1. Connecting small devices to the internet. How do you hook up your toaster to the internet? There's a bunch of ways to do this right now, the problem is finding the right way.
2. Emotional objects. Our studio amp likes its music loud. My home coffee pot seems to weep when it has to make coffee, letting off these little moans and cries. Would people buy a crying coffee pot? How much emotion is too much?
3. Decision-making. I've been reading a lot of neuroscience books: Proust Was a Neuroscientist, How We Decide, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, and Why We Make Mistakes. Applying what's understood about the brain to products is something I'm mulling over.
4. Software agents. Seems like it's time to start building them. But how would they work? I want something like JARVIS from the Iron Man movies, but boy is it a hard problem.
5. Different OS UIs. I'm pretty sick of the OSX and Windows paradigms and of the Web 2.0 aesthetic. I'm ready for the future. But what does that look like?
I've put together two conferences now, Interaction08 and now Device Design Day, as well as observing several years worth of Adaptive Path's assembling of UX Week and MX. I also attend roughly half a dozen conferences a year. My credentials established, here's my advice for putting together a conference lineup of speakers.
Don't have a theme. Unless your conference is extremely targeted and you are planning to work with the speakers to shape their talks, don't pick an arbitrary theme for your conference, e.g. "Connecting Us Together" or "Exploring New Worlds." Not only are these sorts of mushy themes useless and ripe for parody, but they almost never work. The best conferences are where the speakers talk about topics they are passionate about without worrying how their talk is going to fit into the conference theme. Let the theme emerge from the talks, don't force the talks to fit into some arbitrary theme.
Define a target audience. Who are the ideal people (or ideal mix of people) you want to attract and be engaged with this program? Pick your speakers with those people (and their wants and needs) in mind. Not slavishly—give them a few surprises—but they're the ones paying and spending their valuable time to attend. Make it worth their while.
Overall speaker lineup. If I can see most of your speakers together at another conference, your speakers aren't a differentiator. Variety is key. Don't program the same people I can see at ten other conferences this year.
Big and small names. You'll want a mix of big names—people who will pay for themselves by increased ticket sales—balanced with people we might have never heard of but who have new things to say, or a unique perspective on a familiar topic. The people who aren't big names take a lot longer to find, but you want people to leave the conference saying, "I'd never heard X talk before, but it was fascinating." The problem with Big Names is that because they speak so often, they use the same material, often for years. People who aren't big names tend to have fresher material (which, admittedly, has its own set of problems because it's less tested).
Avoid Keynote-itis. How many keynotes does a conference need? Not many. If you are doing more than one at the beginning of the day and one at the end, you're overloading the schedule with Big Names. One could argue that every conference could get by with two keynotes: an opener and a closer.
Gender balance. Enough has been written about this lately, so let me just say: strive for it amongst your speakers. It might not happen for a variety of reasons, but it's worth doing.
Ethnicity balance. This is probably the next big push. And the same applies as for gender: it might not happen, but spend the extra effort to find people who aren't white men to speak. It's going to make your conference better. Why? Because it could expose your audience to a different perspective, and that's one reason people go to conferences in the first place. (The other is to have their own views validated.)
Breaks. Never put more than three speaking slots in a row without a break. After that, the audience can't take it. We need time to digest what we've heard before hearing more.
Post-lunch. The post-lunch speaking spot is deadly. Be sure to put someone lively there. Or a workshop or activity to wake people up.
Talk durations. There seems to be three durations that work well for talks: 40 minutes, 20 minutes, and 10 minutes. You can get an awful lot of information and interest out of ten minutes; witness the TED talks. It's a great length for a single story and one strong point. Twenty minutes is enough to have a strong main point with several examples. Forty minutes is enough to do a complex topic with multiple stories and examples. Seldom have I seen talks that go on for more than an hour that are worth listening to for that long. Mixing up your talk times is good too. A long talk mixed with a short talk can provide variety—provided you don't do it too much.
Topic variety. While you don't want to dictate what speakers talk about, choose your speakers so that the topics they are likely to cover will vary both in subject matter and perspective. Audiences want a mix of the inspirational (make me feel better/more important/smarter) and practical (give me information I can use). Find speakers who will play to one or the other, then mix. An all-practical conference will eventually seem like a slog; an all-inspirational conference will seem frivolous.
Have backup speakers. I guarantee that it is very unlikely all the people you want to speak will be able to, particularly when trying to land some Big Names. Have others who might speak in mind. Certainly go after your Dream Team, but unless you're TED or another high-profile conference, don't expect to get all of them.
Speaker quality. Do due diligence on your speakers before you select them. Can they speak well? Are they really the right person to speak to your audience? Do they have enough credibility in the field to speak on this topic? What will your audience think of them?
Always pay your speakers. Always pay your speakers' travel. Always give your speakers free conference admission. It's amazing how many conferences want speakers to provide their services for free. Now of course, for non-profits, new conferences, educational institutions, and other special cases, this can be waived, but as a conference organizer you need to realize that people are coming to hear the speakers: they are your draw, your talent, your selling point. Treat them as such.
So there you have it: my thoughts on planning conference programs. Now go make us some great conferences to attend!
At the end of Shakespeare's The Tempest, the wizard Prospero puts away his magic.
But this rough magic
I here abjure, and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.
It's time to leave the enchanted isle and return to life in the outside world.
The New Yorker just published its once-a-decade 20 under 40 list of fiction writers to watch. Unsurprisingly, I'm not on the list, and, since I'm now 40, I will never be on it. Fiction writing is mostly a young person's game. And I'm ok with that, although 15 years ago, I was certain—certain—I would be on the list one day. By the time I was 27, I'd written three novels and, for a while, had an agent at a Big Name Agency. But here's the thing: the novels weren't very good. Sure, they had a few passages I wouldn't be embarrassed to let people read now, but overall, you probably wouldn't buy them. They were the worst kind of mid-list dreck—their stories not plotted enough to make them page turners, and their style and insight not strong enough to make them art.
I think to be a good fiction writer, you have to have at least two of these four traits:
- the ability to tell a compelling story
- the ability to create characters the reader cares about
- a recognizable style in putting words together in a novel and/or beautiful way
- something important to convey that can only be told via the medium of fiction
Some of the best novelists—Dickens, Twain, Austen, Chabon, McCarthy, Woolf, O'Brian, etc.—have had all of these qualities (although not in equal measure).
I, I've come to realize, do not have these qualities. Sure, I can do all of these—just not very well. And, as Clint Eastwood so aptly noted, "A man's got to know his limitations." So just as the high school football star eventually has to realize he's not going to go pro, so to does the college English major have to realize he's not going to write the Great American Novel. And, while this is sad, I've come to terms with it. It's not the course my life has taken.
To be a fiction writer, you should probably read a lot of fiction, and I just don't any more. I read quite a bit, probably some 40 books a year, but my non-fiction to fiction ratio is probably 3:1 these days. Fiction writing—any writing, really—takes time. You really have to want to do it, especially to write books, which are the equivalent of marathon running in the sports world. It is much easier to want to write a book than to write one. I simply don't want it enough. Charles Bukowski, as always, nails it:
if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.
The roaring has stopped for me, so I'm doing something else.
So away goes the Revolutionary War spy novel I've been thinking about for over a dozen years now, and away goes the scifi novel set 100 years into an electricity-free, but zombie-full, future that I started a few months ago. I'll give you the first line of that one:
When the computer turned on, after nearly a century of silence, Arturo, Lord of Willock, didn’t hear its whisper over the clang of swords from the courtyard below.
Feel free to finish it. I have other projects to work on. That's what this decision is really about: the biggest question of all: what do you spend your time doing? "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives," writes Annie Dillard. I already have a hobby that I enjoy that I'm never going to be good (much less great) at: playing the cello. I want to do more of that. I want to grow my business, and make it one of the best design firms in the world. I want to focus on my family; it won't be that many years until my daughter is goes away to college. I want to do more design projects, and become a stronger, better designer. I want to write another design book on designing devices. I want to design products that are important, lasting, meaningful. All these things require focus. Deeper, not broader is my new mantra.
While I enjoy being well-rounded, at a certain age, a tight focus on what is important and what you realistically can accomplish is essential. We do, after all, only have a limited time on this earth and we really don't know how limited.
Sometimes, you have to listen to what the universe is telling you. I've written two (mostly) well-received design books. I get asked to speak on design all over the world. I work on cool design projects that I enjoy and that can and will change the world. My company is starting to take off. This is a pretty clear message that I've found my niche, my bliss, even if it isn't anywhere close to what I thought it would be 20 years ago. Only a fool would ignore such signs.
I'm a published author, three times over. So it's not like I don't have books. Writing non-fiction is something I never expected in my life, and I suppose the lesson there is to leave enough space in your life for the unexpected as well. Frank Bascombe, the protagonist in the great trilogy of novels by Richard Ford, discovers this as well, I think: setting aside fiction writing for sportswriting, and, eventually, selling real estate. We don't know the turns our lives will take, and, as Ford writes, "The only truth that can never be a lie, let me tell you, is life itself—the thing that happens."
The roaring has stopped for me. I'm doing something else. I'd like to think I'll miss writing fiction, but the truth is, I probably won't. It's the writing, the creating, the putting of words next to each other in a beautiful, clear way that I like, and I have plenty of that. My life is still quite full without being a novelist. "When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you," said Lao Tzu. So true.
Shakespeare doesn't tell us what exactly happens to Prospero at the end of The Tempest. But the final words of the play are his, and he says this bit, which I'm taking with me:
Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own
What strength I have's mine own. Yes.
Like my 40 before 40 list, I've put together a 50 before 50 list: 50 things I'd like to do before I turn 50. It's a 10-year project, so it's far more ambitious than 40 before 40, since these are for 10 years, not just for a single year. It's a little daunting, for sure. I moved some of my remaining items from 40 before 40 here, to make sure that I eventually get to them. Wish me luck.
- Go on a week-long backpacking trip.
- Make a really cool piece of interactive art.
- Play a movement of one of the Bach solo cello suites reasonably well.
- Set up a real retirement savings plan.
- Read Bleak House.
- Purchase a piece of real estate.
- Write another design book.
- Write a novel.
- Have a suit made for me.
- Attend an opera.
- Eat at The French Laundry.
- Perform a cello/violin duet with Fiona.
- Buy a new cello.
- Go to New Orleans.
Go to Rome.
- Go to Barcelona.
- Go to Africa.
- Go to South America.
- Go to India.
- Go to the South Pacific.
- Go to Bhutan.
- Go to a state I've never been to (I have 10 to choose from).
- Hire my 20th employee.
- Spend a day in a pub doing nothing but reading, talking, drinking.
- Prepare an amazing dinner for friends.
- Do an extended stay in another country.
- Win a design award.
- Donate a large sum to charity.
- Go whitewater rafting.
- Launch a consumer electronics product.
- Launch a Kicker-branded product.
- Learn a new skill.
- Do a road trip.
- Drink a bottle of very expensive wine.
- Have a romantic meal in Paris with Rachael.
- Buy an antique piece of furniture.
- Take a martial arts class.
- Speak at a non-design conference.
- Design a truly useful product.
- Buy an antique device.
- Teach a class.
- Reread the Patrick O'Brien Aubrey/Maturin series.
- Mentor a designer.
- Meet one of my heroes.
- Write a personal essay.
- Give a talk on something that isn't design.
- Rent a vacation house for a week and have friends stay over.
- Read The Baroque Cycle.
- Become debt free.
- Do something amazingly generous and unasked-for for someone I don't know.
A year ago, on my 39th birthday, I published a list of 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. By the end of yesterday, I had finished 25.5 of them. Am I disappointed I didn't finish all 40? A little, but the list was always aspirational, and in the last year, I've done at least 40 great things that weren't on the list, some of them silly (jumping naked into the icy Baltic Sea), some of them life-changing.
To say this last year was challenging is an understatement; my marriage and my business almost both dissolved, and I've been on the brink of financial and emotional ruin several times. Growth is never easy, personal growth is the worst, and I've done a lot of personal growth in the last 365 days. Sometimes the best laid plans go astray.
So was the 40 before 40 experiment worthwhile? Of course. It kept my focus on things that were important to me (or at least important to the me of February 16, 2009). Even though objectively, only doing some 50ish percent of them is probably a failure, doing 25 important things was still a good way to spend a year. That's more than two great things a month on average, and even in a terrible year like the one I just had, that's not too bad.
I did learn a few things about lists like this, however, if you're thinking of doing one of your own. Don't rely on other people, for instance. Keep it to things you can do alone if necessary. Don't put things that you have to do daily on them, because that just sets you up for failure. Try to make them discrete events whenever possible; break them up into pieces. The hardest ones are (obviously) those you simply can't go out and buy or just do. The ones you really have to work up to in order to do are tricky, and most of the ones remaining on my old list are of this sort. (In theory, those are the most rewarding as well.)
I'm working on my 50 Before 50 list, which will be (since it is 10 years, not one) broader in scope and deeper in ambition than 40 before 40 ever was. It's also taking me longer to figure out. But I think it, too, will be a worthwhile experiment.
I've started a new blog for long articles about the design of products called Designing Devices. I'd like to turn them into a book one day, but for now they're just a free blog for your enjoyment, so happy reading!
10. Passion Pit, Manners
9. Rhett Miller, Rhett Miller
8. Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson, Break Up
7. Metric, Fantasies
6. Eels, Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire
5. Bishop Allen, Grrr...
4. Harlem Shakes, Technicolor Health
3. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Pains of Being Pure at Heart
2. XX, XX
1. The Thermals, Now We Can See
Songs of the Year: Phoenix, "1901," Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Zero," The Sounds, "No One Sleeps When I'm Awake," Jay Farrar and Benjamin Gibbard, "One Fast Move or I'm Gone," Cracker, "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out with Me," Lady GaGa, "Pokerface."
Some of the best lists are idiosyncratic, as is this one. My two pieces of criteria were: 1. Are most, if not all, of the songs on the album very good (non-skippable); and 2. how often I went back to listen to the album, months or years after I first heard it. In all of these cases, these albums met those criteria. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
25. Blind Pilot, 3 Rounds and a Sound (2008)
24. The Ting Tings, We Started Nothing (2008)
23. Shout Out Louds, Howl Howl Gaff Gaff (2005)
22. Bishop Allen, Charm School (2003)
21. Ben Folds, Rockin' the Suburbs (2001)
20. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend (2008)
19. Moby, 18 (2002)
18. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007)
17. Sea Wolf, Leaves in the River (2007)
16. Mates of State, Re-Arrange Us (2008)
15. Ryan Adams, Rock N Roll (2003)
14. The Weakerthans, Left and Leaving (2000)
13. U2, All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000)
12. Josh Ritter, Animal Years (2006)
11. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, The Rising (2002)
10. Liz Phair, Liz Phair (2003). Hipsters hated this album, but its really a pop gem, filled with some seriously catchy songs.
9. Beck, Sea Change (2002). Beck at his warmest, saddest, most human and without flash.
8. Cat Power, The Greatest (2007). Achingly beautiful.
7. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois (2005). This album should be a gimmick, but it isn't. A real song cycle, and by god, a song that makes you empathize with serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
6. The Thermals, Now We Can See (2009). The most recent album on the list. This album rocks. With heart.
5. Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002). Yes, I know, Coldplay sucks. Now. This album is now weirdly underrated, but it's gorgeous, powerful, and insanely influential.
4. Eels, Blinking Lights And Other Revelations (2005). Really a masterpiece. Free ranging in its ruminations, but personal. Atmospheric, but not in a grandiose way.
3. PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000).
2. Arcade Fire, Funeral (2004)
1. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): Brendan Benson, Lapalco (2002); Carla Bruni, Quelqu'un M'a Dit (2003); Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers (2003); Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight (2008); Green Day, American Idiot (2004); Jack's Mannequin, Everything in Transit (2005); The Submarines, Declare a New State! (2006); XX, XX (2009).
Some excerpts you might enjoy:
- Table of Contents and Chapter 1: What is Interaction Design? (2.6mb pdf)
- Chapter 4: Design Research (on the New Riders site)
- Chapter 6: Ideation and Design Principles (on Johnny Holland) New chapter!
Other new chapters include Design Strategy (Chapter 3); Design Research Analysis (Chapter 5); and Prototyping and Development (Chapter 8). Most of the rest of the book has been substantially re-written. All in all, I feel it's a much better introduction to the field than the first edition. (First edition readers: contact me and I'll be happy to send you the Design Strategy chapter as a pdf for purchasing the "Beta" book!)
Quotes from The Sportswriter by Richard Ford. Highly recommended (as are the sequels).
For your life to be worth anything you must sooner or later face the possibility of terrible, searing regret. Though you must also manage to avoid it or your life will be ruined. (p. 4)
Sometimes we do not really become adults until we suffer a good whacking loss, and our lives in a sense catch up with is and wash over us in a wave and everything goes. (p. 9)
There are no transcendent themes in life. In all cases things are here and they're over, and that has to be enough. (p. 16)
All we really want is to get to the point where the past can explain nothing about us and we can get on with life. (p. 24)
Things just come into your mind on their own and aren't your fault. So I learn this all those years ago--that you don't need to be held responsible for what you think, and that by and large you don't have any business knowing what other people think. (p. 77)
Better to think that you're like your fellow man than to think...that no man could be you or take your place, which is crazy and leads straight to melancholy for a life that never existed, and to ridicule. Anyone could be anyone else in most ways. (p. 81)
We should all know what's at the end of our ropes and how it feels to be there. (p. 85)
What's friendship's realest measure? I'll tell you. The amount of precious time you'll squander on someone else's calamities and fuck-ups. (p. 97)
A life can simply change the way a day changes--sunny to rain, like the song says. But it can also change again. (p. 107)
Married life requires shared mystery even when all the facts are known. (p. 131)
If you lose all hope, you can always find it again. (p. 131)
Some things just can't be explained. They just are. And after a while, they disappear, usually forever, or become interesting in another way. (p. 223)
You can't be too conventional. That's what'll save you. (p. 335)
At one time or another--like it or not--we all become invisible, loosed from body and duty, left to drift on the night breeze, to do as we will, to cast about for what we would like to be when we next occur...Just to slide away like a whisper down the wind is no small freedom, and if we're lucky to win such a setting free, even if it's bad events that cause it, we should use it, for it is the only naturally occurring consolation that comes to us, sole and sovereign, without props or the forbearance of others--among whom I mean to include God himself, who does not let us stay invisible long, since that is a state he reserves for himself. God does not help those who are invisible too. (p. 339)
The only truth that can never be a lie, let me tell you, is life itself--the thing that happens. (p. 374)
Grief, real grief, is relatively short, though mourning can be long. (p. 374)
I'm really proud of Kicker Studio lately. In the last month, we've unveiled what I consider to be two world-class, category-altering designs.
The first was the Canesta Gestural Entertainment Center. It's a way of controlling your TV without a remote, using only a small set of waves and circular gestures.
The second project was a touchscreen VoIP conference phone for small businesses, the Kicker Conference Phone. We set out to fix a known problem (conference phones suck) and ended up with something really special, I think.
There's no such thing as an interaction designer either. Not as a profession. Anyone who claims to specialize in [interaction design or information architecture] is a fool or a liar. The fools are fooling themselves into thinking that one aspect of their work is somehow paramount. And the liars seek to align themselves with a tribe that will convey upon them status and power.
Jesse James Garrett, The Memphis Plenary given at the 2009 IA Summit
Let me preface this response by saying that Jesse is a friend and colleague of mine, and I hope he wasn't trying to personally insult anyone, even though it's hard not to take the words above personally. Since I call myself an interaction designer and have sat on the Board of the Interaction Design Association, I suppose this makes me both a fool and a liar.
The design work I do is predominantly interaction design. I have a master's degree in it. I've written books about it. I practice it. Thus, this aspect of my work is clearly paramount to other practices that intersect with mine (e.g. visual and industrial design, information architecture) and that make up the umbrella of user experience. Prominent not to the overarching experience design itself (which everyone is working towards with the same goal of creating good user experiences), but to the other disciplines I work alongside.
To call everyone who practices in the field "user experience designers" is not only a web-centric attitude (where information architecture and interaction design are more closely aligned than elsewhere), but it will have the effect of making us all seem like generalists. "User experience designer" implies that you can design all aspects of user experience to at least some level of competence. It would be as if everyone who practices medicine was called a "general practitioner." Speaking for myself (and I suspect for many others), I'm not a generalist. I don't do everything equally well. You don't want me doing your visual design, nor your taxonomy, nor your content analysis. I understand them, and can do them if pressed, but I'm not an expert in them. To pay me to do them would probably be a waste of your money. There are people with more skill, talent, and experience in those areas and thus do those things better than me. I know, because I partner with them all the time to do those parts of experience design.
Are there going to be generalists? Sure. Many of them, working in small- or single-person teams. And perhaps since they will likely do the bulk of UX work in their organizations, "user experience designer" is a fine title and role for them. But my hunch is that, like general practitioners in the medical field, what generalists in the UX field will work on will be constrained to a set of limited problems. For anything really complex, specialists will deal with it. I'm pretty sure this is the situation we're in right now, in fact.
Specialization isn't a bad thing. In fact, for most industries, it's a sign of maturity. If we use medicine as an example again, a century or so ago, there were pretty much two kind of doctors: doctors (general practitioners) and surgeons (the people who cut your leg off when it had gangrene). As the medical field matured over the last century, specializations emerged because we learned more about the body and understood that not all medical problems are the same. Nor are all design problems the same; certain problems require certain specialized disciplines to engage with them. Complex situations often require teams of specialists to solve them.
Logically, if everyone who works in experience design should be called a "user experience designer," does this mean visual and industrial designers should take that title too? And how about architects? Sound designers? It's simply an impractical and illogical call to arms, and ultimately unlikely and undesirable.
If we all switch to the title and role of user experience designer, finding the right specialist is going to get harder. How are employers and clients going to know which user experience designer to engage or hire? There is already a wide range of skills among the practitioners of information architecture and interaction design. To toss everyone together will make it even more difficult for the organizations that hire us to evaluate individual skills and experience to make sure they have the right person for the work they have. This is not a trivial problem; we want to make it as easy as possible to be found. (Findability, anyone?)
In a broader sense, it seems to me the movement to dissolve information architecture into user experience design is simply an admission of information architecture's declining visibility and, especially, how limited information architecture actually is in practice. Outside of large online spaces, the percentage of time most people in the UX field spend doing the structure and categorization of information is probably staggeringly small, even among people whose job title is "information architect." This is even granting that on the web, the difference between information architecture and interaction design can be trivial or academic. When we move to more functionality-rich (instead of content-rich) products, there is a huge difference between the two disciplines. A person with a library science degree and card sorting skills is likely going to be the wrong fit for a ubicomp or a consumer electronics project, whatever their title. But it would be easier to know that with a label, and isn't labeling part of what information architecture is all about?
None of this, by the way, negates my stance that user experience is everyone's responsibility, in the same way the health of the patient is every doctor's responsibility. No matter what we're called, no matter what role--specialist or generalist--we play on a project. Nor do I think that interaction design and information architecture are solely practiced by or the responsibility of those who have those titles.
I do not, however, want to be called a fool or a liar because I don't want to be homogenized with other disciplines that I mostly don't practice. I think you'll find that many practitioners of the other specialized disciplines that make up the rich and varied field of user experience design wouldn't appreciate it either.
I turn 39 today, and by next year, my 40th year, likely my life will be about half over. This isn't a bad thing; I have very few regrets about how I've spent my one precious existance. But there is still a lot to do. I don't fear dying, just not having lived enough. So here's my list of things I want to accomplish in the next 365 days:
Spend an evening in a fancy restaurant with friends. Travel to a country I've never visited, preferably in South America or Africa (the only continents I haven't visited).
- Go on a long (multi-day) hike.
- Make a really cool piece of interactive art.
- Play a movement of one of the Bach solo cello suites reasonably well.
Buy a nice watch. Put myself on the bone marrow transplant donor list. See a product launch that my company designed. Eat at Burma Superstar.
- Do 100 pushups in a single session.
Get my second tattoo.
- Set up a real retirement savings plan.
Lose 10 pounds.
- Read Bleak House.
- Teach Fiona how to ride a two-wheeler bike.
- Do 200 situps.
- Spend a day doing service.
Visit a national park. Go on a decent vacation with my family.
- Do 20 pullups.
Get an interesting new pair of glasses. Go wine tasting. Build a robot. Hire an employee. Discover an amazing new band. Have a spa day with Rachael. Listen to a live classical music performance. Write for, or at least be mentioned in, a major media publication. Find another series of books Fiona and I can read together, then read them. Buy a piece of art. Make a new friend.
- Buy a coffee table for my living room.
- Go to the real Northern California
and see the giant redwoods. Buy a new desk chair.
- Do 30 minutes of exercise every day.
- Eat at The French Laundry.
Give Rachael an unexpected gift. Speak in front of a new audience.
- Perform a cello/violin duet with Fiona.
Here's some places you'll find me in 2009:
I'm not speaking at it, but my client is debuting our product demo at CES in Las Vegas on the 8-11th.
In the Bay Area, I'm speaking at Stanford University's HCI program's Seminar on People, Computers, and Design on January 16.
Also in January, I'm speaking and signing books at the IxDA-SF's monthly meeting on January 27, held at Adobe.
In February, I have back-to-back workshops and two amazing conferences. First, in Denver, I'm at Web Directions North on February 3-4, giving a talk and teaching a workshop on touchscreens and interactive gestures. Use my discount code WDN09DSa to get $50 off the conference and my workshop. The Web Directions conferences are always a lot of fun.
Then, on February 4-8, I'm at Interaction09 in Vancouver. I'm co-teaching a workshop with Bill DeRouchey (already sold out!) as well as giving a keynote called Carpe Diem: Attention, Awareness, and Interaction Design 2009. If Interaction08 was any indication, I09 will be one of the best conferences of the year.
I'm unfortunately not speaking or attending SXSW this March for the first time in about three years. Nor am I speaking at ETech this year, sadly. But on March 26, I will be speaking at CHI Atlanta.
In April, I'll be speaking at the Voices that Matter Web Design Conference in San Francisco on the 27-30th.
May. Nothing scheduled yet?!
June brings two more blockbuster conferences. First is UPA 2009 in Portland on the 8-12th. And then on the 15-17th it's UXLondon, where I'll be teaching a workshop on brainstorming and giving a talk on designing from the inside-out.
July 19-24 finds me teaching a workshop at HCI International 2009 in San Diego.
Who knows where I'll be in August, but in September, I'm also likely speaking at d.Construct 2009.
Whew! That's a lot of hot air coming out of my mouth. I hope to see some of you at one or more of these events!
10. saturdays=youth, m83. The 80s are back, baby. This is the soundtrack to the best movie John Hughes never made.
9. The Midnight Organ Fight, Frightened Rabbit. I'll admit I can't understand half of what these Scots are saying, but I like the way they say it.
8. Furr, Blitzen Trapper. They had me with the song about the werewolf.
7. Hold On Now Youngster, Los Campesinos!. Great debut album from these indie hipsters.
6. XOXO, Her Space Holiday. Catchy, and with some unusual instrumentation.
5. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend. I give. The hype is right.
4. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, David Byrne and Brian Eno. As Josh Damon Williams rightly described it: "Comfort Food Music." Although with disquieting lyrics ("I saw my neighbor's car explode.")
3. Oracular Spectacular, MGMT. From out of nowhere, this piece of musical crack. "Kids" is the single of the year.
2. We Started Nothing, The Ting Tings. A trifle, but sometimes baubles are what is needed, and this album was the sound of summer before everything went to hell. Listen and remember.
1. Re-arrange Us, Mates of State. Relentlessly tuneful, indie pop of the best kind. I loved this album from the first listen.
Honorable Mentions: Dear Science, TV on the Radio; The Stand Ins, Okkervil River; Day & Age, The Killers; Santogold, Santogold; Dig Out Your Soul, Oasis; Do You Like Rock Music?, British Sea Power; In Ghost Colours, Cut Copy; Feed the Animals, Girl Talk.
"I Kissed a Girl," Katy Perry; "Pork and Beans," Weezer; "Kids," MGMT; "Dog's Life," Eels; "All Summer Long," Kid Rock. Yes, Kid Rock. You got a problem with that?
"Topless Meetings" (meaning laptopless meetings), the term I coined back in 2006 but that got a lot of publicity back in April, was a finalist for Oxford Dictionary's Word of the year this year, beaten out by "hypermilling." Crazy/weird.
Update: Topless Meeting is also listed in Time Magazine as the #10 Buzzword of 2008. (Note: I'm not a web developer, however.)
Dan Kimerling's article on TechCrunch entitled The Seeds of the Next Big Thing Are Being Planted Now echoes what other people have told me privately. Although it might seem bleak as hell right now, it's in the troughs that small companies can spring up. And some of my favorite small design firms (Adaptive Path, Mule, Behavior) all started in 2000-2001, at the bottom of the last crash. I hope I'm as lucky.
Right now, though, it feels a little like playing chicken with the world. Who will blink first?
I know there is no reason to trust my judgement in predicting TV shows after my last two blunders. But this time is different, and on the basis of a season and a half of episodes, I have to say: Mad Men is better than The Sopranos in all the ways that it counts. Mad Men isn't as groundbreaking as Lost or as richly complex as The Wire, but neither was The Sopranos, and that show got oodles of accolades. Mad Men, however, is the superior show.
Everyone seems to forget that The Sopranos was a wildly uneven show in tone, character development, and plot. Lots of plot happened that seemed disconnected to reality--even the reality set up by the show itself. Whole plotlines and characters were started and dropped, never to be seen again. Some of the character development made little sense and seemed gimmicky, like AJ's suicide attempt or Uncle Junior's dementia. You'd have a wacky episode with Christopher and Paulie getting stuck in the woods, then another with the graphic rape of Dr. Melfi. The show's apologists (and there are legions) will say, well, that's how life is. But this is a scripted drama, not life. I want storytelling and narrative arcs that lead somewhere, not just to a final blackout.
Compare this to Mad Men. Mad Men, like another great show Deadwood, has a consistent tone and is pitch perfect. Characters are well-drawn and nuanced. Plots lead to revelations: both moving the story forward and by revealing character. And, let's not forget, doing so partially in the space/difference between the era of the 1960s to our own. This is no easy feat. If you don't think this can be done badly, you didn't see Swingtown.
The Sopranos had to use violence for shock and punctuation. Mad Men uses words. Tension in Mad Men comes from character, not necessarily situation.
The Sopranos, at its heart, was a family soap opera. It didn't really care overmuch about how Tony and Crew worked, except in the broadest way. Which is why a lot of the intrigue with the other Families felt muddled and/or flat. Mad Men though is a workplace drama, like Hill Street Blues or Homicide: Life on the Street. It reveals character by how people behave doing their work. Which, in a cruder way, The Sopranos did as well, but the extremeness of the situation (whacking people) warping the situation so that all subtly was rubbed out.
Mad Men cares about the context the drama lives in. The characters aren't modern day types dropped into spiffy suits. We can see how their characters are shaped by the time and visa versa. We barely even knew what decade it was with The Sopranos, aside from some 9/11 references.
In any case, Mad Men now deserves your attention and your post-Sopranos praise.
If this blog has been absurdly quiet lately, it is because I have a good reason. Over the last several weeks, I resigned my position at Adaptive Path and, with some colleagues, created Kicker Studio, a new design consultancy focused on products, not the web. We're combining visual, industrial, and interaction design to make products that are holistic from the ground up. It's something I've wanted to do for a few years now.
Seldom in my life have I ever felt more like my ENTJ personality type ("The Fieldmarshall") as have these last few weeks, to not only sell people on the vision for the company, but simply to marshall the troops to do all the myriad of tasks that are required to set up a small business. It is amazing how millions of people are able to do it. Between the accounting and the legal and dealing with all the rest, the set-up is amazingly tricky to navigate.
But anyway, most of my professional writing is over there now, on the Kick It! blog. Come join us, won't you? (Send clients.)