Ever wonder what it’s like to put the news together? How do journalists go about following leads? How are the editorial decisions made on a daily basis? Each day the New York Times posts “TimesCast,” a “fly-on-the-wall” look at what’s involved in putting a daily paper together.

While driving my daughter and her friends to school I overheard them talking about a student in their class who was publicly mentioned by the teacher for not accepting his friend request on Facebook. As a mother I was shocked on several levels: Should a 13-yr-old have a Facebook profile? Why is a teacher trying to friend a minor? But as someone who works in the UX industry, I’m well aware of the ubiquity of social media and the access that kids have to it.

Needless to say, I won’t allow my daughter to sign up on Facebook until it’s easier to establish boundaries.

As I listened to Paul Adams’ excellent talk, Closing the gap between peoples’ online and real life social networks at the Information Architecture Summit in Phoenix this weekend, I flashed back to the conversation I heard between my daughter and her friends. Do kids really understand what it means to be someone’s friend online–that anything they publish will be out there in perpetuity for their friends and their friends’ friends to see?

We learned from Paul’s research that people have multiple groups of “friends,”  from close ties to temporary ties and that most people don’t even use the term “friend” to describe these online connections. Is it clear that people can create groups and that they can post status for a limited audience?  Are we doing enough to educate parents, students and teachers about the importance of privacy settings?

Kids throw stuff out there with little understanding of who will read it. Content is out there for anybody to access, including college admissions directors and employers. When teachers and students friend each other, the boundaries between friend and professional are blurred. Many teachers wouldn’t think about socializing with students offline, but there are some very legitimate reasons why they’d want to be connected with them online. This is where kids live now, and teachers would like to be able to reach them on social media sites with legitimate, school-related content, but they’re unsure about how to proceed.

We in the UX community  understand how to find and navigate the privacy settings of most social media sites, but how sophisticated is a 13-yr-old? We in the design world are ahead of the curve in terms of understanding the effects of putting these tools in the hands of children, but many parents and teaches are still trying to figure this stuff out.

Common Sense Media has done a wonderful job at teaching kids about how to behave positively in a digital world, as well as helping parents figure out the social media landscape and what is available to their children. This New York Times story describes how a California 4th grade teacher uses Common Sense Media curricula to help his students use digital media responsibly. This awareness-raising is welcome and long overdue. I know from personal experience that school communities need these resources, as schools are increasingly expected to solve these problems for children and families–online as well as offline. Schools are in the midst of creating policies to guide teachers and students for what is appropriate online behavior.

It is our responsibility as designers to educate users about the importance of boundaries when joining online communities, and this is a timely opportunity for social media leaders Facebook, Google and Yahoo to create online and  offline public service content to educate school communities. Think about the messaging in alcohol marketing “drink responsibly.” Similarly, we need to help students and teachers “Create boundaries–socialize online responsibly.”

Yesterday Maureen Dowd used the word “casuistry” in her critique of Sarah Palin’s resignation speech. I consider myself fairly well-read and articulate, but I’m certain I’ve never encountered this word. Fast forward a couple of hours and now I’m reading Claire Cain Miller’s piece about new P.R. strategies for start-ups in the Times business section and it mentions Wordnik, the beta site that’s all about words. So, I thought I’d check out what it had to say about casuistry.

Move over dictionary.com–this site not only has definitions from four dictionaries, but it includes etymology, relevant tweets and usage over time,  cleverly visualized in a very NYTimes-esque bubble chart. Since Dowd used the word, two people posted tweets (1 was a comment about Dowd’s usage). The word was most popular between 1830 and 1860, the related antonyms and synonyms are “correct,” “true,” “fallacy,” and “sophism,” respectively. For those who are visual learners, there is a section where you can see what Flickr users think a word looks like (no visual for casuistry, but check out images for the synonym fallacy).

Wordnik wants to be “a place for all the words and everything know about them.” May I make one suggestion to satisfy us word puzzlers out there–stats on crossword references would make it nearly perfect!

I was impressed to see another example of the Obama admin.’s efforts at transparency–this one through Flickr. “The Official White House Photo Stream” is a fascinating chronicle of the daily goings-on at the White House. There are endless cabinet meetings, Obama preparing for speeches, throwing a football around, catching a quick golf game with Biden and recent visits to Europe and Mexico. While it’s interesting to see the President and his staff (impromptu meetings, 1-on-1 chats and lots of walks down long hallways ala West Wing), the most fascinating thing is seeing the beautiful interiors of the White House–rooms we ordinarily don’t see in typical press photos. It’s a reminder of the formality and old-worldliness of the building–a stark contrast to the Obamas, with their casual style and lack of pretense. But in this one, they seem in synch with their surroundings.

Just attended my first IA Summit in Memphis, TN, where I reconnected with colleagues from way back (e.g. Peterme) and met some new ones, like Whitney Hess, Chris Fahey and Sarah Rice, my co-panelists at our talk “The Courage to Quit. Starting, growing and maintaining your own UX business.”Small audience (not surprising for a Sunday morning), but a good conversation with some interesting questions. Questions asked ranged from should I be distributing printed marketing materials, what are the pros & cons of hourly vs. fixed fee, what does it take to go solo and have we ever seen people who’ve decided to back to working fulltime. I think if we were to do a similar panel again, I would love to get someone on the panel who hires consultants.

Memorable talks…

Eric Reiss‘  “A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand” is his analysis of 10 yrs of IASummits, his correlation between plummeting conference attendance and divisive attitudes/behaviors amongst the IAI leadership, opinions about why factions broke off to form other groups, and a passionate call to action for the group to be more inclusive in order to survive.

Whitney Hess‘ incredibly brave, motivational talk “Evangelizing Yourself,” an inspiring reminder on why we all need to speak up for the user experience practice to survive (and to make a living). Lesson learned: Get out there–don’t be afraid to write, blog, twitter, LinkedIn, ask people out for coffee, read a lot to stay informed and the dreaded “network.” I’ve always associated these behaviors with self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, braggadocio, but this talk made me realize that you don’t have to change who you are at your core, but you can use these tools to ensure that you’re top-of-mind when others need a service. Touche, Whitney!

Kate Rutter’s “Lessons from the Slime Mold,” where she creatively used the metaphor of the adaptable slime mold to encourage us to be more sensing about each other and the organizations in which we work in order to progress in our field.

Oh, and of course the ducks at the Peabody Hotel put on quite a show!

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Having worked on a do-it-yourself home renovation tool with Armstrong, I was curious to check out Autodesk’s Project Dragonfly after reading Ashlee Vance’s review in the New York Times.  I wanted to see how the site handles issues that we faced on Design My Room, like color, perspective, sizing and the intricacies of placing objects in a room exactly where you want them.

Once you get beyond the big homepage headline–“Feedback? Hey we just started this thing. Really and we need you to tell us what to add or fix to create the killer app for you, seriously, it’ll only help us to give you what you want!” –you’ll quickly see that the app is very basic but potentially useful for people who want to get a feel for how furniture and bathroom fixtures fit in a room. There is no ability to change wall colors or accessories or place your own objects in rooms.

Here’s what I experienced: I started a project based on a template. The default view is 2D or plan view and allows you to see all the rooms in a home at once, zoom into any room and click on walls to check dimensions. You can also toggle to 3D and “fly through” the rooms, which is pretty cool. From what I can see you can only work with placement in 2D. For example, you can click a piece of furniture and delete it, rotate it or “enable/disable content rules” (not sure what that was) and the pop-up that appeared when I clicked that button was completely confusing.

Other frustrations I experienced included:

  • Having to toggle back and forth between a product’s thumbnail and its description on a separate screen. A simple dialogue box upon hover would have solved this rather than forcing users to pogostick between the products and the details.
  • Inability to tweak color–on the walls and in simple accessories, like an area rug.

I’ve heard terrific things about similar sites, like FloorPlanner and Google’s Sketchup. The new web-based Design My Room allows users to create moodboard-like collages with a menu of products, then link to the manufacturers’ sites for more information. It’s apparent that the development team worked directly with interior designers. Their collage-based tool models how many designers play with different looks and share them with clients. Fun stuff. Now if I could only find the time to re-paint my bathroom.

Happy New Year to all. I’m excited to (finally) get this up and running. Bear with me–the design will evolve as I explore the world of CSS. The purpose of this blog is to share my thoughts on all things design. Enjoy and comment.

As Michael Krasny noted in his recent “Forum” interview with futurist Paul Saffo, what better way to mark a new year than by talking about the future. I encourage anyone interested in economic trends and the effects of emerging technologies to take a listen. Saffo covers lots of ideas in the interview, including his prediction U.S. will cease to exist as a nation and we’ll become a collection of city states, the new challenge of coping with uncertaintly and volatility and the three models of world capitalism. One of the most fascinating topics is that we’ve come into a “Creator Economy.” Following the producer trend (mid 1800’s-1940’s) and the consumer trend (1950s-1990s), we are in the midst of a 3rd important economic trend, characterized by the exchange of value via interactive media. Used it be that to produce a radio show like Krasny’s, you had to be affiliated with a radio station. Now anyone can create a podcast. All our interactions on YouTube, Flickr and Twitter contribute to the creator economy.

Implications of the Creator Economy for design are enormous. If the creator economy is about enabling people to create and share value, how can we prepare kids for this economy? What will be the implications to non-web product design, and how will new offline business models engage us to create value? Should be an amazing century!

After Obama won the election last Tuesday I received this email from “Barack” (that’s how he signs off all emails):

Jenn —

I’m about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first.

We just made history.

And I don’t want you to forget how we did it.

You made history every single day during this campaign — every day you knocked on doors, made a donation, or talked to your family, friends, and neighbors about why you believe it’s time for change.

I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent, and passion to this campaign.

We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I’ll be in touch soon about what comes next.

But I want to be very clear about one thing…

All of this happened because of you.

Thank you,

Barack

After he beat Hillary in the primaries, I decided to sign up for his email updates, thinking that I’d receive a weekly email. I even downloaded the Obama Facebook app. Not only did I receive email from Barack, but heard from Michelle and Joe (Biden). After awhile I must admit, it started feeling a bit spam-ish, so rather guiltily I stopped reading the emails and trashed them. Yet this latest is one I’ll keep, because I feel that in my own way, I participated in a little bit of history. I know that this won’t be the last communique, because the campaign has managed to build an online brand and extensive database to which he can message directly. As David Carr wrote in the  New York Times this morning, “Senator Barack Obama understood that you could use the Web to lower the cost of building a political brand, create a sense of connection and engagement, and dispense with the command and control method of governing to allow people to self-organize to do the work.”

Maybe because he’s the first post-boomer president or maybe it’s his message of change, but most certainly it’s because of the relationships he’s built online that I’ll be engaged in the dialog for the next four (or more?) years.

As I embark on a series of on-site and phone interviews for a client, I’ve sought lots of inspiration on how to conduct a great interview. Two terrific sources I’ll share:

1. Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behaviors by Indi Young: Indi provides an exceptionally useful guide to interviewing, likening field studies to the work journalists do. The key to a non-leading interview is to remember your junior high journalism class–use “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why” & “how” and never “is that,” “did you,” “wasn’t it,” etc. She also provides a sample transcript of her own past interview and calls out which questions were leading.

2. Getting People to Talk: An Ethnography and Interviewing Primer: Now, I am aware of all the controversy around using traditional ethnographic methodologies for design research, and I don’t claim that the methods employed in the field for the purupose of design reseaarch is exactly what traditional social antrhopologists use, but I do know that this guide will be very useful for anyone going out in the field to understand users for the purpose of product strategy and design. Grad students Gabriel Biller and Kristy Scovel from Chicago’s IIT School of Design assembled a simple, entertaining piece on how to get the most out of interviewing in the field. Dori Tunstall is a featured contributor and according to her blog the video positions this type of research not just as laundry list of techniques, but as philosophy. For me the piece helped me understand not to take people’s words at face value and to make assumptions about their meaning, but to dig deeper to further understand what people mean by the words they use.

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