Concrete Fence Posts

Since moving back to Indiana in April, I’ve done a lot of cycling. It turns out, even though Hoosier drivers aren’t the most amenable folks to having bikes on their roads, there is so much space in-between everything that riding is pretty good. It doesn’t take long to get out to gravel county roads, and away from most cars. Riding through a lot of areas that time seems to have forgotten has really engaged a standing interest in Indiana history.

One of the things in particular that has interested me as I’ve been putting on the gravel road miles are all the old farm fence posts still left intact.  They are an interesting artifact of a time when (I assume) roads, as such, didn’t exist, and the fences held up by these posts were the divider between farmers fields. This dovetails with some longstanding field-based Indiana location names – Westfield, Greenfield, Bloomfield, Chesterfield, Plainfield, Wheatfield, Winfield.. And probably several more defunct ones.

I’ve snapped pictures of a few of these posts haphazardly. Most are concrete, but there are a swath of weathered lumber, with various forms of bracing, both wood and steel. Continue reading

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Business and design – Street Fighter II

I’m going through my old blog posts and trying to dispense with the many posts I started but never finished. This is one of those..

Based on this amazing “Oral history of Street Fighter II” published by video game website, polygon, I had intended to dig deep into some thoughts on how business influences design positively. This is pretty relevant to me, as most of the time it seems like the constraints that business puts on design cause things to be terrible for everyone involved. (don’t get me started on the computer hardware and software industries’ ploy to keep us buying new releases and new crap to run it on, year after year)

Anyhow, I started this post In February of 2014. I’ve slept many times since then, and therefore can’t remember what my contribution to this discussion was to be, but I still think the text below is worth sharing. Yoshiki was the head of arcade development at Capcom Japan. If you’re unfamiliar with the game Street Fighter II, it was a pretty relevant title at the time just before video arcades were overtaken by home consoles. It’s big contribution to the video game world was the two player, head to head setup. I think games like Gauntlet (’85) were already multiplayer, but not in a head to head way, which really increased both the social aspect (I remember the lines to play SFII at Aladdin’s Castle in Castleton Mall, Indianapolis) but also often shortened the play time per quarter, in a “fair” way.

Anyway, a fun story. Check the full tale at polygon – http://www.polygon.com/a/street-fighter-2-oral-history

 

YoshikiokamotoYOSHIKI OKAMOTO:

Back in the day, people at arcades weren’t happy. Space Invaders was popular and cost 100 yen ($1) to play. And we were thinking, if you’re playing a shooter and there’s a lot of bullets coming at you, that’s a lot of fun. But if it doesn’t last very long, then developers are happy and arcade operators are happy, but players aren’t happy. So we were thinking really hard about what would make everybody happy.

We thought about putting big machines in arcades, so you would need to spend 500 yen per game — developers would be happy because they would make more money, players would be happy because they would get a better experience, but arcade operators wouldn’t be happy because it would cost a lot to swap these big machines in and out.

So we thought about it more and came to the conclusion that if two people played at once … operators would get twice the money. Players would essentially split the cost so they could both play for longer. We kind of did that with Final Fight since players help each other out, but we realized some players still felt cheated because the game was too difficult … If we dictated the difficulty, players could always get frustrated. But if players were competing against each other, whether they won or lost would be up to them. So we were thinking that could take out the frustration.

big data needs big tools to sort it

The idea of “big data” is very popular in big business, but it’s trickling down into a lot of other things we use. This should be good; more is better, of course. Well, it is when it doesn’t add to complexity of use. I wanted to share an example of a less than great implementation of big data in a consumer use case…

strava heatmaps

This is the route builder in popular bicycle ride tracking app, Strava. It has a “heat maps” feature that is the big data implementation. It does some mathematical aggregation of all ride traffic to give an idea of how often individual roads are used. The idea, at least I think, is to help you choose “better” bike routes based on the logic that the most people would use the best route. (whatever “best” is a measure of) This is kind of handy in some areas.. Rural places. Small Towns, like Lafayette, where I moved from. But in highly populated areas, like San Diego, where I am now, it’s not as useful. There is a lot of tourist traffic, making some paths, like beachside walkways with high foot traffic, appear to be the right place to ride. My choice of “best” comes from wanting to get to work fast or wanting a hard training ride, so dealing with foot traffic is far from ideal.. but there’s no way to separate it out.

Strava has already started to divide groups by population in other features. “Segments” of routes show a listing by time duration of every user that’s ridden them. This feature has long had a gender segregation, but more recently for paid members offers filtering by age and by weight. Why is this useful? Well, it helps competitive cyclists know how they are doing against other people they might be racing.

I’d really like to see them add to this – it would be great if there was a way to break down the heat map by some categorization. Maybe it’s just max speed on that particular ride. This could weed out the beach cruiser people, or, depending on what you were trying to get out of it, could weed out the folks who are competitive/training.

Regardless, I think this is a decent illustration of lots of data needing more advanced tools to be useful. I think we’re going to be seeing more and more of this as time goes on. It’s a rife place for Interaction Designers to develop new standards.

Skills to help you land a UX job.

This past weekend I had the chance to attend the IDSA (Industrial Design Society of America) Western district conference.  I’ve been to several IDSA events in the past, but skipped last years. It was good to get back and hang out with the Industrial Design “tribe”. (The idea of tribes were one of the themes of this years event) I met a lot of nice people, learned a lot of new things, and had the opportunity to participate in a collaborative “design swarm”.

On the flip side, as a UX designer, I was one of a minority. It’s not a huge difference – much of the methodology of the two disciplines is the same, and many Industrial Designers are taking work in UX as of late. Still, I felt like a bit of a representative of the UX side of things, and people were asking me questions.

Two of the most common questions I heard were: “How do I get a job in UX?” and “What goes in a UX portfolio?” These are both particularly salient areas of thought since UX as a field is still relatively new. Trying to come up with answers on the spot got my mind working, and I put together a short list of things that I think should go into a UX portfolio. I think these things are really representative of the work that happens in industry (at least as far as I’ve seen) and also the stuff that really provides value – whether that’s to clients, or development teams or project managers.

Situational Awareness / Presentation skills

This is not as much a portfolio piece as it is a factor in how the portfolio is presented. And this is a tough one to demonstrate. There are two main factors here:

  1. UX folks should be dealing with people who use, or will use whatever it is that’s being designed. We could pawn that off onto a researcher, but throwing this kind of stuff over the wall is a waste of opportunity. That said, a designer has to be sensitive to those being interviewed/observed and understand their needs; even if it’s just in the context of the interview.
  2. You have to present your work to someone at the end of the project. If you’re just presenting it to your design director, maybe it doesn’t matter as much how you approach the presentation, but there is real value in being able to talk to a dev team, a PM or even the C suite. You have to know what drives them, and address it as you talk about your work.

Structured Research

I’ve seen a lot of really nice student projects with absolutely no basis in research. (or reality) Make sure you’re showing that you can do the science to prove to your audience that you made the right design decisions.

Sometimes just having research isn’t enough. It has to be structured. What was your plan going into the research? Did you have key questions that you asked all respondents? How did you choose them? What did the results statistically tell you?

Insights

Insights are kind of easy. Most designers have these throughout. But as in the above, can you tie the insights to real data and real users?

Process

Industrial design has really provided us a lot of structure in terms of documentation. Any ID process book is a good starting point. It’s important to talk about all of the design activities you did, but maybe more importantly, you should tell why you did them.

Wireframes / Prototyping

This is a gimmie. Everyone should know how to do basic wireframes. But go further – make sure they’re annotated and explain the functionality and the reasons that design decisions were made.

Detailed Design

It’s the next step after wireframes. Know how to specify visual style in a “pixel perfect” way, and be able to show and explain design patterns.

Information Visualization

As we move further into a “big data” world, it’s important to be able to use visuals to help users make sense of statistical data. It’s one thing to come up with a flashy, novel idea, but another to make something that is easy for a user to get use out of.

Strategy

Strategy is emerging as an important part of the UX package as more businesses are using UX to drive sales. The idea is to understand the business goals, design for them, and explain why your design helps the company achieve them. You could say that this is designing with an eye to the business, but it should be more holistic – How does this impact the dev team? How can the marketing team make use of your work?

 

 

 

There are surely many other things I could put in here, but these are the things that guide my work. I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in flashy presentation, which is great in it’s own right, but the real value is giving your clients a good return on their investment, and I think the above list does that.

Music that matters (to me) – Waltham/Damone

There are ongoing themes in my listening habits; at the most fundamental, bands that I tend to revisit occasionally. Sometimes it’s more about the body of work of a specific musican or group of musicians. In this case, I wanted to post about a couple of bands that I keep coming back to, and the common denominator is guitarist Dave Pino.

I think my introduction to Pino was the band Damone, and specifically their album “From the Attic” which saw major label release on RCA in ’03. (a version of it had previously been self released as “This Summer” under the band name “Noelle”) I really wish I could remember how I found this album, but I’m totally drawing a blank. It was around the time that I was the operating station manager for the short lived Purdue Student Radio station which would be the sensible discovery avenue, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. I do know that the single “Frustrated Unnoticed” was the first song I heard, and it felt like a different production style than the rest of the record, but regardless, “From the Attic” was, and continues to be a very captivating album for me. The lyrics were all penned by Pino, supposedly as a means to get back a girl who had dumped him.  A band was formed around these songs when Pino encountered Noelle LeBlanc, then still in high school. On this album in particular, Noelle’s inexperienced yet honest vocal delivery is the perfect match for the adolescent-ish tales of lost love. This feature is something that I’ve struggled to explain to people who are used to well polished and professional singers. There’s just something real and personal about it.

Here’s a very early public access in-studio of the band complete with the oddball-ness of Pino rocking a doubleneck SG; apparently the norm for him while in this band:

It must have been around 2006 when I found out about the band, because I remember their second album surfacing. I had been telling people how cool Damone was, and they would go listen to the couple of early release tracks on myspace (sic) and tell me I was stupid because the band was terrible. The band had very much changed. Instead of the 80’s influenced pop-rocking featured on “From the Attic”, the new record, “Out Here All Night” was showing a lot more thrash metal influence, while keeping the power-pop choruses in place. Noelle’s performance was a lot more confident, no doubt built up from years of playing shows. It lost some of the charm though, I think. Another really obvious thing was the absence of Pino from the videos. He’s still credited for the album, but I question what level he was involved.. As I encountered more of his body of work, it seems like this material wasn’t as much “him”. The band released a third album in ’09, but to be honest, I haven’t even listened. I think I’m only in it for the first one. Apparently the band has folded, but Noelle continues with solo work as well as a band called The Organ Beats.

 

At some point I realized that Pino was really the mastermind behind the Damone record that I enjoyed so much, and I started digging to see what he was up to after leaving Damone. There were a few bits and pieces out there. Notably, this youtube video of his process in learning to throw a guitar around his body, a showmanship bit that had some popularity at the time. (I must admit I suffered some injuries attempting the same myself)

There were also a handful of really cool guitar lesson videos he had done, breaking down some of the more difficult parts of Damone songs. Here’s the only one I can find that’s still on youtube:

Perhaps the most relevant thing I found though was Pino’s previous band Waltham, (to those of us not from the east coast, it’s pronounced “Walth Am”) and this great little bio pic that someone made of them:

The whole angle is great. it’s kind of a slightly modernized take on 80’s stuff like Rick Springfield. It’s kind of gimmicky, but still good enough to enjoy. In my excitement about the band, I started telling friends, and oddly, a couple of people I knew were aware of these guys. My buddy John had been living out in Boston and recognized some of the guys in the band from their day jobs at Guitar Center. My friend Karen who had lived in Sommerville told me about the Pizza place that Dave’s father owned.

Showing a bit of a pattern, the band continued but Dave was gone. The 2003 release “Permission to Build” had all the same charming Pino features that Damone’s “From the Attic” did, but the follow up EPs were lack luster. Still the band made a major label run in ’05 with some touring through Germany. After a long hiatus, they put out another collection of songs through band camp in 2013 as “Wicked Waltham” but it seems like they only play new years eve events and the occasional charity show at this point. Still, they left behind some good music and some entertaining, albeit slightly hokey videos like this one:

Pino now seems to be a bit of a hired gun, playing with the band Powerman 5000 and Andrew W. K.

Let’s think about this for a sec – Tiny houses and zoning

Media coverage of developments in tiny homes usually focuses on how pretty you can make your little house, with lots of exterior shots of fancy colored homes. I think this trend has a tendency to keep us from looking at some of the bigger issues regarding small living that are getting glossed over.

If you’ve seen any of the interviews with Jay Shafer, then you know that one of his big issues is the legality of small living. Most folks that go this route put their house on wheels because it then qualifies as an RV, and escapes a lot of the scrutiny that a permanently placed home might. In the following video, the issue of zoning is raised. It’s definitely an interesting topic, and I think that maybe in the long run, it would do us more good to focus on these legalities more than the pretty designs that will continue to be presented to us.

After I started thinking about the topic, I really feel that _some_ regulation is a good thing. If the tiny house trend continues it’s popularity, we could have a large number of these showing up in surprising places, which could lead to problems. The video has one zoning official stating that she’s worried about “squatter camps” showing up, which I think is unlikely.. the reality though is that the definition of a squatter may vary from one person to another. I’m more worried about safety issues like fire hazards or black/grey water dumping.

The current popular thought on this issue seems to be circumventing zoning issues altogether by going with a “trailer park” model of property management, wherein a company owns a lot of private space and allows people to put their houses there for a fee. It’s not a bad idea, but I imagine it too could use a regulatory refresh before this style of living grows.

As an aside, I had no idea that Houston was so zoning free. It’s an interesting model and seems to have met reasonable success. Too bad it’s in Texas. ha!

I like ecclesiastical art

I really enjoy ecclesiastical art; mostly stained glass, but sometimes other mediums.  I’m not religious in the least, but I think the history behind such work really gets at the part of religion that I’m most interested in. Being able to physically trace back the history and morphology of a philosophy is a lot more interesting to me than trying to commune with God.

As I started looking for inspiration for a Saint Burritus T shirt design I’m working on, I happened across the ikonograffiti blog, and really liked it. Having dabbled breifly with spray paint and stencils, on the #trikelala T shirt,  this video was especially interesting.