IDEA Conference 2008: Day 2

This is a continuation of my coverage from the IDEA Conference in Chicago from October 7-8, 2008. My Day 1 roundup can be found here.

The speakers from Day 2 were Chris Crawford, Alberto Cañas, Jason Fried, Aradhana Goel, Bill DeRouchey and Andrew Hinton.

Let’s get right to it…

Chris Crawford: “Linguistic User Interfaces”

  • Chris Crawford, game designer, says he’s been living in the mountains for the past 10 years
  • Sapir-whorf hypothesis: inside the human mind, language & reality are closely connected.
  • Since a computer cannot hold reality, it can’t really hold language. It’s actually more toy-like.
  • Crawford says first q you ask when designing software: “What does the user DO?” Not what do they see.
  • Actual number of verbs in software relates to how powerful it is. Verbs need to be accessible. Count the # that ppl actually use
  • Ratio of accessible verbs to actual verbs would equal 1 in an ideal world
  • Expectable verbs = the expectations created by the model. When you set expectations w one element, user expects it to be repeated
  • Chris Crawford is an animated and emphatic speaker. Perfect for the first session after a late night of drinking
  • Graphical user interface puts the verbs right in front of your face. Accessible : Actual is near 1. Actual : Expectable is near 1
  • GUIs fall short when the verb count gets too high. More levels of hierarchy reduce the Accessible and increase the Expectable
  • GUIs aren’t effective above ~100 verbs. But as we march forward into the future, we want to offer more and more verbs. Problem.
  • The Little Mermaid is 22 pages at 36 point font. It’s 122 unique verbs. “That’s a pro-level application”
  • Interactive storytelling requires thousands of verbs. GUIs don’t cut it. “We need a linguistic user interface” — Chris Crawford
  • 25,000 typical words in the English vocab. If storyworld requires 1,000 words then Actual:Expectable=.4 Bad!
  • Inverse parser = presenting options to user for them to select in a given context
  • Chris Crawford is throwing his voice
  • “Dramatic context” ;)
  • Context limits available options, reduces size of menus. Makes it more usable
  • Chris Crawford demoing storybook madlibs-type interface
  • Crawford demoing Storytron’s Storyworld Authoring Tool (Swat). Creates dramatic possibilities
  • The courage to err: oral communication rife w ambiguity. Expect contextual ambiguity, users will resolve. Move them along quickly.
  • Error rates can be high. But that’s ok. What’s actually important is the ratio of correct to incorrect. Get it mostly right
  • Our own immune system gets it wrong a lot. It makes guesses based on limited information. But it responds quickly, it’s aggressive
  • Chris Crawford: “Death to CYA!” (cover your ass) Have the courage to make mistakes, but respond quickly. Requires lotsa processing
  • Chris Crawford rocked. I really enjoyed that. Now my head is spinning

Alberto Cañas: “CmapTools: From Meaningful Learning to a Network of Knowledge Builders”

  • Dr. Alberto Cañas, Co-founder and asst director of Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
  • Not a designer, marketer or business person (@armano asked for show of hands before his talk yesterday). Cañas is a researcher
  • Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) made up of computer scientists, psychologists, physicians, engineers, etc
  • IHMC all about researching machine learning. 2nd most sensible organ in your body is your tongue. Could allow blind ppl to “see”
  • Designing human-centered flight displays through greater understanding of peripheral vision. Provide feedback in new ways
  • Cmap Tools software developed to allow users to create and share concept models.
  • Artificial flight: Is it feathers or the beak? Can we really recreate the experience w/o getting naked? Birds don’t wear clothes
  • Our bone structure is different than a bird’s, etc. But once you understand theory of aerodynamics then you can make things fly
  • The web comes along & what do we do? We put a page on it. Why? Because we were used to looking @ pages. Like wearing a beak to fly
  • You need to understand the *theory* in order to create new systems. “Concept maps facilitate the explicit expression of knowledge”
  • “I still don’t know what you all do, and from what I can tell neither do you” — Alberto Cañas to the audience
  • “Knowledge isn’t only concepts. It’s propositions, units of meaning or claims. Relationships between two concepts” Brilliant!
  • A theory of learning: each person constructs their own meanings for concepts and propositions from experience over time
  • But you have to WANT to learn!
  • Children have better understanding of concepts than adults do. Children can tell you so much, they’re absorbing it all
  • “Meaningful learning is innate” — Alberto Cañas
  • Linking phrases: “is necessary for,” “is based on,” “facilitates the,” “can build” etc etc
  • Concept maps are also an interesting way to navigate tons of info on a subject. Provides multiple entry points and reduces noise
  • Alberto Cañas talking about a project he worked on creating concept maps with students in Panama. Too much to capture here
  • Read about it here:

Jason Fried: “Getting Real”

  • @jasonfried is up now! No slides. Talking for 15 minutes and then doing Q&A
  • @jasonfried is cofounder of @37signals for those two of you who don’t know
  • They don’t plan: no personas, flowcharts, anything. They’re “holdovers from other disciplines.” They build & figure it out as we go
  • All those artifacts are abstractions. They allude to “an illusion of agreement”
  • They sketch with thick markers. Random ideas of what you can do through the interface. Pencils/pens are too high resolution
  • “Epicenter of design”: they focus on the one thing on the page that must exist. Then they ask what else this could possibly need
  • “We figure out what to put on the page by using it.” They are their own users [but not all software can be designed that way!]
  • The longer it takes you to develop something, the less likely it becomes that you’ll ever release it
  • Get feedback from real people who use your product. Start with a simple core, then improve
  • Interruptions prevent us from actually getting anything done. No one works during the day anymore. They work @ night & on weekends
  • @37signals has 12 ppl & don’t all work out of same office b/c it’s just distracting. They use passive collaboration on group chat
  • Audience Q: “can I have a job?” Audience laughter
  • “Hire only when it hurts, when you can’t do it anymore… And don’t hire a job you haven’t done yourself before” — @jasonfried
  • Audience Q: “How do you use ‘Getting Real’ with clients?” @jasonfried: Most of the process stuff is bullshit
  • When they were doing web design, they never offered 3 design solutions. They delivered one. The right design
  • “Not every client will be receptive to that, but you don’t have to hire them. Remember that you’re hiring your clients, too”
  • If you don’t have a good fit with the client, then neither of you will ever be happy with the work. Find the right match
  • If you present 2 designs, one good & one bad, the client is going to pick the bad one. So don’t show them something you don’t like
  • Meetings are expensive. 1hr mtg is really only 1hr if only 1 person is in the room. 5ppl, 5hrs. 10ppl, 10hrs. Losing productivity
  • Demand respect from your clients. Don’t be afraid to fight back. You wouldn’t tell the plumber how to fix the toilet– @jasonfried
  • “We’re always scratching our own itch. We’re not special. We’re a small biz. If we need it, hundreds of companies do too”
  • What’s your perspective on competitive analysis? “We don’t pay attention to the competition. We pay attention to the customers”
  • 10yrs ago successful software meant big shelf space. Advantage now “The Internet is the biggest shelf there ever was” @jasonfried

Aradhana Goel: “Emerging trends | Design thinking | Service innovation”

  • “We all believe in human-centered design. We all believe that when it comes to design empathy is key” – Aradhana Goel
  • She has seen design challenges evolve from tangible to intangible, permanent to temporal, reactive to predictive
  • More and more at IDEO she’s been dealing with projects that are very open-ended. “We’re 2nd in marketplace. How do we become 1st?”
  • “Open challenges require a fundamental shift in where we look. Not only need empathy for indiv, but also get pulse of collective”
  • What are the trend factors? Societal, technology, business
  • Societal: shifts in cultural landscape, patterns of behavioral change, connections between domains
  • Technology enablers: state of the art, new potential opportunities, patterns of adoption
  • Business trends: changing the value equation, emerging and established revenue models, stakeholder ecosystems
  • “Trends are temporal by definition…In today’s very nimble world, one year is like a lifetime.” – Goel
  • Goel showing a mosaic of her Facebook friends and I know some of those people!
  • Examples of “culture of networks” trend: Amex’s
  • Trend: nomadism. Parasitic living. Seamless transitions b/w contexts. “Today everything is living in the cloud…we’re untethered”
  • She couldn’t find a really good example of nomadism trend but is working on some now. is a close example
  • Trend: conscientious consumption. Sustainable living. Physical scarcity and digital abundance.
  • Goel is brilliant. A true synthesist. All this stuff that’s been floating around in my head is perfectly articulated on the slide
  • Examples of conscientious consumption: Toyota-Prius and Zipcar
  • “They say green is the new black”
  • Technology trends: platform approach. No killer application. Choice and flexibility.
  • Tech trend: Adaptive Services. Evolutionary. Customization over time. “Over time they become you.” Netflix, Amazon, Pandora
  • Multi-channel conversations. New paradigm of customer service. Twitter accounts for @Zappos @comcastcares @southwestair
  • Trend: free! Redefining value for commodities. Skype, Flickr, Nokia-CWM
  • Trend: crowd-sourcing. Distributive co-creation. Open Innovation. Zappos, Best Buy, Air New Zealand
  • Zappos has a guidebook for how to provide service to customers. But it’s not written from the top down; it’s written by employees
  • Trend: micro transactions as applied to emerging markets. Micro-lending. M-Pesa, Grameen bank, Kiva. [I hope you’re participating]
  • @milewis just tweeted that you can request a copy of the Zappos customer service guidebook just by emailing them!
  • Human factors (user interviews, observations, extreme users) + Trend factors (media audits, era analysis, expert panels)
  • Trend factors is finding the context and Human factors is digging into context. Complementary approaches, no one or the other
  • Projects that helped Goel realize all this. 1) “Design a converged services portfolio for a siloed organization”
  • 2) “Make mobile phone top of the wallet (financial tool)”. 3) “Design concepts for the future of retail banking (beyond 2015)”
[Download Aradhana’s slides]

Bill DeRouchey: “The Language of Interaction”

  • @billder is a Senior Interaction Designer at Ziba Design
  • “The Language of Interaction” No matter what we call ourselves, we’re designing some kind of interface that people use
  • What can we actually learn from the objects that we have to do alone? Remotes, for example.
  • @billder wants to draw from previous sessions, especially Chris Crawford’s and @armano’s
  • Past experiences affect our future expectations. A triangle is just a triangle until it’s turned sideways, then it’s a Play button
  • The @ symbol denotes much more than it ever did before. Email, Twitter, etc. Or as @mediajunkie yelled out: “whitney hess”
  • “We need to see what people see” so it can inform out designs. Seek inspiration outside of technology.
  • Seek inspiration from common interactions like ATMs. Or from what amuses us, like gas pumps.
  • Inspiration from what scares the hell out of us. Ticket machine at the Metro in DC
  • The more people see things the more they’ll expect to see them, so we need to be aware of it. “We create and curate this language”
  • Meaning migrates across domains. Meaning can evolve. TV sports: arrow pointed to team w possession. Now labeled “possession arrow”
  • We need to decode the language of interaction in order to be able to use it. Elements, relationships, principles
  • Fridge interface: instead of up and down arrows for temp, “warmer” & “cooler.” But then they added “TurboCool” and “ExpressChill”
  • Ppl are used to seeing things in zones. We do it w/o realizing. Consider Amazon. We auto ignore in certain areas we think are ads
  • Clarity. If everyone calls it “sleep” on an alarm, why change it to “repeat alarm”?
  • Weatherband button has a divot so you can get to it faster. Makes sense in hurricane or tornado areas. Geographically-based button
  • Clarity: anticipate the question. Measuring cups that display the size in big bold letters
  • Muxtape‘s big bold letters on song titles. “RIP Muxtape” — @billder
  • @billder’s microwave forces him to set the date. There’s no possible reason why a microwave could need to know the date
  • So many buttons on a remote. Are all these things really necessary?
  • Designing for surprise & delight. Parking lot in Portland tells you of spaces in each direction. Green light above open spots

Bill DeRouchey’s slides:

The Language of Interaction
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: ixd ixda)

Andrew Hinton: “You are (Mostly) Here: Digital Space and the Context Problem”

  • Let’s say Vegas provides a new service: you’re going to be watched everywhere you spend $ and it’ll be shared w/ your peeps
  • You wouldn’t like it very much. Well that’s basically what Facebook did with Beacon.
  • There was mass revolt against Beacon and it hurt Facebook’s brand. Why did it happen? FB didn’t take time to get to know the users
  • @inkblurt showing a photo of a urinal that Marcel Duchamp submitted to a gallery. He was challenging all preconceived notions
  • Labels affect our perception. @inkblurt showing this image
  • @inkblurt asks: If 5 ppl were on a track & the train was coming, would you pull the lever to save 5 if it would kill 1 person?
  • Power of context in language. Context is somewhat biological and when ppl hear this question you can see reaction in the brain
  • Maps are archetypal way of how people form contexts. Map (language), territory (context)
  • RT @kaleemux: Showing 10 different maps of Boylan Heights in the context of power lines, parking spaces, water, street signs, etc
  • Multi-user domain (MUD) In digital space, map creates the territory! No physical space to look at
  • Fuzzy boundaries between real and virtual. Google results for “leatherworking” giving directions to build World of Warcraft garb
  • Ppl in the audience are on their comps, Twittering, emailing, blogging, while listening. We rarely do one thing at a time anymore
  • Fuzzy human stuff is being made into data. Like matters of the heart translated to “relationship status” on Facebook
  • @inkblurt using “Eats Shoots and Leaves” example to illustrate context created by one comma :)
  • D vs @ on Twitter. Really easy to make the mistake (as we all know). Hitting Reply All on an email when you really didn’t want to
  • “We’re now offered a plethora of choices & places that each has its own architecture that shapes your identity when you’re there”
  • Sherry Turkle: “Real life is just one more window”
  • Information Architecture is about language and context informing each other — @inkblurt
  • @inkblurt wrapping up with Qs now. @mmilan asks: how do we evangelize the practice while we’re still sharpening the language?
  • @inkblurt says we do top-down and bottom-up approaches simultaneously.
  • What about emotional contexts that users bring to our software/sites? It does add friction & we have to try to be aware of them
  • @inkblurt is too smart for me
[Download Andrew’s slides] [Podcasts of all talks can be found on Boxes and Arrows]

Related Posts:



  1. […] ← Who coined the term “wireframes”? IDEA Conference 2008: Day 2 […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *