Beautiful Monsters: Green vs. Green

Jonzing to take part in another 120-mile speed-skating race? You might have to wait 18 years, which is the likely interval between one Elfstedentocht and the next, owing to the effects of global warming.

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As you wait for the ice to thicken, you can drive (in an energy-efficient manner) to one of the sustainable dance clubs popping up all over, and sweat your prayers.

So we can (almost all) agree the climate is changing. Not simply the climate that’s melting the ice, though. Also the economic climate, the one threatening to wash away your job. And the political climate, the one that can keep us all afloat.

Just a few months ago, business leaders habitually dismissed arguments in favor of ecologically responsible development because they were too busy pumping gobs of money out of the ground. Now that the price of oil has plummeted along with the rosy profit forecasts from Reykjavik to Whitefish, guess what some “hard-nosed realists” argue? You got it! Investing in clean- and green-tech is now unwise because of the credit tsunami sucking all the cash out to sea, an economic recession that promises to be as deep as it will be broad, hyperventilating stock markets, dazed and confused finance
ministers
, and a crumbling government in Washington that’s trying to bring down thousands of animal and
plant species with it
.

Who has time for the love of bugs and bunnies when the sky is falling
and you’ve got mouths to feed! When the weather’s fine, there’s no apparent need to fix the leak in the roof. And, anyway, you’re too busy enjoying the sunshine. But when it’s raining nobody wants to go out on a slippery roof. In other words, it’s hard to set aside the time to look ahead. But in times of turmoil we all want to know what’s coming around the bend.

The best way to predict the future, as everyone knows, is to make it yourself. Particularly if you’re a designer, since your job is to anticipate future needs and desires and create what fits the bill.

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Beautiful Monsters: Check your assumptions at the door

Every product, service, or business model is defined in large measure by what designers take for granted. These assumptions can be held so deeply as to be invisible to the designers themselves. And yet their acknowledgment, and negotiation, are key to industrial evolution, profit, and harmonious relationships to various ecosystems.

In the early days, for instance, you could assume that those with access to computers were backed by organizations willing to invest the funds necessary to acquire or build the complex infrastructure required by computational behemoths. But with the advent of microprocessors and other such developments, that all changed. Now the intrusion of computers into every corner of our lives is nearly complete, with 11 percent of the people recently polled saying they’d like their email deliver directly into their brains in the ultimate post-media consumer fad. Read More

Beautiful Monsters: Be the change

san-francisco-urban-form_crop-e.jpgThe Market Street grid, Courtesy: bricoleurbanism.

This week, San Francisco started choosing sides for another Market Street Mêlée, which we fight once every ten years or so. On one side of the double-yellow line are arrayed various assorted starry-eyed, bipedal dreamers who propose closing down the main artery of our fair city to most carbon-emitting traffic so as to give pedestrians and bicyclists a break, reduce pollution, and increase the beauty and overall mellow vibe of the grid. On the other side stand the self-styled hard-nosed rationalists who see in this as a pedal-powered economic and moral calamity in the making. Read More

Beautiful Monsters: The odds are in

Beautiful Monsters is a series by David Fore, head of Cooper’s consulting practice. It is intended encourage conversation about how interaction designers can grow more sustainable practices, with the goals of improving our fortunes, our relationships, and the health of our planet. Start at the beginning, or read the latest installment below.

Critics may charge that I’m loving on WunderMap too much. But these guys have vision. They provide fantastic resources for visualizing many of the changes afoot, which is a necessary precursor to visualizing solutions. But what they haven’t done yet is provide us the coordinates of our honeybees, one in three of which have disappeared from these parts. Without honeybees we don’t have agriculture as we know it — and, ipso facto, culture.

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How would our federal government respond if 1 out of every 3 cows was dying?” a scientist recently asked a bovine Congress. Read More

Beautiful Monsters: Why on earth does this matter?

It used to be that everybody talked about the weather, but nobody did anything about it. Not anymore. Through the magic of technology, I am empowered to make better decisions about where not to breathe. That’s because the good people at WunderMap have devised a smoke map. For a few days there, the smoke from local wildfires were absorbed by our (formerly) infinitely capacious atmosphere. So I didn’t think I’d need the smoke map. But then temperatures hit new epochal records, humidity took a dive, and the wind began fanning the flames again.

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Should our misfortunes expand to include plagues of frogs, boils, and gnats, I know WunderMap will have my back.

In other news last week, the U.S. continued to emit vivid plumes of interactive graphics displaying our industrial might, which nobody can deny … it’s just that my emissions are necessary, while yours are not. World leaders at the G8 Summit in Japan, meanwhile, decided to postpone serious action on climate change for another few decades. Tomorrow’s always the best day to begin a diet.

Why on earth should such things matter to interaction designers? Put another way, why does earth matter to interaction designers? Read More

Beautiful Monsters: With such a late start, we best get moving

From our position at the confluence of human desire, technology, and business, interaction designers can make a tremendously positive—or negative—impact on the biggest issues facing us today: the sustainability of commerce, human societies, and natural systems. Despite these opportunities, software makers are discouraged from thinking outside the aspect ratio of the computer ’s monitor.

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This is the first in a series of articles intended to serve as an ongoing conversation about how interaction designers can move the industry toward an Ecosystem Centered Design to improve our fortunes, our relationships, and the health of our planet. Read More

Content management systems: Don’t automate the misery

Organizations of every size are attempting to get a handle on their content generation, management, and publishing systems. This trend toward business process re-engineering (BPR) of content management is largely the result of an outsized proliferation of Web pages, intranet sites, and electronic communications strategies adopted by organizations, their partners, and customers.

Sadly, few organizations have seen much good come of content-management BPR initiatives so far. Of the many reasons for these failures, one stands out: these BPR initiatives—and the systems they spawn—are focused on realizing organizational objectives without sufficient regard for the context, habits, and goals of the people who will actually use the system. These new technology solutions are intended to create efficiencies, but they actually prevent people from achieving their objectives, which generally have to do with reducing hassle and ensuring their own personal effectiveness.

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Goal-directed content management

A year ago, most software industry analysts were predicting that Content Management (CM) was going to be the hot sector this year. Unfortunately, sales for most CM software providers are not meeting expectations, and even CM insiders are suggesting that the cause could be a growing disappointment with CM implementation results. Anecdotal evidence from within the CM industry indicates that CM implementations fail to meet corporate expectations about half of the time.

Part of the reason for missed expectations could be poor usability. Forrester Research recently released a research paper on the subject: "Packaged Apps Fail The Usability Test." In it, they don’t name the vendors, but they rate the usability of two popular CM systems. Both rated very poorly. Forrester’s conclusion is that much better design is needed to win user adoption and higher rates of corporate satisfaction.

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Features talk, but behaviors close

What’s a feature?

Features are often the currency of software development and marketing, yet few people can agree on what exactly defines a feature. The term can be used to describe a particular piece of functionality, an entire set of functionality, a capability, or sometimes even a possibility. The experts are no help. Typical is webopedia.com, which goes out on a limb by stating that a feature is, “a notable property of a device or software application.”

In other words, a feature is a feature of something.

What is telling, though, is that the vast majority of definitions refer to featuritis or feature creep, the seemingly endless proliferation of features that glom onto what was once, perhaps, a product with a clear vision. Everyone knows that features pop up during the product cycle like mushrooms after a rain.

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By any medium necessary: How interaction designers can save the world

An email from on high hits your inbox: the company
is kicking off an initiative to "radically improve"
the effectiveness and efficiency of its nationwide sales
force.

Nothing new here, you think. This sort of thing sweeps
over the land every few years, like locusts.

But as you drag the message into your Deleted folder,
something new catches the eye. Your design team is being
asked to carry out the first step of the initiative:
conducting a research project to "gather requirements"
for how to make the organization more effective.

Undo! Undo!

Aside from the fact that requirements are defined and
not "gathered" (one pictures wine bottles
hanging from grapevines), it’s surprisingly level-headed
to turn to interaction designers to examine organizational
needs and propose solutions. Most of the time, it’s
business analysts and technology specialists who are
tapped for these assignments. Analysts collect information
about what makes the business tick; technologists, meanwhile,
build and/or choose tools that work within a given infrastructure.
But while the work of analysts and technologists is
necessary, it is not sufficient. That’s because they
are rarely trained (much less asked) to describe usage
contexts, identify goals, or design tools that satisfy
people while also meeting the objectives of organizations.
The result? Too often it’s a new flavor of the same
old thing, just more expensive this time around.

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