Friday, April 10, 2009

i've moved!

After almost a year using blogger, having endless problems, I've decided to jump ship to wordpress!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

back of a digital napkin

SketchCast is based on an old principle: the improvised drawing on the back of a napkin in a bar, to sketch ideas and thoughts on paper to get a concept across another person. The website presents a new way to communicate "something" online by recording a sketch, with the option to overlay the animation with a voice or speech. Any sketch can be embedded on a blog or home page for later playback.

Can this be used as a storytelling method for designers? Or indeed, can it be used by users to communicate their ideas with designers?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

unawareness to evolution

Introductions to new things, such as enhancements in technology, by chance, often deliver a more lasting memory or experience. 

I get, what I can only call "realization" moments when I haphazardly stumble upon something new.

When I saw this image, I had one of those moments.

Wired have revealed a wonderful visual timeline showing the evolution of Apple products. 

Although I am aware of Apple's history and their legacy of products and services, this visualization made me realize not only how they have progressed over the past 25 years, but also how quickly.

This needn't apply solely to Apple. This image is testament to a changing world.

Context and cohesion: How can timelines be used as a communication visualization? What can they show? Can a storyboard be defined as a form of storyboard? 

Monday, March 2, 2009

NY Times Visualizations

Visualizations that represent the people and organizations most mentioned in New York Times articles from 1984-2009 have been created by Jer Thorp. The visualizations show connections between the people and therefore relationships between them all.

twitter story

This communicates Twitter beautifully.

The simple hand-drawn graphics really reflect the simplicity and practicality of Twitter.

How can this method of story telling be used to communicate more complex information?

Follow me on Twitter:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

andiamo a Berlino...

Tomorrow I make my first visit to the city of Berlin!

Me and the T3 team will present our 'work in progress' to Rosan Chow and her colleagues at Deutsche Telekom Laboratories on Thursday, and we will return on Friday.

Only a short trip, but I'm ready for a wonderful journey into the world of design research on foreign soil nonetheless.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Having already covered iphone "romance" I had to post this... (from

"...the process that iPhone sales folks are instructed to follow verrrry closely mimics - wait for it - childbirth. The uncanny point of similarity is that, in between purchase and the required in-store activation, the salesperson is instructed to "give them a chance to enjoy the feel of the phone in their hand," and then "ask for the customer to give it back to you." It's just like that first quick cuddle that the new mother is allowed with her child, before the kid's taken back for a thorough cleaning. And hey, why not? The iPhone is, for lack of a better term, an "intimate" product that's meant to be held and which will be an important part of its new owner's life. Without first letting the customer "enjoy the feel" of it, there might be detachment issues, postpartum depression... and I'm only half kidding, here. It's insightful of Apple to have provided this experience for the customer, a very user-friendly one that they can add to their repertoire of user-experience competitive advantages..."

This makes me think about the work by Richard Banks where he looks at what it means to design digital artifacts with longer time spans in mind, and taking heredity of objects into account. Apple have obviously considered the birth of the product with the iPhone, but how have they planned the funeral of it? 

Will the grip-reaper of digital products touch each iPhone at the end of its life; cracking the screens and malfunctioning the software? Or will the iPhone live on beyond its owner to entertain and serve a new generation?

Will the iPhone ever be "retro"? 


Friday, February 20, 2009

visualizing networks

Going back to my research into visualizing complex information; Burak Arikan, artist and researcher, studies the way people interact through communication.

This following piece of work is wonderful. He carried out an experiment with the Twitter API where he analyzed the growth of his own network over a period of 3 weeks.

week 1

It appears he was trying to figure out how connections might evolve and expand (or indeed contract) over time.

The above image (from his blog) shows his Twitter network during the start of the first week of his experiment. He mapped the connections between his friends and then broke people into 6 groups.

The next images show weeks 2 and 3:

Do people mind about these diagrams? It may reveal a lot about their privacy, which is potentially dangerous when you consider all the data is public.

I was thinking about carrying out a similar experiment with people within a work environment for the benefit of my research. Who talks to who in the office? In which way do they communicate (email, in person at the water cooler, telephone)? 

Communication can be a problem in the office. Bottlenecks can be created; It is also known for people to communicate through email, even although they sit next to one another. 

Where can ubiquitous computing come into all this? Can there be an invisible communication tool in the work place that can seamlessly fit into the daily rituals and lives of the employees?

It is naive and simplistic to consider ubiquitous computers will be adopted by people in any scenario. It's all about designing around the people.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Amazing IC product, livescribe.


Here's a quick demonstration by IIT Institute of Design professor Tom MacTavish, of the Livescribe digital writing system, a pen-and-paper duo that records audio, remembers what was being said while you were taking notes, and affords some basic computing function in a wholly analog format. If that sounds confusing, just check out the video; MacTavish does a great job of showing it off.

richard harper

The down side to drafting into a word processing document and then copying/pasting into my blog is that sometimes I forget to actually copy and past into my blog! This following post has been sitting dormant in my computers hard drive... until now.

Professor Richard Harper from Microsoft Research, Cambridge, spent a morning with us to discuss how people of various disciplines see the world we live, and how this can cause problems in the design process.

He began by talking about how we gossip and how this act can be translated through metaphor into solutions for design problems.

I found this notion very refreshing as it coincides with work I have done in the past on touch-screen systems. My ideas for interactions were all based on human gestures I took as metaphors and used to act as inputs for computer systems. Richard calls this language (or method?) "Human Acts."

Richard's advice was to be aware of the difference between ourselves (designers) and others, such as scientists for example. Designers show their portfolios to other designers but seldom do they communicate their work from people outside of our discipline. He suggested we must have trust in other people and don't show them only the finished article. The process behind the finished article is often more interesting; so is communication of design all about telling a story rather than showing an artifact?

I agree with Richard. Whilst exhibiting my honours project work at the Degree Show and then New Designers, people were more interested in how the project materialized over time and why I made the decisions I did throughout the process. This was, at the time, a little disheartening in a way as I wanted people to be in awe over the prototype that I spent so long getting right. Instead, all they wanted to do was to ask questions and, I suppose, understand me rather than what I made. All I had to do was tell my story.
Richard Banks' advice is not to get to precious about prototyping; and this is probably the most valuable piece of wisdom I've taken on board since I started my Masters.

After spending an hour or so with Richard Harper, we were lucky enough to be invited to his evening lecture, entitles "Changing Humans." Here, he explained how the designers of computers and computer systems have changed their visions of users.

People love to gossip and communicate with each other. People network themselves naturally and now also digitally, through the introduction of text messaging and video messaging (and subsequently social networking sites like Facebook). The metaphor of gossiping is what inspired ideas such as video messaging; a tool that enables people to send friends videos, presumably to make them laugh.

The morning session and evening lecture made me think about a lot of things to do with common languages between people in different disciplines and interaction design in general. But the most valuable theory I took from today is all to do with language. Language is the key tool that we can use to communicate and be understood as designers. We can achieve this by applying metaphors and other language sub-tools. Language is the only common ground we all have.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

how romantech

An example of personal technology?

User interface designer Bryan Haggerty, programmer at LinkeIn, proposed to his girlfriend Jeannie Choe, former writer at Core77, with an iPhone application which he deigned himself.

It was last week that he popped the big question, but only after having his girlfriend guided through a route in San Francisco by the iPhone app. 

The app, which Haggerty calls "Romantech", displays a map containing location points throughout San Francisco. Each of the points in the map were tagged with a short video clip of Haggerty giving little clues of where Choe should travel to next. 

After a while, both met in a Park where all the points on the map connected to form the shape of a <3>

(The <3 is a heart symbol for those of you who don't know the lingo)>

Thursday, February 12, 2009

interactive comics and biological consideration

Dead On Arrival is an interactive comic loosely based on the story of the old 1940s film noir. 

Although I found this story rather dull, indolent and unexciting, the story was delivered clearly and the Flash interaction was well executed. This makes me think about communicating ideas to people through storyboards and story telling. 

I discussed with my study advisor, Dr Shaleph O'Neil about how people may react to certain storyboards. There will be 3 different types of storyboard: 1. Hand drawn 2. Graphically illustrated  and 3. Interactive.

The interactive storyboard will obviously be digital, however as Dead On Arrival shows, Flash animations can contain very "un-digital" and natural interactions. For example the turning of pages; this is done by clicking the top or bottom corners of a page and dragging them over, almost as you would do a book.

Computer interactions can be very natural. This reminds of the beauty of the interaction design of an iPhone or iPod Touch when zooming in and out of photos or web pages. Pinching your fore-finger and thumb together, a natural human gesture for describing the reduction in size of an object, is how to zoom out (i.e. to make smaller), and vice-versa.

How natural can I design interactions?

I don't mean to compare an iPhone with a digital comic, however the principle of their interactions are comparable in terms of natural gesture. There is biological consideration into their design. 

Click here to see the Dead on Arrival comic. An HTML version of the comic is also available, which I think is rather pointless. The whole beauty of the story is the interaction itself.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

daily routines

I don't know why I hadn't blogged this weeks ago! It came up in conversation yesterday and reminded me.

Daily Routines are taken from magazines, websites, books and newspapers and depict how writers, artists and many other interesting people live their days with the little rituals that make each and every one of us that little bit different. 

The chronological blog entries allow you to compare different people from the same discipline; authors for example. 

Two of my favourite authors' daily routines are mentioned on the blog:

Stephen King

“There are certain things I do if I sit down to write,” he said. “I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning,” he explained. “I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.

“It’s not any different than a bedtime routine,” he continued. “Do you go to bed a different way every night? Is there a certain side you sleep on? I mean I brush my teeth, I wash my hands. Why would anybody wash their hands before they go to bed? I don’t know. And the pillows are supposed to be pointed a certain way. The open side of the pillowcase is supposed to be pointed in toward the other side of the bed. I don’t know why.”

John Grisham

When he first started writing, Grisham says, he had "these little rituals that were silly and brutal but very important."

"The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I'd jump in the shower. My office was 5 minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week."

His goal: to write a page every day. Sometimes that would take 10 minutes, sometimes an hour; ofttimes he would write for two hours before he had to turn to his job as a lawyer, which he never especially enjoyed. In the Mississippi Legislature, there were "enormous amounts of wasted time" that would give him the opportunity to write.

"So I was very disciplined about it," he says, then quickly concedes he doesn't have such discipline now: "I don't have to."

I wouldn't have thought Grisham was so meticulous in his creative process, however considering he was a lawyer, this now seems reasoned. I also love the fact that King, writer of such beautifully horrifying stories, writes in such a pleasant, organised and warm environment. 

I think I might storyboard some of these!

Monday, February 9, 2009


In reference to the concept of hypertext fiction, where narrative is non-linear and non-hierarchical, hypercomics are a variation of comics that has truly embraced its digital medium, allowing multiple changeable paths within a fractured rhizomatic (wiki) environment. 

A great example of hypercomics is a piece by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey entitled PoCom-UK-001. It was originally a massive collaborative hypercomic, however this web adaptation marked the debut of Daniel's "Tarquin Engine", a flash-based interactive canvas, which allows other authors to easily explore the concept of hypercomics.

Having spoken to my study advisor, Dr Shaleph O'Neil, about using Flash to animate storyboards, I instantly and naturally created an image in my head of how this animation/interaction would look. Having seen this, however, I now realize the true potential for variation interactive visualizations can possess. 

See more at

death, inheritance and heirlooms

I had an interesting conversation with Richard Banks today over lunch.

Richard has been looking at what it means to design digital artifacts with longer time spans in mind, and taking heredity of objects into account. He explained his interest in the design of a form of technology which he refers to as technology heirlooms. 

In my understanding, a technology heirloom is a technological product/object that is designed with the intention that it might live longer than its owner and therefore be "handed down"  embodying an impression or sense of its owner. (Richard, please correct me if I am wrong!)

Digital objects are normally thought of in the short term. But Richard is now asking what happens when we consider these objects in the long term that may have unpredictable and unexpected value to our children and families. 

I find this notion of digital objects being un-obsolete (have I just made up a new word?) fascinating. If I were to pass my iPod down to one of my grandchildren, how will they perceive it? Will they keep it in a shoe box under the bed as they feel obliged to keep it but not to use it? Will my (varied) music collection be loved or hated? Will my iPod still be "cool"?

What will "retro" designed object look like in 2109?

Death is something we all experience whether it be through bereavement or through the approach of death itself; it is part of life. Considering digital products may outlive their owners introduces a whole new principle in the way we design objects themselves; design for the dead?

Which leads me to think: Who will I pass my Facebook profile onto?

catch up

I identified the problem of communication of ideas in the design process to users (I don’t like using this word as it suggests a stereotype of certain people).

Communicating and prototyping ideas of interactions or, more complexly, of ubiquitous computing can be difficult and very time consuming.

But what is the value of prototyping? Is this immeasurable?

Richard Banks mentioned at his talk to IPD in November that a mistake would be to “get precious” about your prototyping. Rather than spending time on a final, well-finished product, it is often more rewarding and efficient to work through ideas quickly and communicating them as unfinished ideas as opposed to finished ones. Besides, most people are more interested in the process of a design rather than the outcome.

With Fable, I spent a lot of time neglecting people and working on making it work. Surely it should be the opposite?

However I did find it extremely difficult to communicate the ideas of ubiquitous computing to people during the project. When you tell someone a mug can be an input device to a smart-surface table, the immediate questions are always: why and how!

My initial aim, as discussed with Richard in August, was to develop tools and techniques to help designers communicate complex ideas within the interaction/ubiquitous computing design paradigm. Yet after some preliminary research, I have become clear that this is not necessary.

There already exists tools in which can be used to communicate and visualise ideas, such as storyboarding and paper-prototyping. I mean whatever happened to good old-fashioned drawing? Then there are animation software’s such as Flash which can be used to bring drawings and storyboards to life by applying movements, changes and communicating cause and effect.

“Faking” is also an unwritten method. A wonderful example being the Sketch-a-Move video by Anib Jane where she communicates the idea of controlling the behaviour of a toy car by drawing a path on its roof. No fancy electronics or computer programs, just smoke and mirrors (well, in this case a few magnets).

So I aim to put these traditional tools to the test and use them in new ways.

This happens to blend in nicely with another project I’m working on at the moment; the T3 project.

T3 (Transferability 3) is a joint research project between Deutsche Telekom Laboratories (t-labs), Berlin and the School of Design University of Dundee, exploring case transfer as a method to develop new designs for information communication products and services for older people.

Although only 2 weeks old, the project overlaps with some of the work I am doing in that it is very people-centered yet probably more demographically focused. “Older people” are seen to be 60 and over (still a huge demographic; there are more “older people” than ever before and this trend continues to rise).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Still Frames

It's been a (quick) month since my last post. I think I'm getting lazy.

Having spoken to my study advisor, Dr Shaleph O'Neil, on Monday, I remembered a short film I made last year. 

I took a series of photos (one every 5 minutes or so) from the exact same position when we were building our stand at New Designers 08 in London. 

An interesting way to approach visual communication of a process. Still framing could be used to communicate interaction design concepts? No fancy/expensive equipment needed; cheap tripod, digital stills camera. No script or thorough planning required.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

unique perception

Notes to self:

storyboards be produced using images alone; without the use of written language?

Roland Barthes in his essay "Rhetoric of the Image" (cir. 1964) argues that the meaning of an image is always related to and dependent on verbal text. He believes that images alone are "polysemous." In other words, too open for interpretation.

Does written language always have to rescue an image?

The definition of 'comics' suggests that written language is not necessary to accompany an image or sequence of images. (For sure, a comic and a storyboard are not the same form of visual communication, however they do have their similarities).

A visualization can be interpreted in different ways depending on the opinion/stand-point of the viewer. 'Similar Diversity' (below) is a wonderful example of this.

But isn't that the beauty of visual arts? Our eyes see the same things our minds interpret things differently. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

so to sum up...

To recapitulate my research over the past semester of my MDes, I feel almost obliged to visualize it! 

I planned on writing a quick program in Processing that would randomly pick words from my blog and display them on an 8x5 sized postcard, and then I realised how pointlessly time consuming that would. I almost forgot about Wordle!

I don't know what I like best this; "information" which happens to represent a tree trunk, or the most important word of all, visualization, which sits proudly in the epicenter of my thoughts. 

Happy New Year!

religion, meet science

Philipp Steinweber and Andreas Koller have created Similar Diversity, a visualization that exposes a fresh perspective on the topic of religion and faith.

The graphic focuses on the Holy Books of five religions from around the world, showing communalities and differences between them.

The essence of the visualization is an objective and honest “text analysis” of the five scriptures without any manipulation from Steinweber or Koller, which are realized with 2 different tools; the evaluation is done using VVVV and the graphic visualization of the data is created in Processing.

Steinweber and Koller downloaded digital versions of English translated Holy Scriptures (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism) from the internet.

The large arc visual shows the 41 most frequent characters from different Holy Scriptures and their communalities. 
The characters are aligned alphabetically on the x-axis. Their names’ and the arcs’ size are calculated from their total word-count in all 5 scriptures. According to that, characters which play a big role in several scriptures are displayed larger.

Below the names can be found bar charts which are breaking down the activities of the characters in detail. The verbs are gained by filtering them out of the texts, technically each verb straight after a character’s name is taken. In case of the word order "God loves" the verb "loves" is referred to the character’s name "God". The height of the rows and the font size show the frequency of particular activities.

What I love most about Similar Diversity, aside its beauty, is the fact that neither author manipulated any of the data from the scriptures, meaning the visualization will effect people differently on an emotional level depending on their religious standpoint. It really made me think about my preconceptions of religion, and in a time of conflict between Israel and Gaza, I Similar Diversity inspired me to think about religious conflict and realize to a certain extent why such hostility remains in existence.

Monday, December 29, 2008

visualizing fetishism

I mentioned in a previous post that people who are able to visualize complex information are normally and rightly given credit. Harry Beck, Ivan Kozik, Massimo Vignelli etc...

However after writing about the work of Sebastian Van Sande and Ivan Kozik and their Facebook visualizers, I began to question the reason for such systems. After all, do we really need to a graphic representation of our social networks? 

Where can I, as a post-graduate researcher, draw the line when it comes to a purposeful visualization (a subway map) and and a seemingly pointless one? 

And then I found this map by Katherine Gates.

This is a "Fetish Roadmap" (for larger image click here). 

The Fetish Roadmap is a an overview and field guide to fetishes. The map provides overviews of general categories and descriptions of the sub-categories. The map is particularly well designed in that it depends on the viewers subjective point of view to understand and unravel the complexity of the information. 

I'm beginning to connect with what Livett (co-author of Freakonomics; see below) says differently. There is so much "information" (data) around us and as the world grows, more information comes to fruition. Levitt has proved that by looking at information, in his case "data", differently, we can begin to see our world in a completely new way and understand the true roots of problems.

Visualization is merely a tool for "seeing this new information in a new way," allowing us to think about new everyday things such as social networks differently.


stop motion

This is a stunning stop motion film by Carlos Lascano. Wonderful expression of love and hope through various styles of animation. 

I particularly like the switch from 3D characters to 2D characters at 1:06 and then back to 3D at 3:00.

One of the reasons I love Vimeo!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

visualizing friend networks

Sebastian Van Sande has developed Visualizera tool that allows you to explore your Facebook social network graphically. This is the "Visualization" of my Facebook account.

It's great as I can see friends connected to other friends and also the ones who are only connected to me. The tool allows for filtering your network by gender and relationship status.

However I'm confused as to the length of the connecting lines. What do different line lengths represent? Some of my close friends appear close to me on the map, and others far away. Does the program determine who is close and who is further away through a friends activity?

It would be even more useful if short lines represented close friends and vic-versa. This way, we would be able to visualize not only our map of friends, but also the various levels of relationships between each other. 

Imagine if we were able to connect our maps with each others! If everyone on Facebook did this then I would inevitably be connected to, say, Barrack Obama (presumably through 6 corresponding people considering the "6 degrees of separation" theory to be accurate).

Wouldn't it be great to see a whole world networked graphically using a social networking site?

As a visualization tool, Van Sande has created an interactive application that communicates a complex network greatly. As with the underground maps, credit is given to those who achieve simplistic communication of labyrinth-like infrastructures.

However in comparison to Nexus by Ivan Kozik (Below), Visualizer is lacking as both an interactive and informative tool for the search for information within a complex infrastructure. 

Nexus is another friend grapher for Facebook. It calculates friend similarity by parsing profiles, and highlights links between friends who share interests and groups. The visualization resembles a costilation and looks far more striking than Visualizer. 

And the method of retrieving information is far more straight forward. Another great example of a "walk up and use system."