User Experience

Even the culturally literate find themselves lost in some neighborhoods. It can be a district that’s been popular for decades and yet, because things keep shifting around, it has the disorienting effect of a bazaar. How often has your favorite website changed its arrangement?

Even professional User Experience (UX) designers find themselves in the dark when it comes to the origin story of their mutant-for-hire identity. Did you know Information Architecture (IA) is a term coined by TED founder Richard Saul Wurman? A lot of people in the business of Information Design (ID) have run past the sign offering deeper reading about how their now predominantly digital craft began in physical space; directions to the parking lot; mnemonics for the section where you parked; elevator indicators; exits; etc.

I feel like I could give a grandiloquently unifying and hilarious history of the field right up to the present moment the way Paul Ford did for programing in last Spring’s Bloomberg article What Is Code? but I don’t want this to be a pitch. I want to tell a personal story of transformation but I don’t want to exceed five hundred words.

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My first job for a big advertising agency is where I learned Visio, a Microsoft product that is far better than Powerpoint for connecting geometric shapes to each other with lines and arrows. Before that, I had done some systems design for companies making computer games and for computer games themselves, but now I was doing it for a Web site offering small business resources; computer hardware and software-as-a-service. I approached the site just as if I were a customer and put together a report on it. Then I went through other reports showing data compilations of site visitor journeys leading in positive loops and negative spirals. I went through reports showing what search queries visitors were making, what results they were getting, and which results they were picking. Then I reorganized eighty pages of content.

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Since that job was successful by all accounts, I figured I knew something about IA. Since that job, however, every time I have taken on a similar task, big or small, I have learned something new.

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It goes deeper than the obvious fact that  different kinds of visitors come with different kinds of interests and interpretations. What is sometimes surprising is how dramatically the site they are visiting is evolving, shifting with seasons, growing with the times. Say it’s a fashion site. Of course the content will want to be refreshed constantly, but one doesn’t necessarily consider the framework to be subject to whimsical updates.

It goes deeper than iconography, color and typeface. These are significant signifiers, important tools of ID, as in Information Design. But the biggest conversations are about Primary Navigation and Secondary Navigation.

It goes deeper than making the same material display properly across a variety of platforms. It goes back to the administrators being able to monitor visitor behavior and make adjustments to content without changing everything.

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To better illustrate what I am getting at, I might have taken pictures of benches put in to block hikers from decommissioned paths when I was out on a walk yesterday. I get work as a Project Manager / Producer type person because it’s impossible for everyone to be talking directly with everyone else all the time (even in open plan offices). Similarly, I get work as a UX / IA type person because no one quite knows where they are going. The biggest mistakes I have made over the years are when I have fallen into the trap of “expert communicator.” Whenever I have approached with the same sort of curiosity I brought in the first place, I have found the way to the treasure. It still counts as transformation if you find your way back to the beginning, right?

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Potato People

Kim Swift reminds us in Portal 2 that potatoes can, with a little ingenuity, serve as thinking machines. Here I am reminded of the Abbott & Costello movies I saw on Channel 11 Saturdays as a child. When they were in the Army, it seemed like Lou was always getting them into potato-peeling duty.

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Uncle Nick and Kung-fu Flash Kid peel potatoes

The spuds pictured here will go into a Thanksgiving mash in a matter of moments. Meanwhile, a parade of Potato Moments Past flashes through my brain, from Buck Privates Come Home onward.

Fall 1995, I am working on Sim Panther with Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party. The basic idea is this. Yes, you get to practice field stripping a rifle but you also have to know all the laws about safe distance for observing police activity, when you are allowed to have a round in the chamber and when you are not. Yes, you get to feed hundreds of Oakland kids a simple breakfast before they go to school, but you also have to give away thousands of full grocery bags on a record-breaking voter registration drive. Bobby tells the story of how volunteers suggested they not bother including a chicken in the bag since many of them were vegetarian anyway but he insisted. He continues to recount how, after all those responsible for supplying each component of the package — chicken, milk, cabbage, rice, beans, powdered fruit drink, carrots, potatoes — every team assigned to come up with one of the components was ready to deliver except the guy who chose potatoes because that was supposed to be easiest. Acting Chairman Seale asked what the problem was. The dude said, “I don’t know, man, I couldn’t find any.” Bobby comes back, “man, you ever hear of Idaho?!” The whole room busted up laughing as the dude slunk away but he returned to Oakland proud two days later with two trucks full from, you guessed it, Idaho. No sooner is the tale told but the yams are done. Throughout dinner, Bobby reels off yarn after yarn, and the hearty meal powers our work throughout the night.

We tend to favor Yukon and russet in this house but, for our purposes today, only Idaho will do.

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UN and NTG on potato detail

Fall 1996, I am working on an electronic version of Golf In The Kingdom with Esalen co-founder Michael Murphy. I propose we complicate the logistics but simplify the interface with a biofeedback peripheral. He proposes we add milk to the giant pot in our holiday preparations. After the meal, he inscribes my ninth-edition copy of his book, “to my partner in potatoes.”

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Mashed Potatoes a la Alldaddy

Neither of those titles were ever published. They never really even reached Beta development. Fast forward to Fall 2015, and I am not working on Home Free with Kevin Cancienne. I am reminded, however, that I always wonder about the origin of his Twitter handle @potatojin, but always forget to ask. Some business or other of greater importance always takes precedence. What is important now is that this plate of seconds is so good I forgot to get seconds on the perfect turkey.

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Second helping on almost everything

Thinking Outside Boxing Day, Epiphany

typical dinner

Head of table

This Christmas was just delicious. I had asked Catherine for an encore of Thanksgiving; perfect turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, macaroni&cheese, spinach, brussels sprouts. We did it again, Kitty! Nate the Great helped decorate gingerbreadstars and ninjabreadmen. Nana and Alldaddy and Nicholas brought more treats to Greenport in various forms of chocolate from Vienna and Manhattan. It was a wonderful feast.

We wondered, if we could be blessed with a beautiful cocoa-flavored snowman, why then could not our precious Mimsie the Cat (who came to us this year) enjoy a nice fowl-flavored angel? The assembled Concept team directly commenced with product research and will report back on this project promptly on 1/1/2016.

All kinds of food ideas fed all kinds of thought. In fact we talked about such a wide array of subjects under The Sun it is a challenge to summarize. Luckily, just as black is the new black, five is the new five,* so we have room to work. As the five or so Pattersons at hand indulged a range of fancy over the past few days, I ask Ogilvys and Pattersons at large to allow a little creative filing in the following notes on random and delightful conversation: I. CELESTIAL; II. INTERNATIONAL; III. NATIONAL; IV. LOCAL; V. NAVEL

books to read

Contemplating the Heavens

I. OUTER SPACE (OUR SOLAR SYSTEM AND OTHERS)

To give you an idea of how we stretch an idea, let us select an item randomly. Picking a present from under the tree, it turns out to be a boxed set of Percy Jackson adventures for Nathaniel. Percy Jackson is a contemporary half-mortal son of Poseidon, the famous Olympian god (OG). Not to be confused with second-largest planet Neptune, named after a Roman god in turn named after the Greek god Poseidon, the eighth moon of Jupiter officially named Pasiphae in 1975 was unofficially called Poseidon in the 1960’s. Now it all makes sense!

Nate likes many different books. Gazing at a cardboard astronomy chart, looking up stuff on The Internet, and pointing out things in the actual sky, Uncle Nick supplements aplenty. We all encourage each other.

Then we let dumb ideas go. Nate gets back to Nintendo. Of course! Of course we try scientifically and with our gut to reject as many absurd notions as we cultivate in our pretend lab. There’s more where that came from.

How about cloud cities over Venus? Have you heard about this? It’s the latest of NASA’s astounding announcements. Although the planet itself is inhospitable to humans, like the fiery core of the Earth, the outer cloud layer of Venus is comparable to climates we favor. Closer to home than Mars, we could arrange efficient back-and-forth transit between that outer atmosphere and the outer atmosphere here by constructing an orbital elevator. As you know, the hardest part of space travel is the first part; achieving escape velocity. Ships allowed to stay away from planet surfaces by commuting from one space station to another would be free of tons of extra rocketry. At the idea, however, of a space station tethered to Earth by means of a 60,000 mile carbon fiber maglev rail, Nate exclaims, “Dr. Quackers!” as if to say, enough!

Another sizeable lump in the dustpan among so many pine needles and other smaller sweepings is Interstellar, the Ridley Scott picture. Not a particularly big year for movies, 2014 afforded us a view of a middledistant future with this Matthew McConaughey Anne Hathaway vehicle. Here we find Michael Caine, who shines in everything, no bleeding matter what, even if it’s a dog, struggling with the problem of gravity. He’s looking for a way to get a sort of ark aloft so at least a fraction of Earth’s populace may make it to a place in another galaxy where plants will grow. If he can just get it up out of Earth’s orbit, then getting it over to the connecting wormhole will be a cakewalk. Our suspension of disbelief engine may be fueled by a practical dose of Theoretical Physics (TP). Just as the Weak Force counteracts the Strong Force causing atoms to decay and reform, and Electricity and Magnetism turn out to be one and the same force, perhaps the Gravitational Force may be reversed in combination with the Weak Force, the Strong Force, the Electromagnetic Force, or a mix thereof. Perhaps, as is suggested by physicist Michael Caine’s astronaut daughter Anne Hathaway, a fifth force exists, called Love.

I am Groot. Another of “the big movies of 2014” was Guardians of the Galaxy. “Oh my god!” says Nate (Skype being broken during Christmas, his unwrapping of the good ship Milano in Lego is captured via telephone to Ogilvys in Castle Valley, Utah).

from The Best Infographics 2014, a favorite Christmas gift

Actual Discoveries

II. WORLD MATTERS (EARTH)

The biggest movie event of the year was almost a total nonevent when Sony pulled The Interview from official distribution. That would have been all. Then we could have moved on and forgotten about a forgettable film. Unfortunately for North Korea, they demanded Sony remove the film from The Internet and everywhere or suffer consequences. That did it. Sony withdrew from any “negotiations,” and decided to show the thing to the public after all. Unfortunately for the rest of us, who enjoy Sony’s amazing library of content, this could signal the end of Sony as we know it. It could still be funny if the studio gets taken over by a dictatorship interested in high-powered propaganda and we start seeing new material on a par with the bizarre narrative of the immortal Ed Wood Jr., Kim Jong Un fancying himself a great director. We’ve managed to ignore most of the kerfluffle so far, and we might expect much of the public to turn a blind eye to surviving mutations.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to ignore the Pope. What a guy! Seriously, don’t you suppose he would be in a position to fix a thing or two if only he could rule unchecked by all those other clowns in the Vatican?

Here’s an idea. Democracy has been working so hard since Perestroika and the rise of Capitalism in China, we could let Democracy take a little break, just to catch some air. We let nice people like Japan’s Emperor Akihito and England’s Queen Elizabeth II and Sweden’s Carl XVI Gustav run things for a while.

What we really need is a whole new slew of dictators. With Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi out, who’s going to keep everyone in line? Well, it looks as if Hosni Mubarak could resume office.

Our escape plan (don’t tell anyone) is over The Isle of Skye by Faerie Trail.

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Holly tree

III. DOMESTIC AFFAIRS (US)

Papadaddy Patterson aka GDP2 having had the National Parks on his beat for the IRS, GDP3 and I got to talking about the National Parks again. Kitty’s ongoing efforts on their behalf are ongoing. In addition to her work on the ground, we entertain visions of quiet airships replacing cacophonous helicopters over the Grand Canyon. If we’re going to deploy airships over Venus, we should get good at cloud life down here first.

Zion National Park in Utah is my idea of the Promised Land. This gives rise to a device for peace and prosperity somewhat related to World Matters and the ‘Nineties bumper sticker “Think Globally, Act Locally.” Ever since Ogilvy family genealogist C. Stanley Ogilvy traced Ogilvy roots among Crasto roots in Spanish Sephardim via Holland, I have been proud of my Jewish heritage. Now I boldly propose a New Zionism constellated around the park in Utah. The park itself should be kept protected and undisturbed by development. In the surroundings, however, of Washington, Iron and Kane Counties, the entire Jewish diaspora is invited to come live. We want the Jewish population to continue to grow, but this is at odds with the promise that any Jew shall be guaranteed a home in tiny little Israel. Indeed, to fulfill such a promise, many Palestinian homes have been destroyed in the course of a seventy-year war. So many Palestinian homes that we might do well to invite their people to come live in Southwest Utah too. Perhaps Northwest Arizona in Mojave County would be more suitable. The deserts and mountains of nearby Lincoln County Nevada could additionally be annexed for refugees of other wars. New Zion interstate government would of course be run by Native Americans. Stay with me. Just as the Chinese built our transnational railway, and the Irish and Polish built New York’s underground rail system, these new immigrants would be responsible for a transnational pipeline of water running from the Great Lakes region to Southern California. Wind and solar pump the water up one side of the Rockies and, from the top, the waterflow itself generates electricity all the way down the other side on its way to verdant farmlands and golf courses. There’s some money in that. Everyone lives in fiscal harmony! And it’s all about sustainability!

The problem of course is that we don’t have a dictatorship to push the initiative through. I’m joking about that part. And, yes, I am joking about the whole proposal, but I’m seriously wishing for a radically integral solution to people needing as much protection as are trees.

Peconic Star, Alldaddy, Superkitty, Kung Fu Flash Kid, Nico Pico, Fireboat

This pier used to put steam trains onto ferries bound for Boston via Stonington, Connecticut.

IV. NORTH FORK (SUFFOLK COUNTY)

Back at the local hideout, we observe petty disagreements between Southold and Southampton. People of the North Fork and people of the South Fork can be as neighborly to each other as Dwarves and Elves of Middle-earth. Must everything be a challenge?

In this context, it’s no surprise to encounter a total lack of cooperation from such an organization as Long Island Railroad (LIRR). One of our crazy concepts that could have actually been made manifest if LIRR had been willing to play along was a fully restored steam engine pulling an immaculately appointed dining car serving the finest in local fare between Ronkonkoma and Greenport. That’s a stretch of track which is underutilized, but with beautiful views. Interested farmers and fishermen and other local businesspeople were lined up to underwrite track maintenance. The engine and dining car were available for a song. The tracks, however, were not available at any price. Oh, well.

Elves and Dwarves are not the problem. Trolls are. Trolls don’t just huddle under bridges and squat on top of patents. They go to work every day at all kinds of organizations and do whatever they can to interfere with the flow of commerce. Down with Trolls! Out with Trolls! Reform for Trolls!

Our fairy tale life in town and country is underwritten in part by the advertising business. Although, in its finer moments, we may refer to the industry as The Communication Arts, and it really is not inherently evil, as livelihoods go, it is business that really is plagued with Trolls. How can we help them?

We must feed our brains with fresh sea air, feed our bellies with farm-fresh food, and feed our spirits by gazing at flora and by listening to birds. We must tend to our sanity. The reality of the machine is complimented quite nicely by the reality of nature.

V. INNER SPACE (A FIFTH DIMENSION OF SORTS)

Another reality, facing us every day, is Love. Not just a far-out suggestion by Anne Hathaway’s very fictional character in Interstellar, but also a down-to-earth hypothesis by Felicity Jones’ portrayal of the very real person Jane Wilde in Theory of Everything. Either it’s an aspect of each of the four basic forces in the universe (to review: Gravitational, Electromagnetic, Strong, Weak), or it’s a fifth fundamental interaction unto itself. If the latter, it’s unlikely any self-respecting scientist would present a paper to the Royal Society on it. Yet the wife of one might document her findings in an account of day-to-day life as a human.

Another fantasy, still more radical than New Zion, even less plausible, is a plan to harness explorations into other dimensions. If, in some incredibly distant future, it did become reality, then it would give the word ‘practical’ a new meaning. Experimentalists learn how to control wormholes.

In the field of Physics, the Theorists are at one end of the spectrum and the Experimentalists are at the other, with Phenomenologists in the middle trying to unite everybody. They do not admit Professional Physicists such as, for example, the great financial modeler Fischer Black. Among the purely Academic Physicists (again, as far as they are concerned, the whole of the field), the Experimentalists are the practical ones.

But let’s say the Experimentalists learn how to control wormholes. What would be the more practical applications? Logistics! Related to the above Domestic Affairs fantasy, and again to otherwise tenuous rural economies, old port towns designed for loading and unloading vast lots of shipping containers could be revived with ports into a fifth dimension. The already interchangeable populations of Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine would thrive. And think how much we’d save on gas.

At the very least, for now, we can be grateful for the interconnectedness we have in the Internet.

fireplace hearth

Wrapping paper ready to burn (with illuminating Santa Claus tapers)

*In the late Nineteen-nineties, in the universe of Fashion, the phrase “____________ is the new black” was coined in order to encourage a more federated restoration of the practice of celebrating a new color each year, to be reflected by every major designer in both seasons (Fall and Spring) of a given year. The annual practice, planned in secret and conducted with a decade at time in mind, though uninterrupted, had been eclipsed by a general tendency among everyone in the industry and their followers to wear black every day, year after year, since the flourescent ‘Eighties. Also around the close of the Twentieth Century, in the universe of Business, the number of key points permitted in any communication shrank from five to three. Up to and through ‘Eighties, every fledgling middle manager and company president alike was instructed to restrict all memos and speeches to five key points. Any more and the audience would be lost. You may have noticed at some stage the number was reduced to three. You may have noticed subsequently, very recently, effectiveness of type-ahead SMS and Twitter notwithstanding, we have re-evolved into five-fingered creatures, thank goodness.

The Art and Money Project: Exploring the Nexus of Creativity and Capitalism

Tender

Max Haiven

Art and Money cover, based on the Hugo Boss Prize installation by Hans-Peter Feldmann Based on the Hugo Boss Prize installation by Hans-Peter Feldmann

The fine folks over at Art Threat have graciously published this illustrated Q&A with me about the Art and Money Project.

Check it out: http://artthreat.net/2013/06/art-money-project-max-haiven/

The Art and Money Project: exploring the nexus of creativity and capitalism

Max Haiven[1]

What is the Art and Money project?

It’s a research, teaching and publishing project I’m working on that is basically tracing two intertwined things.  First, art and artists who are engaging directly with money – that is, using money (chopped up dollar bills, coins, credit cards, bills, etc.) as a medium of expression or whose work comments very directly on money and its influence.  Second, a set of theoretical and sociological questions about what money is and does, and, more specifically, how we might understand money as an aesthetic commodity or a representative or symbolic object with tremendous…

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The Ogre And The Gardener

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NARCISSISTS UNITE!

I was allowed to keep this flower. The local City Gardener had already picked it this morning, and it was sticking out of the big bag she uses for clippings to be mulched when I happened by. I had already thanked her in Autumn for all her fine work throughout the neighborhood.

I see blossoms in every season, even Winter, though we face the winds of New York Harbor (we are sticking out of the Battery). It is thanks to her. I see her digging and planting and weeding and pruning practically every morning as I walk my son to school.

I very nearly picked an apartment right across the street from the school, which would have had a narrow view of these flora from the window, but might not have gotten me up close every day the way the further-away place has, since I have to walk past. I have to confess that a factor in my decision was a surprise meeting during my tour of the apartment building. I turned a corner and came face-to-face with one of its residents, a young Tor Johnson type so top heavy as to require a walker, lumbering along in what appeared to be a medicated haze, from which he gazed sidelong out of one fiery eye.

I have since witnessed this character making his way outside to visit the flowers with as much reliability as the City Gardener. I tried in my mind to admire his diligent attempt at health until I realized he was always going for a smoke. Meanwhile, I imagined he and the Gardener had formed some sort of bond, not unlike Beauty and The Beast, wherein she chose to stay close to him in spite of greater opportunities because he was the only one to truly appreciate her gifts.

Rutabega

Today I find myself stomping around my ancestral stomping ground, The Lower East Side. Hey, the hipsters did not ruin it. It was always a fertile ruin, still is, and it is beautiful to me.

I enjoyed some fine sausage and white bean soup. I saw happy children playing with their parents and grandparents. I leafed through the latest Popular Science (Rough Sketch: Harpooning a Comet).

I did not buy any records today. Instead I looked at the water and walked around town aimlessly, relishing Spring and thinking about being a human being. As a digital media specialist obsessed with analog media, I notice as much contrast between analog media
and the raw natural world as between analog media and the cooked-up virtual world.

This is as much as to say that the same sense of wonder and revelation to be had from gazing at an actual painting after staring at screen can also be had from gazing at a painting after staring at the ground.

Jonathan And The Dragon

Happy Chinese New Year!

Kung Fu Flash Kid is six (and a half) now. Do you want to know what happened to last year? Nothing worth publishing.

I started this blog with the idea it would be a travel journal during my trip to China in 2010. I started it while waiting for the plane in Newark. When I landed in Shanghai I discovered WordPress was blocked, as was Twitter.

Upon returning, I went to disable the account but, discovering I had had no visitors to Hello World in six months, I decided to keep it open for myself. Now I am toying with the notion of attempting some connection among bloggers I like. Do I start again from scratch instead of exposing the humble beginnings of Strangely Familiar? Do I hide the ones that might have been more humble and just leave the stubs? What would be the value in that? There is no value in the blog being three years old if there are only three posts in it.

I welcome your feedback. I welcome the dragon.