Monday, July 20, 2015

Enterprise Research Proposal Screenshot

A screenshot of the beginning of my proposal- I would like to make a large drawing of it. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Notes for an Upcoming Show

Creating word combinations conjuring ideas obscure to the unfocused, not providing a center of attention for others- and in this way remaining on the fringe of vision and understanding.

Choosing square composition photography thumbnails gathered from news sources recreating the imagery as painting and layering over text to challenge inferred meaning.

Parenthetical additions post-words imply not going back to add in-line, but continuing with a modification.

image, meaning: object as image since we are not seeing the actual sub-atomic make-up of the object, and therefore not the object itself, but rather an image of the object inherited by a property of grouping.  But this is 'abstraction' as only a matter of scale and scale is exactly what we are talking about here.

paint, chemical grounds spread: the relationship between the paint particles and pixels is that there really is no difference (again with scale in mind).  There is a space in the material for each paint particle as there is a larger space for the completed image.  Paint is composed of electrons and so behaves similarly to electrons where there are forces of attraction and repulsion and the photons that interact with the paint and our eyes indicate these forces (photons carry the message of the paint).  This can be said of any material really.

layering of paint chunks and text: Never before have we been surrounded by so much text.  Not only is the diversity of content staggering, but also the diversity of sources.  With all of these 'drawings' in letter form, it becomes easy to drift into the unstructured meaning and create entire personas based on the input, inference, and reaction to textual information- which is not unlike the action impulse of imagery.  We are paralleling the user behavior of imagination and creation of meaning in classical image and textual forms.  With both of these powerful catalysts in play, a third form of inferred meaning is conjured through the creation of 'space' in the mind of the user where two obscurities collide to create an outlet of energy that could be a place of new absence, or rest, or could function as another path of meaning.  There is space because objects create its existence and the collision of imagery and escape of meaning-energy is exactly the process at the sub-atomic level.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A User Experience Note on Text Input Fields: When to display pre-filled info, side-step help, or nothing

The tremendous increase in data analysis and market trend in big-data stem logically from data collection in the first place.  While a large part of this data collection is done without user knowledge, the other big chunk comes from manual user entry; and typically through the use of user input forms.  With the help of some script, it is possible to pre-fill info into a text input field that, when the user starts typing in the field, becomes invisible.  This pre-filled info, typically a higher color value like light grey, helps the user understand what is required of the form, often for validity.  It is also possible to place some text next to a text input field in order to achieve a near-same result.  Several differences exist between the two methods of helping the user from a user experience perspective and, with the growing form-input-data-collection trend, it is becoming increasingly critical to understand when to instantiate one method over another, when to utilize both methods effectively, or confidently abandon both.

Here, I’ll propose a rule regarding helping a user fill out form data and then develop corollaries around that rule to help with this decision making process for designers and developers.

Text that provides help for users to fill out form data should be used whenever possible.

In practice, anything that helps users interact with technology should be utilized whenever possible, but adding features that help can degrade the simplicity that avoids the ‘hurting’ in the first place; interfaces become cluttered and confusing.  So the question becomes how do we define ‘whenever possible,’ and will our definition hold over the long run and across a myriad of projects? 

Attempting to set a long term standard for any user experience methodology is only possible when considering those base human factors that bubble up through the user experience.  Such factors include the cognitive aspects of communication, response systems toward reward, inherent motivators of curiosity, and incessant drive toward learning. For form input data decisions, the elemental aspects to consider are metaphor, metonym, and conservation of energy for the user.  We are concerned with metaphor and metonym because these variables govern communication- and communication is explicitly on trial here.  The energy variable flows through all user processes from action speed, to action distance, to action anticipation, and also inherits the time variable.

Examining the differences between ‘suggestion text,’ high color value text appearing in an input box, and ‘help text,’ text appearing to the side of an input field, we see that both catalyze the same result of helping a user fill out a form.  While suggestion text is typically limited to only a couple words, help text may be one or two sentences.  This makes sense as the field input is limited on size whereas there is often more space around the field.  So we have one obvious, but non-trivial, corollary already:  

Use help text when suggestion text could extend beyond more than a couple of words.    

Another issue that arises quickly from this is how the user experience is affected then by possibly having one form with multiple fields where it is possible to implement a combination of help and suggestion text.  Here we can implement our conservation of energy law to make a satisfying decision.  Considering a user’s eye movement, then a combination of help and suggestion text would cause the energy expended to be at its greatest as the eye travels from side to inside the field and back again on down the form.  (Note I am considering a form that is a single column and more than 5 inputs).  So we have developed a second corollary:

Use as few variations between help and suggestion text as possible.

Now we arrive at what makes this issue most challenging to resolve- in order to follow the above corollaries we require subjective judgement and subjective judgement leads to debate and can impede project progression.  But there is one objective criticism we can apply to the process when deciding on help text, suggestion text, both, or neither- at least based on user experience guidelines.

Apply the correct treatment based on what the user is thinking when they approach the input.

When a user approaches an input box, their intent should be pre-analyzed by the user experience team.  Is the user approaching the box with a strong idea of what they will be inputting?  An example of strong intent would be a username/password combo.  An example of weak intent would be the VLAN MAC addresses of an unassigned server profile.  Grading the user’s intention at the input box level then helps the decision making process for utilizing help text, suggestion text, or neither.  

At the interface design level, help text can also be used as the input label, cleaning the interface of redundancy and shrinking its footprint (especially advantageous for small form factor screens).

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Design like golf: wang

What are the minimal elements needed within the interface presentation in order to effectively communicate context and potential action(s), and how should those elements be placed in order to conserve the greatest amount of user energy to realize place and to focus effort?

Perhaps this concentrated and protracted question haunts every blank sheet of paper, digital artboard, or open html editor- if it doesn’t, I encourage the designer or developer in the moment to attempt to embrace this banshee of inspiration and follow its undulating flow down a concentrated hallway of effort and closure on the task at hand.  If we approach our design workflows like golf, where every play counts and reward awaits for those who work to minimize their approach to the finish, then we are forced to place a tremendous amount of effort into the thinking process of our designs so that the actual employment of stroke produces maximal effect and our failures at least place us near enough our intended goal that we can recover quickly and without too much difficulty.

Iteration and mistake are inevitable- they are a positive part of the exercise that stimulates growth and learning, but they do not disqualify us from the tournament; we can remain in play for as long as we desire and the course is endless.  Greatness is realized by the user and by ourselves when things appear easy to comprehend and to act on- this is the ‘naturalness’ of the interface that makes it feel easy to create and to interact with.  The interface looks ‘easy to do.’  We can recognize this sensation in other contexts such as painting, music, woodworking, cooking, teaching, equation solving, and leadership.  Examples in the painting context are early portraiture works of John Singer Sargent where a shadow cast by a nose is a simple blocked-in stroke of paint held together by surrounding form shadows and by the light it fends from its role to protect a secret held by the sitter.  Such intention of purpose, laid down with the energy of storytelling, will exude greatness to any user, observer, or creator.  Though Sargent would tend to the bravado in his growth, his mastery of placement of pigment and conjure of potential energy in his subjects only grew more obvious.

Bliss, in the Roland Barthes vocable sense of the term, takes form within the interface of humans and technology as we minimize our visible work in the ‘final deliverable.’  We are already presenting our work on some of the finest materials ever crafted and utilizing some of the most excellent tools ever available- with these massive difficulties overcome, it becomes easier to realize the course and path to our goals by focusing only on the shot; what strength is needed to move our position and what general location we wish to land before the next attempt is taken.

Growth in the tournament is mutual for the user, the creator, and the creative observer.

See you at the 19th hole.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Considering metonymy in analytics

As a metonym, an object stands for itself; it does not symbolize, or stand for, or call for similarities with another object- it exists as its own object without representation.  The realm of analytics, which inherently relies on numbers, is ripe with metonymy and the strength of this structure is actuality.  The realism described by analytics is truth, plain and simple.  However, this is a truth that is only as righteous as the algorithm, the harvest of data, and methodology on which the algorithm is constructed and presented.  The interpretation of the analytics and discriminatory course of action pursued following the presentation of the analytical data is subjective and wrought with the complexities of human prioritization.  Within the data, there exist arithmetic truths, but the deduction may not be predictable because the deduction is based on contextual and situational input that are not captured in the analytic function.  Here we realize a tango-esque dance of the objective and subjective with the realm of analytics; a realm that grows ever mustier and shadowy as it welcomes any ‘big data’ guests into the salon.

We know from quantum mechanics that the measurement of a single variable will perturb the findings of an entire experiment.  In the case of analytics, even the choice of variables for presentation immediately guides a harvest of data along the conveyor belt and nearly predetermines the visual impact of the output crop.  Depending on the relay context, the type of graphing method for relay should almost be chosen before the data set to limit the desired impact of the information.  For example, showing an increasing trend would demand a bar or line graph and most certainly not a pie chart.  The act of choosing the architecture for display of the culled data becomes as artistic a practice as choosing the data for display at all and the process of drawing and proof sketching what form interpretable data could take becomes necessary if the data is to meant to influence a particular audience.  It is only through this often lengthy iterative process of data grooming and revelation that a reality begins to settle, or at least approach the asymptote, as a true metonymic structure of the investigation; the inherent and inevitable conclusion nears a solid form in time past the specter of metaphorical guessing and inference.

We must consider an event-driven architecture in the interface of the data’s presentation and constantly carry scrutiny for fraud.  There is caution toward the cardinality of any collection of data, since there is never a complete data set or real closed field post any complex event processing or unveiling of large information sets.  At most we can hope for a distant service and semblance of metonymy- that the sphere of Jupiter will not relent casting a sense of awe with its moons ever lurking in shadow tidal-cast in blissful orbit.

The interfaces that will be most useful in the capture, analysis, and relay of big data will be those that are of definiteness of purpose and of clear design toward a focused set of users, interpreters, and champions of findings.

Monday, April 6, 2015

After Tree View Controls

A tree view control is a common graphical user interface widget that allows for the navigation of a hierarchy of information.  This control allows a user to click into the nodes of the tree, commonly called branches, to view the farthest node or leaf of information.  The information could be a folder structure with files inside or a networking domain with devices and device component IDs.  While useful for exposing the hierarchies of data or the backend programmatic signature of the data, tree views should be employed with great scrutiny when concerns for swiftness of workflow are paramount to usability in a software context.

From their outset, tree views naturally introduce complexity to a user about the data they present.  This obvious inheritance is often not necessary for a user to accomplish the task at hand and so the cognitive work of the user that is immediately escalated becomes an unnecessary source of friction that impedes expediency and builds a tone of intricacy into a software product that could otherwise benefit from a more fluidic, lightweight, and apparently simple interface.  

Tree views demand that the user know a priori or learn the container structure and embedded elements, which can require significant drilling into node elements.  This hunting and seeking of information, especially in the case of first time use, requires time as well as physical and mental effort to seek, click, seek, remember, and click (if luck permits) that unapologetically take away from any accomplishment of acting on the data that a user is hunting for.  The question, ‘Where is the thing?’ heavily burdens the workflow of needing to do something with ‘the thing’ once it is located.  While grouping elements within a container structure that may inherit a hierarchy is a distinct and foundational human tendency, within the context of software applications, there are other control presentation methods that can increase the speed that a desired outcome is attained and, through this unhindered workflow, the user gains a sense of satisfaction in their efforts that can lead to the sale or renewal of more products in a strict business sense and promote infectious positive energy in the broader societal sense.

A very clear usability limitation of tree views is that they often are restrained to vertically-biased rectangles, yet can contain nodes that expand two, three, or more levels deep.  This presentation then requires the user to perform a kind of horizontal scrolling acrobatics, to expand a node, scroll, scan, and hopefully click to expose the details of the target node for further action.  The fact that tree views are often not the location of action on a node, and if they were, are severely limiting in the screen real estate they permit, means that their implementation demands an engineer to exquisitely balance the concepts of action and navigation- not simple feats that challenge senior and principle level developers and designers alike.  All the time that a user spends engaging with ‘tree swinging’ as they navigate a potentially complicated hierarchy is time spent not focused on achieving their ultimate goal; whatever that may be, it is most certainly not locating a node on a tree.

If we can collapse the distance between a user’s current location and their destination then we have necessarily reduced the time of their actions and promoted their satisfaction with their efforts.  Data structure and hierarchy can be crucial to understanding how to solve a given problem and learn workflow, but they can be exposed in areas perhaps more appropriate than a tree view.  Conversely, a tree view can be immensely useful if the hierarchy it uncovers is shallow and if the tree itself is ‘short’ enough to allow for quick scanning for target nodes.  As the tree’s complexity grows, its usefulness decays rapidly, and much like physical trees under human gaze, it becomes an object of bewilderment and paralyzing bliss rather than an object under control.  This statement applies with greater warning as the number of nodes encountered proliferates through an era of planetary size data structures.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Chasing Consistency

It is possible for consistency to exist across a product, a product suite, or an entire company.  There are common threads, capable of being sewn by every member of the business, that will hold together a sense of union and deliver a clear message to customers across international boundaries that what they are using, or what they are holding, or who they are talking to is derived from a clear and distinguishable source.  The exact shape of the source of these threads is unique to each business, but the source can be defined and recognized as a foundational element; as a platform.  This foundation or platform need only be intentionally named as one to define it as a bastion or rally call to the entire company and to formalize its announcement to the public.  

The foundation or common thread can be a process, virtual representation, physical product offering, or style of communication.  However, an affirmation of consistency, and the platform’s existence, is largely under jurisdiction of the product users’ and company customers’ perception.  While a company itself can recognize its own inconsistencies and lack of a platform, not until the platform is named by the company and shared with the outside world does it, or a validated perception of consistency, exist in the marketplace.  The life-force given to an article or collection of objects through the perception and labeling by users is the greatest form of existence for a product and leads to advocation, evangelism, and revenue streams.  Once the platform has entered the public conversation, it can then spread its wake of influence and broaden its perceptibility by the public to precipitate other facets of the company into a question of range of consistency.

The concept that the ‘consistency thread,’ or foundational element, simply requires it be named as such to exist in that sense relies on the fact that context drives human perception, and consequently, labeling and grouping procedures.  We can turn to the example of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ (1917) where a urinal was placed in the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917 and the exhibition context anointed this everyday object as an art form or artistic expression; as scandalous as Duchamp’s act was considered at that time.  The impact of Duchamp’s work, and that of the Dada movement he participated in, on the art world continues to inspire and propel an expanding definition of art through notions of context and appropriation.

Returning to the software context, we attribute labels to visual collections of information, or applications, like ‘monitoring software’ or ‘reporting software’ to provide users with an overarching expectation of capability and function.  We can realize the importance here when we contrast productivity software with games or debugging software.  The collection of these applications then become the architectural outgrowths of the business foundation; the perceived image of the company by the user.

Here it is possible to realize the cyclical repercussions of consistency and its ability to alter user perception in the marketplace.