Thursday, June 30, 2005

Notes on Media and Disaster

For one thing, history shows that the world tends to lose interest in disasters in developing world once people stop dying in large numbers. If we don't think now about our commitment to helping these communities recover and rebuild after the immediate crisis has passed, we never will. (Architect, re-build Project. Tsunami 2005)

New channels everyday bring the destruction and to us, making it personal, raising concerns, curiosity about the cause, effects and dynamics of a disaster. Issues relating to a disaster get pondered over and discussed, raising the social awareness. In the post Silent Spring era where environmental degradation has become an all pervasive issue, it is discussed relating to the effects and causes of the disaster, and also how human intervention is affecting the environment. This social mobilization lays down foundation for various action groups and creates space for existing social groups to put forth their concerns. Corporates respond to the concerns and issue regulations and standards, advertising their efforts in turn helping social movements to gain momentum. These groups are responsible for involving the masses and also play part in formation and implementation of government regulations.

Social groups and NGO's working in the field of disaster management have only recently come to accept environmental awareness as a important part of the recovery and mitigation cycle. The first links between natural disasters and environment were drawn in the late 1990's. The international symposium in Japan, 2005 concluded that environmental protection is a component of disaster management and that an integrated approach to risk reduction is required. After the Berlin symposium 2002 there are four UN organizations including the UNEP, ISDR and many other implementing agencies responsible for identifying ecosystems in danger and spread of environmental awareness.

Many laws and directives have been passed by governments and regulatory agencies at all levels relating to environmental and disaster mitigation issues, but globally it has been seen that the lawyers who are major players in the fight for the environment, we need more scientists, ecologists, environmental engineers and less lawyers and politicians. We cannot hope to manage a complex system such as the environment through litigation; also most environmental "principles" (such as sustainable development or the precautionary principle) have the effect of preserving the economic advantage of the west and thus continue modern imperialism toward the developing world (B. Wilfred. A Poverty of Reason...).

Globalization is bringing people closer, and with the social movement gaining momentum globally, scientists, architects, designers, ecologists and people from various spheres come together to form international forums. Responses to disaster also foster growth of a community of experts and amateurs who think and document, raise issues regarding degradation and help create a rich knowledge pool with the internet as a platform. This is especially interesting because, in the present nobody is really sure what nature is really about, our understanding of natural processes is extremely shallow.

Such forums 1 experiment with various aspects and create open-ended platforms for people to put forth their ideas, free of control from administration, politics, and other organizations, who always have a particular outcome in mind. Also in view of the modern revolution in science that gives a new understanding of nonlinear dynamics, complex systems, chaos theory, catastrophe theory, our view of evolution and ecology has undergone a major change (S. Riece, The Silver Lining). People from various areas are essential to undertake a fruitful discussion on the complex processes and ways of nature.2

The human pool of knowledge is not rich enough to explain even the most trivial of nature's ways; we are just specs in space-time and even as a race can know very little about the greater plan of nature

Micro-habitats and environments change. If a tree falls in the forest, and lands in the river, it will change all of the flow patterns near it. What was once a fast reach can be stilled. As the water seeks a downstream path around the log, a new chute will form. The microhabitats have all changed, and the community must change, too. What was once an excellent blackfly habitat is no longer suitable for the flies. The animals have to to survive. Some won’t make it. Some were crushed when the tree fell on them. Some will get stranded and die. Some will get up and go. Change is endless and has consequences for all living things. It is as obvious as day follows night and the change of the seasons. What is rare is constancy (S. Riece. The Silver Lining)

We need to understand that in the larger scheme of things we are just one of the billions of implements of nature, and it is more probable than not, that we have little or no capability to harm, or cause destruction in nature, or our purpose in the dynamics of nature is to destroy, just like many destructions in history have allowed for growth of new species, it is nature's way to maintain biological diversity.

Every Tornado’s funnel, every forest fire’s cloud of smoke has tremendous benefits for the ecosystem. (David, Victor. Climate of Doubt)

We think of ourselves as 'thinking' beings capable of changing the world, but it is easy to see that we are not any different from the countless cells in our body, we are cells of our planet, look from beyond with the earth as an organism then we are the cells, important one's we would like to believe, but the behavior of our collective mass can be described as simplistic.

Another analogy to this is the portrayal of the landlady in 'Tom and Jerry', from the view of Tom and Jerry, the landlady is just like a natural disturbance in our view, the face of the lady is never shown, and drawing attention to the fact from other viewpoints we are not the center of things. Tom tries to do all that he can to be safe from the bashing by the lady, but he also must get Jerry, and this is analogous to our dilemma, choose between rapid development or safety. It can be argued that a middle path can be taken, and therefore it is important to study all facets of human society and the science of nature, to reduce the effects of disaster. It is important that economics and politics do not interfere with learning and research in nature.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Organic Information Design

Very few design techniques exist for modelling dynamic information which is primarily because dynamic information continously changes data taken as input from one or many sources. Very few techniques exist for visualizing dynamic information because of the extremely large quantities of data is to be considered and also extents and bounds of the data set are not clear as well.

Organic Information Design is a design technique that augments the perception of qualitative features of dynamic data by co-relating the design to the traits of organic systems which respond to a complex and changing enviornment similar to that of dynamic information.
This design technique maps the nine properties which are necessary components of primitive oragnic systems to design of dynamic information. These properties are listed below and what they mean in this design technique is listed:
  1. Structure - It talks about how the nodes of the system are associated with different sizes and shapes.
  2. Appearence - By changing the size of some of the nodes, appearence of the system changes and those nodes call attention to themselves.
  3. Metabolism - The rules of metabolism are at the heart of what drives the system, the basis for what will result in an appearence that is qualitatively 'well fed' or 'sick'.
  4. Growth - In computational medium, it refers to changes in the underlying structure of the data coming from an information source. Atrophy allows element to wither and die when they become no longer pertinent. A balance of growth and atrophy is important because the presentation space on hand is finite. There are both physical and cognitive limitations that affect the presentation space.
  5. Homeostasis - It balances the system and does not allow values to run out of control which might cause the system to blow up. For example we can apply certain maximum limits to the values.
  6. Response - There are three sets of response-stimulus rules: composition rules, data rules and interaction rules. Each rule taks about the response of the system when an activity occurs.
  7. Adaptation - It brings with it ability for a visualization to stretch, allowing the representation to slowly shift based on new input.
  8. Movement - Due to nature of human visual system, movement immediately attracts attention and control focus. By definition, it is one of the most dominating factor in temporal behaviour.
  9. Reproduction - Here we are considered with the scenario of what happens when new data is added to the existing system, causing new elements to inherit characteristics from siblings that already exist in composition.
Organic Information Design is very useful for qualitative representation of information but fails for quantitative analysis or information which lacks structure.

"Organic Information Design" is the master thesis of Benjamin Fry submitted to MIT, Media Labs. To read the complete thesis, click here.


Life Experience Design by Kevin Cheng

We often talk about the User Experience when determining how people will use our products. The term has become so popular that the title of User Experience Engineer, or UX Engineer, has become somewhat commonplace.

Some design agencies now speak of extending the experience beyond just the product. The product is not enough, instead, one needs to extend design into what is called Life Experience design.

The premise of the philosophy is thus: you can design for the product experience and that is the experience you have when you interact with the product; you can design for the user experience which taken in its traditional sense really means the same thing as product experience - the user’s experience while they interact with a product; or you can design for life experience which is the experience the user gets with the context of a product in their lives.

How is Life Experience different from typical User Experience? Let’s take a look at some examples of how people actually do Life Experience Design and see if we can spot the differences.

The Solution Approach

So many consultancies these days sell solutions but very few define what problems they’re offering solutions to. The Apple retail store has an approach to life experience design. Instead of just looking at how people use iPhoto or an iSight webcam, they look at the context - the complete package. In the store, you will find laptops with iPhoto and iMovie connected to digital cameras and camcorders illustrating how these devices work together. In other words, even though Apple does not sell digital cameras or camcorders (yet), they design with the context in mind. How are people going to use Apple products in conjunction with other products and aspects of their life? Apple’s marketing screams Life Experience Design.

The Ethnographic Approach

Take a PDA like a PocketPC or Palm Pilot. What does the user typically do with this? They make appointments, keep address book information, check their calendar, and perhaps take a few notes. Today most of these devices will also permit you to take photographs, listen to music and play games.

From a product experience perspective, you may conduct some focus groups on the product, and run some tests on prototypes with some set tasks. The team working on the Palm Zire 71 camera presented at CHI 2004 and their design methods, with a lack of budget and time, were mostly in-house testing and iterating.

The issue these methodologies have is a lack of context. Paper and post-it notes are still the preferred method of taking down appointments and phone numbers. I own a Palm Pilot and I still prefer to give and receive business cards and never think to “beam” my information. Why is this? How does a usability test discover this?

The problem is that it’s very difficult to design for how a product fits into someone’s life. Sure, in work applications we can perform things like contextual inquiries but for consumer devices, you can’t very well follow them for a few days.

Enter techniques like diary studies. With diary studies, you find out what the participants plan to do, and have them record what they actually did. However, just comparing the two isn’t sufficient. The study demands an experienced eye to observe the nuances between tasks and every little discrepancy and then determine why. Why an action is taken is important. For example, why did I give out the business card rather than beam it? Why did I not go to my scheduled appointment? Why did this person interrupt me and why did I permit them to? In these nuances, one discovers how products fit in with life not just how people perceive their lives to be but how it actually is.

That’s Life

Life Experience design means designing to consider every possible nook and cranny of a person’s life. It’s important to note that anything can have influence on your design even when it initially seems unrelated. Unfortunately, this approach to design means a heavy invasion into the lives of participants. Although costly in terms of overall time, such a design methodology need not require too much of the facilitator’s time.

Is product experience sufficient or is there really a need for life experience design? How far is too far when we design a product to fit into the existing mold that is the consumer’s life? Were it not for the Hawthorne Effect, would we end up with Big Brother style usability labs where we watch our participants live their lives while we inject various prototype products? Or is this just another buzzword that will fade away faster than the next pop hit song?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Knowledge Management in Practise

Well just for a start I guess, I would rather begin with something that I have been working on since past some time... It's just a human perspective of knowledge management system!

Knowledge can be defined as organized or contextualized information, which can be used to produce new meanings and generate new ideas. Defining where “information” ends and “knowledge” begins is not simple. Knowledge is created and consumed across a wide range of activities: individuals talking to each other, searches of information repositories, just-in-time learning and continuous education, and highly focused “knowledge repositories.” Effective knowledge management fosters and supports each of these activities.

Capturing tacit knowledge

Every individual and organization manages knowledge in one form or another. An expert mentoring a junior employee, two employees trading their experiences at the water cooler, an intranet repository of best practices, and a continuous learning program are all examples of knowledge management. The critical difference between knowledge management in disparate organizations is how effectively each expands knowledge creation and dissemination beyond a select few to everyone who needs it.

Tools for Knowledge Management

Before we move on to determination of the ways to determine knowledge management system for a particular organization, it is necessary to explore various information systems for the support of knowledge management within an organization.

Examples of such systems are:

Intranet Infrastructures

Document and Content Management Systems

Business Intelligence tools

Workflow management Systems

Artificial Intelligence

Visualization Tools


E-learning Systems

Problems faced during usage

  • The concepts and solutions concentrate explicit knowledge leaving the fluid tacit knowledge of humans and the human carriers outside of the system.
  • Knowledge is considered without the context within which it was created. This limits its reusability to employees having background knowledge about the context.
  • The meaning of the terms used as part of structured or unstructured information is not explicitly stored in the system. Lack of proper glossary of metadata to keep information in context.

Factors for successful implementation of KM Strategy

There are three fundamental elements that must be addressed in any knowledge management program; these have been summarized under the following points:

  • People and Culture
  • Business Processes
  • Systems and Technology

The success of the initiative is ultimately determined by sufficient combination of these elements and their incorporation within the organization. Successful implementation requires not only that knowledge is collected and distributed, but also, more importantly, that knowledge within the organization is easy to use in daily processes, that it is accurate and up-to-date, and that people can quickly contact subject matter experts for feedback and questions.

People and Culture

(1) A Culture of pervasive knowledge sharing needs to be nurtured enabled within and aligned with organizational objectives. The underlying concern is employees do not want to share information, probably due to the lack of time or project pressure or fear of criticism. Usually successful organizations empower employees to want to share and contribute intellectual information, by rewarding them for such actions. And, with organizational leaders role models of information sharing and interface regularly with staff, teams and stakeholders in review sessions and openly talk about successes and failures.

Business Processes

(2) KM Organization: The first important variable is leadership with a vision, strategy and ability to promote change to incorporate knowledge management practices within the business processes of the company. Followed by

(3) Effective& Systematic Processes creating a “knowledge environment” with processes to capture the knowledge assets of the organization is important. Thus, the need for

Systems and Technology

(4) Strategy, Systems & Infrastructure establishes a clear definition of all required KM elements and an overall system approach and integration.

Business Processes

(5) Finally the Measures to evaluate the success of knowledge management, which can be considered
against pragmatic milestones, such as the creation of products, the development of new clients and an
increase in sales revenue


I am not sure it is the right way to begin, or if even I am the right person to do it.

through 113 mails in past 2 months, the musings finally find place here.


remember about what i said about postings on hci related material on my blog... iahve been thinking on it and i think i would be doing justice if i mix it up with my cribbings and looking at this long disscussion of ours i thought most of our mails could make good posts on a blog... so how abt a community blog on hci and related stuff, we could get new members as and when anyone is interested.
i know our past records of promissing ourselves to do stuff together which neva really took off, how about doing this for a change and actually start things working. we see a lot of materail online and read lots off stuff, all we need to do is accumulate all this on s blog... what say? plz do not dissapoint me...


actually even i was looking for a place to put some posts of mine on 'Games and learning' which look lost in the 'shit' on my blog, so this is a very interesting and welcome idea,

and what's best is that we've already started it. ONE thing that we would start. Atleast, go on set up a blog, send me a request, lets do this today.