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I'm Thibaut Sailly, an independant interface designer based in Paris. Say hello on twitter or by email at bonjour ✉ tsailly ◦ net.

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Culture

You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave

This rather long post is about current and future implication of personal data mining in social media, and the role design plays in the economics of these web services. A shorter version would be ”social media is cooking its most active users a sour meal and designers are only making it worse”. But it would lack subtlety, wouldn’t it? At first, it was only about Facebook, as it crystalized most of the media attention, but other companies have since proven how uncaring they can be with private data, Google and Path to name just two.
These observations range from how the word privacy shouldn't in fact be mentioned in these sites UI elements to prospective fun with what's being called Big Data, with the role of designers in all of this. After pointing out problems, a couple of solutions are roughly sketched and described as a form of positive thinking.

A quick word about my social media perspective: Facebook never really met my interest and I can’t recall using it more than twice: signing up and deleting my account (it's pretty certain Facebook still has a good recollection of what I did there). I watch how my relatives interact through it though. I was a rather active Flickr user (groups and local community) a few years back. I'm on Twitter almost daily, and "app.net" more and more frequently.
If you’re interested in a real user’s point of view, you might as well leave now. For those willing to spend fifteen minutes or so here, I've tried to stick to facts as much as I could in order to keep these observations valuable.

Deception

Let's un-zoom from the web and recap on privacy first. It might seem tedious to spend a paragraph to define such a familiar concept, but it seems necessary for some nowadays. Privacy is about having total control - to paraphrase Mark Zuckerberg [1] - on exactly who saw / heard that exact thing you showed / told. You get to choose the people you want to allow in a "space" where you can share with them what you’d like in total confidence. This private place allows us to express ourselves in a much more opened way than we would have in the waiting line of our local supermarket. Private means you can let go, it means you can say what's on your mind without fearing the consequences it could have if it was told in the open and heard by an uninvited party. This understanding, trust and respect are essential to define a truly private moment, to bind individuals together as partners. Or, to use Facebook's vocabulary, friends.

a private conversation being listened to by someone in the background

Facebook and Privacy have had a short yet bumpy relationship. Right now, some option settings panel is trying the best it can to mediate between these two, but it's... complicated. Through its interface actions and vocabulary, Facebook provides users the possibility to create virtual spaces to which only handpicked friends can have access to. They spend time casting a restricted list of friends, ticking faces as they go, you yes - you no. So far, so good. The existence of these restricted spaces clarifies the default one as "public", by opposition: don't share anything sensitive in here, stay smooth. This, in retrospect, reinforces the exclusive and closed nature of the personal ones: it's ok, you're at home, go nuts if you wish to. If it's not on then it's off. Green light, red light. Simple and tight - full control.

Not quite. Someone else is always there in all these carefully picked lists of friends, but not in an obvious way: Facebook itself. The privacy issue Facebook acknowledges lies into how users choose if they share with everybody or with a given set of people of their choosing, but the real problem is that Facebook is listening even if users decide to share privately [2]. Let's anthropomorphize Facebook’s presence among its users and call it "Booky". If it wasn't for Booky’s "friendship", no one would have a Facebook account. He's the one people shake hands with in the legal fine print when they set up an account. Hidden behind the signup form, Booky says : "you can come here for free, as much as you like, to share with your friends openly or privately. But I'll always be sitting right here next to you, and you'll have my full attention [3], because this is how I make profits, and make your presence here possible. Deal?"

Privacy and Facebook don't get along very well because Booky insists on being present at all times, camouflage style. When a stranger hides in a room and listens to the conversation some close friends are having, is it still considered as a private meeting? No. Do 14 years old Jenny and 52 years old Georges know about Booky being here all ears in the background when they engage socially? No. We internet nerds might be conscious of his omnipresence and know this is how Facebook makes money, but I doubt the standard teenagers do, or even care about it. All they know is that they better be on Facebook if they don't want to miss out on what their friends are about. Nobody, nothing in the interface tells them about Booky being there with them all the time. This is why Privacy and Facebook don't go along that well: Booky is a stranger to Facebook users, and by allowing him in their private spaces, Privacy feels - subtly yet repeatedly - cheated by Facebook.

an almost closed door

If Facebook wants to use data shared between friends in private contexts to sell advertising, it should make it explicit and clean wipe the privacy lexical field from its interface. Otherwise, it's deception by vocabulary. From this perspective, "Sharing settings" sets clearer expectations than the actual and falsely promising "Privacy settings". The way Twitter labels its messaging solution is interesting in this regard: they are ”direct" messages, not ”private" messages, even though they only are visible to the two recipients (and Twitter). If you can't provide true privacy, don’t talk about it, don’t sell it.

!Byte

Social relations aren't binary, they're more complicated than an on or off switch. A conversation with your dad in his kitchen will lead to subjects you wouldn't have brought up if you had started this conversation in a restaurant, even if you were just two at an isolated table. And it's possible that an hours long car ride with him would trigger even other subjects.

Interfaces as we design them - for now - don't allow this level of social granularity. It will come I'm sure, but we're not there yet. In the meantime, people love to talk and share, so they talk and share. Some feel on Facebook as they were in a restaurant, some feel like they've been sitting in a car for 4 hours. Which can - and has - lead to some embarrassing even devastating situations (query "Facebook fail" in your favorite search engine). Facebook, unlike a comfy sedan, has a recording feature built in. Conversations in the car leave no trace other than in memories. Conversations on Facebook are here to stay, and we don't know what will be done with them in the future, nor do we know who their authors will become. We should always remember Shit happens - more on Murphy's law later.

Trust

You just need to read the complaints filed against Facebook in Ireland by Europe vs Facebook [4], and the way they responded, to set the level of trust you can have in this company. The same goes with what happened with Path and their users address books uploaded to their servers. Their reaction was prompt when this was discovered, but I find the current message [5] in the app still misleading: "Path would like to access your contacts" still doesn't clearly states that the address book is sent to Path servers. You could easily understand the said access is local to the device. As creepy as it was before.

Consistency

It's ok to let a company record, own, index, organize and analyze any message sent privately between friends.
If this sentence sounds right to you, read it again with "a State" in place of "a company".
If the two still sound right to you, you probably should consider moving to North Korea.
If the second sounds wrong, why does the first sound right?
If any of them seem wrong, it may be because you've heard about what can happen when such tools fall in wrong hands [6] and it made you care about it. If you're in this group while using Facebook on a regular basis for private communications, you should feel inclined to adjust your actions to your thoughts, or vice versa.

Fun in 2040

This is where facts are left aside, and where the anticipation game starts. Let's fast forward 30 years: our today’s teens are at the peak of their professional lives, and have their own teen kids. Here are some Murphy's law scenarios for them.

David Kingsmith had his application to the Health Plus Plan rejected as his insurance company screened his Facebook records. Based on the number of parties he and his friends documented in his late teenage years and the number of times he appeared intoxicated in the collected pictures from 2008 to 2018, the risk for liver disfunction has been considered too high for the rates offered in this plan. Therefore, he will have to upgrade to the Health Star Plan to get his health covered, for an extra 2000 shpounds a year.

Using a refined statistical algorithmic method, certified by the Ministry of Research and Education, insurance companies can now predict with significant accuracy the risk potential existing for a driver, given they could access a sufficient Facebook log. Whereas prices were usually set by the kind of car you drove, where you drove and your driving history, they can now be accurately indexed on the potential level of the risk each driver represents. Depending on this emotional profile, you can have a good surprise when handed the bill... or a bad one.

Tracy Stradleton was on her way to a major role at the genetic engineering company she's been working for seventeen years. The strategic nature of this position demands a very strong ability to drive through nerve wrecking negotiations with regulators and business partners. This was her weak point: a very documented Facebook account she had been using under a fake name for more than 15 years was related to her just short of two weeks before her official nomination. As many of you now know, psychological profiling from Facebook and Google logs has become a lucrative market. Her company competitors wouldn't have hesitated to use such services to gain insight in her personality and try to influence her decisions. This was considered too much of a risk by CEO Thomas Krusnov, who offered Miss Stradelton a managing role in their famous R&D labs. She started as an intern in these same labs in early 2014 and had, at the time, posted on Facebook: "This lab is a-ma-zing!!! Hope I'll stay here long after summer, LOL." Wish granted.

For any scientific experiment, the more data samples available for analysis, the more precise the results are. This allows you to refine the analysis tools and your methods. As a consequence, results become even more precise. What is true for weather prediction, or speech recognition is also true for individual profiling based on interests, vocabulary, social group, etc: precision is a matter of scale. The scale of samples Facebook or Google can tap into is historically unprecedented.

The analysis of this amount of data turns its users into lab rats being observed for pattern recognition [7]. I have no doubt continuously increasing computing power will help observers make sense of what seems today scant or unrelated data. Owning these zettabytes of human interactions ready for study can represent a lot more than what advertising pays for today: holding tight to all these logs and having them prosper in frequency, quantity and variety offers the owners a future opportunity to sell predictability. At social media companies, product diversification is not only a way to add other revenue streams, it’s also a way to cast different perspectives on an individual, thus getting a refined profile. First ticket to your privacy, second ticket to your own nature.

a hot air balloon not taking off because of a Facebook crate attached to it

A key issue here is the unlimited period of time these companies can hold on to private information, or analysis results derived from them. I don't see any problem with providing a service for free in exchange of some data about you, as long as it is made very clear, and as long as this data is wiped out by default after a certain amount of time. Otherwise it's a dent in our natural freedom to change and evolve as individuals.
I'm especially thinking of all today's teens on Facebook, learning to deal with the adult's life complexities through this medium. As much as I have faith in the human sense of adaptation and that they certainly will adapt to this new situation, I'm very glad my teenage years aren't documented anywhere else than in my memory, and by a hundred or so pictures in a box somewhere. Far from a database I don't own and a search engine able to resurface failures, heart aches, grand naivety or lost hopes in a tenth of a second.

Empathy

The real trigger deciding me to write this article is the design talent acquisition Facebook has made in the past two years or so, as quite a few very talented designers joined the company. People whose track record I respect a lot were going to work on a product I deplore. I was sad — and still am — because it felt like a waste of their valuable time and talent. I didn't really know why at the time, but writing this article was of some help.

For social media to make a profit, it needs to be a two-sided product : the users interact with side A, the service they access without paying money. This interaction feeds and grows side B: the informations provided by users about themselves are used to offer better targeted advertising for brands, from which the money comes from.

In the case of social media involving personal informations, there's a good chance that if users find out the things they tell each others in a supposedly private environment are used in their back, they will be less likely to interact this way, thus diminishing the accuracy of advertising, and revenue.
"How can we make money out of users interacting with each others, without them noticing" is the equation they are trying to solve. Put differently, "how can we get them to reveal themselves to us with their consent?" — I'm just paraphrasing Sheryl Sandberg here [8]. Horace Dediu called this process "getting to know you" on his 5by5 podcast The Critical Path (couldn't find back the reference episode though, sorry): you agree to give some details about you in exchange of a free service. I'd call it "getting to really really reaaaaally know you". The terms aren't clear at all [9], and users have absolutely no idea what social media products know about them. The users, thinking they get something for free, pay with invisible money which valuation isn't clear and set. This doesn't fit the definition of an agreement to me, rather the one of an abusive position possible because of the users's misinformation.

The Facebook and Google products are essentially conduits sucking as much details on users lives as technology allows today [10]. They're digital hoovers. Being useful, usable and/or fun is just a strategy to accomplish large data collection. By the way, from this point of view, doesn't Apple's Siri look like a pretty darn silent, inviting and efficient personal data conduit? Talk to me: way less friction than Facebook's wall, photo imports and privacy setting control panels. Anyhow.

If we follow along with this vacuum cleaner metaphor, as a designer for these services, your task is to conceive and formalize the most attractive and powerful hoover you can come up with. Designers at Facebook are working on solving the "making people interact with each others better" problem. It's a very complex challenge one can be proud to be tackling, especially at this scale. It demands empathy, imagination and every other practical qualities a good designer should have.

Design is about bringing solutions to problems people have, or don't realize they’re having, with a production process and experience that are both elegant and profitable for both parties - the company they work for, and their clients.
Designers have this role where they make users needs or wants meet the company goal of making money within its operational constraints. The product resulting from their work is a solution to how can those two ends meet.
Design is about harmony. Every aspect of the product you consider rings true with the others, and the whole thing resonates in a unified chord. When we refer to great designers like Ray and Charles Eames, Dieter Rams or Paul Rand as inspirations, we praise their ability to formalize harmony in the products they conceived, but also between their client needs and capabilities, the users needs, the production processes, and how the product fits in the cultural context.

What's also inspiring in these hero designers works is the integrity, honesty and care for the user. These people were genuinely generous and empathic to the individuals who are using or seeing what they put out in the world.

As a designer of a social media company collecting personal informations, should you care about what happens to the data once it's collected and how it's used? My personal point of view is yes, you should if you believe you care about your users. Can you? Given what's at stake, I don't think you really can, but I'd love to be proven wrong. Should you feel bad about it? Of course. Because, unlike car designers can't do much to save the lives wasted on roads (cars move fast by essence), social media products can be designed to be more respectful. It's not a matter of technology, it's a matter of will.

Statistically speaking, the better designed these services collection personal data are, the more sensible informations will be collected, and thus the more fuck-ups derived from this data collection there will be. Murphy's law is strong.

As of today, social media companies are making a profit at the expense of the user, in a way that is not clearly stated to him, and of which the extent is not limited in any way. Social media designers, you have to find a way to communicate the terms a little better, and to limit how personal informations will be used - all in all, you owe users the trust they give you in response to the promise your product offers, the promise you have conceived and formalized.

What now?

Problems have solutions, it's what they're made for. As a conclusion, here are some of the ideas I came up with while thinking of these shits falling, slow motion, towards beautiful spinning fans.

A. The priority seems to educate. It's going to be a long time before these privacy issues come to an end, so we should tell our pairs about them. It should be made clear to everyone that anything feeding these services is "public domain". We have no control on the hard drives our informations live on, thus we should expect the worse and behave as if it were available to our work colleagues or old aunt. If you upload a picture on Facebook you're not ready to show it to your mom, you're doing it wrong.
One possible form it could have is a browser extension displaying a picture of a spooky guy smiling at you hovering the sensible services websites when you're using them. Think baconlicio.us, but with a spook instead of nice crispy bacon.

B. If it's not your server, it's not your data. Couldn't smartphones hold our database and provide access to it? They're connected to the internet, on most of the time, powerful and sport great memory capacities. Basically Tent.io hosted on your smartphone. Data plans, transfer speeds and battery life might not be ready for this, especially when it comes to sharing photos and videos, but when they will be it could be something worth considering. The idea of having the data dear to our life in our pockets just like our home keys or our money just makes sense.

C. Headless data. I'm feeling a bit like a unicorn in a minefield here - as a designer having no clue of how database actually work - but couldn't we have a way to format personal data so that:

Cell biology is full of schemes and complex strategies when it comes to how cell data (DNA, RNA, proteins) is used. I'd look into it if I were to start somewhere.

[1] Our Commitment to the Facebook Community - Facebook blog https://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=10150378701937131

[2] Mark Zuckerberg & Sheryl Sandberg @ Charlie Rose http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11981 - 48:00 - Sheryl Sandberg: "The only things Facebook knows about you are things you've done and told us. It is self reported". —

[3] The Social Network - Do I have your full attention? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mehUC5l-lGM

[4] Legal Procedures against “Facebook Ireland Limited” by an austrian law student http://europe-v-facebook.org/EN/Complaints/complaints.html

[5] Path uploads its users Address Book to their servers http://www.redmondpie.com/contactprivacy-tweak-offers-alert-notifications-when-an-app-attempts-to-access-address-book/

[6] The life of others by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405094/

[7] Following Digital Breadcrumbs To 'Big Data' Gold on NPR http://www.npr.org/2011/11/29/142521910/the-digital-breadcrumbs-that-lead-to-big-data

[8] Mark Zuckerberg & Sheryl Sandberg @ Charlie Rose http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11981 - 20:05 - SS "Google is fundamentally about algorithms and machine learning and that has been and continues to be very important - they're doing a great job. We start from a totally different place, we start from the individual: who are you? what do you want to do? what do you want to share?" —

[9] Terms of service; didn't read http://tos-dr.info/

[10] Mark Zuckerberg & Sheryl Sandberg @ Charlie Rose - 45:45 - MZ "Sure, people have a lot of information on Facebook, but that's information they've put into the service. If you look at other companies wether it's Google or Yahoo or Microsoft, where they have search engines and ad networks, they also have a huge amount of information about you. It's just that they're collecting that about you behind your back. You're going around the web and they have cookies and they're collecting this huge amount of information about who you are, but you never know that." CR "Don't you find that a bit scary?" MZ "I think it's less transparent than what's happening on Facebook". —

The title is from a song, and preludes one of the best guitar solos ever performed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUbTW928sMU

I don't think "Booky" is a great name for a Facebook impersonation, but it's the best I found.

Superfino

It's mid day on Ghuznee street in downtown Wellington. The no-ozone-for-you-folks sun is hitting hard on a mix of striped shirts business types and common people on their lunch break, and you have to stay in the shade to truly enjoy this cool breeze coming from the vast Pacific ocean. Cars and trucks make their way, regularly washing ears with their muffled clinky engine roars.

"It's a little cafe"

So said Mike Brown, co-organizer of the Webstock conference, who kindly accepted to meet a webby french tourist who solicited him for an interview via email a month before. It was only two weeks before the 2011 edition of this remarkable conference would start, but he and his partner in crime Natasha Lampard said "sure, let's meet", took time out of their busy schedule, and sat with me to answer a few questions I had for them.

How it started

First, I wanted to find out how they were able to attract and publicize Webstock among the great speakers available in the webdesign industry. Because here’s the thing: New Zealand is far far far away, and it’s tiny tiny tiny. Get a map of the world if you’re not familiar with its location, and ask yourself if you’d choose this country to host a webconference where you want the very best people to speak at. It would be as if the best car show you could get to was set in the middle of Newfoundland, or if the best cinema festival was in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

Mike: originally it wasn’t Webstock, it started from a desire to share webstandards best practices with people. We started a series of meetings in Wellington, we emailed people and said "Are you interested in coming to an evening where we have some speakers about webstandards?". We ran probably five or six meetings through 2005, we’d have people talk about accessibility, content, design, all sort of topics related to the web. There seemed to be quite a following, we had 50 to a 100 people from Wellington at those meetings. That was trackting along and then Webstock itself was kind of a... we just sort of pulled up with the idea of a conference about the web just a couple of years after it started where people were going in Australia, in America and so forth...

Natasha: there was really nothing for people other than the little things we were running and a lot of mailing lists... there wasn’t really anything to bring people together, to share in the same space.

Mike: so we thought that would be cool to do that in NZ, and also we were big fans of lots of people in the web industry, people doing great stuff with html and css

Natasha: usability

Mike: so that would be fun to have them here and hang out with them for a while.

Natasha: Mike and I certainly couldn’t afford to go to these places to meet these people, so the only way to make it work was to bring them to us.

Mike: so Tash said we should have a web conference in NZ and we should invite Tim Berners Lee. So we dropped a list of all these people we’d love to come and we wrote to them and most of them said yes. So suddenly we’ve got to run a conference, all these people are coming and we have no experience and no money.

Natasha: it was quite funny our emails too, looking back on them : "Hi, we’ve never run a web conference before, you don’t know me..."

Mike: do you still got those ?

Natasha: I know that I’ve got some of them, it would be funny to step back in time. But you know, this kind of very cheeky emails, very much from a fan "I love you work, would you consider coming to NZ?". I think we were very fortunate because of the lure of NZ, it is quite strong for some people, so that certainly helped us. But also we were perhaps a little different from some other conference organizers. We were out for a good time, and we really just wanted to celebrate all this stuff. We must have been a little unusual.

Mike: thinking back it’s one of the reasons that we managed to succeed, we hadn’t really run conferences before, we weren’t in a mindset of "this is what you need to do and this is how it should be and this is how it should feel".

Natasha: but after saying that, we had been to other conferences and the memories of things we didn’t like was very strong. This is what we don’t want, and everything else should be open for debate, and let’s give it a whirl.

Mike: so we kinda did like we do websites I guess. We thought of who’s the customer, who’s the people paying money to come. How can we make their experience wonderful? So right from the emails, the website they go onto, the swag we give them, the bags and the t-shirts, the registration...

Natasha: some little things like you’re at a conference and you try to look at your program, you have to take it out of your little plastic thing, unwrap it and sometimes it can be quite huge, then you try to fold it back up... Little things like having it around your neck, but have it up the way you look at it so when you open your name badge. The program is presented to you the way you’re looking at it, rather than having you to swap it around. Trying to think about the experience we’d like people to have, and what’s the experience we ourselves would like, and then starting to design a conference that way.

Thibaut: and I guess these nice experiences made the Webstock reputation.

Mike: definitely, and we also wanted to treat people speaking here really well. They would come all the way to New Zealand to be at our conference, so we would cover all their expences, we would pay them, we would treat them really well here. And I think they responded to that. It’s also how you treat people in New Zealand already, really.

Natasha: if you treat them with respect, if you actually do respect these people, you want to give them the love that they deserve.

Mike: so they would go away having had a great time and they would tell others about it, write about it, or introduce us to other people. It kinda grew that way.

Natasha: we have never been the type of people to go from mainstream PR, or any of that advertising stuff we feel quite uncomfortable about. So it has been on the down low and all the reputation about Webstock being so great is not coming from us. We’re super excited about it, but it’s other people being our advertising medium. If they liked it, they’ll talk about it. It’s the word of mouth thing which is way stronger than any advertising you can take out, which is often overpriced. Our goal is to have people like it, love it.

Thibaut: can you talk about the very good article by Bruce Sterling recently published on the Webstock blog?

Mike: he was a speaker in 2009, and when the whole Wikileaks thing blew up, I remembered some of the things that he said in his talk, that quite struck a nerve to me. He’s obviously a great writer who would have a really fascinating take on the Wikileaks thing. So we just emailed him and said "would you be interested in writing a blog post?".

Natasha: we’re so fascinated by the Wikileaks thing, about Julian Assange, he’s such an enigma. And to have someone like Bruce, who is also an amazing guy, write about it was just, even for personnal reasons, really exciting.

Mike: we didn’t know what to expect, and we received this huge amazingly written article, put it up and it just went wild.

Natasha: the site went down. At 11 o’clock at night Mike was up with the server guy working on it, and thought it was fine at 1 o’clock. I got up at 4 just to check on it, and it was down!

A lady, walking past us whispers: "Happy Webstock!"

Mike: who’s that ?

Natasha: it’s my friend :-)

Mike: oh...

There are no reasons not to.

Thibaut: the webpage for the 2011 Webstock edition featured arguments about its advantages, for people who participate, but also for these people bosses. What do you think about the state of self education in companies?

Natasha: before I got into the web, I used to work for a computer training company. And yet the crazy thing was I never got any training. I used to get very — there’s a webstock bag!

Mike: just there (pointing at a guy walking on the other side of the street).

Thibaut: it’s everywhere.

Natasha: if you’re in the medical profession, or you’re flying planes or something, no one is going to stop training you, because you need to know this stuff. So why is it that some employers will not invest in their people to get the best out of them. They want these amazing sites, they the best out of their people, yet some bosses are not prepared to pay. And I find that curious. But one of the cool thing is that people who do face that battle between Webstock and their bosses, a lot of them are actually paying for it themselves. There was one girl who couldn’t afford to come last year – she’s unemployed at the moment - and she’s saved up money over the last twelve months to be able to afford to come. By and large, bosses are really great, and Webstock is becoming more accepted by managers, saying "if you’re going to go to one event, then it’s going to be Webstock". But when people still face that battle, they’re actually investing in themselves for their personnal development.

Mike: to me there are three aspects of it. There is this thing you’re going to tell your boss "If I go to somewhere like Webstock, I will come back being able to do parts of my job better because I’ve learned new techniques, I’ve learned where things are going, what sort of things will work". And especially we run in depth workshops, full day or half day about HTML, CSS3, content strategy or web performance. So you do that and you will be better in an aspect of your job. It will be immediately efficient, when you’re back on monday. Then there’s the connection with people. You can’t qualify that in advance, because you don’t know who you’ll be meeting, or if you’ll meet anyone. But chances are you will, and you’ll have conversations when something might come up.

Natasha: and it could be that this conversation, in a way, could be more powerfull, or more thought provoking than some of the talks that you’ve heard.

Mike: you may meet someone your company can partner with on some project, and they know about them now. The third thing, and it’s more personnal, is that you’ll come back inspired. You’ll hear stuff you weren’t expecting to hear but that will trigger something and you’ll be reminescent of why you’re doing all this stuff.

Natasha: it’s very humbling when you receive emails from people saying "I went to Webstock ’08 where I met so and so and so, and we’re now in a startup". There are actually stories of people doing something cool out of the Webstock experience.

Mike: I went there, on the other side of the coin where we had to try and convince bosses of the need for training or time off or whatever. It just seems crazy that you wouldn’t do that because of the benefits you get out of that.

Learning at work.

Thibaut: managers tend to view design work as a linear process, just as an assembly line job, aren’t they? If you sit fourty hours at your desk and bring that much profit, you should bring at tenth of that amount in four hours of work. And if you don’t «work» for four hours, you’re causing a profit loss of this much.

Mike: oh, yes. The thing in the web, or design, is that with insights you have, you can save hours or days or weeks of work. Because it’s not a thing that takes that long to do, you get those insights outside of work, you get them when you’re talking to people, at a conference, or reading.

Thibaut: should there be a more structured way to get training, like once a week, or one hour a day? We have time for lunch, we could have time for training.

Natasha: a lot of the people I know of who are in-house designers, they do actually seize every moment it seems, any down time, to continue their training. It might just be reading A List Apart or following someone on Twitter. A lot of people do take time at night, it’s part of their relaxation time. They are hooked, this is not a job, it’s a way of life. Everything is about their online existence, and aiming to the Web which is so mighty and powerful.

Mike: yeah, it’s a good point. For a lot of the people who seem to be doing good stuff on the web, it’s not a job. Well it is a job, but it’s not a 9 to 5 job.

Natasha: it’s incidental, their work would get to the web anyway because they love it, they love the possibilities of it, that we’re only just so young and we’ve got so far to go. When you think of people like Matthew Buchanan, they want to soak it up. So, structured training would almost be not appropriate for them, because they are at a level that maybe someone would find it hard to come up to where they are.

Thibaut: but how can a manager can take this into account when he’s trying to organize his team’s efforts?

Mike: this is probably why we don’t manage people, but if we were managing people, it would be more like...

Natasha: a trust thing.

Mike: ...we actually don’t care when you work and what you do. We care about getting something finished.

Natasha: like output oriented rather than clock watching.

Mike: there’s a whole movement, ROWE - results only work environments. The idea is that the employer just cares about the results, and the employee, if he wants to take a day off because his kid is sick, or he needs to chill out, he does that, as long as he’s committed to getting work done. It’s that, rather than you have to sit at your desk for eight hours because you charge on billable time.

Natasha: the requirement of that is a level of passion or interest in what you’re doing. If it’s oh-um, then you’re probably happy to just do the eight hours and then «see you later, it’s my time now». But the people we have the privilege of hanging out with in the web community are people who don’t stop.

Code like it’s 1999.

Thibaut: how can you make sure you’re up to date with the constantly evolving knowledge in this field?

Natasha: it’s hard. For usability, which was my line of work for many years, it’s quite dificult, because there’s not one standard, you’re dealing with human beings. The only thing that you can do is have relationships with other people who are in the same industry, and who are as interested, excited and passionate about it as you are. Swapping notes and sharing information with them, you have this feedback loop.

Thibaut: until the end of WWII, NZ was a very isolated country, forcing people to deal with all sorts of constraints while building. Is this Kiwi inginuity still around today and does it have an impact on the creation of kiwi digital products ?

Natasha: I think it does exist and there are groups of people who love that and really promote this reputation, and then there is another school of thought where people ask why should we have these constraints. It’s great that we have this ingenuity, but we don’t necesseraly need to be facing this battle, we can have more investment to allow people to work. There are lots of talented people, there is money... We could have more creativity if we had better broadband for example, it would allow people to do more, to connect more freely with other people.

A line is drawn.

Between an amateur and a pro: my sound recorder battery died at this point, my sincere apologies to you for this lack of preparation.
An extra fifteen minutes of conversation are consequently lost, where we talked about the good quality of kiwi web design and graphic design, and about how we (try to) cope with the amount of information we are fed with nowadays. I see this as a sign that I need to fly back to New Zealand, sit at Superfino and chat a little more with them with a recharged battery.
In the meantime, you really should have a look at the Onyas site and the featured sites to get an idea of what good kiwi web design is today. Also, don’t forget to set some time to watch the 2011 or past conferences that are available online for free. You’d be missing out a lot.

My sincere thanks to Mike and Natasha for their time and their contagious passion for the web.

Design et créativité

Here is the translation of an article published by Andy Rutledge on his Design View blog. Although I don't view creativity and pragmatism that exclusive to each others in the practice of design, it is important to recall as often as possible that design is a process you call for when you have a problem to solve, and that solutions are not coming out of nowhere. The way you look at things has to be educated for you to be able to identify the true nature of the problem, question it, and evaluate the viability of the solutions you propose. Creativity comes in, fortunately, in the production and shaping of possible solutions, but without the knowledge anchoring them in a practical reality, they haven't got any value. In a field where graphic design, typography, ergonomics, kinematics, techniques and industrialization find themselves involved, the amount of theoretical knowledge to acquire is substantial. And I don't think this is pointed out enough. This article reveals the existing gap between creativity and this knowledge.
A big thank you to Andy Rutledge for this article, and for allowing me to publish its translation here. You can either read it in its original state, or practice your french a little.

Voici la traduction d'un article publié par Andy Rutledge sur son blog Design View. Bien que je ne partage pas complètement la dichotomie qui est décrite ici entre créativité et pragmatisme, il me semble important de rappeler dès que c'est possible que le design est un processus auquel on fait appel pour résoudre un problème, et que les solutions ne sortent pas de nulle part. On doit dans un premier temps former son regard pour bien identifier le problème, le remettre en question, et surtout pour évaluer la pertinence des réponses apportées. La créativité intervient – heureusement – dans la production et la mise en forme des solutions possibles, mais sans de solides bases qui les ancrent dans une réalité pratique, elles n'ont pas beaucoup de valeur. Dans un domaine où se mêlent graphisme, typographie, ergonomie, cinématique, technique et industrialisation, le savoir théorique à acquérir est conséquent, et je doute que ce soit assez mis en avant. L'article ci-dessous est un brillant révélateur de la différence qu'il existe entre la créativité et ce savoir. Je remercie Andy Rutlegde d'avoir eu l'idée de cet article, et de m'avoir autoriser à en publier la traduction ici.

Il y a quelques années, j'ai publié un petit test pour à la fois engager une discussion dans notre profession, et pour que les lecteurs puissent auto-évaluer leur compréhension des fondamentaux du design. Il a été – et reste – très populaire auprès de mes lecteurs. Voici un autre questionnaire autour du design, avec cette fois une audience plus ciblée et un but plus spécifique.

Les notions de créativité et de design sont trop souvent confondues chez les designers, comme chez les non-designers. Cela me dérange, car c'est l'une des idées reçues qui permettent à des prétendants créatifs mais sans savoir-faire de se considérer comme des professionnels du design alors qu'ils ne sont rien de la sorte.

La créativité, ce n'est pas du design. La créativité n'a rien à voir avec le design. La créativité n'est contrainte par aucune loi, règle ou restriction ... ce qui est sans doutes pourquoi c'est aussi enivrant (parfois jusqu'à s'y méprendre). Le design, d'un autre côté, est entièrement basé sur les mathématiques, la psychologie, la perception humaine, et toute une série de règles strictes et de lois qui peuvent être contournées par une poignée de personnes très compétentes seulement. Ceux qui ne seraient pas en territoire connu avec ces règles, ces lois et ces sciences associées ne sont en aucun cas des designers.

Pour aider à illustrer les différences entre la créativité et le design, j'ai mis au point ce petit questionnaire qui abordent certains fondamentaux du design – et non de la créativité. Ceux qui baignent dans la créativité, et non le design, seront perdus. Ceux qui ont acquis les bases du design ne rencontreront que des notions élémentaires.

En observant le log de mes referrers au long des années, j'ai pu constater que mes articles sont régulièrement inclus dans les cours de design dans les lycées, universités et centres d'apprentissage de part le monde. Pour continuer dans ce sens, j'espère que ce test pourra être utilisé par les professeurs afin qu'ils aident leurs étudiants à comprendre et identifier la différence entre la créativité et le design. Trop d'entre eux passent leurs diplômes en ayant une idée vague de cette distinction, dans le cas où ils en aient une.

Le test

1. Dans l’exemple ci-dessous, quelle disposition apparait comme étant créée par l’homme, et laquelle apparait comme étant organique ? Pourquoi ?

Man Org

2. L’orientation de cette composition est-elle horizontale ou verticale ? Pourquoi ?

Horiz Vert

3. Laquelle de ces deux compositions évoque l’inconfort visuel ? Pourquoi ?

Discomfort

4. Suite à votre dernière réponse, par quel autre moyen pourriez-vous évoquer l’inconfort dans une composition ou une mise en page ?

5. Compte tenu de ces deux dernières réponses, quels sont les éléments que vous prendriez en compte pour mettre en place une expérience visuelle confortable ? Pourquoi ?

6. Pourquoi l’asymétrie est-elle généralement plus conseillée que la symétrie dans une mise en page ?

7. Quels mécanismes pourraient vous aider à compenser les effets de la symétrie dans une mise en page informationnelle ?

8. Décrivez les raisons spécifiques de communication pour lesquelles vous utiliseriez des coins arrondis plutôt que des coins droits dans une mise en forme.

9. Décrivez les différences de messages portés par ces deux structures :

Grad Grid

10. Suivant la logique de la question précédente, pourquoi utiliseriez-vous un dégradé comme texture visuelle ou une gradation dans la mise en page ?

11. Quel est le but dans l’utilisation d’une grille dans une mise en page ?

12. Puisque les relations entre les objets des deux groupes ci-dessous sont les mêmes, qu’est ce qui a changé dans la figure B ?

Slant Grid

13. Décrivez la ou les différences de message visuel primaire porté par les figures A et B.

Strict Perspective

14. Décrivez au moins trois différentes façons de guider le regard de l’observateur dans et au travers d’une composition, en empruntant un chemin particulier. Quels mécanismes peuvent être utilisés à cette fin ?

15. Dans l’image ci-dessous, quel objet influence l’autre ?

Influence

16. Est ce que l’influence que vous percevez implique le mouvement ou est-elle de nature statique ?

17. Compte tenu de votre dernière réponse, pour quel(s) effet(s) utiliseriez-vous l’influence d’un objet graphique ou structurelle sur un autre dans une composition ?

18. Laquelle de ces deux lignes communique la vitesse ?

Speed

19. Dessinez une forme géométrique masculine, et une féminine. Qu’est ce qui distingue le genre entre ces deux formes ?

20. Comparez la figure A et la figure B. Quelles fonctions sont assurées par les éléments structuraux de la figure A ? Sont-ils nécessaires ? Pourquoi et pourquoi pas ? Existent-ils d’autres moyens d’obtenir le même effet ? Si oui, quels sont-ils ?

Struct Nostruct

21. Comparez les deux mises en page ci-dessous. Laquelle possède une hierarchie de l’information claire ? Comment cela est-il accompli ? Par quels autres moyens pourrait-on obtenir le même résultat ?

Hierarchy No

22. Dans laquelle de ces compositions le logo est-il le plus grand ?

Latimes Sm
Latimes Big

Explications

Voilà. Ce sont les bases, le plus simple. Quand bien même, il est important de noter que même la plus fructueuse des créativités ne vous sera d'aucune aide pour ce test. Vous noterez que plusieurs de ces questions ont plusieurs réponses possibles, et pourraient souvent s'articuler sous forme de dissertation. Ce format est important, car c'est la meilleure façon pour les étudiants de démontrer leur assimilation, et pour une classe d'ouvrir un dialogue vers des problématiques similaires.

Vous noterez aussi que les réponses ne sont pas fournies ici, et ce pour deux raisons spécifiques. La première est que les enseignants en design les connaissent déjà et n'en ont donc pas besoin (et cela compromettrait l'usage de cette page dans leurs cours). La deuxième est que je tiens à ce que les personnes qui se croiraient designer et pour qui ces questions restent sans réponses comprennent le manque de compétences dont ils font preuve. Dans ce cas, si les réponses étaient disponibles ici, cela atténuerait certainement le sentiment d'urgence à finir leur éducation qu'ils doivent ressentir. Mon souhait le plus sincère est qu'après avoir fait le constat de leur incompétence, ces personnes cessent de tromper leurs clients sur la qualité de service qu'ils leurs proposent et s'engagent dans une formation en design digne de ce nom pour acquérir le niveau de compréhension nécessaire à la pratique du métier qu'ils prétendent aujourd'hui avoir.

J'ai pu constater au travers des discussions que j'ai eu avec des designers que les lycées, universités et centres d'apprentissage proposent souvent des formations incomplètes, et forment donc des designers incomplets et mal préparés. Je n'ai donc aucun doute que beaucoup de designers "très éduqués" échoueront à ce test. Et si les formations sont directement responsables par cet état de fait, les étudiants en design ne le sont pas moins. La responsabilité de votre éducation n'incombe pas à votre professeur, elle vous incombe à vous uniquement.

Enfin, si vous êtes de ceux qui êtes d'accord avec le fait que le design est une profession "de créatif", vous devriez sans doutes réévaluer le rôle que vous attribuez à la créativité dans le design, ainsi que la pertinence d'associer cette étiquette à votre profession.

Si vous avez trouvé le test facile, félicitations. Dans le cas contraire, et si vous souhaitez être un designer, je vous suggère de recommencer à plancher avant de prendre en charge un projet de design.