Best Design Articles of 2011

January 6, 2012 in Notes from the Field
David Bishop
Strategic Design Lead

Welcome to 2012… We’ve pored over MAYA’s Feed posts for the past year, internal “you should all read this” emails, and a few of our favorite blogs. Here’s MAYA’s take on the best design articles of 2011. …and by “Design,” we mean User Centered Design in it’s broadest sense, whether you’d like to call it Big D Design, or Interaction Design, Design Thinking, Experience Design, Information Architecture; perhaps just design. Let’s not start the year hung up on semantics, eh?

A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design [Bret Victor]
A nicely done rant; this excerpt should be enough enticement for you to read it: “Pictures Under Glass is an interaction paradigm of permanent numbness. It’s a Novocaine drip to the wrist. It denies our hands what they do best. And yet, it’s the star player in every Vision Of The Future.” […] “And this is my plea — be inspired by the untapped potential of human capabilities. Don’t just extrapolate yesterday’s technology and then cram people into it.”

Slide Design for Developers [Zach Holman]
We could all use advice like Holman’s. Make sure you click through to the presentation itself.
“Make your text huge. And then get rid of half of the words and make it huger.
Most of my text in my entire deck is at least 90pt. Usually I like to sit around 150pt, with spikes up to 300pt or more. You cannot get large enough. Forget the people in front of you: design for people three rooms away from you.”
“Humans love repetition. Simple reiteration is important. Simple reiteration is important.”
“Spend some time thinking about your slides. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes: is this readable? Is this interesting? Should I pay attention?”
“Huge text. Consistent colors. Less words.”

(Business) Design: Fad or Fact? [Miguel Ruiz on Richard Buchanan]
Buchanan defines design simply, as “the effort of people to make the products that serve us in our everyday lives.” On the other hand, design thinking is a term he approaches with caution. “It’s a very ambiguous term that’s gotten out of hand.”

I also liked the part where he said organizations are misunderstanding their purpose if they believe their purpose is profit.

He also reiterated something we know well at MAYA, that “Many of the companies that struggle with [incorporating design] are fundamentally engineering companies.” “Engineers make parts of products, I don’t think they’re so successful when they try to make the whole product […]”

2011 Was a Terrible Year for Tech [Farhad Manjoo]
The most depressing article of 2011?
“But it’s not just that individual products got more difficult to use; in 2011 the entire tech ecosystem descended toward entropy.”

Wireframes must Die. [Matt Conway]
“Instead of wireframes we should dare to imagine a new, better sort of design artifact, powered by a set of tools that bridges the design chasm between the napkin scribble and full-on production code.”

Nice Bits:
Sketching Is Still Important – If wireframes are to die as a deliverable, we have to answer the softball question: what would be better than wireframes?
A modeling tool for user experience – Illustrator, InDesign, Omnigraffle, Visio, Catalyst and the like are not Computer-Aided anything. They’re just making drawings with computers.Microsoft Expression Studio is getting closer to the mark, but it is a Silverlight/ .NET Microsoft-centric beast of a system and is sitll incomplete. Axure and iRise get other pieces of this vision right, emitting requirements docs derived from the wires, but they’re still very wire-framey in nature and not parameterizable and customizable enough.

How Fidelity Used Design Thinking to Perfect Its Website
A quite nice article about the power of research, prototyping, and iterative design; the kind of things we do and advocate every day at MAYA.

“…culture of prototyping and a bias toward action…” “In a matter of weeks, student teams conducted research, created prototypes and tested numerous concepts.” “…rather than developing and then testing, we now begin projects with customers, to incorporate their thinking earlier and more effectively.” “We’ve learned that customers give better, more genuine feedback with low-resolution prototypes and an explicit invitation to contribute thoughts.”
Perhaps the best quote:”…the team brought blank paper and markers instead of PowerPoint slides and slick Photoshopped pictures.”

“Design Thinking” Isn’t a Miracle Cure, but Here’s How It Helps [Helen Walters]
Best comment: “I mean really… Creative intelligence, design thinking, cognitive articulation, prolific sculpting, magic beans… what other names can we coin that we then label ‘outside the process’. If people are leaning away from you over the table because of two words they hear, I suggest you find clients that aren’t moronic.”

“Design thinking neither negates nor replaces the need for smart designers doing the work that they’ve been doing forever.”

“Peter Merholz wrote scornfully: ‘Design thinking is trotted out as a salve for businesses who need help with innovation.’”

“Design thinking isn’t fairy dust.”

“… there is real value and skill to be had from synthesizing the messy, chaotic, confusing and often contradictory intellect of experts gathered from different fields to tackle a particularly thorny problem. That’s all part of design thinking.”

“…every organization looking to embrace design as a genuine differentiating factor needs: a business expert who is able to act as a wholehearted champion of the value of design.”

Interaction 11 Keynote Videos[]
From Dick Buchanan to Bruce Sterling. Not sure why IxDA’s site doesn’t have them organized as well as this experientia, but here they are. Bruce Sterling was great, and snippy.

Oh, and Sterling said, if you haven’t heard already:
“I’m a friendly cousin from the literary world, [although] I’ve never drawn a box or an arrow and I don’t intend to.”
“This is a crisis; I really need a guy or gal with a whiteboard and some post-it notes.”
“IXDA is the social network formerly known as the design profession.”

Sterling chastised designers for being overly empathetic to their users (“you’ve got user Stockholm Syndrome”).

“Steve Jobs succeeds because he isn’t afraid of anything, even death: ‘Critique won’t make you a better designer. What will make you a better designer is a fanatic dedication to craft and no fear of failure.’”

“IxDA is a social network formerly known as the design profession.” (heh.)

Oh, also check out Steve Jobs Didn’t

Interaction Design Encyclopedia [Interaction]
“This encyclopedia covers areas relevant to the design of interactive products and services like websites, household objects, smartphones, computer software, aircraft cockpits, you name it. The encyclopedia is free, includes HD videos, commentaries, and lots more. All chapters are written by elite professors or elite designers who have contributed greatly to the area they write about.”

Reality is Broken [Jane McGonigal] [Review by our CEO, Mickey McManus]
We’re getting closer everyday to tech disappearing into the fabric of reality (or reality disappearing into the fabric of tech?)

Now that I mention reality, apparently it is broken… Luckily Jane McGonigal has some ideas. I encourage you to read this book. It feels important to me (having just made it through the first few chapters this evening). It resonates well with our belief that gaming is an emergent and pervasive property of the trillion node network (aka the age of ubiquitous computing).

First insights from the book?

At their most basic ALL games have a few key characteristics:

  1. Goals (because we like to reach them)
  2. Rules (think of these as Unnecessary Obstacles). Golf wouldn’t be so fun if the goal of getting a little white ball into a little hole was as simple as walking over and dropping it in the hole.
  3. Feedback Loops, so you know if you’re reaching your goals (which is the obvious connection to a world where everything is connected, at least if it’s connected in the right way)
  4. Voluntary Participation (because otherwise it feels like work… or survival)

Dr. McGonigal’s premise is that if we are escaping so much into alternate reality to get rewards and a feeling of “flow” and well being than maybe that says something about our real lives. Her antidote is to harness the design patterns of gaming to make reality better (and maybe make us healthier, happier, and wiser).

Moonwalking with Einstein [Joshua Foer] [Review by our CEO, Mickey McManus]
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer explores in a light-weight-light-hearted and playful way the history of memory and how humans handle information. My favorite line is where he notes that inventory and invention have the same root. His point is that it would be hard to invent if you didn’t have raw materials in your inventory to recombine in new ways. Other great stat? He recounts a study where participants were asked to view 2500 images (pile of five dollar bills, red boxcar, etc.) and then had them later choose between those images and ones that were almost the same (pile of one dollar bills versus five dollar bills, blue boxcar versus red boxcar, etc.) and the participants were able to successfully pick out the ones they had seen before 90% of the time.

TEDxCMU — Mickey McManus — Information Liquidity
Our intrepid CEO, Mickey, spoke at TEDx in 2011. This was one of the most popular things on MAYA’s site this year; check out some of the comments:
“Wow. Is this talk from the future? I thought it was an amazingly presented insight on the relationship between nature and computing.”

“Ok, I dont know if a comment could sum up what I just watched, yet I feel quite excited at what this all means for humanity.”

Mick said: “This was me trying to pack about 10 years of a personal journey of discovery at MAYA and into MAYA’s research agenda, into about 20 minutes. So my reach may have exceeded my grasp. But it was TED and the theme was ImPossible so I figured it was worth the effort. The film is a prototype from our labs and it was purely made to pose the question of what happens when we reach trillions of computing devices. And what wonders will be possible in 10 years time.”

In Investing, It’s When You Start And When You Finish [NY Times] (Infographic)
The New York Times has done a wonderful job creating information graphics, both static and dynamic. This is but one example that demonstrates the power of visualization to communicate a potentially complex topic.

In the School of Innovation, Less Is Often More [NY Times – Nicole LaPorte]
This article covers a lot of ground, but ultimately highlights the important fact that a simple invention can also be deceptively complex, or made up of nuanced details, which is often what makes it valuable.

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