ mapped onto graphical scores, spurious relationships between urban planning and designing media systems and tricks for getting design ‘into the boardroom’.

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Robert Kalin - O Advantageous Interfaces


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A series of six discrete five-minute talks, chosen in a random order after Robert gets on stage. The subjects will range from the history of interfaces for relieving ourselves to Marshall McLuhan’s short-sighted visions of how the Web reprioritizes our senses to how Etsy is just a beginning in in the young medium that’s yet to invent itself.

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