An Introduction to Information Design

I just uploaded a shortened presentation that I give to non-practioners on information design. I say nothing new so for the initiated there might be nothing for you. It does raise a few points that have led to some interesting discussions in the past. My primary area of interest is information design for the web or information systems. Whether they be intranets, corporate sites, “portals”, web applications, or etc.
With the ongoing war in Iraq we have been deluged with a multitude of high quality examples of information design that usually focus on one viewpoint. The ability of information designers to influence the general publics opinion on important matters such as this makes for an interesting and lively discussion.
Link: Introduction to Information Design

The Origin of Personas

“Personas, like all powerful tools, can be grasped in an instant but can take months or years to master. Interaction designers at Cooper spend weeks of study and months of practice before we consider them to be capable of creating and using personas at a professional level. Many practicing designers have used the brief 25-page description of personas in Inmates as a

Toward the Evocation of Meaning

Information society will create relationships in real time around the world through travel and communication. Different languages, different ways of life, and different cultures come directly into our homes through the communications industry and television. This allows for the creation of multivalent meaning that was unthinkable in the age of Western dominance. The changes of industrial society, the transformation of its paradigm of one of an information society is playing a large role in shifting the world from the dominance of the West and logos.

“Roland Barthes, in his Mythologies (Les Editions de Seuil), calls this the “age of the power of meaning.” Since the age of information society is an age in which meaning will be evoked through differences, it will be an age in which we see a shift from the “syndigmatic” linear, explicit thought patterns of Modernism and denotation to “paradigmatic,” nonlinear, latent thought patterns and connotation.
Toward the Evocation of Meaning / Architecture for Information Society

The Semantic Web is Closer Than You Think

“While there is a lot of talk these days about the Semantic Web being the crack-addled pipe dream of a few academic naifs, in reality it’s a lot closer to realization than you might be thinking. Now I want to be clear about this point: I’m not suggesting that we stand on the brink of a fully achieved, widespread Semantic Web. I am suggesting that some of the major pieces of the puzzle are now or will soon be in place. OWL, along with RDF, upon which it builds, are two such very major pieces of the Semantic Web puzzle.”
Link: The Semantic Web is Closer Than You Think

Style Wars

“In Make in Bigger, Scher candidly reveals her thoughts on design practice, drawing on her own experiences as one of the leading designers in the United States, and possibly the most famous female graphic designer in the world. Pointed and funny, it is an instructive guide for all those who navigate the difficult path between clients, employees, corporate structures, artists, and design professionals…”
” The rapid growth of the design industry and the introduction of desktop publishing in the eighties precipitated an equally rapid lifecycle for design styles. Designs appeared dated in astonishingly short order. It was easy for a designer to be considered “good” by his peers for five years, harder for ten, nearly impossible for fifteen. To maintain any creative longevity a designer today must reinvent his or her work every five years. This does not mean simply changing style. It means reassessing one’s approach — again, design is an art of planning — and finding a way that is new yet still reflects on one’s core ethic and aesthetic. This entails a reevaluation of one’s visual vocabulary, new technologies, the cultural zeitgeist, and the scale on which one works. Reinvention is personal growth.”
Link: Style Wars: Paula Scher

Quality publishing is about saying no

“You know, the groups and programs that we don’t want to push are doing lots of publishing on the intranet and public website. That’s because they’re trying to justify their existence.” This is a statement from a senior executive from a major organization. “Those groups and programs that we really want to promote, we can’t get them to publish enough. They’re too busy.”
Professional web publishing is not about getting lots of stuff up. It’s about getting the right stuff up. There’s a world of a difference between the two. Content can create value. Content can also destroy value. It can damage your reputation.
Link: Quality publishing is about saying no

We are all researchers

“We live in an age of alsos, adapting to alternatives. because we have greater access to information, many of us have become more involved in researching, and making our own decisions, rather than relying on experts. The opportunity is that there is so much information, the catastrophe is that 99% of it isn’t meaningful or understandable. We need to rethink how we present information because the information appetites of people are much more refined. Success in our connected world requires that we isolate the specific information we need and get it to those we work with.”
From Richard Saul Wurman’s “Information Anxiety 2”

Song and Wind

I spent a great deal of my initial college years unlearning years of improper breathing activity. We would spend hours analysing, studying, and practicing this most fundamental human activities. While I am sure that I have reverted to my evil breathing ways many of the techniques I learned to develop proper breathing I still use to help control various instances of performance anxiety I might occaisionally face. Nothing like some deep breathing to help you prepare for an important presentation. Just make sure you do it in private!
The following are some notes taken from a Arnold Jacobs masterclass back in August of 1990. Some interesting commentary and I have linked to a .pdf file containing breathing exercises to “help develop efficiency,coordination and flexibility in your breathing.”
“My approach to music is expressed as Song and Wind. This is very important to communicate a musical message to the audience.”
“This approach is one of simplicity as the structure and function of the human being is very complex, but we function in a simple manner. When we bring it to the art form it becomes very simple.”
“Song, to me, involves about 85 percent of the intellectual concentration of playing an instrument, based on what you want the audience to hear.”
“You cannot get anywhere without wind. If you think of a car, the wheels will not turn without an energy source

Movin’ to a jazz thing

About 6 months ago I thought it would be healthy if I had a “real” outlet to express my creativity. I had been getting bogged down with routine challenges and showing some signs of burn out. This “real” outlet would be in contrast to creating product for the screen which, having the potential to create an emotive experience, does not always feel so tangible to me. Digital experiences lack a sense of permanence, they can disappear on whim, are too repeatable, and many seem far too attuned to peoples ever decreasing attention spans. When creating them you lose this tactile sensibility that you have when creating sculpture with your hands, finishing furniture, or breathing and struggling with a brass instrument.
Anyway that has been my thinking lately.
As a result I am very slowly beginning to become interested in playing and maybe performing music again. For over 15 years music defined everything that I was. I was a musician or more specifically a trumpet player – nothing else seemed to matter (almost nothing). Any conversations invariably led to what I was doing at the moment with music, or what gig I was on, or if I was even playing at all, all of which probably could partially be attributed to the fact that most of the people I knew were either other musicians or artists. I couldn’t take a holiday, seldom travelled, and would never take long absences from playing in fear of losing my “chops”. I can even remember in High School refusing to kiss my then girlfriend, who was lovely, as trumpet players always had the best looking girlfriends, in fear that somehow it would affect my playing the next day. This near obsessive behaviour undoubtedly produced the most joyous and perhaps the most creative period of my life. But I never did quite make it as an artist, for reasons too lengthy to get into here. So it stands to reason that it took a herculean effort to leave that life and start over first as a designer in a small team in Canada and then my current role here in Taiwan.
A few months a go at great expensive I had my instrument shipped to Taiwan. And it has sat there relatively undisturbed until I returned from holiday this week.
So far the experience of reintroducing myself to what I use to refer to as my “mistress” has been quite physically painful. I actually think I pulled a muscle in my ribs when I took a breath to play my first note. The brain remembers the sensation and required action but the body is old and out of shape.
Last night I video taped myself playing. I’ll not do that again. This introduced another kind of distress – emotional. My God I will never let any child of mine play the trumpet. The sound is glorious when played by a professional but give it to a beginner and its heart breaking. It broke my heart last night to hear what used to sound so fine come out like a the sound of bellowing cow. How could someone who would wake at 6am to play a studio engagement across town at 8am sound so infantile?
“How far the mighty can fall”.
I’ll keep at it in the hope of eventual progress. I hear there aren’t a lot trumpet players playing the karaoke bars in downtown Hsinchu – maybe I can brush up my rendition of “the stripper” and get those girls movin’ to a jazz thing.


Intuitively we all know what a story is, although we may not be able to articulate all its elements. Generally, a story is an organization of experience which draws together many aspects of our spatial, temporal, and causal perception.
“A story is… “that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be. An end, on the contrary, is that which itself follows some other thing, either by necessity, or as a rule, but has nothing following it. A middle is that which follows something as some other thing follows it. A well-constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles.”
— Aristotle, Poetics

Art and Design

From Chientai who quoted it from somewhere else:
“Art is valued for its originality and expressiveness. Its focus is on individual artifacts crafted through the manual and aesthetic virtuosity of the artist. Design, in contrast, is valued for its fitness to a particular user and task. Certainly, design is concerned with producing a life-enhancing aesthetic experience where possible, but the design aesthetic is always related to the intended function of the resulting product.”
So many times when creating commercial product we focus too much on self and not on the intended participant. It’s so incredibly simple and fundamental, yet we all too often forget this important concept.

Laos and Thailand

I have been spending the last couple of days recovering from a 16 day trip in Laos and Thailand. I’m still getting used to “have to get up for work” sleep patterns and bland tasting food. Bland food is a welcome respite after a 3 day bout of mild food poisoning from eating spicy squid off the street.
One of the highlights of the trip was the surprise of eating such amazing food in Luang Prabang. My God it was good. Here I was in this sleepy tourist town surrounded by jungle, river, and mountains, eating mighty fine French cuisine for the price of some small weird western concoction with rice and cheese here in Hsinchu. And the bread! You can see the French influence as the bread was lovely, fresh, and as God intended it to be – not sweet! Ate excellent pizza. Perhaps one of the best pies I have ever had. The Lao food was fresh and interesting. With my limited culinary vocabulary, I can only describe it as a milder than Thai. or perhaps a cross between Thai. and what I have eaten in the wilds of Taiwan. Naturally some of he food was unique to the area. Lao beer may not win at the World beer cup but the wheaty beer certainly quenches your thirst after a long day of walking. It goes down smooth and before you know it 3 large bottles have been emptied. Though the city deserves to be on some culinary tour of Asia list it I certainly had to do something work off all those calories. I had some great walks through out the town, had some really interesting conversations with some young monks, and a wicked game of badminton with some kids at a remote Wat. I’m already thinking about the next trip.
Most of my time on this trip was spent in Thailand where I am constantly amazed by how kind, friendly, and gentle the people seem to be. After spending time here I found that my all too familiar serious expression was replaced by smiles, laughter, and relaxation. I felt more balanced, much like when I used to play music, and how it would lift my spirits. Naturally, it’s easy to be happy there when you meet the right people. On this trip I met some amazing people who will influence my thinking about life for some time to come.
While in Thailand most of my time was spent in Bangkok – with some time in Pattaya, Chiang Mai, and a short trip to Petchaboon. A bit of a change or me as I usually spend my time hiking in the North. But the sedate activity of siting at a computer all year has made me soft and fat. I thought best to just hike up escalators instead of jungle trails this trip. If you are ever in Bangkok and you have some extra cash you must eat in the restaurant at the top of the Banyan Tree. The views are absolutely incredible and the food is fine. Just don’t wear a hat as it tends to be a bit windy. Pattaya lived up to it’s reputation as a party and girls meca. All of which I just observed. Really. Chiang Mai never seems to change much, which is part of it’s charm. I had my obligatory dinner at the Riverside, a restaurant with westernized Thai. food and live music, drank Singha at ba ba bo bo, and felt like a king as I was pampered with between 2 – 3 hrs of massage a day.
All around a good trip.

Better Web Forms

“A short form is a good form. The shorter and more simple you can keep it, the more likely a user is to fill it out properly. If possible cut fields from the form, and whatever you do, don’t duplicate fields. The key here is to make sure the form is only collecting information that will be used. If you don’t need an address, don’t ask for one and never ask for something twice.”
Link: Better Web Forms

E-learning teams

Don’t really have a proper category for this old tidbit which I found reviewing some old papers. The following are a couple excerpts from a conference paper I participated in way back in 1998. That paper was the final deliverable for a position I held at UPEI starting I believe in 1997. Though at the time I remember being completely exasperated it was a great job that helped close the door once and for all on my music career. Despite the technical teams’ inexperience and only budding skill I still think that the team make-up was one of the best I have seen in e-learning product development since.
“The development process began from several philosophical and practical principles:

  • interaction was the key to learning – journals, bulletin boards, within-group email, discussion groups
  • courses had to be visually attractive, easy to use, interesting and challenging
  • the resources of the group, the Internet and the Library would be incorporated into the learning process
  • the teaching strengths of the individual faculty members had to be reflected in the design of each course
  • the bandwidth demands of the final version had to be small enough to accommodate typical computer equipment and browsers
  • materials had to be cross-platform stable
  • the course design would be modular and allow for open access and exit as much as possible,
  • no pay-to-use operating software would be used and unique programming solutions would be developed as needed
  • the project would be a team effort – faculty controlled content, open learning manager directed educational design, project administrator found resources as needed and the technical members developed visual and technical solutions to solve educational and content needs
  • as much as possible, solutions found for one course would be adapted for use in the other course”

Bill Robertson

“… to undertake the transformation process I follow in moving a face-to-face course into a flexible delivery mode. The transformer "is the skilled professional who mediates between the expert and the reader. Their job is to put the expert’s message in a form that reader can understand and to look after the reader’s interest in general. For example, any reasonable query the reader might have should be thought about and catered for in a proper manner." (M. MacDonald-Ross and R. Walker, ‘The Transformer’ The Penrose Annual , 1976). Tranformation was developed as a concept for the presentation of information in the 1930’s by Otto Neurath and has been an interest of educational research since that time.
Transformation draws on the practices of educational technology, instructional design, graphic art, editing and flexible education, and makes a contribution, which is distinctive and individual. Theorists place less emphasis on behaviorist strategies than do some educational designers and may place less emphasis on aesthetic criteria than do artists and graphic designers. Their view is to facilitate the transformation of information and ensure that communication is improved and learning enhanced. This all takes time – the one thing we did not have.
The transformation process I follow involves auditing the face-to-face lessons, transforming the face-to-face reality into a distance education mode. I then discuss this transformation with the professor and, where possible, students. The trick here is to capture the ‘magic’ of the individual facilitator and transform it into the electronic mode. The next stage is to work closely with the team to undertake the final transformation to an on-line course. This entails coding the interactive components of the face-to-face lesson into self- assessment exercises and information sharing for the on-line learner.”
Dale Mattock
From "The Making of Practical Logic 111"
Neb Kujundzic, Clark MacLeod, Dale Mattock, Mike O’Brien, Bill Robertson