SXSWi notes: High Class, Low Class Web Design

Notes on High Class and Low Class Web Design.

Respecting your audience. Do you treat them as equals? Culturally, educationally? What if they’re not your peer group? People who call their audience “marks”. Fans officially, but the treatment in the industry is “marks”.

This is the 2nd panel that has used this carny terminology. Evan Prodromou was also critiquing the mindset that treats an audience as marks or suckers.

The room is very large and crowded, so I can’t tell who is speaking. Someone’s talking again about being too class conscious and how that leads to a lack of respect.

Methods of making design decisions. Measuring sales with varying design in publishing and in web design and with usability studies. Liz Danzico is talking about usability, class, and layout.

Web sites and products targeted at “lower classes” use statistical methods of determining good and bad design, while stuff for “upper classes” rely on personal expertise for design. That maps to other high end products like fashion and luxury goods. For high end they’re designed and they see what happens, while for “lower” they are the product of testing. Steve Jobs mentioned…

(I think that it’s pretty funny that this panel purports to be respectful, but they’re using terminology like “high” and “low” which I find inherently disrespectful. And I would talk about “working class” not low class or “unwashed masses”. Jeez!!!)

Khoi Vinh talks about the NY Times and their testing process. He disagrees, I think, that the NYT is high class, but also says that if you think it is “high class”, he would like people to know that they do do testing and usability studies.

Appropriate design and aspiration. If you are designing for an audience that is different than you, do you aim for uplifting their sensibilities? Or do you design based on what you know they already like? A question for designers in the audience to consider.

Liz Danzico talks about how to tell how much is too much. When you’ve gone over someone’s comfort level. The toothpaste ad with toothpaste smeared on the guy’s chest. (Audience laughter)

Brant talks about his experience at WWE. Expanding the design for a wider audience who would not be embarrassed to pick the magazine up. Men in their 20s.

Starsky and Hutch, Dukes of Hazzard, int he past. Now we have Sorpranos, Lost. Complicated shows. People stopped looking down on their audience. TV is better than it was 20 years ago. Quote from Paul Rand. The Language of design. The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to perefer bad design… The new becomes threatening, the old reassuring.” You’re exposed to a certain design style your whole life. Is this design taste related to class, what you learn ? Or is there an inherent goodness or badness that transcends?

This question relates well to a book I’ve been thinking about all year, A Framework for Understanding Poverty. It explains a lot of class conversations and expectations in relation to class. Working class geographies of understanding the world are based on people and trust of people. Middle class geographies of importance are rooted in stuff, in brands and quality of stuff. Upper class geographies prioritize aesthetics and discernment. Aesthetics is a tool often used to establish and maintain class boundaries.

***
Wow, Peter from Adaptive Path just made that very point about aesthetics and class mobility. Aesthetics is used to prevent that class mobility! I was just thinking about Widmerpool’s overcoat from Dance to the Music of Time; he gets it subtly wrong and the upper class characters know it and shun him; he can’t ever really pass. IMHO, in the U.S. this is also used to maintain race and gender boundaries that connect to class status.

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SXSWi: Kathy Sierra’s opening remarks

Kathy Sierra‘s opening remarks has two or three overflow rooms full of people. We’re responding to the screen just as if Kathy were in the room – what a great speaker!

Humanizing software and the net.

Audience participation exercise:

If you had to either save a guy from drowning or photograph it, how would you tag it in Flickr? Stand up, this makes you a “designer” (or i would say a content person)

If you had to code open source software or have sex… Ruby or Python? Stand up.

If you haven’t stood up, look around you at the people who have a job!

Now talk to a person who isn’t your same kind.

1) help users get together offline. face to face still matters.
2) make software interactions feel more human
– What can the user do with a human but not a computer?
– body language, gestures, (photo of face expressing “Whaaaaaa!?” or WTF: knit brow, questioning, maybe a little bit pissed off, puzzlement)
– Look confused, ask a question. You can’t do that with your software. Does your software know anything about that face?
– photos of anxiety, bewilderment, head in hands. Other entity responds to “looking confused”

A neurological quiz. Various “I-statements”. Aspies unite! In the tech world we are actually proud of our Aspergers. All our applications have Aspergers. (Also, all cats have Aspergers.) How can we compensate? Our app must know that a person is confused.

Nobody is passionate when they feel like they suck. Passion threshhold, Suck threshold. Your apps make people feel like they suck instead of getting them up past the suck threshold. I no longer suck, but I’m not good or expert anymore. We have to get people past that threshold. The passion threshold is when they’re so good they feel confident and expert. Passion isn’t about a tool, it’s about people feeling good about their ability.

Add a WTF button.

A great point: the help file or faq thinks you look like (photo of smiling confident student-looking guy with pencil poised to take notes) but really you’re like (photo of guy looking frustrated and flipping off his computer).

Example of a user in Excel. “I used to use Excel a long time ago and I just want to add up the numbers in a column” The help is utterly unhelpful and her screen captures are hilarious. People actually want to say “I’m lost. I’m stuck. I don’t know how I got here. I want to do a thing, but I don’t know what it’s called.”

Goal of the WTF button: Get user to the right context asap. Then give him an understandable set of questions. Let the user choose a high level statement. “I’m lost.” Narrow the context.
What other emotions can a computer recognize? buttons with faces. Click on picture of what you’re feeling. Bastards! Terror! WTF! Happy! You suck. He’s not really feeling “you suck”, he’s feeling, “I suck”. Hating software you’re hating it for making you feel like an idiot. If you can’t fix your application you can still help by reorganizing your documentation.

Looking confused tells a human, a human teacher for example, to try telling you a different way. Software gives you one chance, it’s like saying “I’m only going to tell you this once.” You’ll know you’ve succeeded when they feel creeped out.

Conversational language. Talk like a human. Use the word “you”. Contractions. Your brain reading conversational language – pays more attention.

The positive impact of good user experiences. If make a user have a slightly better experience, you’ve done something good. You give a person an opportunity to be in the “flow” state.

(YEAH!!!)

Those are some of the happiest moments in a person’s life. That’s the kind of experience we’re giving people all the time.

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SXSWi impressions

All important communication happens on Twitter.

Hanging out at Little City checking my email on the street with a tall iced chai. The guys at the table next to me had a blog which explained how to secede and establish your own government; they just got a takedown or cease and desist letter from the NSA! I told them to send it to Chilling Effects.

Old friends. Kristine K. swooped in to the cafe and carried me off. We lived together at 21st St. Co-op in the mid-80s; me in the loud suite, 1A, and her in 1B. I used to slip love poetry under her door, comparing her to fire and minnows and volcanic lava. With brutal casualness, she would explain to me how my ankles were too thick and she only was attracted to women who were dumb. Then she’d go “come and talk to me while I’m taking my bath!” and like an ass, I’d go and die a thousand deaths. Meanwhile, her and Roy and Katya… I won’t go there. Anyway, we drove around Austin, talked about her writing, about everyone we know, about our marriages, our kids, the past; went to visit Ken at the Open Door preschool, and then me to the Cedar Door & her to go work at the convention center doing something music-related. Next week she interviews Peaches – rather thrilling. Her big hulking old steel american car does not have a working reverse drive, so she carefully positioned the car for me to hop out and push the car back. As always I gain +10 to my tonguetied butch roll and that seemed also to give me magic muscles, because I succeeded in pushing the car into the parking spot.

Her tips for Austin: Ran, a bar or nightclub with dancing, over on 2nd and Lavaca, where there are all types of people but things are pleasantly queered up; Alamo Drafthouse, movie theater with dinner, also at 2nd and near there, maybe Colorado. El Arroyo – where I remember going in the 80s. We lamented the death of Chances, the best lesbian bar in Austin. Now it’s Club Deville and is still pretty good.

At the Cedar Door. The standard Austin bar thing with a patio, a sort of tent thing, christmas lights. No trellis though – usually there is a trellis. Where the fuck is my bar patio trellis! Long wild conversation with Prentiss Riddle about open source, labor, ownership of work, capitalism, alternate economies and their effects good & bad. He talked about Ed Vielmetti’s concept of the superpatron – open source libraries – community developers. I didn’t get to talk as much as I would have liked to David Nuñez… maybe later… I met a bunch more UT people including an interesting guy who is “bibliotrash” on last.fm. I do not remember his real name but with that handle, I’ll be able to find him.

More old friends. Dennis Trombatore came to pick me up. We had the depressing conversation quick in the car so as not to upset his wife about one’s expected lifespan and aging and the meaning of life and how one chooses to life one’s life. “It’s not me that will have to deal with it so it doesn’t upset me. A few months of pain and morphine… then poof.” “Yes, while it lasts enjoy going out and sitting in the air and feeling the sun. Then bang.” Of course this was upsetting as in theory I would be one of the people left grieving. But we cross our fingers for radiation and hormones! Dennis is proof that being a philosopher for real improves life, because you’ve thought plenty in advance about death. I finally got to meet his wife Sheila and see their house. Books & pottery everywhere! It was like old times as we were instantly catapulted into the most intense out-there conversations. His pottery teacher Joe Bova. 500 animals in clay. I admired his bowls and other people’s. We talked about the odd gestalt of fun people we had at work in 1987 or 1988. Lisa, Abbey, Stephanie, Sabina, me, and others… Jim McCullough and how he’s a fantastic writer… Hegel. The meaning of life. The experience of time. “Every animal’s objective is to corrode the boundaries of time.” Sentences like that used to fly out of him at an insane pace and all pretense of library work would stop and I remember (my 18 year old self) thinking, “Wait! Stop! I have to hold onto this thought and this minute!” Because often it was so far over my head that I couldn’t follow as fast as I would have liked, but could only react in parallel. I am advised to read Heraclitus, and Alex Mourolatos’ book and translation of the pre-Socratics. I admired his edition of Singer’s History of Technology in many volumes and resolved to buy it as a present! I told him to read “Flow” and also “Understanding Poverty” as we got deeper into talking about class (in relation to everyone we know in common.) I am also advised to read Robert Coles who wrote about the psychology of children. We talked about work and the way that he is in the library and how it is being “on” all day long

Vespasio is the best Italian restaurant in the entire southwest, according to Dennis.

Then off to about 8 million bars as I followed Chris Messina and Tara Hunt around, because they’re fun and cool but mostly because I needed to get into their hotel room and go to sleep. I can’t even remember whatall bars they were at. Moonshine, Buffalo Billiards, something else very loud. At bar #8 million I realized I could just take their key and go, so that’s what I did, but on the way (very tired and spaced out) I met more fun people, talked with Min Jung, Glenda, Leslie, the french maid guy (and I did not get into that but maybe I will later) and Scott from Laughing Squid and all those people. Everyone that I don’t know is familiar-seeming. Sipped drinks out of test tubes. Fell over with exhaustion. Then a hot bath. My roommates showed up. Tara and I talked non stop about our work, about co-working, all that sort of thing.

In the morning they were very beautiful. You know how people look all innocent when they’re relaxed and asleep? Like that. Also the bed was very white and they were very pink and gold and blond looking, Tara in her lacy camisole and Chris looking more macho than you’d think. I almost took a photo of them curled up with arms around each other, asleep, but figured I could bloggaciously violate their privacy just as well with words as with pictures. They were the sweetest thing ever!

Breakfast at Las Manitas, as planned. Ran into Scott B. and Shannon Clark and more people I vaguely know or might have met once. Heavenly, heavenly coffee perfect and mellow and strong, with chilaquiles verdes and platanos. The food is like a fabulous dream. As we left I talked for like 1 second with someone named Cory who wanted to talk to me, but she vanished as I paused to talk with Sarah Dopp.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

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Deep, then flippant, thoughts on SXSWi

I’m getting ready to fly out to Austin for SXSWi, where I’m going to talk at a session on Sunday afternoon, “Fictional Blogging”. Marrit Ingman at the Austin Chronicle interviewed me here: Where the Wild Things Blog. For once, I’m not talking about myself or making anyone’s eyes glaze over with my wild Theories About Twitter:

Liz Henry, who will present the Fictional Bloggers panel with blog-novelist Odin Soli of Plain Layne fame, emphasizes the importance of disclosure. “We want lying we can trust, lying that’s transparent,” she explains. “We don’t want to feel stupid and be tricked by hoaxes. But some lying, the lying of fiction, is good and ethical. It creates distance between a person and the world, and in this distance we can explore crazy, fascinating ideas.”

Henry adds, “If corporations used fictional blogs seamlessly and with artistry, a lot of people wouldn’t mind the fakitude. They’d be entertained. We could potentially love the PSP2 fake bloggers just as we love Chaucer Hath a Blog if the PSP2 blog was any good.”

Instead of being good, the ad company responsible for Sony’s viral campaign, Zipatoni, drew the ire of consumers with the blog’s lack of corporate disclosure, ostensibly teenage pidgin, and blatantly fake “flogging.” (“so we started clowning with sum not-so-subtle hints to j’s parents that a psp would be teh perfect gift,” read the first entry on www.alliwantforxmasisapsp.com/blog, itself shut down last December.)

“Companies who want to build out a fictional character should hire novelists and playwrights, role-playing gamers and LARPers, bloggers and social media people – creative world-builders who understand how to bring life to an online presence. Blog readers and Web-entertainment consumers are sophisticated. They want depth to a character,” Henry says.

Odin is an awesome geek and all-around internetty consultant sort of person as well as a novelist. I like how he includes his old .plan files as part of his web site. I always thought of them as old school blogging… And I wish I still had mine!

I’m working now for Socialtext now, as their open source community manager, but my panel has nothing to do with that and everything to do with my history as a bookish and writerly and bloggity person.

But because I’m being soaked up to my eyebrows in wikis right now, I talked about them with Marrit too, so bear with me while I write that up and quote myself at enormous unquotable length:

I’d love to see companies blog creatively from the points of view of minor characters in a novel or other fictional series. I don’t want Harry Potter’s blog; I want Dobby’s blog or Neville’s or Pansy Parkinson’s. Or better yet, a network of interlinked fictional blogs and worlds. In the imaginary world, we aren’t limited by truth, reality, history, or time. We can have Genghis Khan blogging in dialogue with Caroline Ingalls and Picard and two hundred different Harry Potters, with real people thrown in the mix. A smart company would interlock its fictional worlds and information and allow participation from everyone in the building of alternate fictional realities. There’s a lot of energy in fanfiction, for example. This energy should be welcomed by media owners and publishers, who need radical change in their approach to intellectual property.

Book publishers aren’t getting wikis either – or not enough of them are getting it. Every book needs a wiki. Every book needs a blog, but I’d push it further and say that they need wikis too, or blikis.

Wikis have enormous creative potential. Socialtext uses wikis and blikis to increase collaboration and speed up communication in big corporations. Corporate wikis change the ways people talk with each other at work, or how they approach the definition of a project. But novelists and creative writers need to play with wikis in many other areas. Wikis are clearly useful for worldbuilding in science fiction and fantasy. But let’s push it further. We could write a novel as a wiki. Someone should do that for Nanorimo! Maybe they already have. It’s a scary thought, isn’t it, if you’re a writer? It challenges the idea of authorship, authority, style, and the singular voice of the genius artist. That’s a fine challenge with a ton of potential. When we get our first excellent bestselling novel written by a wiki collective — better yet by an open collective — we’ll know that our society’s approach to the generation of knowledge has evolved. Fans groups of particular wikinovel hive minds will spring up. Literary criticism will change as well, and academia’s resistance to collaboration will have to evolve to change with the times.

Book publishers aren’t getting how to make a blog into a book. What is the value of the book? Besides editing the blog and making it portable, a book should annotate. The book of Riverbend’s blog, for example, could have been a fantastic book rather than just a nicely bound bundle of printouts. Add information, indexes, annotation, glossaries, diagrams, geneologies. Enrich a blog; don’t just print it. Publishers think people don’t want footnotes. They’re wrong. When people love a world, a character, or a subject — or a blog — they want to know everything, on different levels. A generation that grew up listening to DVD commentary tracks and writing complex Wikipedia articles about Pokemon characters does, indeed, love footnotes, and the option for depth of information they provide.

Anyway!

The conference was great last year. It was supposedly the year of everyone marveling at OMG there are girls and brown people here OMG OMG there is a line for the women’s room at a tech conference! Diversity was nice, I think it will continue, and I hope it has positive and tangible results for the “diversity-providers” as well as making everyone else feel all warm and fuzzy. The conference itself benefitted, if you think of their increase in attendees as being correlated with the array of speakers from different backgrounds – and I do think that’s true. I had to laugh a bit at the SXSW magazine that came in the mail last month, and its article on the British Invasion. What a spin. “Last year we had women! This year omg white guys are invading our conference! It’s so radical!” Every cliche was invoked. It was sweet, really! I’m not complaining — British geek guys are super sexy, they dress nicer than American white guys, they don’t make the bathroom lines longer for all the women (that’s important!) and I think they grace any conference with their cute accents and snarky comments and the way they act sort of uptight and then get drunk and let it all hang out. Kind of like Spock. The invasion’s fine with me!

In fact, right after I talked with Marrit about collaboration, world building, and wikis, I had lunch with Paul Youlten from Yellowiki, a very fascinating multi-tentacled person who is now building a collaborative fictional Latin American geographical space, Batán. I did not quiz him too deeply on the imperialist implications of his Bruce-Chatwin-esque wiki thing because I think it’s a fine cultural experiment, and if English-speaking people are going to construct a fake Latin America, they might as well make it overtly fake rather than constructing it on real cities where people actually live. (I realize that only about 3 people will get this or laugh at it, but it’s worth it to make them laugh really hard. This means you, Brian, Prentiss, and Gabby!)

(Meanwhile, as I’m blogging this in a cafe, there’s a guy across from me with a big Daviswiki sticker on his laptop. Wiki Everywhere!)

Back to the conference!

I’m looking forward to seeing some people I don’t see that often – to the rush of intense conversations – to eating breakfast at my favorite breakfast place ever which I shall not name because I don’t want you all to go there and make it too crowded – And to picking up some more Turitella fossils from the limestone bed of Shoal Creek, because I gave all the ones I picked up last year to little kids. And to going to all the wiki panels and open source panels and doing more soaking-stuff-up.

Also notable in my pre-conference rush: I got very excited at getting my cute little MOO cards. I have two kinds – one for my real name stuff and one for the main pseudonymous-me.

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