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Monthly Archives: May 2001

Meccano Nuts

Interviews with architects and engineers on how their childhood
obssession with Meccano influenced their design careers – and also how
they still use the toy as a design tool.

“Computers will achieve perfection, but there is less
flexibility,” he says. “The problem with drawing on a computer is that
there is no way of knowing whether it will work. I think it is a
tactile thing. If it isn’t right, gravity will make it fall over; that
is very instructive because it teaches you about mistakes.

This makes me envious. Most constraints that interaction
designers play against aren’t so tangible or immediate in their
feedback – they’re cultural, psychological – I wish there was some toy
or technique that could give that satisfaction of knowing something
will work while tinkering with a design…

Society | Role models

Sristi

One of the hit’s of last year’s Doors Of Perception conference was
Sugata Mitra. His experiments in using technology to teach through play and exploration in rural India captivated the audience.

More inspiration from India in this all-too-short report on it’s grass-roots innovators.

“To communicate the excellence of the ideas he was
encountering in village India, he started something called the Honey
Bee Network, based around a magazine describing these sort of
innovations in eight different languages.

The organisation now has 10,000 ideas on a computer
database – local lore and the inventions of dozens of village boffins
available to inquirers, and to companies who want to licence the ideas
and pay for them.

“Why should intellectual property merely benefit big
corporations?” asks Professor Gupta, as he encourages businesses to pay
the equivalent of hundreds of pounds to make things such as the tilting
bullock cart. “

BBC News | FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT | India’s bank of ideas

Pass the napkins

“People look like they‘re working when they‘re sitting
at a computer typing, people don‘t look like they‘re working when
they‘re reading a magazine or sitting around talking. It does look like
working when you‘re sketching, but that‘s not always a highly valued
skill. Mark Mentzer, a drawing teacher at Carnegie Mellon, once said to
me, “I‘m going to teach a class called ‘Drawing on the Back of a
Napkin,‘” which I thought was brilliant because everybody today has
ideas that they‘re trying to communicate that are generally complex.
Everybody goes to the white board in a meeting or is drawing on a scrap
of paper trying to communicate his idea. It‘s important for people to
feel that it‘s okay to just be able to draw something quickly to
communicate and not be judged on the quality of the drawing. We need to
foster the ability to connect the mind to the hand so that one can
communicate effectively. I think those are extraordinarily valuable
skills.”

AIGA Loop Journal #2: Terry Swack Interview

Douglas Adams

died this weekend. Shocked, astonished and bewildered. A few of my friends used to work for him at his company The Digital Village.

I got to meet him
once. He generously listened to my drunken ramblings about life, the
universe and everything, and thanked me when I told him that he had
taught me that the rational can create as much wonder as the magical.

As a teenager reading his books and watching the prescient TV series,
the threat of being put on the Golgafringan ‘B’ Ark made me pursue
science, engineering and art equally – leading me to architecture
instead of graphic design.

As someone in this list of tributes says: “you changed my life – I’ll never forgive you for that”

Long post on ‘architectural responsibility’

To peterme‘s discussion forum ‘reflections on IA’… full o’ typos, tautologies and trite analogy… never mind… ramble, ramble, ramble, ramble…

“I’d kind of like to take on some of the points made
here in this forum, and also peter’s observation that ‘real’ physical
architecture emerged from a basic human need for shelter.

In ‘real’ architecture, there is very often a tension
bewteen the ‘demand’ side (client, project manager, special interest
group [usability engineer?]*) and the supply side (general and
specialist contractors, engineers) – the architect (in a traditional
project model [say, JCT80 contract model here in the UK]) does a number
of different things: asnwers the brief of the demand side, inject
his/her own parti/vision/style to the realisation of it, and mediates
and shapes the overall process in order to produce something as near as
possible to that orginal vision so they don’t get their arse sued off
by the ‘demand side’.

(* real architects are notoriously bad for not designing for end-user’s needs…)

‘real’ architects attend college for 5-7 years, and
usually aren’t acknowledged as ‘hitting their stride’ until at least
4-5 years into a professional career.

I just spent a couple of months at metrius, which is the
‘experience’-focussed arm of KPMG’s e-business consulting operations.
One of the exciting things about that was that the SCALE of KPMG’s
warmachine kinda opened up the SCOPE of what we could feasibly affect
with human-centred design. Through alliance partners and the like we
could feasibly reach every e-enabled part of a business, right down to
the guys in the white vans installing the 10base-T.

That was scary.

As Mies said: God was in the details, and suddenly they
could all be part of our resposniblity. True arhcitectural
responsibility. We discussed this notion as something that EVERYONE in
the team had to feel (a little like peters riff on user-centrednes
being everyone’s responsibility) – that the information or experience
architecture was a THING, a PROCESS, a layer of GLUE rather than a
person or a role, and that EVERY SINGLE PERSON representing the
realisation of the clients needs, and the vision and value we could
professionally inject to both meet and EXCEED those needs had to be
able to express it, hold it in their heads, and understand their place
in making it happen.

This is not to say that those who specialise in
producing structure for information retrieval, for creating interaction
design, for organising content or any other of the hats that ‘IA’s wear
aren’t part of that – they absolutley are – but making the IA a thing
and not a person just seems to make for a more fruitful process,
leapfrogs a load of navel gazing, and makes an easier ‘sell’ to
prospective clients.

IA is all around us, it binds us and penetrates us, holds everything together – it is what gives a Jedi his power…

Right – my other point was about the orgins of REAL
architecture and parallels that might be drawn to information
architecture… I guess a fair few people here may have read ‘how
building learn’ so some themes may be familiar.

As nice a defn. of architecture as I have ever heard was
from my old prof. at architecture college who said ‘architecture is the
elegant and satisfying arrangement of expended resource’ – kind of
colliding his own pragmatic views of arhcitects as process engineers as
well as product designers if you like with Le Corbusiers more
poetic/heroic view of architecture as the ‘masterly arrangement of
forms in light’.

Peter states that architecture emerges from the human
need for shelter – and vernacular building styles produce powerful
robust solutions – they also give rise to more poetic form – the
identification of place, and the acknowledgement /amplification of
nature are two themes often seen (more on vernacular architecture in
another old prof of mine, simon unwin’s fabulous book:

http://www.cf.ac.uk/archi/unwins/aawebs/analarch.html)

In that book, simon’s root definition of architecture as
its “conceptual organization, its intellectual structures” interplays
with this being something ALWAYS there, in parallel with the basic
maslow-ian need for shelter. Organisation, defination and poetic
connection to something bigger are ALSO emergenet properties of
archiecture – which are now seen as the defining qualities of GREAT
architecture.

In information spaces, one can see an emergence in the
vernacular (geocities, blogs etc?) in answer to higher human needs of
expression, communication, social identification AND the basic
organisation, usubility, cognition – This is often not address by the
bloodless intellectual arguements about information architecture
grounded in other media, other professions, other domains – it
shouldn’t be ignored, as neither should this nascent domain’s
connections to more established bodies of thought.

just a spur to thought…”

Topic: Reflections on IA

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