May be things aren’t the way I observed but nonetheless I must tell what is making me to even write so. I am seeing a lot of people around me spending hours entertaining calls. Either they are answering calls or many a times are making calls to all different sort of people. And with an oxygenated penetration of mobile telephony, people aren’t simply making calls to all different sort of people; they are making calls from all different sort of locations as well. Finding people with earplugs and talking to gods and demons while they walk on road or virtually at any place, no matter how bizarre the place itself is, isn’t such a spectacle any more. No doubt we are connected better than ever before perhaps in the history of human race but what about the clarity of communication. What is it that drives these conversations? Does it compose of statements followed by further set of statements or by an endless clarification of the anything being spoken of? Does it include more of confusion or clarity? Although I have no access to what people talk about on their phones but with some inquiry and with couple of persons who shared their experiences of talking at length, few interesting things seem to be emerging.
It is off course subjective to an extent to see a connection between clarity of communication and the communication medium i.e. mobile telephony in our case. However the agencies, the people who are talking, which drive communication do have an effect on the clarity of communication. Whether one is able to communicate to the other, does depend on one’s ability to articulate his thoughts. No doubt about this but the case doesn’t simply rest here. What about the loss of signals during a mobile conversation or a sudden disappearance of battery power? What about the continuous noise that disrupts our talk sometimes? And what about an accidental push on the ‘red button’ when you are trying to switch between your ears? All of these and similar others random factors do affect our perception of the caller or of the subject being talked of. I have come across people testifying how they have been mistaken for someone who is arrogant or egoistic when for reasons, similar to the ones mentioned above, a call broke at some critical point in the conversation. And even when they resumed the call back, how hard they had a time clarifying their stand or explaining the reason for the ‘break’ in communication. This might happen between two people fixing a deal on phone, or between duos who are on the verge of resolving a crisis. And this might be worse between a couple.
Apparently none other than script writers or storytellers have made a note of any such behavior, truly spontaneous and random, but many a times critical. We can accept this! We can term these as ‘misunderstandings’ and can assume that these have ever existed between people, and can conclude that communication technology can’t really handle it. However I do feel somewhere that technology isn’t simply mean to enable communication between peers but rather it is there to sustain it in an intended form; in a form which humans decide.
These days I’m faced with a very specific problem. Is is specific to the designs of Dot Com sites for various clients. Assume that every single client who wants to design her website has an expectation of communicating as clearly as possible through her website. This communication can be achieved by bringing better architecture to the website content which suits the users and off course by careful alignment of different attention zones in the entire website. What a clients also expects is to have a wonderful nice looking stunning design to their website content. This is a common process which involves looking at goals, content, information architecture to designing templates at the end. No issues at all, perfect!
Where I find people getting stuck is the point when they have their identities which suits a different media more than the web. For example a bunch of organizations have logos in the orientation of a portrait. Conventionally such a logo suits print media and not the web. You can have a really good portrait oriented logo on a letter head. Not because it looks good on letter head just like that but more because it goes with the length of the paper. The paper bearing its imprint is itself oriented as a portrait. Now come to the web which is essentially more horizontal-landscape a medium than print. Not only a logo with portrait orientation looks out of place, it also compromises on the header space. One needs a wider header to accommodate a log in a portrait format. Eventually it happens at the expense of priorities of other stuff on the website which can be shown without a scroll (above the fold). Well hopefully they will come to understand that logo designs with landscape orientation will suit better the web media. But currently they suspect me as the one convincing them to modify their identities to a landscape format. What to do !
For days and days it has been occurring to me to reflect back on my school days and on the education I had. The curriculum included natural sciences and languages along with slighter glimpses of other subjects, resigned to be termed as extracurricular. One can look at the curriculum and can be best assured to say that everything ought to be known is well there. But I guess the larger question is how to approach this knowledge. As I have come to believing that approach to know changes or alters the knowledge itself. My teachers were competitive and interesting, and they perhaps had tried telling us what all they knew. However I feel that few factors were always acting in opposition to the entire process of knowledge acquisition.
First, it seems that the entire process of acquiring knowledge is somewhere inflicted with a flawed notion of timing. The fact that there is a course to be finished by a particular deadline doesn’t allow much room both for students as well as teachers. Teacher wants to finish the course on time and then moves on to setting a paper for students to attempt. How rubbish! Can’t the process of knowledge acquisition be more fluid and continuous. Can’t be free from parametric identifiers of percentage and rankings? Having time bound milestones often results in an environment which is competitive for no reasons. To make things worse, it’s not just the timing rather the valorization of being on time that kills individuals at the end. There is so much of shame associated with not being on time that it doesn’t even allow many to say NO.
Second, it seems that the teachers themselves work under a huge pressure of abiding to a particular syllabus. Any aberration from a prescribed syllabus is hugely suppressed and demotivated. The position a teacher holds, not only in the society but even with in the education system itself, doesn’t give him much power to defer to the popular notion of syllabus and prescription. There is so much of onus bestowed on people who set the syllabus rather than on those who teach the syllabus. I have seen and met few people who work as advisory members to curriculum committees and not all the time are they correct. But any communication which suggests so is seen as a wild act, often intolerable.
I am raising these questions as I still sense same forces at work. What do you guys say?
There are always few who deserves a mention more than by just Google in this digital age. We often call them one’s favorite or inspiration or a better adjective always. Today it is Gustav Klimt’s birth day. No wonder Google has one of his paintings on its search engine. When it comes to Gustav I am not so fortunate. I came to know about Gustav and his excellence as an artist quite recently. It is somewhere in Jan 2008 when I was wandering in a book store and had put my hand on one of the table top books with paintings of different artists. I went through the book, turning it page-by-page glancing through all different paintings, giving almost equal time to every painting. This continued till I came to a page where I saw this beautiful nude women, well painted with bright colors, though quite an unusual combination of colors with golden shades here-n-there. I had to halt. I had to stop. It was Gustav Klimt. It was him. That’s was my first meeting with dear Gustav.
Gustav seems to be a musician and a painter at the same time. He seems to infuse his work with a strong sense of performance. A performance of the kind which is lucid, breath taking and yet carried out with patience. The layers of robes of Gustav’s women unfold before you almost with an elegance and charm of the superior kind. Gold showers as it would have showered in the heaven. His themes seem to be divine and mortal at the same time. It is in his paintings that these two extreme ends of divinity and mortality meets. Gustav’s “Zeus came to Danae in a shower of gold”, is an marvelous work where he does the same. I can’t attest any further how much I like this painting. I don’t know Gustav much but he is the one who welcomes me to know him more. Happy Birth Day Gustav!
A few days back I was asked an interesting question. Although personal but I believe that the answer to the question is worth sharing. Somebody asked,
“Why did you decide to get into design research and leave designing?”.
One can see that it is not just one single question. While in the first half of the question one is asking for my reasons to pursue design research. Fair enough! I have written a short essay on why one should do design research. It talks about the value proposition which design research brings into the larger picture of designing communication, products and services. I would encourage you to go through this post as well.
But in the second half of the question one is assuming that either I have left designing to pursue design research or design and design research are two mutually exclusive activities. Let me assure you that it is neither of these two cases. Neither I have quit designing after deciding to carry design research nor do I think that design research and design are mutually exclusive. Even after getting involved with design research I am actively pursuing design. There are short projects that I try to handle and accomplish. Well I know you could simply discard my answer stating that it is too personal to be taken seriously. Let me then question the assumption that if one pursues design research he/she could no longer perform as a designer. I believe this is inherently an overstated and exaggerated imagination. The whole idea that research is a scientific process, based on articulation, objectivity and measurements while design is an intuitive process, fused with creativity, doodling, and life changing thoughts, is utter bogus. In fact Creativity, Objectivity, Articulation and Understanding can exist independent of disciplines and fields. And these qualities cut across the boundaries. They are as crucial for one discipline as they are for another. Also look into the areas where design has an access to. They are also evolving. May be gone were the days when a designer would be limiting his performance to print media or to graphic arts and identity design. One could claim that design was an statement on its own, capable of transforming perceptions and identities. But listen to the contemporary voices and one can realize that design has a much larger audience, and a larger reach now. Today’s design of products, communication and services rests on extensive user’s feedback. Fields like ethnography, material science, information and computer science are crucial for imagining anything ‘next’ or extending the obvious line of thinking. Thus it seems that the design research and design are complementary activities and not mutually exclusive. And, they do so by not simply supporting each other but by chasing each other. And off course one can do both if he/ she could manage 🙂
For the past two days we were working towards creating an iPhone app for the hearing impaired users. The application will enable an iPhone to be used as a hearing aid. Figures show that people with partial or complete loss of hearing includes a large number of elderly population. We thus choose elderly as the target user group for this application.
We try to suggest a design solution at three different levels:
1. At the level of information architecture: We decided to keep the application essentially a simple one. We had to drop some of the advanced features for the pilot release. The application currently enables this user group to hear the surrounding sounds with an amplification. However users have also been provided with an ability to record different sounds which they consider as noise and then use this application to cancel these sounds as noise filters. Advanced features like managing noise profiles according to different usage scenarios are not taken into consideration at this stage.
2. At the level of usability: A short user study revealed that elderly users often find themselves lost while trying to understand visual clues like icons or graphic based buttons. Rather they prefer a step wise approach by carefully reading the text based instructions. Now the challenge was to come with action buttons with explicit text messages while staying crisp and precise. We also considered resizing the default “active or hit” areas for these buttons to be of a little larger size.
3. At the level of visual design: An apparent strategy of creating a visual contrast is followed. Besides we use iPhone library for creating visual design for this UI.
We plan to improve this application and are looking forward for any user feedback. The application is currently priced at $2. By-n- large as a short project, it was quite a fun for everyone in the team 🙂