Five Good Ideas and Five Unsuccesful Products

CIO has a great article about 5 products:

  1. the Magnavox Odessey (before my time)
  2. the Xerox Star (saw one at CHI’98 in LA)
  3. the Commodore Amiga (I think there is one in my basement)
  4. the Apple Newton (sold it a couple of years ago)
  5. and the Gateway Destination (ahh, I’m really more of a Mac person)

The article talks about how great technologies and products are not always successes. I think I owned a number of the innovations, and it is amazing to realize how many great products were failures.

Workplace Culture for Innovation and Creativity

Fast Company interviews Andrew Ross, a NYU Professor, who is trying to chronicle the “the industrialization of bohemia”. It is an interesting look at how work has changed by incorporating values that are traditionally associated with artisans and craftspeople.

One of interesting observations that Ross makes is that “play is critical”. Creativity is spontaneous and can occur during any situation. Companies like IDEO have recognized the need for creativity, spontenaity and play in the work place. Tom Kelley documents IDEO’s approach to creativity and innovation in “The Art of Innovation”.

User Interface Innovations

In November 1999, MIT’s Technology Review published an article about the ten most important interfaces between man and technology.

  1. Loudspeaker
  2. Touch-Tone Telephone
  3. Steering Wheel
  4. Magnetic-Stripe Card
  5. Traffic Light
  6. Remote Control
  7. Cathode Ray Tube
  8. Liquid Crystal Display
  9. Mouse/Graphical User Interface
  10. Barcode Scanner

This is an interesting collection of some of the most important human-machine interfaces. The interfaces range from input devices, i.e., the steering wheel and the mouse, to output devices, i.e., CRTs and LCDs. There are a number of technologies that are so ubquitious that I was not thinking of them as human-machine interfaces. The Touch-Tone Telephone is an interesting example. The article talks about AT&T’s research into keypad layout and design. It reminded me that telephone numbers are a result of the system, not a human construct. Things change.

Javascript alternative: curl

Slashdot.org had an interesting story this morning about a new programming language called curl. curl is a Cambridge, MA startup that has spunout from the MIT Computer Science Laboratory. They have raised $50 Million in venture funding, and boast Tim Berners-Lee as a founder and now advisor.

Internet.com has a great story about how curl is different than HTML, Javascript, Java Applets. Unlike the current methods of transferring files for display on the Internet, curl servers send source code to a browser plugin, that then compiles the code on the users machine. Current systems compile the code on the server, and send this to the client to be rendered. curl should allow for the development of a richer user experience, than HTML and Javascript. curl should also provide a better development and maintenance experience than tools like Flash (don’t get me wrong Flash is a great tool, but it can be horrible to maintain code in Flash).

You can download the curl plugin at the curl corporate site and check out the interesting demonstrations that they have built.

Yale Style Guide

Patrick Lynch is the Director of Yale University School of Medicine’s Web Design and Devlopment unit. His personal website contains great commentary about the role of design, fantastic lists of books relevant to web design, and links to other sites for information about web design. Patrick has been practicing great design and pioneered the Yale Style Guide. This is a must read for anyone interested in web design.

Designing for process, not products

Design for Process, Not Products

As designers we often forget that people use websites and products to accomplish tasks and goals. These tasks and goals are often very clear when designing an ecommerce site, or a web-based mail client. Often the tasks and goals are based on existing processes and applications, as in the case of a web-based mail client or in the case of online shopping. It is possible to design new features that remove the frustrations of the existing real-world processes.

Identifying tasks and goals

In the field of ergonomics, identifying the tasks and goals has been studied using a variety of different techniques ranging from:

  • Task Analysis
  • Think aloud protocols
  • Ethnographic observations
  • Work process modeling


Recently there has been a focus in the HCI/Usability/Interface Design communities on Contextual Inquiry and Design as a way to model work, and the tasks that users need to complete. This is a great method for gathering data to make design decisions, however like the other methods it is not without it’s flaws. Contextual Inquiry (CI) is an intense, and comprehensive method for interviewing and observing users, collecting data, and interpreting the observations in to work models. CI can be a long, involved process that does not guarrantee high quality results.

Information Scents and Sensibility

This is a very interesting article about information scent and predictive software. The concept of information scent is an interesting one, it has been proposed . The article describes the “Bloodhound”; program developed by Ed Chi and Stu Card at Xerox PARC. The program has a predictive model of human behaviour that allows it to predict the path a user would take in traversing a web site for a given target. First Bloodhound takes a snapshot of a web space and then assigns a vector to each page. The software then compares the vectors mathematically and follows the “scent” until it reaches the goal. This is a great example of how HCI research into cognitive models and information process in starting to be applied to design tools.

Eazel shuts down

Eazel was unable to secure additional funding to continue their development of the Nautilus product. Eazel was the brain child of Andy Hertzfeld, who was a member of the original Macintosh system software. Eazel was an open source development project focused on the innovative file and system management model. It is too bad, as Eazel appeared to be on of the first efforts to bring Linux to the rest of us.

So long and thanks for all the fish

Douglas Adams, author of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, passed away suddenly on Friday morning of a heart attack. Adams was a great SF writer and was known to embrace technology. He was an Apple Master and had produced a number of video games including A Hitch Hiker’s Guide the the Galaxy, Bureaucracy, and Starship Titanic.


“There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler’s mind.”

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David Crow brings diverse skills to software product design and development, the design of web sites, and web-based applications.

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