Come Do RFP Jedi Mind Tricks, Jan 13

If you’re a member of the AIGA and in New York, you might enjoy a fun little breakfast gathering planned for Tuesday, January 13, 2009…

Redesigning the RFP response

Maybe you’ve gotten one: the RFP that asks for mountains of miraculous work, for no money, delivered in 20 minutes. Or the one for a project so boring you wouldn’t give it to an intern. This morning’s Breakfast Club asks: Can we perform a Jedi mind trick and turn those nightmare RFPs into satisfying, rewarding work? 
Victor Lombardi, veteran consultant and teacher, will lead a discussion about rethinking how to conquer the dreaded RFP.

A New Service: Future Practice Webinars

We’re pleased as punch to partner with our good friend Lou Rosenfeld at Rosenfeld Media to offer you Future Practice Webinars. Our first two events are Modern Web Form Design with Luke Wroblewski and Using Mental Models for Tactics and Strategy with Indi Young.

When we created them we wanted to accomplish two things:

  1. Provide a forum for advanced practitioners in the field of user experience design to share with us their best thinking on topics that have immediate practical value and to show us where the practice is going in the long-term to help us prepare. Hence the series title, Future Practice
  2. Enable practitioners like yourself to benefit from this education at a lower price than in-person seminars and conferences, without having to travel and emit all that nasty carbon.

For more information and registration, go to the Rosenfeld Media webinar page. For 20% off, use discount code NBSWBNR

Thoughts on the Euro Information Architecture Summit 2008

I’m just back from the Euro IA Summit held in Amsterdam, September 26-27th. Overall it was a good event with many warm, interesting people in attendance. I was considering attending PICNIC as well but as I heard it was “very corporate… lots of white men with PowerPoint” I spent my time with the city instead. Hearing a speech is slightly better than reading it or watching it online, but only slightly.

The Summit kicked off with a talk from Adam Greenfield called “Why I’m Not an Information Architect and You Shouldn’t Be Either.” Where the community used to be filled with electricity — taking on great new challenges — he lamented it’s now focused on creating wireframes for websites. This doesn’t feel like the field that will create Bruce Sterling’s Spimes. Adam’s focus lately has been Ubicomp, and he talked about how “power and grandeur lie beneath the user interface, in the API” and that “IT has dissolved into behavior” like the swipe of an RFID-enabled train card.

There’s a lot to react to there. I agree the field is not nearly as exciting as it was seven years ago, and this state makes a lot of us that are comfortable with innovation wonder what communities we should mix in and what IA should be (see Matt Milan’s thoughts for another perspective). At the moment I’m trying to pull back and see information architecture as a new but somewhat established field. Invention used to be necessary of everyone, but now it’s only needed from a few. Compare it to an established field like electrical engineering. At the beginning there was a lot invention, but now we know enough to simply do it. Today, some engineers continue to push the envelope with the design of microprocessors while others specify the wiring in the next model of speaker phone. I would expect IA to settle into the same spread.

Ruud Ruissaard of Informaat discussed the current state of content management which can be summarized by satisfaction rates around 37%. He advocated for a more holistic approach to address systems and processes and management. I have to think CMS will go the way of portals, with everyone realizing there’s a lack of flexibility in large installed systems. Instead, let’s move content to the cloud and pull it out with flexible APIs.
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Presenting My Concept Design Work in Amsterdam, September 27

I’m happy the concept design research and development I’ve been doing has received some attention, even though I haven’t had much time to share my work. That will start to change next month when I present some tools for generating concepts at the 2008 European Information Architecture Summit in Amsterdam, where I’ve been honored with the closing plenary position.

Last year’s German IA Conference had a great vibe and a wonderful group of people, I’m looking forward to more of the same in Amsterdam.

We’ll Reach the Semantic Web One Small Step at a Time

XFN and FOAF were two small steps in that direction, and Google just built on them with the Social Graph API (watch the friendly little video intro).

Any day now we’ll see an application that not only helps us generate XFN and FOAF data, but does so in a way that manages our online identities, particularly with regards to search. It’ll tip the balance of art and science in SEO toward science.

Top-down semantic web visions were judged by skeptical-but-realistic critics to be overly systematic. Well, yes, but if we get there a piece at a time, helping people understand, implement, experiment, and capitalize with each little piece, we’ll get there in an organic way.

Time to go generate some XFN…

Links to what others are saying.

Paul Saffo in SF, Friday, Jan 11

If I was in San Francisco, I’d go hear Paul Saffo…

“Effective forecasting is not merely possible, but remarkably easy,” he says. “All it takes is a simple shift in perspective and a few common-sense heuristics.”

Saffo draws on his study of the history of technology to give unusual perspective on the accelerating wavefront of current technology and what it means and will mean. As a Long Now board member, he slots forecasting neatly into long-term thinking.

“Embracing Uncertainty: the Secret to Effective Forecasting,” Paul Saffo, Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, San Francisco, 7pm, Friday, January 11. The lecture starts promptly at 7:30pm. Admission is free (a $10 donation is always welcome, not required).

But I’m in New York, so I’ll wait for the podcast.

Update: Here’s Stewart Brand’s summary:

Reflecting on his 25 years as a forecaster, Paul Saffo pointed out that a forecaster’s job is not to predict outcomes, but to map the “cone of uncertainty” on a subject. Where are the edges of what might happen? (Uncertainty is cone-shaped because it expands as you project further into the future— next decade has more surprises in store than next week.)

Rule: Wild cards sensitize us to surprise, and they push the edges of the cone out further. You can call weird imaginings a wild card and not be ridiculed. Science fiction is brilliant at this, and often predictive, because it plants idea bombs in teenagers which they make real 15 years later.

Rule: Change is never linear. Our expectations are linear, but new technologies come in “S” curves, so we routinely overestimate short-term change and underestimate long-term change. “Never mistake a clear view for a short distance.”

“Inflection points are tiptoeing past us all the time.” He saw one at the DARPA Grand Challenge race for robot cars in the Mojave Desert in 2004 and 2005. In 2004 no cars finished the race, and only four got off the starting line. In 2005, all 23 cars started and five finished.

Rule: Look for indicators- things that don’t fit. At the same time the robot cars were triumphing in the desert, 108 human-driven cars piled into one another in the fog on a nearby freeway. A survey of owners of Roomba robot vacuum cleaners showed that 2/3 of owners give the machine a personal name, and 1/3 take it with them on vacations.

Rule: Look back twice as far. Every decade lately there’s a new technology that sets the landscape. In the 1980s, microprocessors made a processing decade that culminated in personal computers. In the 1990s it was the laser that made for communication bandwidth and an access decade culminating in the World Wide Web. In the 2000s cheap sensors are making an interaction decade culminating in a robot takeoff. The Web will soon be made largely of machines communicating with each other.

Rule: Cherish failure. Preferably other people’s. We fail our way into the future. Silicon Valley is brilliant at this. Since new technologies take 20 years to have an overnight success, for an easy win look for a field that has been failing for 20 years and build on that.

Rule: Be indifferent. Don’t confuse the desired with the likely. Christian end-time enthusiasts have been wrong for 2,000 years.

Rule: Assume you are wrong. And forecast often.

Rule: Embrace uncertainty.

Saffo ended with a photo he took of a jar by the cash register in a coffee shop in San Francisco. The handwritten note on the jar read, “If you fear change, leave it in here.”

–Stewart Brand

What’s Your Favorite Innovation Book?

Happy new year my readers and friends.

While I once wrote that everything written about innovation is useless (including my own writing), we continue to write about it because writing is thinking, and there’s a lot of problems to think through. The result is some writing that is truly insightful and/or based on hard-won experience, and other writing that is boastful noise. In the spirit of avoiding easy answers and helping us think through tough problems, I’d like to know…

What’s your favorite innovation book (a book that helps you be innovative)?

I’ll start with mine…

Structuritis

Inflammation is the root cause of many “-itis” diseases. Similarly, we have places where structural design elements become inflamed and painful.

In a meeting yesterday I used to the term “landing page-itis” to describe the situation where a website landing page makes sense in one category so landing pages are added in all categories. What follows is an exercise of figuring out what kind of information will go on the new landing pages. To let the structure drive what is created is backwards; in user-centered design it’s the audience’s need that should drive the structure and the information created. If the structure becomes inconsistent or lopsided, then the whole structure should be revisited to see if it’s working.

The same thing happens with headers (headeritis). We may start a list without headers:

  • Telephone
  • Flower
  • Pencil

Then add items that require a sub-group, with a header for the sub-group:

  • Telephone
  • Flower
  • Pencil
  • Colors

  • Red
  • Blue
  • Green

Which then compels us to make up headers for everything:

    Other Stuff

  • Telephone
  • Flower
  • Pencil
  • Colors

  • Red
  • Blue
  • Green

The extra headers aren’t really useful, but we put them in for consistency, rather than admitting the structure might not work and fixing it.

Make Tools: My IA Konferenz Keynote Slides

In my keynote talk at the 2007 IA Konferenz in Stuttgart, Germany this month, I argued we need to create fewer artifacts and more tools. We’re already doing this, but it’s easy to get stuck in a make-more-web/mobile-sites rut and that could lead to irrelevance.

Here’s the slides…

By coincidence, Joe Lamantia’s The DIY Future: What Happens When Everyone Is a Designer addressed a similar theme through a different lens soon after at the Italian IA Summit. Joe and I are friends and hang out in Brooklyn, but I can’t recall us talking about these presentations. Must be something in the air…

Innovative Friends: Alex Wright

I’m psyched that Alex Wright now calls New York home. He is one of the few thinkers of technology and information that can simultaneously ply his trade during the day and theorize with the best in his spare time. I’m looking forward to his new book Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages in which he surveys the history of methods for managing oceans of information for clues of where we’re headed.

And I’m tickled that he received a review from James Burke of BBC’s Connections, how appropriate…

This is a must-read for anybody who wants to understand where we’ve been and where we’re going. A lucid, exciting book full of flashes of surprise about how we’ve done it all before: prehistoric beads as networking aids, 3rd century random access systems, 7th century Irish monastic bloggers, 11th century multimedia, 16th century hypertext. I wish I’d written it!

BLKN 2.0 Meetup

Our lovely borough of Brooklyn now has its own web meetup

Some of the best networking I’ve ever done is while walking my dog, Henry, in Prospect Park.

This morning, after I had just met yet one more person who works on web projects, I thought, we all take the train to Manhattan to attend Web meetups.

Why not have a Web oriented Meetup in Brooklyn?

Most of my Internet-design-etc. friends live in Brooklyn, most within walking distance of me, so I’m starting to think we’re developing a technie ghetto out here.

A Busy Itinerary…

I’ve spent the Winter and a better part of the Spring planning and scheming, and I’m ready to get back into the fray in a public way. Here’s where you can catch me in the next few weeks:

Business Books for Designers

My friend Austin wrote me, “I’m putting together a list of recommended books for designers interested in strategy, the business side, and jumping into entrepreneurship. Can you recommend 3-5 books you think are indispensable?

I don’t think there’s a single book that fits that description well, and I’ve wondered if a ‘business for designers’ book would be popular or not. But pressed for an answer, here’s the 3-5 I pointed to:

What the CEO Wants You to Know — what I use as a textbook in my ‘Business & Design’ class at Pratt. A simple primer.

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days — reading it now, very interesting as history and very reassuring for me during the initial, difficult stage of building a business to know everyone goes through the same pain.

Strategy Safari is probably the best primer on strategy. Innovator’s Dilemma is important these days, as is Blue Ocean Strategy. Though they’re all so long I don’t have time to actually read any of them; they’re reference.

Want more? John Hagel (whose writing is excellent) has a great list of tech-influenced strategy references.

Innovative Friends: Jim’s Navigation Book

My friends are doing brilliant things these days and I feel compelled to send out some props. I’ll start with Jim Kalbach, whose book Designing Web Navigation: Optimizing the User Experience will be out in August, but who apparently can’t stop writing and has started a blog.

We haven’t had a book on this topic in years, and Jim’s will be the first book dedicated to this topic to talk about how to design navigation, not merely describing how existing designs work. I’ve swam deep in those waters, and almost wrote a book as well, so I like to think I know the territory. So it won’t surprise when I say I think this is a significant topic, one that influences a large swath of society’s use of information these days. And I’m happy to say that Jim, with his dual academic background and years of hands-on experience, is perhaps the best qualified to write the book. I’ve only seen a couple chapters so far, but I’m anxiously awaiting the rest.