Design and Innovation Daily

Santa as a designer; the personality of doors

Posted in emotional design, interaction design by Dan on December 23, 2009

Here are 10 reasons why Santa is a great designer, from UI Trends. I have to say, though, that Santa is also a great manager if the elves are still there making all the toys for him.

Nicolas Nova blogged about a paper from the International Journal of Design about how people interpret the movement of automatic doors as a gesture. The simple interaction pattern involved with automatic doors contains a rich set of challenges with regard to emotional design. The study described in the paper analyzed participants’ responses to different door “gestures.” The paper (by Ju and Takayama) can be downloaded here (PDF). The subject reminds me of the XKCD cartoon “Automatic Doors” as well as the Pizza Planet airlock in Toy Story (see below).

With that, I wish you a happy holiday and new year! DIDaily will return bright and early on January 4, 2010.

Armored guards block the automatic doors at Pizza planet
Automatic doors open and the guards move out of the way
Buzz and Woody get ready to sneak into Pizza Planet

Citation for the paper: Ju and Takayama. “Approachability: How People Interpret Automatic Door Movement as Gesture.” International Journal of Design 3.2 (2009).


Design research at Nokia Open Studios

Posted in user research by Dan on December 22, 2009

Jan Chipchase, if you haven’t heard of him, is a researcher working for Nokia who travels around the world to learn how cell phones have changed the lifestyles and social patterns of people in different cultures. For an introduction to his surprising findings, watch his TED talk, and if that holds your interest, read the New York Times article about him, “Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?”

While catching up on Chipchase’ blog, I found a slideshow and a paper about Nokia Open Studios, a project his team ran in 2007. As an alternative method for design research, Nokia conducted public design contests in three “shantytown” communities in Ghana, India, and Brazil. The project was an innovative way for Nokia to engage these communities as well as a fascinating strategy for discovering the wants and needs of such distant (both geographically and culturally distant) communities. This slideshow summarizes the project and also contains interesting lessons about design research. For more detail, see the paper.

What do you think?

Posted in culture, information by Dan on December 21, 2009

DIDaily has been running for a little over six weeks. Finally, the number of posts (30 as of this post) is growing faster than the number of categories (now 24); the blog has a small but sure readership; I’ve found a good format for the blog as I’ve moved from the “roundup” idea to thematic posts that are more coherent; and I’ve discovered that it’s a little bit harder to keep up with my RSS feeds and come up with blog-worthy content every weekday than I initially thought it would be.

In a couple days this blog will go on a temporary hiatus for the holidays. Before then, I want to ask for your feedback:

  • What do you think?
  • In general, is DIDaily worth reading? From what I’ve written so far, which kind of content has been valuable, and which hasn’t?
  • How often do you read DIDaily? If not every day, is that because you don’t have time to read it every day, or because the headlines don’t always look interesting?

I’d love to hear from you—feel free to leave a comment on the blog, or send an email to designdaily at

Now, for today’s promised links:

Saturday’s “Today” by Eric Baker presented a collection of cigarette cards, which were collectible cards that would come in cigarettes packages during the 19th and early 20th centuries. His article as well as the New York Public Library’s digital gallery of cigarette cards are an interesting window into the culture, marketing, and graphic design of the times.

Garrison Keillor and infographics

Posted in creativity, graphic design by Dan on December 18, 2009

They aren’t related, but I can put them in the same sentence: Garrison Keillor has some good advice and other thoughts on creativity and writing, and for your weekend amusement, you should check out this collection of “baseball infographics and other visual treats” and then use the Merry Newsinator to generate a personal newsletter for the holiday.

Personality, perspective, and funny pencils

Posted in theory, user experience by Dan on December 17, 2009

“Shifting perspective,” as mentioned on the Adaptive Path blog, is an important strategy when designing something that will be used by other people. This video shows a series of experiences, each from an object’s point of view; whether the object is a skateboard, a railroad gate, a robot, or a door handle, each perspective you consider reveals new problems, concerns, and contexts. (Maybe the next step is to consider the pen from the paper’s point of view and the robot from the ball’s point of view.) Anyway, here’s the post/video: “Shifting Perspectives” / “From the Object’s Point of View”

Obviously, these objects aren’t alive. But on the other hand, personality can be a useful device for communication and usability. Cennydd Bowles writes about the forms of personality that appear in technology and their relevance to a product’s usability and effectiveness. “Does technology need personality?”

On a side note, here’s a funny idea: a pencil with a pencil on the other end, so you can celebrate your mistakes instead of erasing them—mistakes are, of course, an essential part of the process.

Cultural context: app design and restaurant menus

Posted in culture, graphic design, theory by Dan on December 16, 2009

I’m always fascinated by the complexity of the interdependence of technology and cultural context. I touched on this last week when I talked about TV, web, and music, but entertainment isn’t the only place where social and business contexts define what’s appropriate in a design.

Jack Moffett wrote yesterday about the forces which affect the features that are included (and excluded) in a tool as simple as a note-taking application. This excerpt from an upcoming book by William Poundstone reveals how the layout and graphic design of a restaurant menu is determined by the way the restaurant wants the customers to perceive the prices.

On the other hand, Scott Berkun’s criticism of a particular interactive visualization shows us that the expectation for “whizzy fun visuals” sometimes competes with the effectiveness of the visualization as a communication tool.

Where else do these sorts of expectations conflict with each other?

An update on “Technology First;” new (free) book from Godin

Posted in philosophy, theory by Dan on December 15, 2009

When I posted last week about Don Norman’s article, “Technology First, Needs Last,” I didn’t mention that the article has produced a great deal of discussion around the blogosphere, both in agreement and in disagreement with Norman. I haven’t come to my own conclusion yet, but the topic is certainly more layered and less black-and-white than he makes it out to be. If you found the original article interesting, then Nicolas Nova’s discussion as well as Todd Zaki Warfel’s rebuttal will give you something to think about (also read the comments on the second one).

On an unrelated note, Seth Godin announced a new, free ebook yesterday. “What Matters Now” is a collection of ideas from over seventy “big thinkers,” including Chris Anderson, Dan Pink, Guy Kawasaki, Mitch Joel, Dan and Chip Heath, and Dan Ariely (those are some of the names I know, but I’m sure there are others in the book whom you’ve heard of but I haven’t). Download the book here, or read the announcement, or see more information about the book and its authors.

Relaxation / Inspiration

Posted in art, designers by Dan on December 14, 2009

For those students about to begin your week of final exams, here’s what I hope will be a relaxing start to the week: a small collection of inspiring, interesting, or just nice-to-look at images (and two videos).

At Fast Company, a slideshow of work by designer Konstantin Grcic and a very short post about who he is.

An incredible short stop-motion film made with paper cutouts, done for the New Zealand Book Council:
“Going West”

A cute demonstration of Google Chrome’s features using homemade machines and models: “Chrome Features”

At (or found via) BEGINBEING, MoCo, and Young and Brilliant:
35mm film clock
Photos of work by German artist Horst Gläsker
Swiss mountain home
Giant wall flip clock
Typejockeys business card
Garamond Powerline
Interiors by Jeffers Design Group
2010 Chairs Calendar
Banyan Treehouse by RPA Architects
Freehand Pocket Watch
Hotel Caldor
Visualized library concept
Zaha Hadid Public Museum in Italy
A clever coffee cup warning

Documentary film: Good Copy Bad Copy

Posted in culture by Dan on December 11, 2009

On a tangent to yesterday’s post, I want to recommend the documentary Good Copy Bad Copy for your weekend viewing. The film travels from the U.S. to Sweden to Nigera to Brazil, exploring the many cultural dimensions of sampling, remixing, piracy, and copyright law. Going far beyond the conflict between record companies and consumers—the story we usually hear about in the U.S.—the documentary explores the many (more than two) perspectives on the issue and builds a new understanding of what it means to “copy.”

Good Copy Bad Copy can be viewed at If you’d rather own it, you can download it legally as a torrent. (The torrent link on the website is broken, but it can be found elsewhere.)

TV vs. Web; the Amen Break

Posted in culture, theory by Dan on December 10, 2009

In a recent post on Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox (a column in which he posts summaries of his valuable usability research findings and advice), he compares the differences between the way media is consumed on TV and on the web. Even if it’s not relevant to your work, the comparison is an interesting reflection of the way content, hardware, process of consumption, form of experience, and social context all determine and depend on each other.

A couple days ago I heard a track by Wax Tailor, “Once Upon A Past”, which cleverly samples audio from a short documentary about the Amen Break, produced by Nate Harrison. Can I Get An Amen? “unfolds a critical perspective of perhaps the most sampled drum beat in the history of recorded music,” exploring its role in the development of hip hop and electronic music and its implications for copyright law and the world of art. Like the TV vs. web discussion, it also addresses the relationships between technology, culture, and the transformation of content (that is, music). You can watch the 18-minute documentary here, but if the QuickTime file disagrees with you, it’s also on YouTube.

I’ll be back with more on that topic tomorrow.

New Don Norman article: “Technology First, Needs Last”

Posted in theory, user research by Dan on December 9, 2009

This blog has been missing in action for the past two days. I’d like to make the excuse that that was some kind of a lesson in design, but I’m not yet sure what that lesson might have been.

Since I last posted, Don Norman published an essay arguing that major conceptual breakthroughs in design, as opposed to incremental innovation, are driven by the exploration of new technologies rather than the desire to meet needs: “Technology First, Needs Last.”

Norman’s other essays are available here.

Trap streets are a clever idea.

Resources for web typography

Posted in graphic design, web design by Dan on December 4, 2009

If you design for the web, having a knowledge of typography principles will make your designs more readable, clear, and balanced, and ultimately more effective in communication, even beyond the limits of the text itself. Typography is a broad and complex field in its own right, but a familiarity with its principles can go a long way. For the weekend, here are a few resources that will get you started.

This article gives a short introduction to web typography: “Web Design is 95% Typography.”

To get into the mechanics of typography, take a look at Jeff Croft’s slideshow, “Elegant Web Typography.”

Then read Mark Boulton’s “Five simple steps to better typography.” This is the first of a series of five articles; links to the other four are listed at the bottom of the page. Boulton is a very clear, precise writer, and this is a solid guide.

Finally, to really get into the details of typography, read the definitive guide by Robert Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style. If you want to remain focused on the web, however, is an in-progress adaptation of Bringhurst’s classic that explains the same principles as they apply to web design: The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web.

TED talk: Jacek Utko designs to save newspapers

Posted in graphic design by Dan on December 3, 2009

Jacek Utko, a newspaper designer from Poland, suggests that design can help save the newspaper business. His designs have saved several dying European newspapers by helping to increase circulation.

Jacek Utko designs to save newspapers

Systems design in Magic Highway USA

Posted in architecture, art, philosophy by Dan on December 2, 2009

This 1958 segment from the Disneyland TV show explores a vision of the future of transportation. It is not only imaginative but also a great example of systems design (systems design in general, not computer systems design) in that it considers everything from construction and architecture to human behavior and lifestyle.

Magic Highway USA

Insights on designing for the web

Posted in graphic design, interviews, theory, usability, user experience, web design by Dan on December 1, 2009

Paul Boag writes about the current trend of poster-like web pages. As always, one must design for the medium, and a designer cannot treat a web page like a poster. Nevertheless, poster design has a few lessons for web design: “Stop designing websites, start designing posters.”

Mark Riggan takes the same approach, but from a different direction: “6 Things Video Games Can Teach Us About Web Usability.”

In this interview, Matthew Curry talks about running the website for Wiltshire Farm Foods, which sells food mostly to consumers over 80 years old, online. Targeting this audience means addressing the most extreme instances of users’ needs and disabilities. Yes, it’s possible—it’s all about usability: “Q&A: Matthew Curry on selling to older folks online.”