On Schooling

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?


Awesome, Truly Awesome!

This morning I got to know about the Start Up revolution in Israel. A dear professor and also an experienced designer, Iko Avital, told me that Israel has fastest growing Start Ups in the world. After googling for few, I came across this awesome start up called Wibbitz. They convert text into videos and kind of believe that they could turn readers into viewers. An amazing idea indeed. I tried the same for my blog and voila!! It worked and my blog posts are now appearing as news headline in a video. It’s really an experience.

For some reasons it seems that embedding the video isn’t yet working with wordpress. So my readers have to wait to see that. But DO TRY Wibbitz.

Few links which would be fun to explore are here:


How simple the things can be?

Here is an interesting read from Wired. The link mentions various patents registered against the name of celebrities. I find this quite interesting for two reasons. First, all of these patents are filed by people who are not scientists. Rather these are the people who were musicians, cameraman, performers and other creative professionals. This asks us to extend our thought of seeing things so narrowly- a kind of skepticism that we had acquired in an age of specialization. Second, all of these patents are so lucidly illustrated or explained that it kind of highlights the simplicity of thought. It also gives one an idea that patents could also be about very simple ideas provided they are novel, illustrative and communicable.

Credits: Wired Dot Com

Grice Maxims: Sustaining Polite Interactions in a Conversation

Mentioning before my readers today is work on Conversations by H. Paul Grice, a philosopher and a psychologist. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy lists Grice’s work as of special relevance to linguistics and artificial intelligence. The other source to get closer to H. Paul Grice is  Media Equation, a book on how people treat new media by Bryan Reeves and Clifford Nass. We shall be referring to Media Equation while noting Grice’s work on conversations. Not because his work could not be read on its own but more because Media Equation seems to contextualize it better in connection with the design of interfaces.

The basic premise is the realization that people assign mindless attributes to interactive technology products like Computers. People follow social rules while interacting with these products. One of these social rules is Politeness which states that human beings are, in general, polite with each other in their day-to-day interactions. On these threads continues the mention of Grice’s Maxims. Grice believed that conversation is an activity where people try to help each other. And, the activity sustains polite interaction by following four basic principles: Quality, Quantity, Relevance and Clarity. We shall be expanding on relevance in a separate paragraph as it seems to carry more weight and insights for interface designers. Lets take a look at Quality, Quantity and Clarity first. In Gricean terms, Quality would mean that speakers, participating in a conversation, should say things which they identify as true. Anything untrue could risk violating the idea of conversation. Quantity would mean that speakers should contribute appropriate amount of content to the conversation- not too much or too little.  Clarity would mean that a contribution by a speaker is expected to be as less obscure as possible. One must thrive to keep ambiguity out of the content and to ensure that there is singularity in the meaning of the content.

Relevance, it is here that we consider the purpose of the conversation. Also, if we treat interfaces as medium of Communication with the users, it makes sense to be aware of the purpose of this communication. Speakers in a conversation should try contributing content which could be mapped to the purpose of the conversation. We have often come across interfaces where there are action items with no task flow to follow. Users find themselves clicking on these hot spots and noticing that nothing actually is happening. Thus interface designers should try designing interfaces which does not offer anything that could not be met. It is then nice to either disable the buttons (or take them out from the interface) which could not offer functionality at the moment. Clifford and Reeves further expands the meaning of purpose of the conversation by including designer’s sensibility to the user goals.  Designers need to consider all different goals of the users which they want to accomplish using the interfaces. They could take the liberty of prioritizing these goals but an explicit mention of these goals would help them developing an overall picture of the interface.

This is all for now. I will report more readings from the related topics soon.

“Information Theory after Shannon” by Neil Savage

Although I try avoiding pasting links from other blogs unless “commented upon” but here is something which I think we need to read as it is. The post is written at ACM Communications by Neil Savage. In his writing Neil talks about Claude E Shannon’s work at Bell Labs. In Oct 1948 Shannon proposed the Information theory which became backbone for many a cutting edge scientific discoveries to happen later. My personal motivation to revisit Information Theory dates back to two distinct times. First during 1998-2003 when I was pursuing B.E. in Electronics and Telecommunication engineering. And second during master’s in 2005, when Madhusudan Mukherjee, most eloquently, exposed us to the design side of information theory at National Institute of Design.

May be you guys will enjoy this post by Neil Savage as well!

Choosing one of ‘design research’ and ‘design’!!

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 🙂