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

Archive for Architecture

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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Next generation libraries


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After a fun, fast dim sum lunch over at O’Asian it was time for what I hoped would be the anchor session of the conference, Next generation libraries. bringing together library design, information systems and design into one nice, thoughful, synthesizing panel sandwich. I was not disapointed.

Things started with Deborah Jacobs, from the city library of seattle, sharing stories about the Seattle library’s development, Koolhaas‘ design ideas, and what the library means to Seattle. Sadly had to leave on library business berore the full on panel Q&A began.

Next up was Edward Vielmetti, (known by many as the man behind Superpatron), who spoke about his involvement with his local Ann Arbor library. He explained the challenges libraries face to keep pace with technology, demonstrating how his own library, and other services like LibraryThing are doing their best to serve their patrons. (Sadly I missed the middle part of his talk, for biological and employment related issues. If you have notes, please share).

Rounding out the session was Paul Gould from Pittsburgh based MAYA design, on his work with the Carnegie public libraries. He kicked off his talk with a 1950s career advice video on becoming a librarian (”Are books your friend? Do people like you? Than maybe librarianship is for you!”). He followed up by walking us through various library environments with obvious wayfinding, flow and interaction problems. and MAYAs role in revising their system thinking for how the library functioned.

His talk included gems about how libraries civilize people - a claim that made the signifigance of the Internet, Web 2.0, and various other obsession prone technologies of our field seem suddenly shallow (Does e-mail civilize people? tag clouds? folksonomies? Like Stone’s plea for making our lives better, the questions circling around this phrase stuck with me for most of the afternoon)

-Scott Berkun

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Dan Hill, The new media


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Dan Hill (BBC & Cityofsound.com) gave what might have been the greatest unintentional experiment in mass communication at the conference - his fantastic slides hinted at many interesting crossover ideas, but was unfortunately combined with a sound experience that left most of his utterances incomprehensible. I was seated 5 rows back, on the far side stairwell from the podium, but despite my attempts to relocate to beter audio conditions, couldn’t make out most of what he said (And afterwards I learned I wasn’t alone). Between a low range podium mike and his informal delivery, many of his words didn’t make it intact to my ears.

But that said, I’m far more intrigued to get my hands on his slides than any other material at the conference. So what follows is an extrapolated recap of what the ideas that reached my ears (or were invented for my by my little brain).

Key points:

  • Interactive media is out of the designers control. But can a designer design with an out of control medium?
  • Other media has paths we can follow. He offered several fascinating examples from music, including George Crumbs spiral orchestral score - a design pattern Hill applied to both the lost TV series as well as interaction design.
  • Urban planning - (He scored points for refering to LeCorbustier’s work as insane but beautiful, a sentiment I share). Explored how these models of interaction can be borrowed from for digital works.
  • Composers vs. Performers. He offered that design for interactive, social systems demands thinking more like a composer, who’s work is interpreted by others, and designers, who’s users make use of the spaces for their own aims. He suggested that co-creation is a better model for designers that the designer as solo-artist many are trained to have.

If Hill makes his slides available, and I hope he does, it’s definitely worth a thoughtful look. Even without consistently comprehensible audio, I found many layers of ideas in his carefully designed deck.

Dan also wins 10 presentation award points for the best historically relevant audio/visual aids: including a rare LP of one of John Cage’s experimental works on LP.

-Scott Berkun

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Design in the Getty museum


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It was a special thrill to hear Dave Cronin talk about the interaction design work Cooper did at the Getty museum, as I’d visted there a couple of months ago. Its always fun to retroactively rebuild an experience, knowing something now, in the present, about how that experience was constructed.

The talk was mostly case study about their design process: the challenges of public museums, the diverse needs and types of people who visit, and the basic problems of wayfinding in public spaces. As its a Cooper design project, I wasn’t surprised to hear about their use of Personas. Having used the system I can say first hand the project was a success, as I used their interactive kiosks to both find art in the musuem, and understand the history of other art I’d already seen inside.

It was a clear, straightforward and interesting presentation, visually rich with screenshots and images (taking advantage of the visually interesting museum itself), but slightly too well packaged in feel to fit a “designer talking to other designers” vibe - and as the clients are quiet visible in the case study, I can understand the challenge of wanting to inform, but without rallying against a client: a tension all designers feel about client based work. Any inside scoups or tales of design turmoil on the scale of what it took to build the actual Getty center, will have to wait for side conversations, perhaps over drinks, with Mr. Cronin himself.

-Scott Berkun

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Dan Hill - Scary Smart


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Dan Hill, producer at BBC Music and Radio Interactive, is scary smart. If you want a peak inside his never-facile brain, I suggest his recent post, “Movements in Modern Media.” Warning: not for the faint of mind.

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More on the Central Library


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The Seattle Public Library’s Central Library is easily the most aggressively modern piece of public architecture in a long time. It embodies much of the philosophies behind IDEA, with it’s mix of physical and virtual, information and substance.

Principal architect Joshua Prince-Ramus spoke about the library at the TED conference earlier this year, and a video of this is available for viewing. (Scroll down).

The images about the library that Joshua shows in his talk are included, among many others, in the Concept Book OMA created for the project. The Concept Book is a fascinating browse, and demonstrates just how deeply information architecture is embedded into the space.

Don’t forget, City Librarian Deborah Jacobs, who was instrumental in the development process, will be speaking at IDEA!

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