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Finished Creating the Inspired House: Discovering Your Place Called Home by John Connell (3/5). I am a big fan of Connell's Homing Instinct: Using Your Lifestyle to Design & Build Your Home, so I was quite excited when I discovered that he had written a second book, Creating the Inspired House.

In comparison to Connell's first book, this book was a disappointment. Where Homing Instinct really got down to the nitty gritty details of what it takes to build a house, Creating the Inspired House is just another addition to the genre of books which feature a number of houses and describe them. That said, this book was a stellar example of that genre.

The most important factor in judging a book from this genre is whether or not the book contains houses you like. This book contained homes of many styles, including several modern homes. Since our house is going to be modern in styling, I appreciated the presence of those examples.

The other factor which made this book enjoyable was Connell's choice to talk about the people who created the house, the owners and builders. Often these books talk about homes without including the personal stories which went into creating those homes. The personal details made the book more interesting.

Overall, Creating the Inspired House was a good read.
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Finished The Value of Design by Marianne Cusato. This is a short (50 pg) guide to designing better communities. From the back
Design matters. Design adds value to our homes and communities in terms of dollars and cents, but its value is deeper than monetary. Design can greatly improve our quality of life and the condition of our fragile environment. How we build our homes nad communities is a choice, not a given. It is within our reach to build nice places, to find change and to live more sustainable on our planet. This is the true value of design.

This book uses lots of pictures to explain what design elements make for good neighborhoods and homes and which detract from the quality of life defined by a place. For example, I now understand why I hate the false brink or stone fronts most modern construction. First, a home is three dimensional, and it is only in listing photos that you can see the front of the house without seeing the plain siding sides. Second, false fronts use things like brick and stone like they are wall paper and contradict our understanding of those materials as structural elements. Even though the brick and stone are not structural, when the front of a house is covered with brick and the rest is not, it feels like the front is going to tip over and fall off.

My one negative comment about this book is that there are a few places throughout where it reads like an advertisement for JamesHardie, the fiber cement siding manufacturer that sponsored the book (mostly at the very end). That said, it is still worth a read, especially if you just want a quick overview of what makes for a well designed community and home.
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Finished Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things by Donal Normal. This book was interesting but disappointing. The first half was, in some ways, a fascinating addendum to The Design of Everyday Things.

This part of the book talked about the role of emotions in design and usability. Things that are more pleasurable to use are easier to use than something with the same basic design that is not a pleasure to use. The psychological basis for this claim is that when people are enjoying what they are using, they can take a more creative view at any problems they encounter during the interaction. Furthermore, when you enjoy using something, you may be more willing to forgive problems. Delightful design cannot rescue an unusable design, but all else being equal, the delightful design will seem easier to use and cause greater attachment.

Another reason that emotion is important in design is that users' relationships to objects are built on more than just the perceived usability and pleasure in using the items. Emotion is important because it taps into higher level human concerns such as image and status.

The second part of the book felt out of place. It discussed robots and why they need to have some equivalent of emotions. The discussion was interesting, but it did not seem to really fit with the description given by the title ("why we love (or hate) everyday things). It felt like the second part of the book was bolted on because the first part was not long enough to be a book on its own. Because it went so contrary to my expectations for the rest of the book, I just could not enjoy it, even though it may have been interesting on its own.

Overall, I would say that the first first of the book should be considered required reading if you have read The Design of Everyday Things. The second half you can take or leave depending on how interested you are in robots.
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Finished The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life by John Maeda. This short (100 page) book gives 10 laws and 3 key properties for designing simple systems. Maeda provides a hand summary of the laws and key principles:

Ten laws:

  1. Reduce: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.

  2. Organize: Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.

  3. Time: Savings in time feel like simplicity.

  4. Learn: Knowledge makes everything simpler.

  5. Differences: Simplicity and complexity need each other.

  6. Context: What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.

  7. Emotion: More emotions are better than less.

  8. Trust: In simplicity we trust.

  9. Failure: Some things can never be made simple.

  10. The One: Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

Three key principles:

  1. Away: More appears like less simply by moving it far, far away.

  2. Open: Openness simplifies complexity.

  3. Power: Use less, gain more.

I fail to see the difference between the laws and principles (maybe Maeda just didn't want 13 laws ;), but other than that, these feel like a good set of principles to keep in mind when designing. They capture many common design dilemmas. For example, systems are often designed for expert and novice users. The "Learn" principle can be used to frame this dilemma. A novice user has no knowledge about your system; an expert user has that knowledge. The system should provide necessary knowledge to the user while not getting in the way of the expert. By reducing the knowledge needed (law 1), possibly by relying on knowledge the user already has (law 4) this dual nature may be achievable. There may still be problems because some complexity is inherent in trying to cater to two user groups (law 9).

The Laws of Simplicity rings true. It is consistent with what I have read of Don Norman's work and with a good deal of what I remember from Jef Raskin's book The Humane Interface. It is also consistent with what I learned in HCI and my own experience.

One nitpick: the book tried to hard to push the associated website. Once at the end would have been enough. I can forgive it that quirk since it was, in general quite spiffy (and shiny, literally; the cover had pretty shiny bits).
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This evening I read "Tussle in Cyberspace: Defining Tomorrow's Internet" by D. Clark, J. Wroslawski, K. Sollins and R. Braden. It is a very good paper.

A long summary )
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Our dishwasher has a knob for choosing the wash setting (e.g., "Normal Wash" and "Heavy Wash"). The user turns the knob to the desired setting and closes the dishwasher; it then starts automatically.

The knob has three problems which make the dishwasher difficult to use. 1) The knob does not click into place at the settings. There is no physical indication that you have reached your setting and nothing to prevent overturning. 2) If the knob is turned past the desired point, it cannot be turned back; it must be turned completely around again. 3) Turning the knob all the way around to the desired setting causes the soap holder to open and release the soap. A not unusual scenario is that a user (me!) will turn the knob too far, turn it all the way around, empty the soap, refill the soap, and start the dishwahser.

The user could change their behavior to prevent this problem. For example, a user could turn the knob to the correct setting and then add the soap. This should not be necessary; the problem can be fixed so easily. Solution 1: have the knob click into place at each of the settings. Downsides: this might require changing the design of the washer because the knob turns as the dishwasher runs, and some settings require going through other settings (e.g. "Heavy Wash" is "Normal Wash" with some extra time at the beginning). Solution 2: allow the knob to turn forward or backwards. Downside: Again, since the knob seems to control the behavior of the washer, this may require changing the design. Solution 3: Make it so the user can pull the knob outward and turn it freely. Downsides: this would probably be more expensive to manufacture. It may also be somewhat confusing to first time users; although the "pull out a knob to turn freely" paradigm is not unheard of, it is also not common. Solution 3: make it so that the soap holder is not emptied when the knob is turned around unless the door is closed completely. Downside: Again, probably cost.

On a note unrelated to dishwashers but related to design, I managed to make this text entry box right justified (Opera), and I have no clue how I did so or how to fix it...


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Erika RS

May 2012

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