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We can't leave innovation up to our users


"The world never needed Beethoven's Fifth Symphony until he created it. Now we could not live without it."
-- Louis I. Kahn

In this Web 2.0-ish world we're supposed to be all about the users being in control. Where the "community" drives the product. But the user community can't create art. (And I use "art" with a lowercase "a" as in software, books, just about anything we might design and craft.) That's up to us.
(Threadless excepted)

Our users will tell us where the pain is. Our users will drive incremental improvements. But the user community can't do the revolutionary innovation for us. That's up to us.

The world never needed the iPod until Apple created it. Now, look how many of us could not live without it.
[And before you snark about how we're just trying to look cool or be fashionable... no, this is about the way in which we're able to integrate music into our lives in a way that wasn't possible before. But that's for another post.]

The world never needed GUIs.
Or digital cameras.
Or cafe mochas.
Or skateboards.

But I have a hard time imagining my life without those things.

I can survive without them. But do those things give me pleasure and enhance my life in ways that I'd rather not give up? Just as Kahn says about Beethoven's Fifth? (Actually, I prefer the 7th, but whatever) Yes. Were these "needs" manipulatively planted in my brain against my will? I don't think so.

The point is that sometimes:

"The creation of art is not the fulfillment of a need but the creation of a need.
(this is the first part of the quote at the top of this post) -- Louis I Kahn

FYI -- I was inspired to do this by the documentary I saw last night, My Architect, a film by Kahn's son (searching for the secret to his father). I highly recommend it.

(Picture of one of Kahn's best, the Salk Institute.)

Posted by Kathy on July 31, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (36) | TrackBack

A few more Presentation How To's


I was thrown into delivering an OSCON Tuesday night keynote at the last moment. I wasn't exactly honored by being the dead last person they could think of who could step in. ; ) No, the word was more like terrified. Not only was I taking up the slot traditionally filled by geek god Paul Graham, I also was the warm-up act for the guy who--and I don't say this lightly--gives the best presentations I have ever seen. The best.

I first saw Damian Conway at least year's OSCON, delivering his Fun with Dead Languages talk show. There is no way to describe it, but programmers... imagine if you will a Latin compiler...

This year I thought, "he can't possibly top that." But of course he did, with his The Da Vinci Codebase. Again, I can't possibly explain it, but the idea that you could hold the attention of a thousand geeks simply by sitting on a chair and telling a story... that tells you something about his skills.

But after I left the conference (early), turns out Damian did another talk (briefly described here) that was a parody of tech marketing presentations, and people were saying that was the Best. Presentation. Ever.

So what's his secret?

I'll summarize a few points here, but for a deeper look, check out these blog notes someone took at Damian's Presentation Akido talk (teaching geeks to give presentations), which I haven't seen but hope to one day.

Damian is brilliant. One of those scary smart guys. So there's that.

And he's entertaining, has a wonderful voice, and that English (oops) Aussie accent.

So yes, he's already fabulous going in. But following his suggestions could still turn a "regular" person into an excellent presenter. What Damian does in a keynote (keep in mind this is not the same thing you'd do in a VC pitch, for example):

* Take a ridiculously long time to prepare. I think he suggests a minimum of 20 hours per hour of presentation, to work on your slides and talk. The rumour is, though, that he spends closer to 100 hours per hour of talk. And it shows.

* Use a lot of slides. Change them rapidly.

* The slides go with the words--they aren't just there as backdrops.

* The slides are NOT the words. They represent the idea you're talking about, either directly or emotionally.

* Vary the pacing. Fast fast fast fast then... slow... then fast fast fast... (but don't get bogged down)

* Use humor. Somehow. [Note from me: I'm not funny, not at all. So I have to do this with slides. Damian is funny, and his slides are hilarious]

* Be entertaining... which includes, but is not only, humor. It's virtually impossible to attend a Damian talk and check your email or chat on the backchannel at the same time. He's that captivating.

* Use "insider" references and jokes that are specific and appropriate (and appreciated) by this audience. He says things (and shows things) that are fun or exciting to this specific audience, but that nobody else would never get.

* Don't make it all about YOU.

* Use huge, readable fonts (and very very few words)

* Make visually attractive slides. If you don't have the graphics chops yourself, GET HELP. (Worry about things like contrast, color, balance, etc.)

* Follow all the standard what-lame-things-not-to-do-in-Powerpoint tips on Presentation Zen.

* Don't read from your notes.

* Be energetic. Be enthusiastic. Dare I say... be passionate.
You don't have to behave as someone you're not, but if you CARE about the topic and the audience (and if you don't, why are you there?), make sure that it shows. Energy and enthusiasm is infectious.

* Care.
Care about the audience. Care about their time. Care about their attention. Care about what they probably paid in time and money to be there. Care because... that's the kind of person you are ; )
[I'm reaching here, but Damian Conway IS a Really Nice Guy.]

* Don't take yourself too seriously.

* Surprise us!

* Shake things up. Keep us interested, and for that -- you need to keep some novelty in your pacing, slides, voice, everything.

There are so many more things I could say here, but I'm hoping that someone else who has seen Damian in action will chime in. And if you ever get the chance to see him... even if you do NOT understand the topic, it's worth it to see the guy who gives the best presentations I've ever seen.

A couple more presentation notes:

If you haven't seen Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, it's worth it just for watching what one guy with a laptop and some slides can do. And this is that Al Gore--the guy who previously couldn't demonstrate passion if his life depended on it (or the election). But this is a very different Al Gore, delivering a slide show he's been giving for 30 years, and cares so deeply about.

Finally, if you have NOT yet seen Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk, please stop whatever you're doing and watch it now. It's titled "Out of our minds: learning to be creative", and it's not just one of the better presentations I've ever seen, I can virtually guarantee that any regular readers here will REALLY appreciate it. You'll probably like the other TED talks as well, but this is my favorite.

[Thanks to the wonderful designer Lou Barr of Frogbox design for pointing me to it. Rumor has it that one of the very next set of Head First books to come out will be from Lou. But that's all I'm saying.]

(Photo of me at the top is by James Duncan Davidson, the official O'Reilly photographer/geek.)

Posted by Kathy on July 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack

Organic creativity: the Roomba process


"...because you're taking chances and doing things you haven't done before, so of course you're going to mess up quite a bit of the time, but still when you get it right... there's a freshness and vitality that is really inspiring."

That was Michael Brook (music producer, composer, inventor) this morning on NPR's Sunday Weekend Edition. He was talking about sound and music, but the notion of accepting assuming failure as part of the process works nearly everywhere. We've talked about fear of failure (death by risk aversion) a lot here, and I need to be reminded of it every day. But it was another comment he made about creativity that I especially loved.

When host Liane Hansen suggested that his work was a very organic process, he said:

"I only think one step at a time. I do something and that implies what the next step should be... I do that and then if that works or doesn't work I carry on or back up... it's like those little robots... the things that vacuum your house and they just keep bumping into a wall and then turn that way..."

"I don't preconceive it."

That was a new metaphor for me: the Roomba approach to organic design.

While this don't-plan-every-damn-thing-in-advance model has started to gain popularity in the software development world, most, um, old-style programmers like me had an almost opposite model beat into us from the beginning. The well-intentioned concern for future extensibility, flexibility, scalability led us down the design garden path... skipping along assuming that WE were the smart ones who'd be ready when the dreaded yet inevitable Requirements/Specification Changes came in. With enough upfront design and extra coding, we could make our life down the road much easier. What we lost in time-to-release now would be more than made up for later. So we said.

But then the Extreme Programming and Agile Manifesto began to challenge that idea. While not everyone has drunk the XP koolaid (and oh how I hate forced pair-programming), most modern software development teams have been heavily influenced by at least some of the XP/Agile once-edgy, now more mainstream practices.

Now fast-forward to 2006 and the world of Web Something Dot Something, to the world of lightning-fast releases and community/user-driven design. If we thought we had trouble designing it all up front before, NOW we're most definitely screwed. If we're doing it right and listening to our users, they are partly in control. Whatever we thought users would do with our products and services, they have ideas of their own. Ideas we would NEVER have imagined... things you couldn't possibly see until after it was out there in use.

The use of (and audience for) our products is evolving with or without us, organically. And if we want to evolve with it--let alone innovate and add new value that even the users hadn't thought of we have to be there like that Roomba, always trying and trying and backing up when we hit a wall and turning 90 degrees and always moving moving moving (until its time to recharge).

The poster children (or at least the most prolific in articulating it) for the don't-plan-it-all are my good friends at you-know-where (rhymes with flirty-bevin rignals). In their PDF book Getting Real (worth the $19 if you really stop and think about what they're saying), they talk a fair bit on this:

It's a Problem When It's a Problem
"Don't waste time on problems you don't have yet. Do you really need to worry about scaling to 100,000 users today...?"

Just Wing It
"Bottom Line: Make decisions just in time, when you have access to the real information you need."

"Real things lead to real reactions. And that's how you get to the truth."

Work in iterations
"Let the app grow and speak to you. Let it morph and evolve. Instead of banking on getting everything right upfront, the iterative process lets you continue to make informed decisions as you go along. The result is real feedback and real guidance..."

Sounds like Roomba to me.

Organic. Just-in-time. Real. Community/User-evolved. Clean.

(And maybe not so good for cats... a bonus!)

Posted by Kathy on July 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Ignore the competition


I'm so tired of seeing so many products with the same features that nobody wants. It's bad enough to let feature requests from users get out of control, but when we start adding features just because our competitors have them, we're all screwed.

Why do we do it? My guesses are:

1) The Feature Arms Race. We're afraid of falling behind our competitors.

2) We assume that if one of the leading competitors added something, it's something users will want.

3) We assume that potential users will buy off a checklist, and we don't want to come up short in a side-by-side feature comparison.

4) We have a compulsive need to add, since the idea of an upgrade that subtracts features seems counterintuitive.

5) New features are easier to promote than better/working versions of existing ones. Or so we think...

What would happen if we completely, utterly, totally ignored the competition? What if we stopped thinking about competition at all? Perhaps if we devote all of our attention to users (and our own ability to innovate), we'll stop being dragged off into areas that build our feature list, but often at the expense of users. That development time might be better spent.

It's The Feature Arms Race that leads to so much sameness among products!

It's The Feature Arms Race that leads to the bloody kicking and clawing and fighting for market share. The Feature Arms Race is a form of group think, and we all know that design-by-committee does not produce art. We must wean ourselves off the obsession with the competition. If we're constantly trying to one-up them--or even just stay up with them--how does this really serve the users? How does it help the users kick ass if we're so focused making sure our feature lists kick ass? But it's hard to do.

"What if the competition comes up with something really good? Something users really like? "
Then you'll hear about it by staying in close contact with your user community.

"What if potential users do shop off a checklist?"
Then we should be educating them. In the absence of a deeper understanding of what's important and what we need and want, we DO often buy off a checklist--it feels like a better value to get more for our money. But of course the question is... more what? Certainly not usability, since the more features we add, the more danger there is of the dreaded featuritis:


If our only "competitive advantage" is by staying one step ahead of The Feature Arms Race, we're vulnerable. In my domain--technical books--if my co-authors and I had completely given in to The Features Arms Race, we would have focused on making sure OUR Table of Contents had as much (or more) "coverage" of topics as the competing books on that topic. (Initially, that's what our editor was asking for.) But it would have come at the expense of the learner. We knew we couldn't help our learners kick ass unless we stopped trying to "cover" (and remember, what the hell does "cover" mean anyway?) the topics that would look good on a feature (ToC) comparison. Given the success of the books, we're so relieved that we resisted the pull to "compete."

I think in many cases, the more you try to compete, the less competitve you actually are.

Still, as much as I like to think I'm all about ignoring the competition, I feel (and often give in to) that pull every single day. So I'm looking for suggestions, thoughts, ideas about breaking the addiction to The Feature Arms Race.

[Note that I made this entire post without mentioning the web app company (name starts with a two-digit number less than 50) whose mission is to avoid The Feature Arms Race. But I was thinking about them the whole time.]

Posted by Kathy on July 23, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (40) | TrackBack

I'm off to OSCON

In a last-minute decision, I'm heading to Portland tonight for the OSCON conference. I'll be doing a short keynote Tuesday night, so if you're there please say hello! There will be wireless (damn well better be at a hard-core geek conference), so I'm sure I'll be able to check in on the blog once or twice. E-mail, however, is something I'm still not fully caught up on. If you're waiting for a response from me, don't hesitate to ping me again. In my third computer switch in five weeks, I'm guessing I lost at least half the messages that have come in. My sincere apologies, and if I can ever stay in one place long enough. (And in the midst of all this, I'm also moving).

And to follow-up my Blind Spots post, here's a photo of MY dog--the world's cutest, sweetest, friendliest dog. The kind who couldn't possibly do anything wrong ; )

(She's a Harrier--a type of Fox Hound, kind of like a really tall Beagle)

Posted by Kathy on July 23, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

More on blind spots

Just a quick public service announcement here about personal blind spots. We all have them, but the one I'm talking about in this post is the "It doesn't apply to ME" (where "ME" could be changed to "MY child", "MY job", "MY dog", etc.).

I was attacked by a Great Dane (like the one in the photo) three years ago. I was lucky--although he did serious, permanent damage to my arm (including severed nerves and many scars), he could have crushed it on a whim. And at the time, I wasn't worried about my arm--it was my throat that sent me into that time-slows-down mode.

But the point is not that the dog attacked me. The point is that the responsible pet owner--holding the leash at the time--never could have imagined that loveable, friendly, "Diego" was capable of this.

It was not provoked. I was standing there, arms at my side, silent, not making eye contact. Just standing. A minute before this happened, one of the owners got the (really big) dog out of the car and said to me, "Oh, he's friendly."

Witnesses said the dog just walked up to me and lunged. The owners--a couple who've been raising Great Danes for more than a decade--were horrified. Shocked. Stunned. How could this possibly happen? "He's never done ANYTHING like this!" I believed them. "He's the sweetest dog!" I believed them. [Witnesses later kicked around the "she's-an-alien-and-only-the-dog-knows" theory as a potential explanation.]

Until that moment, the dog's owners--and myself--were convinced that a "friendly" dog, especially on a leash, was completely safe.

But that's an illusion, especially when the dog weighs as much--or more--than the person holding the leash! And Great Danes are on the list of dogs more likely to be aggressive, including:

Bull Terrier
Cocker Spaniel
Chow Chow
Doberman Pinscher
German Shepherd
Great Dane
Pit bull
Siberian Husky

But every person I know with a dog on that list would swear that it doesn't apply to their little Fluffy or Spike or whatever.

The reason I'm writing this is because I run on off-leash Boulder trails every morning, and today the thing I've been dreading finally happened: I came across a Great Dane. Off leash. His owner saw me cringing and said, "Oh, he's friendly." She was so certain. I froze up and could barely breathe, but she assumed that once she said the magic "he's friendly" words, I'd be fine.

Had I been able to unfreeze my face, I would have launched into a rant about how delusional this was and how could she have a dog that weighed more than she did and hope to control it and that oh I'd heard the "he's friendly" phrase before and yet look what happened to ME and on and on. What is wrong with people?

A little later--when I managed to start running again--I encountered a young girl on the trail.
"Oh, she's friendly", I said, when the girl warily eyed my unleashed, exuberant dog.

Posted by Kathy on July 21, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Usability through fun

I've heard myself say that things can be both usable AND fun, but what if things might be more usable because they're fun? What if we started including fun in our specs? And I'm not talking about games. Can a spreadsheet be fun? A word processor? A can opener? A city government report? A church service? A technical document? A camera?

Before you start rolling your eyes, let me remind us all that FUN is not the same as FUNNY. Hugh's cartoons are funny. Chess is not. But most people who play chess still consider it fun. They enjoy it.


People are often turned off by the idea of adding "fun" to an otherwise serious product simply because they think it means "humour" or "silly." But while things which are "amusing" are often fun, things which are fun aren't necessarily amusing. The key phrase to link with fun is enjoy doing it. So, the kind of fun I'm talking about here includes both the chess kind (i.e. cognitive seduction) and the joke/cartoon kind.

Jakob Nielson defines usability with five components:

* Learnability

* Efficiency

* Memorability

* Errors

* Satisfaction

"Fun" can directly improve three, and potentially the other two as well. The key is this:

Brains reward play.

Brains like play, because play is important to survival. But how does the brain know that play is happening? The chemistry associated with having fun. If something is enjoyable, that registers in the brain, and the brain rewards us with reinforcing feelings and--more importantly--attention and memory! All things being equal, fun things are more memorable than things which are not enjoyable. (Remember: it need only be fun, not funny)

If something is made more memorable, more easily learned, and more sastifying... we've improved usability. What about efficiency and errors? Benefits of fun are more indirect here, but one connection is something like this:

The more fun something is, the more likely you are to keep doing it.

The more you do it, the better you'll get. By that logic, the more enjoyable a task is, the more likely you are to do it (i.e. practice), which often means an improvement in efficiency and error-reduction (assuming the product isn't otherwise a usability nightmare).

What got me thinking about fun today was the city of Bryan Texas Water Quality Report. US cities over a certain size are required to create them for city residents. Nobody reads them. Even if the data is made accesible and clear, it's still not inviting enough to get someone to take time out to read the damn thing. In other words, these reports aren't very usable.

That might not be a big problem--that nobody reads them--but it's an opportunity the city has to communicate with their residents about something we (in the US) often take for granted--the city-supplied water that fills our pipes as if by magic. And cities want their residents to understand and appreciate what's really going on back/under there, and to learn more about what they should and shouldn't do to improve water usage and quality.

The city of Bryan started all this with last year's report--which I first talked about in Never Underestimate the Power of Fun. They raised the bar for a government report awfully high. But the new one that just came out appears to top it. Keep in mind that most water quality reports look like this:


But the new Bryan, Texas report looks like this:



Jay Socol writes:

Before, residents threw the water report away and never read it, but now they not only read it, they look forward to receiving it... and they keep it all year! It makes people smile, laugh and believe their city government has a sense of humor.

The older report didn't "say" anything about Bryan (or its residents), but this says we care enough to give you important info, but make it fun. (And this is also an image makeover like none other for our mayor. Look, he's having fun!)

No one ever commented about the old report, good or bad, but today we get unbelievable amounts of unsolicited feedback from citizens, businesses, and peer cities."

For me, one of the best parts is how Bryan, Texas made some of the "unknown heroes"--the folks who (literally) have the crappiest jobs possible--into minor celebrities. According to Jay Socol, morale among these city employees has gotten quite a boost from this project. (And can you imagine someone walking down the street and saying, "Hey, you're the guy on October..." to one of the city plumbers? It's happening.)

Never underestimate the power of fun, and remember that while this calendar was actually laugh-out-loud funny (you have to read the posters... my favorite was "Flushdance"), you can still have "fun" without "funny." It's about the user's experience (i.e. cognitive seduction). And even if you aren't in a position to introduce more fun into your actual product, you can still add it to documentation and support!

Posted by Kathy on July 20, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Follow-up bits

A few follow-ups to earlier posts...

Whoo boy -- lots of comments on The Nod and Does the US Suck at Design?

There was no consensus on anything, of course, but there were a few comment trends:

The Nod

Most people admit to some appreciation for The Nod, without having to take it too seriously, but others find the whole idea of The Nod to be a product and desire of egotistical, smug, self-centered, superficial, trend-following people. While I admitted that a certain degree of "smugness" is sometimes SOMETIMES a part of it, the idea of a small connection to another person needn't be wrapped in all that other psychological baggage. Sometimes A Nod is just a nod, and No Big Deal.

Ironically, I think that many of those who told us all how self-centered we are, and how they themselves are above The Nod, are themselves getting--and giving--The Nod to others who tell us all how self-centered we are. One critical commenter explicitly gave The Nod to another critical commenter by saying, "I'm with him..." I'm afraid it's nods all the way down ; )

Does the US Suck at Design

There were a ton of useful and interesting points about design, money, usability, other cultures, history, etc. People offered possible explanations for my question, and people debated one another's bank notes and whether the Swiss notes might be a little too colorful. Also, the word "puritan" came up several times.
On the negative side, many (here and elsewhere) agreed that this was quite possibly the lamest post I'd ever made, if not the lamest post of the year, by anyone, on the entire internet. I do not know "ass about fashion" (accurate) or design (not completely accurate), or logic, or pretty much anything else.

I did, however, have a bet going that at least one person would say something like:

"Well if you like EUROPE so much, why don't you just marry it?"

I won that bet, thanks to Alan Thompson's comment of:

"So the Europeans are better than us are they? Well why dont you just go and live there then you dam liberal."

(it's not clear whether Alan was serious or joking)

But even in the political comments, not a single person suggested that by dissing our dollars, I was hurting the troops.

Shangri-la Diet
I'll see if I can sneak in a quick follow-up to a post that took a lot of heat.
My update: I've lost 8 pounds on it, from 119 to 111, size 4 to size 2. 119 was quite a high weight for ME, even if it seems like a relatively low absolute number. I'm 5'4", but with very small bones. I am taking ONLY a single glass of sugared-water each day, a few hours after breakfast. I'm continuing for two reasons: my favorite weight is 105, so I'm not done, but most importantly--this "diet" (that isn't technically a diet) is causing me to make much better choices.

Clearly this "diet" works for only a certain percentage of people (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it could just be placebo and all that), but I have heard back from others who've read my post including:

Stephen M (ethesis) lost 65 pounds so far

Guy Naor sent me this follow-up:
(printed here with his permission)

"I'm a long time marathon runner (not a fast one...), and my goal is to get to run it in under 4 hours. I was fighting with my weight which I couldn't get off even with running 55 miles weeks. Anyway, since I started trying the Shangrila diet you wrote about, I lost more than 10 pounds in a month, and my per mile pace improved from 9:45-10:00 minutes/mile, down to 8:30 min/mile!!! So I'm sure to get my goal in my next marathon in October."

And... the comments from the "Hooverin..." post are very inspirational. Readers/participants here ROCK!

Posted by Kathy on July 20, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Hooverin' and the space between notes

"Music is the space between the notes."
- Claude Debussy

Most of us spend most of our work time focusing on the "things" that make up our product or service: the features, the words, the sounds, the icons, the buttons, the graphics, the content and so on. We try to define and control every aspect of the user's experience. Every moment of the user's experience. But what if the non-things--the space between the things--is just if not more important?

A few years ago, I went to a [John Dodds, you might want to cover your ears for a moment] Travis concert (British indie-rock band). In the midst of the show, front man Fran Healy (known in the US for wearing a utilikilt on the Letterman show) talked about a concert he'd been to the night before, at Red Rocks Amphitheater.

The show he went to was Neil Young -- friends and relatives, featuring several... well-seasoned musicians. What Fran learned that night influenced his music going forward, and the way he described it went something like this:

"These guys are so natural and casual. While we are always trying to f***ing fill up every space--the space between the notes--they play the most amazing things like they're just hooverin'."

At that point, he made a gesture that I later learned (from the English-to-American dictionary) was a back-and-forth vacuuming motion. (Apparently "Hoovering" is a reference to the Hoover brand vacuum). He wasn't referring to the mindless repetition of vacuuming--he was explaining that for these musicians, playing this amazing music appeared that easy. Relaxed. Not frantic. There was no desperate need to fill all the space.

Some of the best musicians, I'm told, play fewer notes than you actually hear. They play in such a way--and leave enough space--that your mind fills in more. (Granted, it was a DeadHead that told me).

Artists know that negative space carries weight. It is not simply an absence of content. The "white space", as it's sometimes referred to by graphic designers, IS content. And it's not just the forgotten stepchild of a composition... it is a first-class citizen. A thing that deserves as much (if not more) focus as the apparent subject of the work.

Comedians say that "timing is everything." But by "timing", they almost always mean "the pause." The PAUSE is not merely a void between the Things That Matter.

Newbie writers (like me) are taught that it's the words you cut out that matter most. We're told to edit until nothing else can be removed. That's great advice, and when I have time to edit (rare for a spare-time blog post, but required with a book), I start hacking off all those extra words. (Like, "off all those"). But removing words isn't enough. We must insert space. Space for the reader to become engaged.

Space for the reader to reflect, process, and co-create the meaning.

And they can't do that if we're filling all the space--pushing content out like a firehose.

Newbie teachers/trainers often make the same mistake. We fill in every available space, just like those first-time desktop publishers who "abhor a vacuum" and cram words and clip-art into every square millimeter of a flyer.

But real learning takes place between exposures to content! Long-term memory from learning happens after the training. The space between the lessons and practice is where the learning is made permanent. If we don't leave that space, new content keeps rushing in to overwrite the previous content, before the learner's brain has a chance to pause, reflect, and synthesize the proteins needed for long-term memory storage.

I can think of a few other examples of rushing in to fill all the space... I hope you'll add some of your own:

* A software company that adds features so quickly that users never have a chance to organically evolve their use of the app in a way that nobody imagined. Obviously this depends heavily on the type of product, but figuring out the ideal "space for user evolution" is one of the tricky parts.

Note: this is not necessarily the same as featuritis--where the company adds too damn MANY features and hurts usability. This is about introducing things based on current use of the product without allowing time for new uses to emerge.

* A church that fills every space of a service... conducts every prayer... never allowing the member/attendee a chance to reflect.

* Toys that specify explicit, carefully-constrained use. (When the best toy, as Stephen just mentioned in the comments of my previous post, could be the open-ended use-your-imagination box the over-featured toy came in.)

* A speaker that never pauses. Not all pauses are awkward. Pauses aren't necessarily--to use the radio term--dead air--they may be the most alive part of the conversation or presentation. The pause is usually where all the interesting things happen in the other person's head! [Note to self: it won't kill you to shut up.]

* The graphic design that allows no white space, or does not respect the "weight" of that space.

* The movie that explicitly describes every detail allowing no room for personal interpretation. Where every character says exactly what they're feeling and thinking.

* The article or blog post that just keeps hammering... relentlessly... without any space for the reader to use their own imagination. Without space for the reader's neurons to do anything but let the words flow by and right back out. Like, say, this one.

[insert space]

[allow pause for reflection]

Bonus link: Urban Housework


Oh yes, I almost forgot the reason I made this post. I saw Neal Young at Red Rocks last night. As part of the CSNY Freedom of Speech tour. And yeah, they were definitely Hooverin', letting us--the audience--fill the space between the notes.

Posted by Kathy on July 18, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (39) | TrackBack

My First My First Post

Still more important, representative differences between the US and... others.





OK, draw your own conclusions ; )

[Warning: do not mistake this for deep social commentary, just whimisical Saturday afternoon fun. And as a cowgirl, yes I KNOW that lots of kids in the US have pocket knives, but I had never seen an ad for a "My First Knife" until I was in Switzerland and saw them in shop windows.]

It's not all about domestic appliances, though.



... and my personal favorite:


Posted by Kathy on July 15, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack