Sunday, April 6, 2014

Generative Art

My concept of art usually involves taking raw materials (canvas and paint, or rock and chisel) and using them to create something beautiful. However, I appreciate generative art, that uses already existing items (not raw materials), recombining them in new and different ways to delight and surprise. 

I often must use what already exists, and create something new and different that adds value to the company that has paid for my consulting services. I don't create from scratch. I must have existing information to work with, and access to the people who use it, to understand their thought process. From that, I create a framework... new perspective that is useful to others. So I identify with this style of generative art. Here are two examples that I really like.

Example 1: @Pentametron

I've blogged about him before here and here. This creative soul has automated a way to detect tweets that are in iambic pentameter, pairs 2 unrelated tweets that rhyming and republishes them.  He would have nothing without the original tweets, but taken out of their original context and paired with other, seemly unrelated things, he has created something original.

Example 2: Blackout Poetry

Austin Kleon will black out all but a few words of a newspaper article. The result is a work of poetry that is topically very different from the original work. He states he must do that in order to avoid legal action.


This twitter poster is awesome. He's written an algorithm that detects tweets adhering to iambic pentameter, and pairs them up for small poetry lines. I've  posted a few lines from January 3, 2014.

*@O_gentil*   I will a live in yellow submarine.
*@kiera2tall*  Fresh out the shower feeling squeaky clean.

*@AleexDirienzo*  My little sister has the loudest snore.
*@SavannahRuhl*  Not even gonna bother anymore.

*@liamcross_*  I never get invited anywhere.
*@GaurdGirl*    I really want a giant teddy bear.

*@AdrianaSophia_*  I'm always hungry. Im an endless pit.
*@MaisieJohnston*   love how luisa doesn't give a s**t.

*@xChops*   Not everyone deserves a second chance.
*@PaulaStone2*  I'm so excited for the snowball dance.

Read a few of the latest, generative twitter poetry: @pentametron. After a while, the laughter becomes contagious.

The Post Office in need of Design Thinking...

The news recently showed a local union boycotting Staples because the box store has started offering postal services in select locations. Typically I will root for the working person. I support the ideal of a living wage and putting food on the table for middle-class families. But this time, I may have to side with Staples.

My local post office is not a place I want to go regularly, nor do I enjoy my time when I'm there. The hours are inconvenient, the lines can be long, and some very "interesting" characters helping me out from time to time. I'm often reminded that the post office is a government organization. It looks, smells and acts like it. My local post office is drab, smelly, boring, and unpleasant during the holidays. That's not true for all post offices. In a nearby city I get to wait in line and enjoy historic architecture, or admire collectable stamps while I stand in line. But they are not close by, so I rarely get to participate in that experience.

I like the idea of going to a box store to mail packages, get stamps, and do other things. I'd be willing to pick up packages there that are held for me, and fill out those silly forms for holding my mail. It is very appealing to me. I'm more likely to shop for other stuff as well. Why not pick up stamps at the same time?

And why has the US Post Office been so slow in adopting and updating its services? I know they've tried some things over the years. Such as stamps-by-mail, the ability to make purchases online, and I really enjoy their self-service booths. I can weigh my package, pay for the right postage and post it without any help. The machine is easy to use, so I don't mind multiple upsell messages. I get free boxes for overnight or priority packages. What's not to like?

Who is examining the post office's holistic customer's experience? Who has reviewed at the average consumer experience and applied design thinking to update services and find innovative ways to do more with less? I'd like a post office in my local grocery store. It has very convenient hours, I'm there often, would happily pick up packages & buy stamps. Heck, I'll even tolerate standing in line for a long time when it's busy. Oh, wait... I do that already.

Maybe someone is already thinking about all this. It's hard to tell, because I'm still unsatisfied with my retail post office experience. So I'll keep hoping, and keep my fingers crossed for Staples.

2014 Information Architecture Summit -- Reflections

I've just returned from the 2014 Information Architecture Summit, the 15th one. I first attended this event in 2001 in San Francisco, and I've been going ever since (barring illness).

I've pondered in the past why I keep going to the IA Summit. Most of my career inspiration has come from outside the field. There are no academic classes or tutorials offered. I don't hear about new research that expands our field. The program is nice, and there are some presentation that I enjoy, but its not the real reason I go to the summit.

The people are the real lure for the IA Summit. This is my tribe, these are my people, the one place I can go where I never, ever have to explain what I do. I don't have to apologize for being an introvert, for sitting back and listening. The structure of the summit supports people like me, with plenty of coffee breaks, hallway conversations and shared lunches. We welcome new people and have interesting conversations over food.

The 2014 IA Summit has changed many things for me.

In addition to hanging out with my peeps, I also heard many powerful messages. Some were formal presentations, others were hallway conversation. Until now, I thought I'd moved beyond IA. I thought my career growth would come from outside this domain and community. If I went back to school, I assumed it would have to be in another field.... Business administration. Cognitive Psychology. Computer Science. These aren't bad fields, and the knowledge they offer would be very beneficial to me. What troubles me is that I'm an information architect. I'm not an interaction designer, sociologist, psychologist, anthropologist, cognitive scientist, computer scientist or designer. I like those things and find them interesting, especially as they lend me tools to use to do what I do what I do best. But I don't identify as those things.

I'm an information architect. I framework. I listen. I understand. I explore. I clarify. I get overwhelmed by complexity. I doubt if things will ever become clear. I talk with others. I listen some more. I construct hypotheses. I build models. I wrangle oceans of information. I talk with users, customers, participants, members. I sketch. I ponder. I give up, but never for very long. I ask lots of questions. And I framework. Document, share, update, repeat.

What have I heard at the 2014 IA Summit that has provided me such relief? I heard that we've moved beyond the web but have kept our identity as information architects. I heard about reframing IA, designing for understanding, emphasizing context and many other things. Rather than talk about deliverables, we are talking about principles. We are demanding more substance from academia to clarify and extend these principles.

Andrea Resmini told me that IA's entered the mainstream when the web was born. We learned how to build intelligent navigation and search, promoted faceted classification and taxonomy. But we stagnated for a while and forgot to grow. Now, we are discovering that we don't just build navigation, we support wayfinding. We don't draw site maps, we show context. We don't build models, we support sense-making. And we can do this anywhere. We started with digital environments and are expanding from there. For example, I've architected future plans for non-profits, and revised messaging platforms for emerging startups, My current project is to create a culture of customer experience in a growing company, extending the company's vision within a framework centering the business around customer needs and goals. It's a messy project, with lots of ambiguity, false starts, and course corrections. But it's clear we are making a difference, helping others to make sense of how they fit in the company's vision and figuring out how to find their way within the organization.

This is the path I've taken, and until recently, I thought I was alone. I thought I needed to leave my chosen field in order to pursue the Next Step. But the 2014 IA Summit set me straight. Peter Morville summarized my feeling well:

"...there’s something about the summit that’s unsettling, and it’s not just that it’s hard to be new or that many of us are kinda off the map on the introvert scale. No, it’s deeper than that. People come to the summit and have a good time, but they leave with this uneasy feeling that they somehow missed something important. They don’t talk about it much. It’s actually a little embarrassing, so they bury it deep. And I feel bad for these folks. I want to reach out. I want to tell them a secret. You’re not alone. Really. Nobody understands information architecture. We don’t even know what it is. And that’s okay. That’s why we’re here."