Archive for October, 2007

IxDA Studio was a success

On October 25, I helped the IxDA NYC group put together an event we called “IxDA Studio”. The concept of the event was to bring together experts/design masters working directly with a group of design professionals in a studio/crit setting (like back in design school!). We wanted a place to design together outside of work and  to learn new ways of approaching problems from our peers as well as from seasoned design masters. We found ourselves 2 masters to help us: Josh Seiden, Design Manager at Liquidnet and Ted Booth, Interaction Design Director at Smart Design.

This is how our night went:

6:00 PM people arrive, eat pizza and chat.

6:15 PM – Josh and Ted gave the team the design challenge and brief (design a resource center for the IxDA site).

6:30 PM – Teams of 3 designers went to their own corners to tackle the problem. They were asked to spend an hour in groups of 3 designing. The deliverable we asked for at the crit is a concept statement with some sketches that shows the concept.

7:30 PM – we gathered together for a crit. Each team had 10 minutes to present the concept and receive feedback from the mentors – five minutes each.


So what happens when you put 30 interaction designers in a room, some pens, paper, and a design challenge? Some of them come up with concepts they describe as “semi-permeable membranes”. Those with an engineering edge will give you patentable technologies like “the magic filter”. Some complete and well thought out web solutions; intriguing concepts that challenge the definition of this thing we call a “site”; and what happens when Yelp meets Kayak with a dash of fluidity?  You also get a lot of laughter and a lot of useful learning experiences we can bring back to work. Basically a lot of fun and magic happens in three hours.

Let’s take a look at collaborative dynamics of these groups in action, their presentation and what happened at the crit.

Team 1: Faith, Bianca and Kate gave us a very strong start for the crit with really great thinking and creativity. Their design concepts were inspired by a set of design attributes driven off of the client’s brand identity – turning constraints into creative vision allowing them to push boundaries. You can see in their concept sketches below that they didn’t go for the traditional “web page” design.


Team 2: Harry, Laura and Nelia started off with a big statement, “the absolute is… there is no absolute.” They also gave thought to the different user groups of the site and defined their needs from a resource center. They used a set of key words to help them hone in on a concept: compelling, flexible/scalable, relevant/current, intuitive/transparent, open/collaborative. The functional requirement was that it has to allow for variable levels of engagement. They came up with a solid site design and architecture under an hour.


Team 3: Bryan, Carol, Cassandra and Xu focused on visualizing the information of “resources”. They used tag clouds as a thinkmap to explore the relationship of information bottom-up. They want the metadata to be nominated letting the community rank content, hence “curating” what gets bubbled up to be seen by all.


Team 4: Eduardo, Pauric and Ray pitched the “magicability of their filter” that will treat everything as a resource and organize by tags, authors and a very fancy taxonomy. They basically have the whole site architecture figured out. So IxDA board members, you know who to call if you ever want to build a Community Curated Zeitgeist. Maybe they will even be nice enough to let you use their patented “magic filter” for free since it’s for a good cause.


Team 5: Andrea, Masha, and Micah gave us yelp plus kayak and a dash of fluidity. This group was definitely a good example of how clear thinking gets you to a very simple and elegant solutions. Ted pointed out that they were the only group to talk about what is a resource and what is not a resource. Having clarity around the nature of the information lets them focus on the design. Their concept was about helping people find information in the most fluid way possible. Amazing what 3 designers can figure out in 1 hour!


Team 6: Karen, Pablo and Nick had a very methodical approach that got them to a very complete solution that combined some traditional web layouts with some jazzy browse and search concepts. They came up with 4 themes and 3 behavior patterns as design guidelines. 4 themes: accessible, live (community), fresh and relevant. 3 behavior patterns: the browser, the searcher, and the passive observer (someone who waits for the community to tell them what’s popular). Started out with user and purpose with some brand attributes got them to a very elaborate solution in just one hour. That good old interaction design trick really works!


Team 7: Lily, Emily and Donghwan focused on connecting people rather then just the content. Emily (perhaps a former biologist or maybe she’s just one of those designers who knows everything) called the concept a “semi-permeable membrane”. Focusing on the people got this group to push some interesting boundaries. They put this out there: perhaps, ultimately people are resources, people who are interested in the same things perhaps should know about one another in the community, and exposing what people know would make them a resource to the community and to those with similar interests. They also drew ideas from Johnathan Harris’ work with the Yahoo Time Capsule in some of their visualization concepts.


Team 8: Bruce, Lisa, Melania started off with “it’s all about me”. They visualized the content, the site, IxDA and all of the “things” around “me”. Putting the user in the dead center of the concept resulted in a design that looks outwardly from the user’s own page, kind of like a IxDA Myspace page. This design gives people a reason to put effort into doing things like tagging, organizing and creating “resources” for the larger community to consume.



The night ended right on time. The audience was very respectful, they listened well, and were eager to hear what the design masters had to say. Ted and Josh did an amazing job with the crit. They asked very good questions that pushed the design teams to think more critically about their concepts. They pushed where there is room to push. They also pointed out good techniques and approaches so the rest of us can learn new things to try out when we get back to work.

We think that this is an event we would like to repeat and if other local groups wants to do this and need help with logistics. Please get in touch with me at liya.zheng (at) gmail (dot) com. Fore more photos from the evening go to Flickr.


My interview on Design Feast is published

Nate Burgos asked me to do this interview, check out his site Design Feast. It’s got some really extensive listings of design links.


Service Design thinking is a sustainable design approach

Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what’s next for me in my career. So I’ve been doing a lot of research. That quest took me through a lot of random subjects that I think someday I can stitch together into one meaningful career path, some of my research are in these areas: social entrepreneurship, service design, design strategy, social and economic problems in China, India, Africa… All because I want to be make my design practice socially conscious but I didn’t know what that really meant.

This quest got me into some interesting things and meet some cool people. Tonight I met Tom Igoe from NYU’s ITP (Interactive Telecommunication Program) and Jennifer van de Meer from O2NYC at Tom’s Sustainable Practice class. I have invited them to a panel I am organizing for the IxDA on Eco-Interactions (no final name yet) panel that will take place on January 24th, 2008.

Jennifer gave a talk at Tom’s class on eco-design. She held key positions at Organic and Frog Design before becoming an independent consultant. Thinking about Eco and sustainable practices in design is her passion so she volunteers her time to talk about the subject and work at O2. After listening to her talk tonight and seeing some of the project ideas presented in Tom’s class. Here are some of my own reflections from Jen’s talk:

We, experience/interaction designers, if think about our projects from a service mindset, we are better set up to be ecologically responsible in our work. The reason is that, when you only think about designing products, you can only think about the materials, manufacturing and perhaps even the reuse-ability of that product. A lot of times, the waste happens during distribution/transportation, use/reuse/maintenance phases of the product’s life-cycle. With a service mindset, you approach the problem from a different angle. You dig deep into people’s problems and pain points and really understand them in the context of the product problem. You try and understand where business costs are incurred for your client. You put those two together and try to solve the problem with a service mindset. Think about how to appeal to consumers and business with a complete solution that goes beyond the product itself. And a lot of times, minimize the use of a product by delivering great service.

Lifecycle analysis shows you, for any given products, an inventory of environmental damages the product may cause in its life time.


Unfortunately, if you look at these stages of the life-cycle, you will realize that American companies have outsourced to countries like Taiwan and China where regulations can be a lot less strict that the U.S. or Europe.

Several ways we, designers, can help with is to:

  • educate ourselves on the subject constant and seek out experts to help us in these issues, dig into the facts.
  • use our skills in visualization, web, graphics to educate people in engaging ways.
  • find engaging/clever ways to incorporate into our designs things that help raise people’s awareness or make them inherently more sustainable in their daily lives.
  • influence corporations we consult with to not just green wash but really make a difference by finding ways to design better products and services with less environmental impact. Help them realize that though sometimes it’s a bigger investment to be socially responsible, a lot of times it can be innovative and cost saving. The more of the latter we can show, the more impact we will have.

Digital Life 07

We went to Digital Life at the Javits convention center this year. It was huge and filled with games. The show this year featured the latest gaming technology, entertainment technology, computer hardware, robots, and toys. Big names like Microsoft, HP, EA, as well and up and coming shops are there featuring their newest robots. The biggest booths were Microsoft’s Xbox, I mean Halo, and plasmas everywhere showing off Vista.

The more interesting things were actually for young kids. Here you see a puppy that you can carry around like a real puppy. You can plug your iPod into the puppy and it will play your music while it wags its tail. Kids perform with their Guitar Hero like real rockstars on stage. And a Panda toy that talks.


A bunch of skateboarders with hardcore skateboards on strapped to their backs checking out the latest Tony Hawk. I played some football, and scored a field goal. This virtual reality game is projected on the floor and it has motion detection that knows when your foot kicks the ball, it has real physics shooting the football to the field goal. There is a game console that spits out actual playing cards that tests your music knowledge, using your iPhone as the controller, players try to get to the music that matches the answers to the question on the card as quickly as possible. Lastly, there were things as simple a digital picture frame.


The virtual objects theme is even more prominent in the Mattel booth – it was filled with “virtual interactive toys”. They are toys that exist in real life but that you can also plug into your computer via a USB port and transport its presence into a virtual gaming interface, which sometimes is a community online. The Barbie was a good example of such games. You can dress up the Barbie by attaching different outfits to it just like the old fashion ones. But you can also use it as a music player. More importantly, you can plug it into your computer and play the Barbie game, which is beautifully executed and very well thought out.



More photos on Flickr.