When most of us refer to the “developing world” we are talking about technological, economic, and political progress along a particular spectrum (e.g. towards an economic model based on continual growth) and, more to the point here, implicitly expressing a model of change that flows in only one direction. The model is that countries are now in a given state and they can progress to a more advanced state. We typically think of education in the same terms. Now this seems clearly problematic for a number of reasons. The one I’ve been thinking about is the directionality: who is developing towards what? I’m particularly excited about the ways in which knowledge - i.e. development - flows the other direction, from less to more industrialized places.

In particular, I have a theory that much of the accumulated knowledge and expertise in the global South will become increasingly relevant to the North as we stretch our planet’s carrying capacity in the years to come.

I first thought of this in context of tool innovation and technological regression. 
Manual sewing machines, bicycle-powered knife sharpeners (and other machines), the sorts of amazing resource-conserving repurposing wonderfully collected on Afrigadget. It will make more and more sense in the North, if electricity becomes more expensive and harder to come by, to use people-powered tools. It’s the other side of “energy independence,” where we find ways to get by with less rather than coming up with increasingly-fancy ways of providing the same amount we use now.

More recently, I’ve starting wondering in what ways behavior - basic coping skills - might develop “here” by learning from “there.” In India, for example, blackouts are relatively common and one can presume that people have developed ways of coping with them, of accepting them into the flow of day-to-day life. What are those mechanisms? If Oakland starts having regular blackouts, how might I learn what folks in other parts of the world know about what to do? Not just right now - light a candle, leave the fridge closed, etc - but how to plan, in an everyday manner, for the certainty that the power will go out. And I can think of other examples, such as changing our cultural relationship to garbage

I’m not saying we should be happy for regular blackouts and overcrowding - I have no desire to roll back many of the world’s technological and social advances -  just that if we are going to survive what may well be an extremely difficult future, we need to find knowledge wherever it resides.

Flickr: Photos tagged with touchinterface from Ti.mo.

Apple has introduced a new mouse which, to me, epitomizes the problems with Apple’s design culture: It looks really nice cut out on that clean white background, but the emphasis is all in the wrong place. They’ve put all their design energy into making the buttons disappear (so it will look nice cut out on that clean white background), but I can’t figure out what the advantage is to not having buttons. The site says:

“Who has time for intuitive, elegant design when there is so much clicking to do? Thanks to a smooth top shell with touch-sensitive technology beneath, Mighty Mouse allows you to right click without a right button.”
So, they’re basically saying that clicking by pressing a non-button is more intuitive than clicking by pressing a visible, tangible button. Um, am I missing something? If only they’d improve the size and shape of the damn thing we might have something. Oh, and give up on that silly “press the whole thing to click” idea. It so very much doesn’t work. Anyhow, I gotta run; I’m off to the Apple store to buy one of those cool new mice they have.

An illustrated history of writing lamps.

It’s about time we got speech-to-speech translators; they had ‘em on Star Trek like 40 years ago! Plus there’s a great opportunity for hackers to mess with people’s conversations from the inside.

Dan Hill has an excellent thought-piece on the merits and pitfalls inherent in Apple’s design ethos of perfection. He’s also collected thoughts and links on the idea of adaptive design (i.e. designing for adaptation). From the article:

In essence, adaptive design is about designing to enable the user to change things. You strive for ‘good enough’ as a starting point, such that the user feels they have a ‘way in’, almost an implicit goal of working through the finished design themselves. It sees design as a social process, developing over time, via a relationship with the user. It draws heavily from [Stewart] Brand’s idea of separating a building’s architecture into 6 different layers, from slowly developing layers through to relatively quickly moving layers.

ReplayTV’s New Owners Drop Features That Riled Hollywood. This is not so surprising (if fairly lame). What caught my eye is the legal argument that it is the fact that Replay’s features are easy to use that make them potentially illegal:

The 30-second skip feature has long been available, if not widely used, on standard VCR’s as well. But program providers have not taken action against VCR manufacturers because those devices are generally more difficult to use.

“When things become too easy to do, that changes the legal argument,” said Mike Fricklas, executive vice president, general counsel and secretary of the board at Viacom, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Sonicblue.

So, while people often think of ease-of-use as an incrementally-changeable attribute, it is (in this view) a qualitative change with the potential to alter the fundamental nature (or at least the legal status) of the product.

Cellphones Made Easy is a straightforward and very specific critique of current cellphone design:

Do Nokia executives actually use Nokia cellphones? If they did, they would soon realize that turning a cellphone’s ringer off—every time they walk into a movie, seminar, meeting or bedroom—is an important and common function. Perversely, Nokia buries this function in a menu that requires four button presses on two different sides of the phone.

The mute button is one of the most frequently pressed buttons on a typical remote control, but since it isn’t obviously a primary function (such as power, volume, or switch channel) it’s often banished to some hard to find corner of the remote. More specifically, when a person uses the mute button, it’s likely done repetitively (e.g. twice per commercial break) and distractedly (a conversation may be going on at the same time). It may be done in the dark.

The problem, of course, is one of real estate, but not all buttons need to be accessed by touch and not all are accessed frequently. The power button, for example, is likely used only twice per “session” yet it’s often given an inordinately prominent placement. My only point here is that a use-based approach to design has great power to overturn long-established but faulty design conventions.

OK, pardon the interruption; back to watching Buffy.

No idea how well it works or how practical it is (where am I going to find a suitable surface when I’m on the subway?), but it sure is nifty: Canesta launches invisible keyboard (via uxblog)

Applications    Art/Media    Brand/Identity    Browsers    CSS/Stylesheets/HTML    Color    Design    Documentation/Process    E-commerce    Experience Design    Graphic Design    Hardware    Human-Computer Interaction    Illustration/Icons    Info Architecture    Information Design    Interface Culture    Interface Design    JavaScript/DHTML    Kitchen Sink    Links    Maps/Mapping    Meta/Noise    Metadata/Classification    Metaphors/Analogies    Mobile and Ubicomp    Navigation/Wayfinding    Operating systems    Organizations    Programming    Psychology/Humans    Research    Search    Social computing    Sound/Audio    Standards    Typography    User-centered design    Video (and other) Games    Visual Communication    Way new interfaces    Web apps/services    XML/SOAP/etc.    worldchanging