Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Friday, July 13, 2007
I was driving to an away-day yesterday and I got to listen to some radio in the car.
The Material World this week was about locusts and snails. It seems that it's not really known why plagues of locusts occur. Normally they're solitary creatures that are fairly low-key but they also have a gregarious state where they seek out other locusts and start to swarm - eating their own bodyweight everyday and changing their appearance and behaviour. It's recently been discovered how they start to swarm - if you rub the back legs of a solitary locust it goes into "swarm" mode - so a number of locusts together will tend to turn into a swarm. But it's not really understood why they have evolved to do this, though in times of drought or when there are food shortages they tend to be forced together, which triggers the behaviour. It's thought the behaviour might have evolved from times when their diet was short of certain proteins or salts.
The second item was on snails. It turns out that they are a great way of tracking human movements and migrations. If you find a colony of snails that is related to snails from another geographical area, it's probably because some humans knowingly or unknowingly transported them there. And snails are particularly good for tracking movements like this because they themselves hardly move! Other animals and insects are less good for this because they could have moved there under their own steam. A study has found that a number of snails on the Irish coast seem to have some from Spain, possibly dropped off by the defeated Spanish Armada while making it's way round Great Britain.
Great Radio 4. And in the morning I also caught a fascinating In Our Time on Flaubert and Madame Bovary. Which leads me to point you to speechification, a new blog about the best bits of Radio 4.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Two interesting and thought-provoking posts but it has taken me a while to write this up so it's not as timely as it chould have been.
Firstly, Adam Greenfield at Speedbird on experience design.
He starts off by looking at the iPod and iTunes as a service and experience, their two insights being:
- The product is not isolated and it's a way of getting access to content
- They account for interactions across multiple channels and over time
This is "experience design". But the flaw with this smooth experience is that all this requires control and leaves less room for messiness, hacking and emergent behaviour. Adam looks at the Nike+ iPod product which enables a very smooth experience but means that you can't do anything but what the designers intended. This also means that it's unlikely to be a long-term experience - for that you would need an open system and the ability to get your data in and out. So he suggests that maybe the most successful products and services would be well-designed overarching experiences that are open and have pluggable, optional components - "small pieces, loosely joined". Experience designers should plan for people configuring their own experiences - "designing for interaction". And they should include "beautiful seams", so users can reach into and configure the experience.
This kind of reminds me of the current debate over Facebook and its perception as a walled-garden (see here or here for more). People seem to like the experience, it certainly looks nicer than Myspace, but it's not open or extendable (well, not in a maintainable way) or hackable. No seams?
Anyway, I'll go away and do some thinking about how BBC radio and its web and other digital platforms work as an end-to-end experience.
Second up, Thomas Vanderwal on a new profession of hybrid software and design people - New Profession Unfolding In Beauty and Geekery.
Having seen the Microsoft Photosynth demo he reflects on how much data we are now producing and storing and how we need skills, tools and understanding to make use and make sense of it all. In particular, visualisation is a particularly powerful tool for understanding all this data.
And we need people with the right skills to do this. Traditionally designers and information architects have lacked the quantitive skills to analyse this data, but those with the quantitive and analytical skills have lacked the design and artistic skills necessary to make it understandable and accessible. He proposes a new profession because of...
"The need to understand not only broad but deep sets of data and information so to contextualize it into understanding..."
Interesting, it's certainly an area that attracts me and I'd like to do more work there (see my previous posts on incoming text messages).
And also, on a related note, another TED video. Take a look at Hans Rosling's talk showing the use of statistics and visualisation to give new insights on poverty and life around the world.