Archive for the ‘inspiration’ Category
A consultant I’m working with is loving Compendium. Weird to see something I’m used to in the Open University universe in such a commerical setting. Surely they ought to be forking out for some expensive sparkly software?
Anyway, that started me thinking about tools for organising your thoughts and the stuff I normally use:
- A3 paper - I swear I think differently off-line. Good pen, nice paper and lots of space. I don’t keep the paper though. It either goes in the compost (and eventually becomes tomatoes) when the thinking is done, or gets converted to electronic form for keeping. Short term management only.
- Google Notebook – every unstructured thought gets dumped in Notebook, usually via the Firefox plug-in. When I’m online they go straight in but if I’ve been musing on paper in meetings then I upload later. Eventually they evolve into a loosely structured set of notebooks and sections. I tidy up a bit but my notebook has a shockingly mixed bag of categories and still has “my first notebook” aka the miscellaneous one. Which is an IA sin.
- Delicious. ‘Only’ a bookmarking tool but actually a repository of half-formed thoughts and some more concrete ideas. I make notes against some of the bookmarks but everything gets tagged. Unformed ideas get big general tags but as ideas get beaten into submission the tagging gets more focused. Again used mostly via Firefox plug-in.
- FreeMind. For mindmapping software I’ve used Mindmapper and Inspiration in the past and I’d looked into Compendium. Visio will do at a pinch. But FreeMind came ready installed on my EEE so I’ve been using that lots recently. And quite happily so. Some of the more useful A3 scribbles have ended up in Freemind.
Google Notebook in particular has helped me get to Desk Zero (well, almost). The scarily clear desk does help me stay organised and is also a bit of internal marketing. Everyone seems gob-smacked that I keep it clear and this seems to establish my credentials for sorting out our digital mess. And makes my colleagues think I’m a bit of a weirdo.
I had the opportunity last week to attend a brilliant course called An Introduction to Visual Methods.
“The aim of this workshop is to provide participants with a step-change career enhancing skills in visual methods; and to provide an ongoing and integrated visual methods resource for researchers with experience in visual methods at intermediate level that is stimulating, challenging and grounded in ‘best practice’.”
Dr Jon Prosser and friends are running an ESRC funded initiative to “build visual method capacity across the social sciences. Part of the initiative was these dirt cheap training courses, aimed at academic and non-academic researchers alike.
The two days involved three hands-on activities and a number of presentations covering:
- Katherine Davies : photo elicitation and family tree drawing to explore family resemblances and sibling relationships
- Stuart Muir: video diaries to explore contemporary rituals
- Rob Walker on children’s photo diaries
- Andrew Clark on map making and walkabouts to understand urban social geography
- Tessa Muncey on auto-ethnography through writing and photos
- David Gauntlett: making documentaries with kids, drawings of celebrities, identity models made of Lego
- Steve Higgins: using cartoon templates to find out childrens views
- Ruth Holliday: using video diaries to explore gender identity
- Jon Prosser on the ethics of visual methods.
There’s a Visual Methods Symposium in July that will explore some of these themes in more depth.
The Library of Congress webcast archive is another great repository of thought provoking video on all sorts of topics from Extraordinary Rendition to First Words in Print to Avoiding the Fate of the Mayans.
The BBC’s Innovation Labs are back on. This year’s Labs are aimed at “independent new media & vision companies in … Scotland, North East England, North West England and Wales & West Midlands”.
The labs provide
• Participation in an intensive creative workshop with peers and expert mentors
• An opportunity to pitch a project to BBC New Media commissioners
• Access to business advice, mentoring and development finance from other sources
• Retention of any IP that they develop
• A £5,000 fee for each of the selected teams
Apparently in Germany there is a job title Direktor Grundsatzfragen that translates as “Director of
Fundamental Questions”. If challenged I imagine most organisations would claim to have someone who is considering the questions fundamental to their business – strategists , executives and the like. But for most of these roles the focus is different. After all strategists are primarily being paid to come up with good answers/strategies.
A job where you just focus on working out what the question should be? That’s a new one to try and get on the org chart.
Last week I took the first of the BBC’s new programme of creativity training courses, Ideas Coaches. The course was aimed at staff who wanted to help a team generate ideas, rather than necessarily be more creative themselves.
The part of the course that we found most powerful was the creation of ‘spark questions’ (apparently the BBC used to call these springboard questions, not sure why the change). We spent seemingly ages just crafting the questions we wanted to generate ideas for. Our initial questions were all dismissed as far too specific (meaning we’d already narrowed the range of possible solutions) and far too negative (meaning the group would be more depressed than inspired by the question). The latter point was interesting as I’ve often seen myself and some of my most talented colleagues descend into morose self-pitying rather than coming up with any ideas for solving our problems.
Most of the questions started with ‘how’ as this was deemed to suggest the solutions were actually out there. Some ended up pretty cryptic but you wouldn’t be using them entirely out of context:
“how can we stop the fighting and start the building”
“how can we take our place on the world stage”
“how can today’s best be sure to be tomorrow’s too”
We were skeptical of how well they could work when they have lost the original specificity (one is about kids TV programme, the last is about BBC website) but what they worked brilliantly for was producing completely off-field suggestions, things that the original problem-owner never even saw as being part of the picture. As course leader pointed out “what makes you assume that the future of the BBC website is to be a website at all?”
I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about information architecture and play. Not necessarily an obvious association. Information architects have a reputation for working in grey-scale. The community contains lots of ex-librarians. Content audits aren’t the most exhilarating of activities. Maybe one of these generalisations is where the thing about information architects and ‘seriousness’ came from. But play just keeps coming up as a theme in my professional life, and I’m pretty sure I’m an information architect.
The theme got my attention when we were looking for ways to stop web producers being bored to tears in content management tutorials. The resulting ‘metadata games’ got us to Vancouver, and into Jess McMullin’s presentation ‘Game Changing‘. Back in London at Digital Futures, Pat Kane presented the Play Ethic and a theme took hold.
At the IA Summit in Las Vegas last month the connection between IAs and playful behaviour started off looking weak. The intriguing tutorial ‘Learning Interaction Design from Las Vegas’ was cancelled due to ‘lack of interest’ and at the lunches all the IAs grumbled about being stuck in the gaming capital of the world. The theme was, however, saved by nForm’s masterful UX trading cards, the piece de resistance of both playful IA and of encouraging the shy to spontaneously and enthusiastically interact.
More on all this later…