Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dancing and Traveling

During the past several weeks I have been devoting less time to my interaction and experience design journal for two reasons: Lauren and I have been planning an around the world the trip for this summer; and we have been rehearsing for a dance performance that we delivered at a friend's wedding this past weekend.

The good news is that these preparations are coming to an end. The not so good news is that I won't be able to get back to my curriculum because I've decided to take a detour and focus on considering what aspects of technology, culture, design, and experiences I can explore during our trip around to world.

There are two main perspectives on digital communication technologies that I want to explore: first, I want to leverage technology to capture and share my and Lauren's experiences; second, I want to investigate how different cultures relate to technology and are designing and adopting technology to support local endeavors.

From a personal perspective I am looking for a mobile/portable solution that will enable me to capture and publish experiences from this trip. This solution will include multiple hardware and software products. Here is a brief overview of the tools currently under consideration:
  • Personal communication hub: the main contender for my personal communication hub is my first generation (aka 2G) jailbroken iPhone. This device would enable me to capture quick snapshots, lo-res video, audio, and journal entries. The main downside of selecting the iPhone as my platform is that I will not be able to publish directly from the iPhone, even in a wifi area, as I have not found any acceptable blogging apps. A secondary drawback is that the 2G iPhone has lower quality audio and video capabilities (available on jailbroken phones only), and no GPS. I am not willing to take a laptop due to considerations related to portability (we'll be on a 34-day trip) and theft.
  • Additional devices: I will also definitely take a camera for higher quality photos and video. I am uncertain about whether I will be willing to invest in a new Canon G10 - the temptation is strong, it is hard to resist. We will likely take our existing camera as well, a Canon SD950.
  • Publishing tools: to publish all of the content that we capture and create I plan to use several platforms including a blog (on blogger), my existing flickr account, google calendar and maps, daytum, and youtube; I'm still considering if and how to integrate twitter and facebook without driving myself crazy.
From an observer's perspective (with no real claim of being objective) I want to explore how people from different cultures leverage familiar technologies in different ways; and what different technologies they have developed that are specific to local contexts.

For example, how are mobile phones used differently based on local cultural, and economic contexts; what different services are available, and how have they adapted other services to meet their needs; what meaning does the society ascribe to cell phones.

Over the next three weeks I will share more about the technology-related aspects of the planning for this trip. Once we are off I will also document how technology ultimately enhanced, or totally screwed up, our trip (after all I do believe that technology can be both a force of good and evil).

Friday, May 15, 2009

Statement of Purpose for ITP

I am excited for this opportunity to share with you more about what I am up to. Below I have posted the statement of purpose that I submitted with my application to the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU.

Writing this piece was difficult and cathartic. It required that I take a long and hard look at the reasons why I am pursuing this goal, and do a good bit of soul searching to identify which questions I want to explore in this program. This process forced me to start to crystalize what I want to create through my involvement at ITP. At the end of it all, I was more excited and energized than ever to pursue this path.

Over the next two years I will work to bring into existence many of the possibilities that I discuss in this piece. I look forward to sharing my experiences while on this journey, both the successes and failures. Not to mention that I'm sure I'll need guinea pigs from time to time. My only request in sharing this with you is that you feel free to share your own thoughts and ideas in return.

Statement of Purpose

"I’ve cultivated a passion for design and technology since I was teenager. My interest in design has inspired me to undertake numerous personal projects spanning industrial, graphic, web, and sound design, while my passion for technology has supplied valuable tools that have supported my projects and opened doors to new experiences. The increasingly pervasive role that technology plays in my life has given me a deeper understanding of the ways in which people engage with technology. As users of technology, we constantly shift between acting “through” it, as a tool, and acting “on” it, as an object of engagement itself.

I have become fascinated with the possibility of combining these passions in a new configuration: acting “through” design in order to act “on” technology. It is evident to me that the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University is the right place for me to explore this convergence of design and technology.

My interest in harnessing the power of design to enhance technology is not for technology’s own sake. It is driven by a belief that technology can have positive and negative consequences. Designers have an important role to play in shaping the evolution of technology by appropriately designing our interactions with, and through, technology.

On a personal level, I am inspired by the power of technology to enable connections between people, and to communicate meaning in engaging new ways. My iPhone has revolutionized the way I stay connected to people, content and places, and has also altered my expectations regarding their accessibility. The Nintendo Wii, by designing interactions that mimic the familiar gestures we use to do things in the physical world, enabled me to connect with friends who had no previous interest in video games.

The power of technology is ever more defined by its ability to connect people to other people, communities, and organizations. As a marketing communications professional I have realized that people have become empowered by technology to challenge the control once held by corporations over distribution of information. Traditional marketing communications now compete with the voices of millions of individuals, who on an aggregate level have a higher degree of credibility. At the same time, the connective power of technology has enabled the fragmentation of society into distinct communities that subscribe to different beliefs and value systems.

These are some of the realizations that have sparked my desire to experiment with design of technology-based interactions and experiences. My pursuit of this goal is driven by passion, curiosity, discipline, and integrity.

I designed a three-year plan and curriculum to channel my passion and curiosity in a disciplined manner. The first phase, currently in progress, is focused on building a theoretical foundation of knowledge through consumption and production of content that supports the development of an analytical design-perspective. The second phase concentrates on development of design production skills using a project-based approach that provides opportunities for learning through practice. The curriculum will then culminate with a focus on creativity driven by an integration of my analytical and production skills through continuous theoretical and hands-on engagement.

I have used similar strategies to achieve other important personal goals. When I moved to New York City in January of 1999, I created a similar plan to pursue DJing. After three years I was transformed from having no knowledge of how to spin records to moonlighting as a DJ with bi-weekly residences at popular parties in downtown lounges and clubs.

These pursuits have other important features in common: a genuine desire to share something of great personal value, and a focus on integrity. Sharing the joy and energy that music brought to my life was key to my success as a DJ. Acting with integrity also contributed to my accomplishments, though until recently I failed to notice that my actions did not support this same goal at a community level. I’ve realized that acting with integrity includes not only standing by my own promises. It also requires holding others accountable for their commitments. I failed to notice that I had too often sacrificed my authenticity and honesty because I was afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or not being liked.

This failure undermined my ability to grow as a leader and to contribute to the growth of other individuals within my personal and professional communities. Now, while I still place emphasis on getting along with others, I am also conscious that my integrity depends on direct and honest communications.

My interest in human growth and development is one of my main inspirations for applying to ITP. Beyond investigating how to improve interfaces with machines, I want to explore how technology can enhance the way human beings experience the world. How can technology create constructive new ways for people to communicate? How can we guide its continued expansion into our physical and social worlds so that it has a positive impact on the way we conceive and communicate our identity and individuality? How can it help to transform our consciousness so we depend less on a conditioned response and become more actively engaged?

I also want to explore how technology can be made accessible to a greater number of people. How can we create new and more natural and delightful ways for human beings to interact with computational devices? How can we enable communities of people who have special needs such as illiteracy or disability to interact with computational devices?

I know that the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU would provide me with unrivaled opportunities to investigate these areas of interest. I am attracted by the program’s focus on hands-on experimentation and the self-directed project-based framework on which it is built. I have limited experience writing code and building physical computing devices, but I have passion and desire to learn, which is evidenced by the assortment of cell phones and computers I’ve collected for hacking.

I have already started down the path of interaction design, and I would consider it an honor if I could integrate studies at ITP into my journey. In return I am eager to dedicate my passion, energy, commitment, and contagious optimism to ensure the continued success of this program."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Back to School at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU

I'm going back to school. I am officially enrolled in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at the Tisch School of Arts at NYU. This is an extremely exciting and valuable opportunity for me. It is an ideal compliment to my personal interaction and experience design curriculum.

This program affords me the chance to develop practical know-how regarding how to create engaging and valuable experiences using communication technologies. My existing theory-based (know-that) knowledge, accumulated from much reading and writing during the past 8 months, should come in handy.

Here is a brief overview of what the program's mission (straight from their own website): "to explore the imaginative use of communications technologies — how they might augment, improve, and bring delight and art into people’s lives. Perhaps the best way to describe us is as a Center for the Recently Possible."

This event has several implications for this blog. From a content perspective, I will begin to post information related to my ITP experience. All of these entries will be tagged with the label ITP .  I will begin this series by posting my statement of purpose. Then I will share project ideas and questions I find worth exploring. I hope that this will help me refine my thoughts and ideas.

The last and most superficial impact of this event is a title change for this blog. I am currently planning to change form Learning Interaction and Experience Design to Technology/Culture/Design/Experience. This is officially the "acting" tile; which means that any day now it can be replaced by the actual title (if organizations can do this with their employees why can't organisms do the same with our own resources, such as blog titles).

That's all for tonight, I am suffering from a mild mental blockage (it took me over an hour to write this short post). I will have much more to say about ITP over the coming months.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

ID FMP: Unified Theory of Design

Nathan Shedroff offers a valuable unified theory of design that brings together information, interaction, and sensorial design. This theory is based on the premise that leveraging existing and creating new ways to organize and present data and information is a process that is roughly the same across media.

The intent of this theory is to enable people to create “valuable, compelling, and empowering information and experiences for others.” (Shedroff believes that these design skill are crucial for success in modern society.) In order to create these experiences people need to have a message and a reason for communicating it

The relationship between information, interaction and sensorial design disciplines is visualized as a Venn diagram. Each discipline encompasses different types of expertise. To create compelling content and engaging experiences designers need to bring to bear skills from all of these realms.

I classify this theory as an experience design framework because it brings together all disciplines required to created compelling communications and engaging experiences. Nathan has developed other valuable experience design-focused frameworks that I will explore in future posts.

First off, I’ll provide and overview of Shedroff’s definition for information, interaction, and sensorial design. Then I’ll delve deeper into each of these disciplines to explore relevant concepts and frameworks.

Overview of Information, Interaction, and Sensorial Design
  • “Information design addresses the organization and presentation of data: its transformation into valuable, meaningful information.” Information design has been practiced by graphic designers and publishers for a long time, though they rarely identified these practices as a distinct discipline. Recently this discipline has become more importance due to the proliferation of data, and the need to synthesize this data into information, knowledge, and ultimately wisdom.
  • Interaction design is “essentially story-creating and telling, [that] is both an ancient art and a new technology.” Interaction design for many traditional media such as print, TV and outdoor is limited and guided by existing conventions. Interaction design has long been practiced by industrial designers and live performers, though they did not identify it as its own discipline. The new possibilities for interaction offered by interactive technologies have increased the importance of interaction design.
  • “Sensorial design is simply the employment of all techniques with which we communicate to others through our senses.” This includes writing, visual techniques (e.g. graphic design, animations, and videography), sounds, smells, tactile feel (e.g. industrial design, and material selection). Sensorial design disciplines have their own histories, concerns and practices. The traditional focus of most design disciplines is on sensorial design. That said, most great designers had an understanding regarding information and interaction design, even if they did not recognize these practices as distinct disciplines.
Information Design
“An understanding of information design starts with the essential view that the vast amount of things that bombard our senses everyday are not pieces of information but merely data.” To transform data into information it needs to be organized, and presented in an appropriate context that can give it meaning. Information can be consumed via experiences that generate knowledge. Experiences can then eventually generate wisdom.

The Continuum of Understanding
Data and information are both part of a continuum of understanding. This continuum maps the relationship between four different levels of understanding: data, information, knowledge, and wisdom.

Data represents the lowest level of understanding along this continuum. It is the “raw material we find or create” to build our communications. By itself data does not contain a complete message and is inconsequential and boring. For these reasons data is mostly useful to people who produce content.

Data is transformed into information when it is organized and presented in a context that makes relationships and patterns visible and delivers meaning. Producers of information determine what data is used guided by their own goals and conceptual models. On the other hand, consumers determine how the information is consumed and evaluated according to their own goals and mental models.

The next ladder up on the continuum is knowledge. Knowledge refers to the understanding that we gain through experience. It is created by the integration of information with our existing mental models and understandings. Knowledge is participatory level of communication that can be individual or shared. As such, it can only be communicated through compelling interactions that enable people to identify patterns and meanings in information.

The highest, most intimate and vague level of understanding is Wisdom. Less is known about it than any other level, other than it is more abstract and philosophical. “Wisdom is a kind of ‘meta-knowledge’ of processes and relationships gained through experiences. It is the result of contemplation, evaluation, retrospection, and interpretation – all of which are particularly personal processes.” Unlike knowledge, wisdom is hard to share, and occurs at an individual level only.

Organization, Metaphors and Goals
Organization is the first step in the process of transforming data into information, so that it can be communicated effectively. This is a crucial activity because the organization of data impacts the way information is understood and interpreted by others. Shedroff identifies several common ways to organize information: Alphabets, Locations, Time, Continuums, Numbers, Categories, Randomness, Advanced Organizations, and Multiple Organizations.

Metaphors can also help transform data into information because they can enable people to quickly understand relationships and meanings. That said, when metaphors are used poorly (as they often are) they can worsen the user experience and limit the possibilities for progress associated to the design of information, interactions and senses.

Definition of objectives and messages is a crucial strategic step in the development of effective communications. All design decisions should be guided by pre-defined goals and messaging considerations.

Interaction Design
Interaction design is focused on the creation of experiences that are appropriate, effective, delightful, and even wonderful. Traditionally, the design of interactions has been practiced mostly in the performing arts such through disciplines such as script-writing, storytelling, performance, and instructional design. More recently, interaction design has become a key practice associated to the development of computer-based products and services.

Continuum of Interactivity
Nathan offers an interesting perspective on interactivity: “One way to consider the meaning of interactivity is to envision all experiences (and products) as inhabiting a continuum of interactivity.” This continuum ranges from passive experiences to interactive ones. There are six main attributes that can differentiate interactive experiences from passive ones. Interactive experiences offer the user with clear feedback, enhanced control, and additional opportunities for creativity, productivity, communication, or adaptability.

Feedback and control are closely related. All experiences with high interactivity provide high levels of feedback and a minimum level of control. Feedback enables the person interacting with a device to perceive (and hopefully understand) the impact of their actions. Control enables that same person to carry out actions on, and through, the device.

Creativity and productivity are two attributes of interactivity that are related to making, doing, and sharing things. Highly interactive experiences are better able to support creativity and productivity than passive ones. For example, guitar lessons available on the new Garage Band are more effective educational tools than those available via most books because they are more interactive.

Communication is an attribute of interactivity that is focused on enabling people to meet people, talk to others and share opinions and stories. By definition, experiences that support communication provide a high-level of feedback and control.

Adaptivity is the final attribute of interactivity explored by Shedroff. It is related to the adaptation of a system in response to changes in user behavior or context. Highly interactive experiences often provide features such as agents and additional tools and functionality based on user behavior or context. For example, video games get harder as the player gets better and progresses through different phases and reaches new milestones.

To help visualize different activities across these various attributes of interactivity, Shedroff developed an experience cube (a simplified version of a six-sided diagram that was originally attempted). This cube maps feedback and control as a single dimension, next creativity, productivity and communication are grouped as another dimension, adaptivity remains its own dimension. Any experience, whether computer mediated or not, can be mapped within this cube.

Sensorial Design
Sensorial design encompasses all disciplines related to the creation and presentation of media – graphic design, sound design, photography, animation, calligraphy, typography, cinematography, illustration, etc. This includes any design endeavor associated to the purposeful stimulation of the senses: tactile, visual, olfactory, or auditory. All of these disciplines share a few common concerns: a focus on understanding human senses; and a concern with the appropriate use of media, style, and technique.

[This information is sourced from a paper by Nathan Shedroff titled: Information Interaction Design: A Unified Field Theory of Design ]