The Creative Habit

Most of us follow a daily routine. We awake at about the same hour, maybe hit the snooze a few times, grab breakfast and a shower, dress and hit the road. Usually it’s the same road — and the same mode of transportation, with maybe a beverage of choice on the way, and then in the door at work at roughly the same time, with all the familiar tasks awaiting.

Some might find this a seriously limiting portrait, a sort of Dilbert Dullsville, unconducive to creative production or flights of imagination. But actually, inside that predictable routine lies genius, if you know how to tap it. For many of the great artists, writers and designers, this very kind of structure proved key to their success.

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Cooper Parlor: The Gender, Leadership, Design Axis

When: Thursday, August 29, 6-8:30pm (Networking at 6, event starts at 6:30)
Moderators: Teresa Brazen, Design Education Strategist and Susan Dybbs, Managing Director, Interaction Design
Where: Cooper’s Studio, 85 2nd St., 8th Floor, San Francisco
Cost: $10
Tickets

At Cooper, we have an internal book club (affectionately known as the “Cook Blub”) designed to encourage conversation, debate, and boost our collective knowledge. After hearing all the hype about Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”, we decided to give it a read and tackle the tricky topics of gender and leadership ourselves. Needless to say, that book club sparked rich discussion that we thought worth bringing to our broader community.

So, in this Cooper Parlor, we invite you to take a deeper look at the gender and leadership dynamics in your own organization and the design and tech communities at large. We’ll discuss if/how the definition of leadership is changing, whether gender imbalances in fields like engineering (approximately 14% are female in the USA) are a phenomenon of oppression or a natural tendency for men and women to gravitate toward different fields, what men and women can learn from one another’s approach to career, and much, much more. We also invite you to submit a question you’d like to discuss in the comments below.

Please Note!

  • People from all fields are invited to attend. While we’ll talk about some aspects of gender in the design/tech worlds, the conversation will inspire and apply to those of any industry (and we welcome your diverse perspectives!).
  • We encourage you to read “Lean In”, but it is not a requirement of participation. The book is a catalyst for conversation, and you’ll have plenty to share and learn whether or not you had time to read it.

What is the Cooper Parlor?

The Cooper Parlor is a gathering of designers and design-minded people to exchange ideas around a specific topic. We aim to cultivate conversation that instigates, surprises, entertains, and most importantly, broadens our community’s collective knowledge and perspective about the potential for design.Save your spot now!

Additional Reading

It’s Not Women Who Should Lean In; It’s Men Who Should Step Back
What ‘Lean In’ Misunderstands About Gender Differences
Stubborn Obstacles: What’s Hindering Female Engineers?

Self-study Interaction Design

In classes and cocktail hours, lots of people ask me either how they can switch careers into interaction design, or how they can improve their self-trained “IxD” chops.

Of course Cooper offers a number of awesome training courses to help folks do just that (but we can’t be everywhere in the world at once) and there are great university courses here in San Francisco Bay Area and around the world (but not everyone can take that kind of time off).

So if you’re a self-starter, unable to attend a training session and can’t take time off for school, or want to be able to speak the language of interaction design, what can you do? How can you make those first steps to getting more familiar with the field?

I recommend reading up on some of the fundamentals, join up with practitioners online, and actually start designing. More on each follows.

Read up on the fundamentals

Get your hands on copies of the following three books and give them a good read. Not a flip through, and not a skim. These are the basic things you need to know. Please note that I’m aware of the conflict of interest of a Practice Lead at Cooper saying that two of three fundamental books are ones published by Cooper, but even after much handwringing and gnashing of teeth over the seeming conflict of interests, these are still my recommendations. They would be if I didn’t work here.


The Inmates Are Running the Asylum
by our own Alan Cooper

“Inmates” details the reasons why designers should lead the charge of software design, and why personas are the primary tool we use to do it.


The Design of Everyday Things
by Donald Norman

Norman plainly lays out the fundamentals of design thinking from cognitive psychology, industrial design, and interaction design standpoints.


About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design
by Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, & David Cronin

AF3 contains best practices for the medium of the human-computer interface.

(If you happen to be a sci-fi fan, I’ll certainly also recommend my own book and blog as a way of applying design thinking to interfaces that appear in that perennially-favorite genre, but it’s hardly considered a fundamental.)

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Make it So book launch party!

Come help us celebrate the launch of Make it So: Interface Design Lessons from Sci-Fi (Rosenfeld Media, 2012.), co-authored by Cooper’s own Chris Noessel, and Nathan Shedroff of CCA.

Join us at 5:30 P.M. on Friday, 07 September, at the Cooper offices (100 First Street, 26th floor) for appetizers, sci-fi drinks, and some serious nerding out about futuristic interfaces in sci-fi. We’ll be raffling off 10 signed copies of the book that night, so bring a business card with you.

Space is limited, so please R.S.V.P. to makeitso@cooper.com asap!

We couldn’t be prouder of Chris for this major accomplishment. The book is right up our sci-fi and UI alleys, and Alan even served as an early reviewer. You can read more about the book and Alan’s review below.

From the introduction

Being an interaction designer colors how you watch science fiction. Of course you’re enjoying all of the hyperspacey, laser-flinging, computer-hacking action like everyone else, but you can’t help but evaluate the interfaces when they appear. You are curious if they’ll disable the tractor beam in time, but you also find yourself wondering, “Could it really work that way? Should it work that way? How could it work better? And, of course, Can I get the interfaces I design in my own work to be this cool or even cooler?”

We asked ourselves these questions with each new TV show and each new film we watched, and we realized that for every eye-roll-worthy moment of technological stupidity, there are genuine lessons to be learned—practical lessons to be drawn from the very public, almost outsider-art interfaces that appear in the more than 100 years of sci-fi cinema and television. Then we wondered what we would learn from looking at not just one or even a dozen of them but as many as we could.

This book is the result of that inquiry, an analysis of interfaces in sci-fi films and TV shows, with lessons that interface and interaction designers can use in their real-world practice. We’ve learned a great deal in writing it, and we want to share those lessons with you.

Alan’s review

“Designers who love science fiction (and don’t we all?) will go bananas over Shedroff and Noessel’s delightful and informative book on how interaction design in sci-fi movies informs interaction design in the real world. Many movie interfaces are remarkably creative, effective, and useful, and the authors analyze and deconstruct more than a century of cinema to find the best. With dozens of familiar examples, they illuminate some of the trickier aspects of designing how complex future systems interface with humans. You will find it as useful as any design textbook, but a whole lot more fun.”
—Alan Cooper

Related links


Playing with iBooks

At Cooper, we love to share what we learn in our consulting work. We’ve published and socialized techniques and tools for doing interaction design in our books, at conferences, and through Cooper U. Recently, Apple released the iBooks Author platform, and a few of us have been giving it a test run.

The platform itself has lots of potential. There is much to improve, but the possibilities are interesting and it’s too early to critique it too strongly. There’s been much talk already about the EULA and whether or not this will disrupt education. It’s too early to make that call, though. Our initial impression? It’s an accessible tool aimed at a user population that, up to this point, hasn’t been equipped to produce engaging and usable interactive educational content.


In our trial run, we produced a look book with some of recent work, including slideshows, imagery and video. It’s a little rough in some areas, but we’d love to see what you think. You can download it via the link below and share your thoughts in the comments section.

Download the Cooper iBook.

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Designing for the Digital Age: Sample chapter available!

On Wednesday, we celebrated the release of Designing for the Digital Age, a comprehensive how-to for getting great products built. The release party was hosted by Autodesk in their amazing new Gallery at One Market in San Francisco. The Gallery is filled with cool toys and overlooks the Bay, so it was a pretty ideal setting in which to host a couple hundred of our closest interaction design friends. Big thanks to our friends at Autodesk for a memorable night!

Designing for the Digital Age launch party
Scenes from Wednesday night’s party at the Autodesk Gallery. More on Flickr.

Download the chapter here.
[PDF, 1.4MB, requires Acrobat 7 or higher]

Check it out, and let us know what you think. It’s entitled “Designing the Form Factor and Interaction Framework,” and it contains a discussion of the tools and techniques for generating and iterating design directions. If you’re wondering what you’re getting into, here’s an excerpt from the Introduction.

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Book review: Designing Gestural Interfaces

If you’ve been to the stunning new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, you may have noticed a number of interactive exhibits in the halls on the first floor. Among them are two game-like pieces by Snibbe Interactive that allow visitors to physically interact with a projected “natural” environment via motion sensors.


Bug Rug by Snibbe Interactive at the Cal Academy of Sciences, from a video of the installation.

One is called Bug Rug and is set on the floor of a Madagascar forest with insects running around under fallen leaves and branches. Visitors can scare the bugs by stomping around, or they can trap them to learn more about them by guiding bait into traps with a very specific gestural interaction. In the other, Arctic Ice, visitors use their shadows to block the sun’s rays, allowing ice to form so that a baby polar bear can find its way back to its mother.

After watching kids play with both, and speaking with someone intimately involved in the installation of the works who’s watched people interact with both quite a lot, it’s pretty clear that visitors tend to be more engaged and successful with Arctic Ice than with Bug Rug. In pondering why this is the case (beyond the obvious fact that for most people, baby polar bears are a lot more compelling than bugs), I’ve landed upon the theory that the physical interaction of using one’s shadow to block the sun’s rays is a lot more natural and discoverable than placing one’s hands next to each other palm down, with thumbs touching to move things around on the ground.

With the increasing prevalence of physical and gestural interactivity, from the iPhone to Jeff Han‘s election night Magic Wall spectacle on CNN, to the Wii, it’s likely we’re all going to be faced with the excitement and challenge of interacting with and designing devices and environments in new ways. One of the biggest challenges associated with physical interactivity is the lack of transparency into the “commands” or actions available with a given device or environment. The graphical user interface was, in many ways, a huge improvement over the previous idioms of the command line because it made it much more obvious what commands were allowable in a given context. Looking into the brave new future of physical interactivity, we’re confronted with the need to create idioms and vocabulary that are as discoverable and useful as possible to avoid stepping back into command line-like arcana. Read More

Designing for The Digital Age book release party

Join us for a beer at the spectacular Autodesk Design Gallery to celebrate the release of Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services, the definitive field guide of Cooper’s design tools and techniques written by our own Kim Goodwin.

Weds, February 18
6:00 – 8:00

One Market Street
Suite 200
San Francisco
(here’s a map)

Please feel free to bring your colleagues, friends and anyone else who’s as excited about the practice of design as we are.

Building security requires that all attendees be on the guest list. Please let us know if you’ll be able to join us by RSVPing here:

http://crush3r.com/page/pcgsgmmtum


(Anyone can RSVP — just send this along to your friends)

For more about the book, Kim posted a sneak peek at the contents a couple weeks back. And of course, you can pre-order on Amazon.
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Sneak peek: Designing for the Digital Age

Designing for the Digital Age Cover

Today is a big day for me. At long last, my book is going to press. It’s a soup-to-nuts how-to with tons of detail on every aspect of the method as it applies to a wide range of design problems and business situations. Visual, industrial, and interaction design are all integrated in the discussion, as are communication and project management. People have been asking for this book for years, so hopefully it will deliver what you’ve been looking for.

The writing is done. The 300 or so examples, exercises, and illustrations are finished. 750 pages of editing and proofreading and layout and color tweaking…all done. Now, whatever typos exist are going to be there for all time. Of course, there’s plenty still to do between now and when the book lands on shelves around the end of February: a Web site to assemble, a launch party to plan, and a sample chapter or two to select and share with all of you who read the Journal. For now, though, I thought I’d share a peek at the table of contents.

[You can pre-order the book on Amazon; they aren't listing a date yet, but it should be coming out in mid-late February.]
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Demand a better ballot

Election Day is finally here, and as ballots are cast and counted, I’m hopeful that voters will declare victory for the candidates and measures that I care most about. But as I review my sample ballot in preparation for my visit to the voting booth, I am discouraged to find that it includes many of the design flaws that the AIGA’s Design for Democracy project has been working to expose and eliminate over the past 8 years. As AIGA reports on their website:

“In July 2007 the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) accepted AIGA Design for Democracy’s research and best practice recommendations for ballot and polling place information design. Guidelines and editable samples were distributed to 6,000 election officials across the country this January. As a result, local jurisdictions now have the tools to apply communication design principles and make voting easier and more comprehensible for all citizens.”

Why, then, am I holding a ballot that violates at least three of the Top 10 election design guidelines, including the use of all caps, center-alignment, and tiny fonts?

Ballot.jpg

As Marcia Lausen notes in Design for Democracy: Ballot + Election Design, typographic specifications are often dictated in well-intentioned but misguided election law. So while the valuable work of Design for Democracy is to be commended, it alone is not enough to bring about the change we need in the design of ballots and other voter information and materials.

So as you head to the polls, review your ballot carefully — not only for its content, but for its design. Make note of the ballot’s flaws, and contact your state and county registrar and representatives to press them to implement the AIGA guidelines. In addition, consider participating in the Polling Place Photo Project, which seeks to document what is politely described as the “richness and complexity” of the voting experience in America.

Most of all, don’t forget to vote!
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