Monthly Archives: February 2008

Art vs. Commerce! Commerce won.

Where the Wild ThingsĀ Are

Apparently it makes kids cry.

With a Dave Eggers’ penned first half detailing a lousy family life for Max, and a Spike Jonze 2nd half with Max becoming King of the Wild Things, this looked like the movie of the year.

I remember the book being a bit scary. I remember Max being a bit dicky and mean as kids tend to be. I remember monsters wanting to eat him if he dared leave.

It’s not really a “kiddie” book, but it’s doomed to be a “kiddie” movie.

The studio (you know, the guys who give us crap like Norbit and Bee Movie) have decided to send it back and have it re-written and re-shot. Link Here

A Brief Interlude

If you’ve not heard about the recent Maxim / Black Crowes feud, I’ll attempt to summarize.

Our players :
The Black Crowes, a southern rock band who are famous for 2 amazing records and a slew that followed of diminishing quality.
Maxim, the tits and ass magazine you look at in the airport magazine rack that’s full of instructional articles on how to maintain your lifestyle as a douchebag.

The Crowes have a new LP coming out, which is heralded as “a return to form.” Maxim ran a review of the album, giving it 2.5 stars.

The reason for the hubbub is that no one from Maxim has heard the album.

Here’s my .02….

If you are in the business of hype… fabricating emotion from ether, don’t be surprised when it backfires.

There is a lot of hype about the new Crowes album. I’ve heard all about a “return to form,” comparisons to The Southern Harmony and “the sonic majesty” or some other shit. I like the Crowes, I find their first 2 albums the be amazingly good… their second to be one of the better albums of the 90s, but like anything, I’m leery when I see so much bullshit built up over something that’s doesn’t exist yet.

Maxim wrote a review based on a combination of a few things : Response to massive hype, the Crowes reputation, and the quality of their last 3-5 albums which were also surrounded by the same type of hype.

Fair? Not at all, but if the Crowes PR can tell me it’s the best album they’ve ever released, why can’t a rag like Maxim tell me it’s just not that good with the same amount of credibility?

This is My Shed

This is My Shed

Environments.

Why do we like to talk about environments?

What makes that such an appealing alternative to page, or event?

An environment combines several key emotional and physical aspects into a single, very understandable concept.
Architecture and interior design are very comprehensive disciplines. Both have an inherent combination of Art and Science that appeals to us all.

Living Spaces
Think of a room in your house
If it gets cluttered, it gets uncomfortable.
If it’s empty, it’s devoid of purpose.

Typically, when a space gets overwhelmed with clutter, we tend to take 2 actions:

  • Spread it out (hence the shed)
  • Throw it out

Online, we don’t tend to live in our own spaces, so we take less care.

To simply claim something is an environment is typically wrong
Each environmental space we create has 2 main reasons for existing :

  • It Must have a Function
  • It Must be Comfortable

Therefore
When we declare something to be an environment, it has to have the following defined:

What is the Purpose?

  • What is the Size & Shape?
  • What is the Decor?
  • What is the Activity?

If we are unable to define the space, it is not a proper environment.

Worksheet
What is the Purpose?
Why are we creating this space? What is it meant to contain or describe?
What is the Size & Shape?
Does it contain multiple activities or spaces? Are there pre-defined constraints?
What is the Decor?
What is the aesthetic of the space? Is it unique or follow a previous direction?
What is the Activity?
What is the expected use of the space? What is its intended use?

A Bit of Clarification…

After sending the link to this around, I got hit with a response from a very talented code geek, she said “reading this blog makes me realize how little I really do know about IA.”

Despite having Information Architect in my title for a number of years, I never believed it.

I’ve always been in the business of design, without regard to scale or scope. Design is the action of solving problems, the manifestation of optimistic activity. That’s what I do.

For example, back in the early 90s, when the web was just getting moving, I built websites…That is, I did the art, writing, coding, FTP, server maintenance, etc.

It was all the same… if you didn’t know how to code, your design was shit. If you didn’t understand design, no amount of code could hide that.

Once people got all mixed up in trying to specialize, a bit was lost.

Here’s something I found very interesting :

In Greek techne meant ‘skill.’ The ancient Greeks didn’t separate art from techne, but called all artists and craftsmen technitai (makers).

The Japanese don’t have a word for art, they use a word synonymous with function, purpose and aesthetics – geijutsu.
Exerpts from the Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fetcher

It’s that slight difference in perception that sepearates the iPod from the Kindle.

Once there was this separation of activity, I was exposed to this rather bitchy bureaucracy about who’s job was what, and what one group couldn’t do. This led to a lot of debate and name calling (F’ckn pixel pushers), but ultimately reminded me if you have something you feel you need to protect that badly, you’re probably afraid of being exposed as a fraud.

It was also odd that some people were so quick to jump into a group and adopt all the mannerisms and quirks of that group without question. I’m sure it was comfortable, and enhanced the continuation of constant employment, but I think Maude said it best:

Maude : I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They’re so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be?
Harold : I don’t know. One of these, maybe. (holds a daisy)
Maude : Why do you say that?
Harold : Because they’re all alike.
Maude : Oooh, but they’re not. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All kinds of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are this, (she points to a daisy), yet allow themselves be treated as that. (gestures to a field of daisies)

Anyways, my titles change, but I’m always in the business of design. I’m guessing there’s a lot more out there.

The Hub

I was thinking back to an older project from a few years ago.

Based on the issues that large-scale sites have around content, navigation and user understanding, a radical approach was needed.

The tree had failed. I realized it’s just basic growth theory… when one part of something gets too large to sustain, it begins to decay.

Or maybe it was like the rat king, and it got so intertwined it became an abomination. (Thank you 30 Rock: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_king).

So I found my approach:

An ambitious piece that was based on chapter 11 of the Tao Te Ching.

We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

(The site can be formless, provided it has a strong center.)

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

(The site is nothing but an empty structure, it is only as good as what it contains.)

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

(The technologies we use exist to drive the site, they are not the reason the user is there.)

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.

(The site works only provided others find their success within.)

Needless to say, it was overly-ambitious for the Automotive industry, but I still love it.

Quote

“Without Brains, you are a fiasco. Without Means, you are an amateur. Without Heart, you are a machine… It has dangers, this occupation.”

– Vladimir Horowitz on playing piano.

Mark Rothko & the Fascism of the Box and Arrow

Picture 1.png

Boxes and arrows are fascist statements.

They indicate a herd mentality that we wish to push on our visitors. They show the world segmented into a series of non-contextual areas, but vaguely related spaces touted as an “experience”

Mark Rothko had it right… there is no edge to the box, no line connecting them.

the contents of the box should be a spectrum of interest as defined by the user. the path is an effort by the user of venturing further into each area.

Content should be sculped around a user’s position.

Simply, wherever they are is the best place they can be.

If current position is the best context, every item becomes a promising tipping point, or positive next step.

So what does this mean?

It means what most of us have come to find:

  • Most navigation is junk
  • All content should be multi-faceted
  • Top-Down Tree-ing is dead

Some things we can do now

  • Draw content maps instead of page maps
  • Stop starting with navigation, and start thinking about how to indicate a story
  • At each expected user point, think about what questions would stem from that content
  • Stop aiming for the lowest common user
  • Try for understandability over usability