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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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.

Style guides

This is surely something from the boring side of design, but I figured it was worth throwing up here.

As a part of my thesis work I’ve come to a point where it seems prudent to develop a style guide. I’ve done one of these once before for a student data management web app, but it was a pretty low impact affair. The one I’m doing now is a little more robust, and kind of spans the two different types of style guides that I’m aware of – Brand and Layout.

Both of these have some bleed into each other, but I think each is important for it’s own reason. For my project I’m doing a slight re-branding, something that the company hasn’t really thought about for 40 years. This is particularly important because the company doesn’t have a mission statement, and their existing brand is a little watered down by a non-specific name and failure to adapt the brand when the core product/service changed.

Among some of the other resources I used to try and figure out what should go in here was this article which provides links to several corporate brand guides that I thought were pretty useful.
20 Inspiring Brand Guides

From this, the key elements that I’m including in the brand guide are:

brand values
a new logo and usage guide
colorway and usage guide
type faces

Layout is another very important part of my thesis, as I will be designing a website, interactive touch screen displays and in-store signage. In fact, these needs are really the impetus for taking on a style guide, as it should make it quicker to churn these out with consistency. This is also a little bit of a headache, as I’d originally hoped that I would be playing the role of designer in a strict way for these parts – with output being hi fidelity photoshop/illustrator mockups. This would have freed up _a lot_ of my time, but my committee, probably rightly so, requested that I actually build out functional stuff. What this means for a layout oriented style guide is that it’s going to be more of a CSS pattern library. Here’s an article I found that was a pretty good example. Creating Style Guides.  I would love to find something that’s a little more verbose as far as a bullet list of elements I need, but this is highly dependent on the project I suppose so it might be a tall order.

So far here are the sections I’m working with:

web site (incl component CSS patterns)
touch screen
signage

Anyway, I had better get back to it. Just wanted to post those links because I thought they were useful.

Design and Music: Louis Kahn – Order Is

I seem to be picking up pieces of the idea that musical composition is design. I mean, it’s clear that it is, but I think many don’t think of it in the same what that we think of visual design, but there are parallels both philosophically and pragmatically. I’m going to try to start documenting the bits that I find. Here is the first – Order Is by Louis Kahn.

Design is form-making in order
Form emerges out of a system of construction
Growth is a construction – In order is creative force
In design is the means – where with what when with how much

The nature of space reflects what it wants to be
Is the auditorium a Stradivarius
or an ear
Is the auditorium a creative instrument
keyed to Bach or Bartók
played by the conductor
or is it a conventional hall

In the nature of space is the spirit and the will to exist in a certain way
Design must follow closely that will
Therefore a stripe-painted horse is not a zebra
Before a railroad station is a building
it wants to be a street
it grows out of the needs of the street
out of the order of movement
A meeting of contours englazed.

Through the nature – why
Through the order – what
Through the design – how

A form emerges from the structural elements inherent in the form.
A dome is not conceived when questions arise how to build it.
Nervi grows an arch
Fuller grows a dome

Mozart’s compositions are designs
They are exercises of order – intuitive
Design encourages more designs
Designs derive their imagery from order
Imagery is the memory – the form
Style is an adopted order

The same order created the elephant and created man
They are different designs
Begun from different aspirations
Shaped from different circumstances

Order does not imply Beauty
The same order created the dwarf and Adonis

Design is not making beauty
Beauty emerges from selection
affinities
integration
love

Art is a form-making life in order – psychic

Order is intangible
It is a level of creative consciousness
forever becoming higher in level
The higher the order the more diversity in design

Order supports integration
From what the space wants to be the unfamiliar way may be revealed to the architect.
From order he will derive creative force and power of self-criticism to give form to this unfamiliar.
Beauty will evolve.

A Dip in the River – An interpretation of John Cage’s A Dip in the Lake for Lafayette Indiana

Logo

Over the past semester I did a re-imagining of Cage’s A Dip in the Lake for the Greater Lafayette, Indiana area. It was a pretty interesting process, and despite my love of recordistry, not something that I’d have usually embarked on.

Score for A Dip In the Lake

Background
I think I’ve gotten deep enough into this piece that it’s a little hard for me to describe what it is concisely. The original A Dip in the Lake is a kind of Visual composition for a sound collage. I’ve not been able to find a lot of detail on his composition process, but it looks like Cage just selected random points on a map of the Chicago area. A list of addresses was created from this map. The composition was published in 1978 by Henmar Press, Inc, and copies are available in some libraries. 

Aside from the location list, little direction is provided in the original work beyond the text:

A DIP IN THE LAKE: TEN QUICKSTEPS, SIXTY-ONE WALTZES, AND FIFTY-SIX MARCHES FOR CHICAGO AND VICINITY

for performer(s) or listener(s) or record maker(s)

(Transcriptions may be made for other cities, or places, by assembling through chance operations a list of four hundred and twenty-seven addresses and then, also through chance operations, arranging these in ten groups of two, sixty-one groups of three, and fifty-six groups of four.)

Funny how seeing the above direction describes the work better than my earlier attempt. The lack of specificity is really nice. It opens the work up to be as simple or difficult as you want, and free for all kinds of interpretation. There are so many different ways you could go about this! One that just dawns on me is use of video instead of just audio..

The lack of specificity could also be a burden, depending on how you look at it. I generally like to have specific direction when I’m working on something like this. Having a logic, or an ideal outcome, or even a reason for doing the project in the first place are generally important, and not knowing these things can be crippling. [This is probably the biggest issue in my life right now as I go through a graduate program in Art and Design.. Specifically the areas of Industrial Design and Visual Design. I’m learning _creative_ professions, but in reality I’m just learning to spot and regurgitate trends.] This is where I really got into Cage’s philosophy. It’s almost like decision nihilism. The artist’s choice is totally irrelevant, or rather, the beauty lies in choas, and making decisions undermines that.

My Version
I’m getting too far into the theory. To step back, for my re-imagining and realization of this piece, I fought to use chance where ever possible, and beyond this, I used more technologically determinate methods for doing so than I suspect Cage did. I guess this really makes it easier to be “random”, which I think is a good thing. It also highlights our default use of technology for completing everyday tasks.

MapWithLinesTo start, I chose my locations randomly. I used a website called GeoMidPoint. It was really the first thing I found in a Google Search, but it turned out to suit my needs. It generated 20 GPS locations for me in a radius I specified that mostly encompassed Lafayette and West Lafayette, IN. I only used 20 points (down from Cage’s prescribed 427) to make this complete-able in the given time frame.

My next step was to visit all of these locations to record audio. The quickest means I could think of to get to each GPS position was to enter it into Google Maps. Interestingly, this resolved the locations to street addresses. This was a form much easier for me to use, but it also distorted the data a bit – Google Maps “thinks” in terms of streets, not in terms of locations, and this was evident in it’s translation of the GPS coordinates. For example, one of my GPS locations was in the middle of a corn field. Rather than giving me directions to get to the middle of the corn field, Google Maps gave me directions to the closest road to that point in the corn field, as well as a picture of that spot on the road. It was interesting what we lose in the augmented perception offered by Google Maps. ..You can’t see inside structures either.. or hear sounds from the location.. etc, etc.

I recorded 2 minutes of audio at each location and then proceeded to my next step, which was figuring out how to combine the audio together. Peter Gena, who did the first realization of this piece in 1982 was my primary source of information for the processing of the audio. [1. isn’t it interesting that the composition sat around for 4 years before it was ever performed? 2. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have relied on prior methods in figuring out my own] Gena had the luck of being able to ask Cage himself how the sounds should go together, and it was suggested that he use a similar method to one from another of Cage’s works called Rozart Mix. This involved some interesting (and random) editing of magnetic tape. My recordings started off in the digital realm, so I had to adapt. I initially planned to cut up the audio segments “by hand” in editing software and recombine them according to chance operations, but before long I realized that even with my reduced number of recordings, it would take a really long time. Instead, based on a suggestion of a friend, I used Cycling’74’s MAX software to build a processor that automatically did what I had planned to do manually. It worked wonderfully, and as a side effect, can run infinitely. This immediately made me think it would be something cool to use in a gallery show.

Long winded enough, I suppose. Here is a video for the first of the 4 pieces that came out of this. Photo’s of the 5 locations included in this work are shown – first what Google Maps showed me followed by what I found when I arrived there. There is also video of the MAX patcher at work.

Related links:
More details in the paper for this project
The MAX Patcher I used
Other realizations of A Dip in the Lake: Chicago, Washington DC, Luxembourg Germany, Potenza Italy

sometimes services / products require context to understand.

So I’m in San Diego for the summer working on an internship. As I tend to be an observer of things, I’m taking lots of notes on things that are different (than Indiana/the midwest) out here. One thing that I’ve noted is that the Fandango iPhone app is much more useful here than it is back home. I’ve used the app for many years, just to look up show times. Admittedly when I’m at home, I fall back on looking up times on the theaters website. When I’m not already out and about, there’s no reason. All of the theaters in my town are owned by the same company and the show times are all on the same website.

Fandango also offers a “buy your tickets from app” option, which seems to be the real reason that the app was created. Theaters in Indiana have signs about this service, and some of the bigger ones, say, in Indianapolis even have fandango ticket redeeming stations.. that are never used. I never understood the point. it was just an extra step in a process that wasn’t terribly painful.

In San Diego, things are different. When I get to the theater at 12:45p to see a movie that starts at 1:00p, I am finding that not only is the showing I want sold out, but so are the next two. (at home you can go 5 minutes late and still get a ticket, without exception) Additionally, the lines for the ticket booth are usually really long. I used the Fandango app last week and was able to skip the line. The ticket taker scanned my phone and I was in.

I still like the Indiana way better, but this solves the mystery I had as to why people would want to do use this service.