Saturday, May 28, 2005

Yahoo's User Experience and Design: The Postscript

A month or two ago I blogged about Yahoo's job ad for their VP of UX and Design position. At the CHI conference, I heard that someone had been appointed, but not who, because it hadn't been officially announced yet (I had no alcohol handy with which to loosen up my former Excite colleagues now at Yahoo).

Today I was skimming the BayCHI job list as usual, marveling at the ever increasing number of positions in Interaction Design out there in Software Heaven, and I noticed a weird one at Yahoo: "Design Communicator." This is a job category created at Cooper Interaction Design, Alan Cooper's famous consulting firm. I decided I couldn't go on vacation wondering if Alan Cooper is in charge at Yahoo (not that there's anything wrong with him!), so I found the press announcement. All is well, it's not Alan, it's Larry Tesler, and it's a good thing: Yahoo! Media Relations: Yahoo Appoints Larry Tesler Head of User Experience and Design. I especially like the fact that he has that R&D history and plans to play a role in Yahoo R&D as well.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Paris Graffiti

Boing_boing blogged about the Good Graffiti site today, which hosts a very nice-looking collection of artistic photos of urban graffiti. It's a bit underpopulated right now, but San Francisco, Paris, and Budapest have fair-sized representations. Wolverhampton, UK, has only one photo.

The Paris photos include a few Misstic's among them, but fewer than I expected. Here are a few of my pictures of her work from when I lived near her territory of markup. I hope I find a few more in the next week while I'm over there.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Artistic Visualizations by Amber Frid-Jimenez

Tom Erickson just pointed me at the beautiful work of Media Lab student Amber Frid-Jimenez, a visual designer doing interactive visualizations and art projects (she's also a print-based fine arts designer).

I especially recommend playing with the Contrail for the feeling it gives you, and it's worth checking out the challenging Document Icons, which is ambitious and possibly a little complex; but it's definitely pretty.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Players Who Suit MUDs

Martin Wattenberg gave a wonderful talk at my company today about information visualizations he's produced in recent years. He cited this old goldie, which warmed my heart: Richard A. Bartle: Players Who Suit MUDs.

What does text adventure gaming have to do with information visualization? That's what makes Martin so brilliant.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Tokyo Picturesque

Wow, is this cool. It's another notch in the evolution of location-based photo apps; this time it comes with sound effects, too. (Gotten off Steve Cisler who got it off Steve Crandall.)
(Note: you don't need the language pack install to use it. Just say no.)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Rue Jeanne d'Arc, where I lived in Paris in 2001-2002. In honor of my impending vacation there, I've reposted a piece I wrote at the time about a visit to a Turkish Hammam. It was, well, strange.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Writerbo: I'm Such a Hack.

Inspired by the Aibo robotic dog and wannabe writers everywhere, this is quite hilarious: a couple of ad flyers for a robotic author/whiner, with seven distinct self-loathing modes.

scott_lynch: Christ, Why Do I Bother?

My favorite quote: "Maybe Prairie Schooner would take it if I made the Humanities professors into lesbians. Christ, I'm such a hack."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Value of the UI/Functional Spec

A few months ago, I posted an essay on why I think UI specs are important, and then I broke the link to it accidentally. This past 2 weeks I've been living through UI freeze hell on a bunch of products that feature complicated interfaces, many moving parts, and multiple developers; and no one is happy. I've updated the spec essay and reposted, adding the principle of Team Harmony to the reasons why you should bother to create specs when you build large interfaces.

Ghostweather: To Spec or Not to Spec; or: Whether To Design It or Just Mess It All Up .

In future, I'll be writing those specs myself, if I have to; but I'm not going through this again.

MATLAB Programming Contest

If I'd been properly tracking the excitement at my own company, I'd have posted a link to this before it started. Here are the mid-contest highlights of the MATLAB programming contest. This year's topic is a nice one: ant colonies and sugar. Alife simulations are always interesting.

Check out The MATLAB Programming Contest - MATLAB Contest > ants > Mid-Contest Analysis.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Oddball Critters

A bunch of strange furry animal stories I've had on my mind. This morning I read about a new rat, being sold for food in Laos. By "new" I mean scientists didn't know about them, although human carnivores apparently did.

'Oddball Rodent' Is Called New to Science (NY Times): "To find something so distinct in this day and age is just extraordinary," said Dr. Robert J. Timmins of the Wildlife Conservation Society, one of the discoverers. "For all we know, this could be the last remaining mammal family left to be discovered."

And then there are the giant gerbils of China:
giant cute gerbil pic Giant gerbils infest China (BBC News, 2003): The Great Gerbil found in many parts of Central Asia can be up to 400 millimetres (16 inches) long from head to tail...Officials say the gerbils have damaged more than 4m hectares (11m acres) of grassland - about the size of Switzerland. Authorities are trying to combat the gerbils, not only by using poison, but also by breeding eagles to devour them.

I think they should be exported as pets. I want one. They could take my cats, no problem. Giant gerbil-eating eagles sound like a real concern to me, though.

In other genetic breeding news, mice will soon be immortal. We will then need immortal cats to take care of THEM, which certainly works for me.

And finally, still in the transgenic pet category, in my bio class we discussed the glow-in-the-dark bunny, a rabbit genetically altered by jellyfish DNA. I'm a little disturbed to find out it's an "art" project, if this guy's web page is the right spot for this story. On the other hand, an art project has better chance of getting the moral issues into the minds of voters than a lab experiment does, which my biology teacher is always concerned about.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Garage Cinema

I just had a strange blast from the past: a message from the admin for Marc Davis at UC Berkeley SIMS asking if I'd like to attend the Master's Students' final project presentations from his Garage Cinema research group. It took me a little while to understand the connection! And then it all came flooding back, as they say.

Marc Davis worked at Interval, where I met him when I did a talk during grad school about television fan video editing. The subject he works on that's closest to my heart is technology to make it easier to edit video and film footage. His paper "Editing Out Video Editing" in IEEE MultiMedia points out that nearly everyone consumes digital video/film, but almost no one makes it or edits it, because the barriers are quite high. (The acknowledgements list on that paper includes a lot of people I know from various diverse places: MIT cultural studies, someone who once interviewed at TiVo, research folks, friends of friends from research-- how small the Bay Area is.)

Here's his list of pubs: Garage Cinema Research Group, Publications.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

dodgeball and google

Another notch on Google's belt... Dodgeball, a Clay Shirky-lauded company, has "joined forces" with Google. Dodgeball combines mobile, social networking, dating, and alerts in one package, so how can it fail to attract lots of press these days? Here's their press page: mobile social software. Their home page flash illustration of the service they provide is worth watching if you don't know about them.

Two years ago, I responded to an online LiveJournal survey conducted by Intel Research that seemed to be exploring exactly this application arena -- under what conditions would you want to be notified of the geographical proximity of someone on your LJ friends list? Would they have to be someone you knew already? How many degrees of separation would be acceptable before you weren't interested or wouldn't want to divulge your own location? (Not being terrifically face-to-face extroverted, my threshold was quite low for this.)

For some reason, Dodgeball seems very "New York" to me; I wonder how successful it is.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Creswell rock art, oldest in the UK

It's notoriously difficult to date prehistoric rock remains, because rock itself lacks organic material, required for radiocarbon dating methods. Stone megaliths and tombs often have organic remains in or near them, but there's no way of knowing when they were left, relative to the site's creation. It's not uncommon to find layered remains suggesting eras of use and re-use at such sites. Hence the frustrating, unresolved speculation about why all the standing stones were erected. Some very clever work with fortuitous mineral deposits recently allowed dating of some rock art in Britain. Being able to date it accurately has furthered understanding about Ice Age populations in Europe.

Creswell rock art dated: "The dates indicate the stalagmite in Church Hole -- which contains most of the engravings -- formed 12,800 years ago. The results establish once and for all the authenticity and Ice-Age antiquity of the rock art, and make it the oldest known in Britain. Artefacts left by Ice-Age hunter-gathers excavated from Creswell's caves have been dated to 13,000-15,000 years old. The new results indicate the art was probably left by the groups of people who made these artefacts. During this cold period the polar ice caps were much larger than today, resulting in considerably lower sea levels. Due to this, much of the North Sea was dry land -- a vast plain with hills and lakes -- on which it seems small groups of highly mobile hunter-gatherers were living. Archaeologists think that these groups would visit Creswell and other sites in Britain in the Spring to exploit horses, reindeer and arctic hare for their meat, hides and fur. Similar rock art left by these groups had been discovered in France and Germany, but none had been found in Britain until recently. The new dates demonstrate that the groups reaching Britain had the same artistic traditions as their European counterparts. "

cresswell rock art thumbnail

Sunday, May 08, 2005

My Summer in Siberia

In 2003 I had an adventure in Siberia. I spruced up the story for this site and linked it off a new index page of essays. Eventually I will get the entire site in shape, but it's taking me a long time.

Russian taiga

Read about My Summer Vacation in Siberia.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Adobe Creative Suite 2

Adobe Creative Suite 2 is out now. I was a UI designer in mid-stream on this when I quit and moved east to Massachusetts. It's been interesting to see their marketing collateral, animated demos, and read the press so far, after all this time (1 calendar year now).

The 2 projects I spent the most time on have major marketing bullets; they represented 2 of the concerns registered by our users in a large market research effort before we embarked on design: Color Consistency and PDF Consistency. Reading the press, it looks like the teams delivered what we had agreed on when I left; there are no nasty feature cuts apparent. Given how rocky the initial stages were -- getting all those cross-product teams to collaborate, no overseeing engineering director for months, difficulty defining process and team collaboration over long-distance-- this is a major triumph in itself.

The Color Management UI even looks much like what I had designed, even down to a problem in one dialog that I worried about but they apparently didn't fix.
suite color settings dialog

In this dialog, the selection mechanism -- the listbox of settings -- behaves as both the mechanism for choice and the "display" of the current setting. This is risky, because if you change your choice, but don't hit "apply," you don't know which setting is shared across the apps. And the "current" setting has to be in view at all times. I don't have any clue what that big "Show Saved Color Settings Files" button is for -- that wasn't in the original designs. I imagine it's there to fix some problem, like providing a mechanism for adding items to the listbox? -- but I can't tell from here.

I really like the color settings icon, though. Quite excellent. And the many risky features we were going out on a limb with are in there, as planned, like color management being "on" by default, to ensure visual consistency across the applications. The shared swatch problem was a profound one, too, with major problems blocking us as I left (e.g., it's not obvious how to solve this when some apps are built knowing only about pixels, and have no objects on the page, and others have structured art content). I don't know how well it all works, of course, and will stay tuned for more review details on that front.

PDF presets are getting less "splash" in the reviews, but it's going to be a big consistency win for users in day-to-day publishing workflows. PDF is inherently difficult to understand, as it's a technical standard, but at least the consistent UI will make it easier for prepress houses to tell customers what to choose when they save files.

In the reviews I read so far of the Suite as a whole, Photoshop is getting the most attention, with InDesign second. The most interesting aspect of this is that PS's new features aren't things I knew about. The big debate topic was a feature to support menu customization, on the theory that users were overloaded by features and would like to "turn off" some items. I found some articles suggesting only power users do this, but the research was a bit equivocal and hard to apply. The UI team in general was dubious about this, but the marketing folks were adamant and convinced engineering, I believe. This is now a feature bullet that's almost nowhere to be found in the press -- it's not gone (I found it in one place) so I assume it didn't test well or wasn't deemed salesworthy copy by the end of the development cycle.

All of this is speculation, of course.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Bennett Robot Works

These were on Boing_Boing, but it's worth saying "take a look" here too: Bennett Robot Works. They're little robot sculptures. I want one or a half dozen.

robot doll

Monday, May 02, 2005

InfoVis 2005 Contest

I'm impressed by InfoVis's contest. To encourage new visualisation techniques, they've got a contest challenge, complete with data set and questions to try to answer with your product solution. (This reminds me of the early days of speech and NLP research -- when shared datasets and competitive efforts combined with standard evaluation methods made for evolution in the field. You can't progress in a problem domain until you put some stakes in the ground, and get a lot of people working on precisely the same issue at the same time. And then evaluate those proposed solutions, by agreed upon criteria.)

This is the InfoVis 2005 Contest Call for Entries (due July 15); this is the description of the dataset and tasks for this year. For example:

1. Characterize correlations or other patterns among two or more variables in the data. For example:  
What products lead to growth in other products or industries? What contributes to companies moving, and what characterizes the moves?

2. Characterize clusters of products, industries, sales, regions, and/or companies. For example:  
What geographical areas developed in a similar manner or have similar characteristics? What product combinations tend to be produced by a company, or in a region?

Visualizing Friendster

I've linked to the prefuse project a few times already. Danah Boyd and Jeffrey Heer have a paper they submitted to InfoViz (the conference) on using prefuse to build a network vis tool for Friendster users, and some frank evaluation of it. It includes a lot of nice screen shots.

Here is danah's link and notes about the project:   apophenia: Vizster. And here is the InfoViz paper link itself (pdf).