IA Summit 2007

I was in Las Vegas last weekend for the Information Architecture Summit. It’s a great balance of intellectual stimulation and after-hours fun, and the only problem with the record attendance is not spending time with all the wonderful people there.

I’ve gone the past several years, and it’s interesting to see the community maturing both personally and professionally. For example, I led a workshop on Internet business strategy and feared this audience might not want to stray far from the tactics of business, but I was happily surprised by the rich discussion.

Here’s the materials from a few sessions I found most useful…

And a couple I missed but everyone was talking about…

Search Conversation from the Future

Dick: Did you run that 37Signals SearchSniffr tool against the site? What does that thing do anyway?”
Jane: It takes terms from our logs and related sites’ logs and uses them in search queries, and then generates a report. I have it here somewhere… here it is. The Sniffr Sensitivity is 87, which is too high. We’re still getting too many empty results and not enough best bets.
Dick: So what do we do?
Jane: We use the Synonym Makr and Zipfr to fine tune things until we get that Sensitivity score down below 60.”
Dick: Nice.

Yahoo and Google have made search the dominant finding paradigm out there, but once you arrive at a particular website the search is usually much less useful. It’s time we had better tools to make search great everywhere. Lou and Richard are addressing the ideas behind this and opening up a rich area for innovation.


Entrepreneurial Improv Theater

BarCampNYC2 happened last weekend and was a great time. Holding it in the Microsoft offices was a little spooky, but at least that turned up some booty.

More than anything I was surprised at how little code talk there was compared to start up and design talk. Sessions like Entrepreneurial Improv Theater were a great chance for everyone to practice their VC pitching skills. Though it was obvious how hard it is for any one person, myself included, to make their brain stretch from code to UI design to product design to organization building to marketing to finance etc. I was impressed to see everyone try that stretch then collaborate to combine their skills.

IDEA Conference: A Super Design Mashup

I really like the idea behind the IDEA Conference: recognize that big D design is inherently a cross-disciplinary affair, so invite the smartest (not necessarily the most famous) speakers to illuminate the connections among us through their practical experience. Peter Merholz is instigating, so it’s sure to be bound up with tons of enthusiasm and intellectual goodness.

If you’re interested, you should know the discounted reg is ending soon.

Did you know there’s a vaccine for chickenpox?

I had no idea until a friend of mine, an adult, just caught chickenpox (she actually knew about the vaccine but her doctor told her she’d been ‘exposed’ and didn’t need it). Apparently the vaccine was approved in the U.S. in 1995. If you have never had chickenpox and haven’t been vaccinated, you can no longer say no one told you.

In 1995 I had my first New York City apartment and whatever I was doing, it wasn’t reading Prevention magazine. But this is the case with many people: it’s impossible to keep up with all the things we should know. And with all the hoopla over bottom-up information organization these days, my natural inclination is to go the other way and ask, how about a radically top-down, people-centric approach? What does that look like? Maybe something like this

Need To Know
Our educational system has failed to adapt to the changing information needs of the 21st century. The typical education lacks crucial information on such issues as managing our health, finances, and careers. Need To Know is a radically top-down approach to education. A massive research project is collecting data on millions of Americans to determine what most people do most of the time, and therefore what information they need to fruitfully live their lives. We will use this information to produce a one-hour television program composed of 360 ten-second video tutorials.

Ten seconds may not sound like a lot, but it’s enough to say, A vaccine for chickenpox was released in 1995. If you were born before 1977 and have never had chickenpox, go to a doctor and get the vaccine.

2006 Pratt Show, May 9-11

Since I’ll be teaching Business+Design at the Pratt Institute here in New York this Fall, I plan to check out the graduate show to get inside the heads of these bright young designers. The show is open to the public May 9-11.

Inspired by graffiti, t1-12 by Victoria Haroian is a living room chair that integrates healthy postures and spinal stretching into home furniture.

A new business+innovation+design event

Jess and I thought it would be great to host an event where people could explore the intersection of business, innovation, and design in more depth than conferences allow. So along with some friends we created Overlap which will happen at the end of May. It’s small, non-profit, inexpensive, and centered on conversations. We’re hoping it’s going to be a very special and productive experience. There’s a few places left, if you’re interested in joining us drop me a line.

Would you come to a business design conference in the U.S.?

Cumulus has planned a conference titled Design Thinking & Innovation: Towards an Asian Perspective in Singapore with Victor Margolin as keynote speaker…

…debating about these topics are a challenge for a symposium aspiring to offer an egression, not a series of positional parametric rhetoric on design issues, but a kind of cynosure to engage, postulate and clarify divergent views on design thinking and innovation, particularly from an Asian perspective.

I think a similar event held in the U.S. — based around discussion rather than presentations — on the topic of business, design, and innovation would be well-received. If it happened, would you go?

Better generalizations: finding true relationships between categories and traits

Malcolm Gladwell’s Troublemakers extends his Blink thinking to how we generalize. The takeaway is “It doesn’t work to generalize about a relationship between a category and a trait when that relationship isn’t stable — or when the act of generalizing may itself change the basis of the generalization.

In the article he asks whether pit bulls are dangerous dogs. It turns out they are only dangerous if bred, trained, or raised to be dangerous. A better indication of whether a dog may attack is if the dog displays aggressive behavior and has a negligent owner. Not an earth-shaking conclusion, but one we don’t always take the time to investigate.

Books on European Innovation

A day after my recent musings, the Wall Street Journal looked at three books on European growth…

Cousins and Strangers is written by the last British governer to Hong Kong and a former EU commissioner. Most of the text seems to mirror the kind of Bush administration bashing that progressives in the US already do, so nothing new there. It could be interesting for Americans to better understand how Europeans view themselves in relation to the U.S.

In The Next Superpower? Rockwell Schnabel argues that the EU is a serious global economic force, and Americans need to pay heed. No argument there. He worries about overregulation and Europeans’ inability to take risk in order to make progress.

It’s Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century that looks like the really interesting read for its counter-intuitive stance. The author, Mark Leonard, points out that two billion people now live in Europe’s “zone of influence” and gradually adopt European ways of doing things. This includes the EU’s 80,000 pages of regulations which, while seeming to hobble flexibility on the surface, is also dramatically changing any country that must obey them upon entry to the EU. So whereas the U.S. uses force to achieve regime change in Afghanistan, Leonard argues that the new power will be softer, as with the EU’s peaceful transformation of “all of Polish society.

Interaction Design as Language Design?

Marc Rettig, one of the most thoughtful practioners in the user experience world, will be in New York next month discussing Interaction Design is Language Design

…The notion of a “design language” has been with us for years, but if we take the idea seriously, perhaps ideas and frameworks from linguistics can help us design better interfaces. The goal of the topic is to create a grounded practice using the explored principles. The seminar is not meant to be a completed theory, but a work in progress that participants get to explore with Marc during the seminar and after on their own work.