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  past petermemes

August 5, 1999
Oh. I'm "cool." Today I just found out that on July 15 I was awarded "Cool Site of The Day." I only found out because I got email from them telling me this. Oddly enough, not one person mentioned this to me--I'm assuming because nobody reads that site anymore.

Last night's scotch: Dalwhinnie. Look at that name! Sweet and strong, ending with a peppery finish. Good middle-of-the-road scotch.

From the Yet Another Picture of peterme Department. Cool blurry pic from Webzine99. From left to right: Me, Ryan Junell (in the middle, looking off and up), and Lane Becker, in the red and white t-shirt.

A small firestorm. A couple days ago I ranted both here and on the CHI-Web mailing list against the notion that you have to call a shopping cart a "shopping cart." There's been a great discussion on the mailing list under the subject line "Smiling is Good User Experience."

blog-rolling. Written by an old Voyager colleague, Illuminatrix' weblog is among the better I've seen.

August 4, 1999
Compare and contrast.
The Black Hole and a black hole.

Gurp. Simply beautiful. Read on, but make sure you've got time to spare.

post-nirvana hipster prattle... Fotomo Blues is a compelling piece of web poetry about living in urbania.

August 3, 1999
Smiling experiences. Mark Simple submitted http://www.easybake.com/ with the note "undulating snack-cakes are key," and Whit Andrews chimed in with http://www.cheese.com/. He offered no reason (he's too busy actually working to be bothered which such details), but I can think of one--it's a whole site devoted to CHEESE. The word "cheese" is all over it. "Cheese," by it's very nature, is funny. I'm not talking "cheeze," like "that's cheezy." We're all about pure and simple fermented curd here. Cheese cheese cheese.

Oh dear, my head's all full of thoughts. I've just returned from a wonderfully engaging Noend meeting where Jane Martin led a discussion on the intersection of architecture and digital media. Oof. Lots of topics were raised, paramount those dealing with The Body.

Jane was interested in what web designers think what they're working on will influence the design of physical space. It got me thinking about how wherever my laptop is (and, preferably an internet connection), I'm "at work."

Ideas of narrative and constructed experience also arose, and led me to realize that both physical and information architecture could learn something from Disney--their theme parks are built around stories, and such stories provide a cohering structure upon which to build. The narrative becomes a backbone that helps ensure a more seamless, holistic (and often escapist) experience.

This tickles a reminiscence about something Kim told me about filmmaking, and the importance of seamlessness in presenting cinema. You never want people to realize they're watching a film; you want them immersed in the experience on screen. There are formalist tricks to accomplishing this, such as the 180-degree rule (that the camera should be kept on one-side of the action, as the brain experiences cognitive dissonance when people's positions are suddenly swapped), but even such formalist tricks can be superceded if there's a powerful enough narrative that pulls people through.

I consider scenarios a key design tool, where you write a story about an archetypal visitor's use of the site. A potentially innovative adjunct would be to construct a story for the site, which provides personality and structure the way Disney's narratives guided the development of Disneyland.

Making the Web dull for democracy. In his August 2 "spotlighted links," Jakob Nielsen points out the problem of naming an online store's shopping cart anything other than "shopping cart." A winter sports site wanted to distinguish itself, so it called it a "shopping sled." A usability test showed that 50% of users didn't understand, and the other 50% got it.

Jakob's lesson: "Do not try to be smart and use new terms when we have good words available that users already know."

To which I say, WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG and I jump up and down and get mad.

Ironically enough, on August 2 I discussed how Garden.com's "wheelbarrow" makes me smile. It's a cute and clever departure from the norm. Sure, it might take a little extra effort to "get," but once you do, and you smile, you're hooked. And become a repeat customer. Because, well, people like personality.

There's more to the shopping experience than immediate transparency. The "wheelbarrow" might be a little obtuse, but it's definitely a UI issue that is easy to recover from. Now, I'm not saying everyone run off and rename their shopping carts. Oftentimes, "shopping cart" is the best term. But don't assume that you have to call it that. The Web is dull enough, thank you.

Tee-hee! More Amazon customer comments hacking.

And there was much rejoicing. Not only is there a new essay on Stating The Obvious, it's been redesigned, and features message boards! Huzzah!

The Good, The Bad, And Some Stuff I Disagree With. Ease-of-use consultants Creative Good have written up a list of their top 10 Best Practices and top 10 Worst Practices of E-Commerce Implementation. Good information and useful thinking are presented, but I take issue with a couple of items on the current "worst" side.

I think that eToys checkout status graphic is an elegant design solution. It innovates beyond other checkout status markers by allowing slight diversions in the process (say when you're sending to multiple addresses). As someone who has designed many an order tunnel path, I can tell you that the flexibility this signpost affords is welcome.

I'm suspicious of the claim that people want to click it [Addendum since I first wrote this: In email, Mark from Creative Good informed me that the clicking came up in user tests, and so I'm no longer "suspicious." However I still stand by what follows.], and even if they do, they'll learn quickly that that's not how it works. It's okay if people make an innocuous mistake when learning a system, when the reward is a better experience once they get it.

I also don't follow the claim that it's bad that Gap.com doesn't feature a search engine. A cursory trip around the store shows at most 500 products, which actually is not that many. Applying a search engine to this would do little to make the experience more efficient, and could lead to host of other concerns--with so few items in stock, it's more likely a search will return 0 results, which is perhaps the worst response a store's customer can get.

The moral of this petermeme: Be wary of what an expert tells you. Unless it's me.

August 2, 1999
Smiling is good user experience. This is a petermeme I'm particularly interested in spreading. It occurred to me looking at the Body Shop's "Happy" page, and recurred to me tonight as I placed an item in Garden.com's "wheelbarrow" (their term for shopping cart). What web interface makes you smile? (I'm interested in stuff on more corporate sites, not clever gizmos designed solely for humor's sake.)

August 1, 1999
Tonight's Scotch: Talisker. Ballsy. Full-bodied. Strong. Slaps your tongue around, forcing it to pay attention! "Do you taste me? DO YOU TASTE ME?" demands Talisker. Not for the meek. But damn good.

Demo-licious! Knocked down a wall yesterday. Took some pictures. Please to be starting with the BREAK STUFF GOOD box to the left.

More on Election. I can't get the movie out of my mind. Some other topics it touches on that I overlooked include infertility and single motherhood. Considering the range of issues, I was surprised that those most American of all concepts, money and capitalism, didn't really enter into it. But, thinking further, it occurred to me that the flick is a rags-to-riches (and riches-to-rags) story right out of Horatio Alger. Young girl with no dad and not a lot of money works really hard, applies herself wholly to her goals, and succeeds. The wrinkle, of course, is that she's portrayed as a manipulative, ladder-climbing, stomp-over-those-who-get-in-my-way nutcase. After seeing the movie, this quote from the Horatio Alger Association home page is particularly ironic:

Since 1947, The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans has been dedicated to honoring the accomplishments and achievements of outstanding individuals in our society who have succeeded in the face of adversity, and to encourage young people to pursue their dreams with determination and perseverance.

July 30, 1999
The best film of the year.
How come no one told me that
Election was so great? That's it's not only the best American feature film in the last few years, but that it's the best film about life in America? It's dead-on hilarious, and amazing in how it touches on so many topics in a uniquely American fashion--adultery, promiscuity, high school, parent-child relationships, lesbianism, drugs, the acquisition of power, faith, atheism, pride, masturbation, football (whoo!), joyless marriage, the sham that is democracy, catholic school girls, cheating, getting caught, getting away with it, starting anew in New York City, and so on. Every performance is a gem, and the films literary qualities pack the plot densely in it's scant 90 minutes. Unfortunately it's at the end of its run, but if this is playing anywhere near you, see it. It's particularly remarkable in that it's a study of current American society without ever once resting on cheap pop culture references to get its point across--it's a true original.

Two pseudo-documentaries. I'm too lazy to write full on reviews, so here's some half-baked takes on a few more flicks. By now, everyone has heard of
The Blair Witch Project. I got caught by the hype and saw it this past week. And I seem to be the only man in America who thought it pretty much sucked. I was particularly disappointed with the sloppy documentary trope--no documentary filmmakers would have done such a bad job scouting out the film before shooting it--if you don't plan what you're doing ahead of time, you shoot shit. Plain and simple. Well, this whole movie felt like an unplanned escapade, and much of what I saw on screen was shit. Also, it's a cardinal rule of horror films to have at least one sympathetic character. That way you care when they're threatened. Here, I was rooting for the bogeyman to eviscerate these three self-absorbed obnoxious punks. Blecch.
Though not technically a pseudo-documentary, the Japanese film
After Life is directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, a former doc film maker, and it shows. The film's doc approach both works and doesn't work in this tale of what happens after you die. It's great for making the subject believable, but it tends toward showing talking heads, which aren't particularly cinematic. The subject matter is subtly poetic in that slightly off-kilter Japanese manner (at least, off-kilter for we Yanks), reminiscent of Murakami's stories. It's no great work, but it's worth a look-see.

July 29, 1999
Why ask "Whatever happened to..." if nothing has happened to him He's still doing what he's always done![rw]

A happy blogger is a good blogger.
Richard pointed me to The Body Shop's Body'zine Happy page. And I concur. Orange makes me happy. As does the missionary position and ear fondling. One thing that makes a peterme very happy is The Body Shop's seaweed and loofah soap. Scrubby good-smelling goodness!

Idea is a good design.
The latest Emigre newsletter points to a number of
high-design goodies to spur your object fetishism. Of particular interest is the Codex Series, promising to push the interactive design envelope. Yum!

July 28, 1999
Narg. Need more time!
To look at the potentially tasty
Mappa Mundi and Invisible Worlds sites. They say that want to create "new ways to build models for visualizing complex relationships of information." Talk like that gets me all twitterpated. I think. Anywho, thanks, Judith.

For all the 8 bit computer geeks in the house.
walk down memory lane lists a number of Infocom titles for sale, many in their original packaging. The passion those old text adventures seem to spur in people is palpable. And I don't think it's simple nostalgia. Some of it is respect for brilliant design--the packaging was ruthlessly clever. But the games themselves, well, they honestly have rarely been matched by anything produced since. And, remember, they're up to twenty years old. It's interesting to see what lasts.

July 27, 1999
Broadvision sucks.
Due to popular interest, I've created a
page devoted to why.

Here, Fido! Have the "Reservoir Dogs" special!

The mathematics of information design.
Well, kinda. A
friend kindly gifted me with a copy of The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth, which, after 50 pages consumed while drinking Fullers ESB in my local, is proving to be a great read. Mention is made of the Four Color Map Theorem, which states that no more than four colors are needed on any real or imaginary map to ensure that no two adjacent regions have the same color.

I know I've come across this before, but never since I've been an information architect. A large part of my job is creating site maps (which never have adjacent regions anyway--they tend to be more like flowcharts than geographic maps. Hrm. I have at times tried more seemingly physical map models, but never went far with them. The notion of information being designed in such a way, as with Cartia's
ThemeScape, the Visual SiteMap, and SmartMoney's MarketMap are particularly intriguing. They capitalize on our ability to immediately understand spatial relationships.). And the notion that the depiction of information is governed by some seemingly arbitrary mathematical rules tickles my brain (and no, it's not just the Fullers).

The book puts forth the lament that the theorem's proof was woefully inelegant, requiring brute force computation by high-speed machines. A Google search pointed me to a
newer and more elegant proof (that also well-defines the problem). For the math-averse, there is this fairly decent, though at times condescending, explanation.

July 26, 1999
Presupposing prepositions.
This has been something noodling in my brain for a bit. At SXSW I participated on a roundtable discussing interface design. In titling the session, a niggling detail cropped up. Should it be "Designing Interfaces For Damn Near Everything" or "Designing Interfaces To Damn Near Everything"?

I preferred the latter. "For" is a bit distancing; it suggests an obvious intermediary that separates the user from what is actually getting done. "To", while admittedly a tad awkward, is more immediate; it intimates that the user is actually performing the task, not simply interacting with something that in turn performs the task.

Though a seemingly small detail, I think it speaks volumes about this field.

In part because of this, Alan Cooper, in
The Inmates are Running the Asylum, suggests "interaction design." However, it's still not perfect, as one interacts "with," which still suggests some mediating presence. I don't want to interact with a word processor, I want to write an essay.

Which brings us to "experience design." It doesn't need a preposition. You're not designing the intermediary, you're designing the thing in and of itself.

Train of thought almost derailed. Head over to Alamut and read the
21 July 1999 entry. Sinewy logic-leaping goodness.

I've registered
MEMETHERAPY.COM. I've got some ideas for it. Have you?

Well, it's looks like I'm not going to work in London. At least, not any time soon. Unless you've got a job for me there.

Trained in the Black Arts.
Enjoy the adventures of "
The Available Temping Man," a rather, um, you know, silly cartoon.