Designer’s Journal: Ruminating on Readings & Project Ideas

If I Had Something to Say by re_birf
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This week we’ve been asked to jot down / sketch / brainstorm some ideas about our final design project. I was pretty stumped for a while, and I’m still not sure I’ve really got any ideas. I have several jotted down in my (paper) notebook and have been letting them “sit” in my mind for the last 4 or 5 days. Generally they all come back to writing and how to make it more of a social, interactive experience. Basically, I am uncomfortable (always have been) with the stereotypical image of “writer in solitude.” While I agree that at times one can write better when sitting alone, I also think good writers can emerge from a supported community. It takes some balance. I’m not really keen on teaching / instructing people how to become better writers in solitude. I’ll leave that for Sark, Natalie Goldberg, and Julia Cameron. I’m much more interested in how to capitalize on the hive mind and create some solid pieces of Writing For The People.

i am by Will Lion
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Robert Scoble tried a variation of this using FriendFeed and Twitter, but I am much more interested in the idea of having some kind of platform that makes this all possible — that your audience can give you feedback as the ideas are being generated, and that parts of the writer’s words can be shared, and critiqued, before the piece is “finished.” Or perhaps the piece is never finished? I’d like there to be some element of audio / video, as well, so that users can comment this way and so that the focus is not entirely text-based. I basically want writing — that is, communicating via text — to not be as laborious and text-heavy as it is now. In order to blog these days, you have to be pretty text literate. And while that is fine for those of us who are verbal and educated, what about twelve-year-olds who have something to put out into the world, who want to refine their writing, but want some help and interaction to make their writing really phenomenal?

Perhaps I’m thinking too grandiose at the moment…

What’s been sticking out to me when reading Saffer, Sharp, Norman, and Adams is how important it is for the affordances of the interface to be almost instinctual, or intuitive. I also am intrigued by the feedback/ feed-forward ideas Saffer discusses in Chapter 7; it is striking to me how few programs / platforms incorporate this. The key, I guess, is to have everything seem simple to the user but in reality the complexity is all hidden from the user. Which has got me thinking — if it is intuitive to me, how will I know it is intuitive to others? Saffer in particular talks about how so many designers design things for other designers, and how this is just not cool. I have to agree. So I am wondering — hoping? optimistically? naively? — that not being a designer myself or having that background will actually be an advantage in this particular project. Or is that what every designer thinks when they first start out… ? 😉 I suppose it comes back to what we’ve been learning in every course so far — a tenet that is fundamental to educators in general — know your user. Do research, talk to them, study them, find out how they will use things, how they think. This reminds me also how intrigued I was about all the user research that went into Quest Atlantis, having read about this for a different course. Knowing your user is key, and I suppose one cannot assume ever that they are just like oneself! 🙂

I have to admit that I’m really also loving the ideas of one of my classmates, Poukhan. Check out her ideas. I am tempted to scrap my interactive writing idea altogether and ask if I can join her!

Design-Fuelled Learning

Stay Warm by Erik Charlton
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Frank gives us a few web resources now and then that he wants us to look at; whether for inspiration or understanding, I’m unsure. Whatever the case, they are usually interesting reading / viewing, and probably things I would not find myself were I surfing around on the ‘net. Communication Arts magazine has reviewed many different kinds of interaction designs, and given awards to a few. They’re worth checking out, if for no other reason than just to see some of the new, cool, hot designs on the market these days — everything from web design to physical spaces. I’ve been bouncing around their site, looking at different designs and trying to understand what makes them “good.” While sometimes that is obvious, what I find even more fascinating than the designs themselves are the responses to the question CA mag asks of the designer:

What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

Some responses: (emphasis mine)

  • “The most challenging part of this project was keeping it simple, staying true to the core ideas and avoiding ‘feature creep.’ . . . I had to stay focused on the original goal—not reinventing the wheel but rather enhancing it.” Sebastian Bettencourt, art director/writer/interface designer/information architect/project design and development, Beyond The Fold
  • “One of the primary challenges to designing TokBox was understanding and embracing user interactions that are unique to live video calling.” Chris Fox, design director, TokBox
  • For the Loudspeaker team, the big challenge was caring for the original idea—amplifying the voice of a great cause—as we built the site.” Scott Brown, creative director, The LoudspeakerSite
  • It was a challenge to keep each individual story entertaining and short (there were many ideas that were thrown out because they were too long or just not fun to watch).” Trevor Van Meter, creative director; Luke Lutman, Flash programmer; and Brian McBrearty, composer, Crappy Cat

And this question:

Did you learn anything new during the process?


  • “I learned that inspiration comes from experience. It comes from rethinking everyday activities and from reconsidering everyday interactions.” Sebastian Bettencourt, art director/writer/interface designer/information architect/project design and development of Beyond The Fold
  • “One of the first things we had to face was the huge risk of that transparency, and what it really meant. No approvals. No editing. In the end, it was actually freeing to give up all control to the audience.” Gary Koepke and Lance Jensen, executive creative directors, Modernista!

This has got me wondering about how design influences learning. How conscious are educators of keeping it simple, staying true to the original goals, giving students experiences (rather than instruction), and giving up control to the users? How would schools be different if we did all of this, all of the time? Would there still be schools? If so, what would they look like?

Google Teacher Purgatory

Hi Adrienne –

Thank you for applying to the Google Teacher Academy at the Googleplex on June 25th. We’ve reviewed all the applications, and we recognize that you are doing some great things. As a result, we’ve placed your name on the Wait List. On Monday, June 9th, we will let you know if there is room to include you. You will have 24 hours to respond to us by the end of the day on Tuesday, June 10th.

The above is the e-mail I received on Thursday evening (Thursday morning, GoogleTime).

So, I’m not one of the 50 Definites, but I’m also not one of the 200+ Definitely Nots. I guess I am pretty pleased! I was not really expecting to get in, mostly due to the poor quality of my 1 minute video once it was uploaded to YouTube / GoogleVideo. And now, here I’ve gotten what I am viewing as honorable mention. Not bad, not bad at all! 🙂

But I still am not in, and thus I wait in In-Between-Land . . .

Photo credit: Life Is The Space In Between by drp licensed under a CC 2.0 license.

Lesson Reflections: Video, Google, and more

Some of you already know that this week I submitted my Google Teacher Academy application for this June’s session on the 25th in Mountain View, CA. I was pretty excited, as this is the first time that Google is accepting applications from outside of the immediate area of the GTA, and indeed, outside of the U.S.A. Woo hoo! (I heard about this Google news via the Infinite Thinking Machine Blog, btw. If that blog isn’t in your reader, get on it!)

What an experience for me just to put together the 1 minute required video. Fun, but definitely challenging. For my reflection and for your enjoyment (or perhaps mockery!), here are a few things I learned:

  1. It is impossible for me to put my entire teaching philosophy about Classroom Innovation into 1 minute. Impossible! Perhaps I have too much to say…?
  2. I can definitely type faster than I can write. The screen vids of me inking those memorable quotes across the screen of my tablet didn’t make the cut because I can’t ink three words in less than 9 seconds. But I can type three words in 4 seconds! (Thanks to my university days as a temp, I tell you!)
  3. I have an incredibly talented partner who knows more about making music than I do, even on a computer. 😉 And I promise next time I will not ask him to do the music edits at 11 p.m. on a school night.
  4. I have a lot to learn about using video software, though I have discovered that it doesn’t get much easier than iMovie.
  5. The end of May is not a good time for me to be making movies (exams, report cards, people leaving, etc.). Mental note taken, stored, and written in cyberstone here. Amen. I think this vid would have been much better if I had not had 2398989712 things going on.
  6. The difference in quality from my raw mp4 file (pretty good) to the Google Video / YouTube upload is REMARKABLE. My exported mp4 (using iMovie’s “Expert settings”) looks great — super sharp and clear. Upload to Google Vid / YouTube looks grainy and all around sucky. Anyone have tips on this? (Note that I am new to this kind of thing; most of my contributions to the digital world have happened via written text and photo. Video is a whole new (fun) ballgame.) Sadly, what this means is that the Google Earth portions of my video are not viewable in the way I intended. Wah.
  7. I do not know enough about recording screen shots on video. Need to learn more about this.

And for those who are interested, the software / hardware I used:

  • CamStudio – on the Vista Fujitsu Tablet
  • Inspiration v.8 – also on the Vista Tablet (hat tipping to UNIS)
  • Google Earth – on the Vista Tablet, my iBook G4, and partner’s MacBook Pro
  • iMovie HD v.5 on my iBook, and then later v.6 on MacBook Pro
  • GarageBand on MacBook Pro

Lastly, for those who are interested, here is the vid itself:

Photo credit: Jan 24, 2008 “Reflection” by shannonpatrick17

Are you the 10th person?

“For every nine people who denounce innovation, only one will encourage it. . . . For every nine people who do things the way they have always been done, only one will ever wonder if there is a better way. For every nine people who stand in line in front of a locked building, only one will ever come around and check the back door.

“Our progress as a species rests squarely on the shoulders of that tenth person. The nine are satisfied with things they are told are valuable. Person 10 determines for himself what has value.” -Za Rinpoche and Ashley Nebelsieck, in The Backdoor to Enlightenment (Three Leaves)

The pessimistic side of me wants to say that in schools, the proportion is probably one out of every twenty, or perhaps even higher. But that’s just me being whiny.

What this book excerpt reminds me of:

  • Ian Jukes’s Committed Sardine metaphor
  • about 203,094,820 faculty meetings I’ve been to where one person speaks out about doing something differently, and gets verbally crucified
  • the feeling I have after I finish a really good yoga session, when I have the most clarity about what I determine as valuable for myself

Questions I have:

  • Is it in a person’s nature to be that 10th person? Or can one learn to question and be curious?
  • How long before that 10th person becomes tired of always being “the only one” who’s encouraging innovation, asking if there’s a better way, and going around to the back door? How many times before s/he gives up?
  • What would happen if the proportions shifted? What if, in a group of 10, there were 4 people who were always asking the questions and finding new ways of doing things? What would that look like?
  • Should leaders in our schools be the 10th person?

Photo credit: Mozzer502