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thoughts and observations about design, information architecture and design history
Wednesday 12|19|01
IA Is Really A Creative Pursuit

So says Abel Lenz in the latest insights column on Design Interact. It's a nice read and another example of how We Are Them and vice versa.


Posted by erin at 05:28 PM | in Information Architecture :: | Link

Info Arch vs. Graphic Design

Gerry McGovern's most recent column decides to pit Information Architecture versus Graphic Design. He obviously does not understand Graphic Design and design training. His arguments assume that the Graphic Designer is purely a purveyor of style and is a graphic artist rather than a problem solver who creates COMMUNICATION solutions appropriate to the medium in which it will be delivered.

Graphic Designers are getting a bad rap across the web and within a lot of communities. The influx of "designers" who spread across the web during the heyday and swathed sites with heavy graphics and inappropriate flash sites have given the field - which concerns itself with creating solutions that most appropriately communicate meaning - a bad name.

The latest Communication Arts issue has an essay by Nancy Nowacek that comes at this Us vs. Them from the point of view of a well trained thoughtful designer. She defines Design to be:

"Design is also understanding cultural signs and human behavior to create resonant, clear, and intuitively usable objects."

This is what Design is about. She also points out that many designers who worked in print, also did signage sytems and environmental spaces, they worked on Annual Reports and a variety of other problems that required careful thought about the problem, the intended communication, the best solution and an understanding of the final presentation medium.

She notes that many of us, in order to continue to grow and work on the interesting projects and to make a difference, have evolved, have changed our titles and pretty much never mention that we are graphic designers. The name, the profession, used be something that she and many of us were proud to tell people. Now we are "Information Designers" or Information Architects" or "UI Designers" but we have dropped the dreaded Graphic because of the negative connotations associated with it by many in the online world.

Many senior designers that I know, have taken their skills in organizing for meaning, in grouping and developing systems and displays, and become Information Architects. The skills are translateable. I am not saying that there aren't a lot of misguided and poorly trained people out there calling themselves "Graphic Designers", but I am asking that we shouldn't all be judged by what a few are doing. I am an Information Architect. I am a Graphic Designer. I use my skills and experience across multiple mediums and have great concern for choosing the appropriate solutions for the medium. There shouldn't be an Us vs. Them. We are Us. We are Them. There are a lot of people I know who feel the same way.


Posted by erin at 12:18 PM | in Criticism :: | Link | Comments (2)

Thursday 12|13|01
The Decline of the Access Guides

I received a forwarded email today which included the latest essay from the Red Rock Eaters mailing list.

Phil Agre, an associate professor in Information Studies at UCLA, takes a long hard look at the latest version of the San Francisco Access Guide and laments the degradation of information design and the watered down interpretation of Richard Saul Wurman's original vision of the product.

He talks about Wurman's original implementation and it's signalling announcement of the new field of Information Architecture/Design and describes it as

"Information design starts from the user:
the inherent structure of a given body of information, the concrete process of using it, the questions a user is likely to have at each step along the way, the detailed properties of human perception and cognition, and the mappings between the structure of information and the structure of its physical embodiment that can make the answers to a user's questions perceptually and cognitively available at the moment when they are needed."

The essay is a good read and does a nice job of comparing in very specific ways, the faults or inadequacies of the new design to the original design. What is not known is whether Wurman was involved in any way - his name still sits on the guides - and what the new problems to be solved were by the new set of designers.

A brief history of modernism and modernist theories are also touched upon as well to give the design decisions some context.

This brings up a good topic - how do a new set of designers, brought in to redesign something highly successful - design a successful product? Many designers want to make their mark. Not everyone agrees that a particular solution is the right one - even if it was done by Richard Saul Wurman. How do you do an update to something that really only needs new content, yet the client may ask for a new design as well. Do you throw everything out and start over from scratch - often stumbling into the problems that had already been solved in a successful way but not understanding the reasons for the original solution because you were not part of the original team so different decisions are made to be different than the previous model? Are the problems different 20 years later? Do you just make minor changes to the existing design and run the risk of diluting the intent or the connections and then have to continually be compared to the original because the changes haven't been super radical?

I feel for the new set of designers - living up the the reputation and skills of the original team is a hard act to follow. Agre takes them to task for not learning from their predecessors - as they say - those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat their mistakes.


Posted by erin at 10:47 AM | in Information Architecture :: | Link | Comments (1)

Sunday 12| 9|01
A web of visions

Article about what looks like an interesting exhibit at the London Design Museum. The exhibition focuses solely on Web Designers.

The article features Joshua Davis and his opinions about Nielsen, which are not positive. He says "I once sent him an e-mail - that he probably still has - saying that I'd beat him up if I saw him. " He goes on to say that ..."His ideas don't promote growth, they stifle creativity. We are at opposite ends of the spectrum."

Hear, hear - I think that in the appropriate context, Nielsen's thoughts may be good guidance, but when blanketly applied to the whole of the internet and all web sites they are totally stifling and bad for the future of innovation and new ways of looking at things. I think that his rules are dangerous as a one size fits all way to approach things - which I am sure is not how he means it to come across, but that is the way his punditness (is that a real word?) is percieved.

Anyway - check out the article and the museum site - specifically the DigitalDesignMuseum section.


Posted by erin at 11:07 AM | in Event :: | Link | Comments (3)

Sunday 12| 2|01
Hearing Voices

Nick Finck references the creation of the printing press by Gutenberg as a similar phenomena to the proliferance of the internet. He goes on to say that although the Printing press opened the world up to some to be heard, the internet is available to all and that the Internet is a more democratizing invention than the printing press was.

Yes and No. The printing press was adopted by hundreds of people and cheaply printed materials were disseminated across Europe. Previously, only scholars, monks and the extremely wealthy were educated to read and only the monks and scribes had access to copy books. Once the proliferation of presses and printed material came about, the average person or family could own a book or two - most likely the bible, and they could learn to read as well.

So while the Internet has allowed everyone and their brother (who can afford a computer) to be a publisher and to have a voice, the printing press brought knowledge and reading to many more people and in much the same way as today - only those with a certain threshold of money could actually speak (publish).


Posted by erin at 01:36 PM | in History :: | Link | Comments (1)

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