Commonality: Final Product for Global Service Jam 2012

Over the past two days, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible graphic artists, UX specialists, industrial designers, content strategists, copywriters, and social media experts.

We all met at 5:00, Friday evening at Info Retail to kick off Global Service Jam 2012–48 hours of brainstorming, strategizing, planning, designing, and creating.

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eTexts and Spatial Disorientation

You Are Here Comic
(Image Source: UX Magazine)

This seems to be one of my soap boxes lately. Here I am, again… climbing back up to talk about my observations about (and frustrations with) eBooks.

The text I’ve been most focused this past week,  Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice, by Janet Murray is rather expensive, so I decided to check it out from the library. A few chapters in, I realized it was probably something I’d want to refer back to over the next couple of years. So I downloaded the Kindle version.

And then a funny thing happened.  I’ve found myself using both copies. I’ll read from the hard-copy book, then highlight quotes on the Kindle version. Or I’ll skim through the Kindle version and annotate some of my highlights, then pull the book out to look at the pictures and read the captions.

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What I’m Doing This Weekend: Atlanta Service Jam 2012


(Video Source: Global Service Jam 2012 – on Vimeo.)

I’m pretty excited about my weekend plans. A GSU English Rhet/Comp graduate, Kallen, and I are attending the 2012 Atlanta Service Jam.  It’s part of a global event–with teams from the US, Belgium, Germany, and Spain, to Greece, Saudi Arabia, China, New Zealand, and Australia–and attracts students, designers, academics, professionals, usability and customer service experts, and writers.

The video at the beginning of the post sums it up pretty well, but I’m a little bit fuzzy on all the details (which, I think, is intentional). From what I gather, at 5 pm on Friday evening we are introduced to some sort of service problem that we have 48 hours to solve. As a team, we work to plan and create some sort of prototype solution (in the form of a website, video, photo storyboard, whatever..). At the end of the weekend, all of the projects are a published under a Creative Commons license.

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Inventing the Medium–Trying to Find the Words

Inventing the Medium Cover

For the past two weeks I’ve been reading Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice by Janet Murray.  And I’ve been really struggling to find the words to discuss this book in a formal post.

It’s a much slower read than the books I’ve gone through up to this point–in large part because I’m so afraid I’ll miss something important. Murray does such a wonderful job of connecting ideas about design, the creation/consumption/use of text, changing mediums, Human-Computer interaction, information architecture, and usability.  But as I read, a part of me becomes frustrated because even though the content itself is clear as I’m reading it, I don’t know that I could actually explain those same ideas to someone else. (Another part of me has been stuck in a succession of “Ah-ha!” moments, where I find myself saying, “That’s what I’ve been thinking all this time but haven’t been able to articulate in words!”)

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Target “Catering” to the Needs of Pregnant Clientele


(Image Source: rB: Internet Marketing Strategies for Real Estate Professionals)

Over the weekend, I ran across an interesting article this morning from Forbes, titled “How Target Figured out a Teen Girl was Pregnant before Her Father Did.” Now, before you wander off from this post, thinking that I’m being totally random, there are connections between this article and instructional design.

Because Target keeps track of its members based on their email and credit card numbers, it has a fairly accurate customer purchasing history. By noticing certain changes in women’s shopping patters, such as suddenly buying unscented soaps, lotion, hand sanitizer, and zinc and calcium supplements, the company has been able to predict which shoppers might be pregnant, even before they begin buying baby stuff. Target uses this information to send out coupon mailings and advertisements for products they think expectant mothers might need as they progress through their pregnancy term.

This specific targeting (no pun intended) really started creeping people out. As you can imagine, most people saw this as an invasion of their privacy. So, Target began taking a different approach. Rather than sending customers “baby mailers,” filled with just baby product coupons, they began sending coupon books that ran baby product coupons along side completely unrelated items–such as lawnmowers and wine. Target discovered that when people didn’t think they were being singled out directly, they were more than willing to use the coupons.

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What Do Roast and Designing for Digital Mediums Have in Common?

Pot Roast
(Image Source: My Recipes)

Over the past four weeks, I’ve read About Face (Cooper, et all), Design of Everyday Things (Donald Norman), Designing the Obvious (Robert Hoekman), Designing the Interface (Jenifer Tidwell), parts of Simple and Usable (Giles Colborne), and I’m a few chapters in to Inventing the Medium (Janet Murray).

I won’t lie, the volume of information, though incredibly interesting, is a bit overwhelming.  These texts’ publication dates span across the past decade (well, past couple of decades if you take into account that the first publication of Design of Everyday Things was in the late ’80s). If read chronologically by publication date, each successive text introduces new terminology, slightly adjusts key definitions, offers more comprehensive explanations, and provides newer examples.  But, putting all of that aside, one common theme comes up again and again and again–the importance of affordances.

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Steps Toward “Legitimizing” Digital Publications?

This morning, inside Higher Ed posted an article titled “New Seal of Approval,” which announces new possibilities for digital humanities scholars: Anvil Academic. The platform is a team effort from the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) and the Council for Library and Information Resources (CLIR), who hope Anvil Academic will give scholars researching about and with technology an outlet to publish their scholarship in away that is as acknowledged and legitimized.
Despite all of its affordances for creating texts that present information more dynamically and in greater detail or depth that more traditional publications, digital publishing still seems to struggle with gaining widespread disciplinary recognition.  One of the problems is that, as of yet, there isn’t a peer review process that can vet digital works in the same ways as traditionally published texts. Anvil Academic seeks to remedy that:

“One of Anvil’s goals is to build a peer-review infrastructure for research that cannot be easily represented in text. While the digital humanities are widely considered an important frontier, tenure and promotion committees still have trouble evaluating the work of digital humanists because the format is often so unfamiliar.”

I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Alternative Textbooks

I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz lately about universities

Temple University recently piloted an alternative textbook project, where faculty abandoned the traditional text books in favor of building their own. The experiment provided 11 faculty each with $1000 to create course texts using their own materials, primary archival sources, and free online sources. From reading the article, it seems like the project was considered a success by both the faculty involved and the students.

I thought one of the comments made in the article by a first year writing professor was particularly intriguing:

Last semester, the majority of students needed a lot of assistance with their first paper. . . This fall was exactly the opposite. They still did a lot of reading and researching but (the alternative textbook) created a facility with language and research that they didn’t have with the regular text. It’s added a dimension as well as being a substitute.

I hear the common complaint that students don’t know how to work with various texts. They don’t know how to approach them, read them, analyze them, interact with them, or evaluate them. Well, how will they if the are only exposed to the standard course text and anthology that’s become to traditional “textbook?” If we take our reading day after day after day from a textbook, we shouldn’t be too surprised when first year composition students freak at the end of the semester when they have to write a final paper.

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