One Letter in Politics

I started a group on Flickr in 2005 called One Letter which is a place where people can post their photos of single lessons. These are shots from signs, the sides of buildings and so on. It feels like a long time since I set it up, and I haven’t posted anything to it in an age, but it’s run by a great photographer, Leo Reynolds, who keeps it ticking over. Now it has 2,500 members and 27,000 photos posted. There are some great letters, like these 1,700 “S”s:


The cool things about the group is that you can make sentences with the letters. Leo noticed that this had been picked up on by a certain national leader for a political effort of his:


I THINK this is cool. As long as they use the letters with the right Creative Commons rights…

Interaction 11, Boulder, CO. Day 1.

Thought I’d do a quick summary of my favourite two talks from yesterday, which, predictably, were the keynotes by Bill Verplank and Lisa Strausfeld.

Bill is one of the original interaction design guys, like Bill Moggridge and Gillian Crampton Smith, who did a lot of foundational work, particularly in eduction, in establishing the discipline. He worked at Xerox, at IDEO and at Paul Allen’s Interval Research group.

The thing I most enjoyed about this talk was how much it was basically just a chat, an unstructured discourse about the history of interaction design, the importance of artefacts and craft. It stumbled a little towards the end (he never really covered everything he hoped – I wish he’d got into schools a little) but that casualness was compelling.

Rather than use slides Bill sat at an overhead camera, sketching with a conte crayon, creating little charts, arrows, triangular figures.

Bill’s sketchbook

Part of a live sketch of Enactive vs. Iconic vs. Symbolic interfaces.

A few things stuck with me in terms of actual content. The emphasis on building and discovering – working with materials. I loved his phrase “designers put things between people and the world”. He described every interaction as being either a map or a path. He talked about the evolution of interaction design in terms of cognitive “mentalities” (from Piaget) three of which are enactive (given kinaesthetics – “doing” – which we’re born with), iconic (representations – “seeing” – which we learn first) and symbolic (Ax=y – “knowing” – which we aspire to as a tool for thinking). This last he equated with command line interfaces. He tied graphical user interfaces with iconic representations. Lastly, he lamented that we’re missing an opportunity to build truly kinaesthetic experiences.

Lisa Strausfeld spoke in the afternoon. She’s now a partner at Pentagram, but I think of her as one of many talented graduates of Muriel Cooper’s Visible Languages Workshop at MIT. I don’t have any shots of this talk because, after a battle of wills with the facilities people, most of it was in semi darkness to show her work in best effect. She showed a combination of examples of her amazing portfolio, tied to examples of driving philosophies.

Briefly, these were:

  • Design one solution.
  • LATCH – 5 ways of organizing information – Location, Alphabetical, Time, Category and Hierarchy (Lisa added “Network” as a 6th). From Richard Saul Wurman.
  • Find, don’t invent (in the context of solutions she talked about how ideas emerged from finding meaning in data).
  • Engagement, Context, Reference (“ECR” from Curtis Wong). A way of thinking about drawing in people with content.
  • Immersion – people should be IN your designs.
  • Information is the interface.
  • The interface can make the information more engaging.
  • Design a continuous experience.
  • Do one thing perfectly. Repeat.
  • Be the audience.

Here work has an amazing amount of integrity and continuity to it. You can see the lineage all the way from her work at MIT in 1994 (see Information Landscapes) to the recent Pentagram website redesign.

Nicholas Felton’s father

I’m a big fan of Nicholas Felton’s personal annual report (the Feltron Report), which he has published since 2005. In each one he teases out all kinds of statistics about his life, presenting them as a pseudo-business report, beautifully laid out and supported by infographics. I’ve cited them in talks in the past as an extreme example of the act of recording data about oneself (an activity entitled personal informatics).

Last year was a bit of a departure for him. Not only was the report printed using letterpress, it was also based on data from and about his friends. This departure from focussing exclusively on himself has continued this year. The 2010 report is based on data that he had or knew about his father, who died in September. Clearly very personal and thought provoking, and very related to notions of Technology Heirlooms.


Nicholas Felton |

Camille at TEI

My very talented ex-intern Camille Moussette was at the Tangible, Embedded and Embedded Interactions (TEI) conference in Madeira last week, and presented and demoed the work he did with us last year in Cambridge. He’s written up his experiences. He did some very cool thinking, and built some great examples, of how to allow product designers to sketch haptic experiences (so things that buzz, shake, rattle etc). See the paper he wrote here.