Information Design Watch

May 18, 2006, 8:32 am

The Universal Library and Who Owns It

By Henry Woodbury

The New York Times Magazine this week sports a long essay by Kevin Kelly about the possibilities of an electronic, universal library:

When fully digitized, [all the information in the world] could be compressed (at current technological rates) onto 50 petabyte hard disks. Today you need a building about the size of a small-town library to house 50 petabytes. With tomorrow’s technology, it will all fit onto your iPod. When that happens, the library of all libraries will ride in your purse or wallet — if it doesn’t plug directly into your brain with thin white cords.

As a “senior maverick” at Wired magazine, Kelly unfolds some very interesting and imaginative possibilities. After discussing the obvious advantages of linked bibliographies and cross-referencees, Kelly elaborates on “Books: the Liquid Version”:

At the same time, once digitized, books can be unraveled into single pages or be reduced further, into snippets of a page. These snippets will be remixed into reordered books and virtual bookshelves. Just as the music audience now juggles and reorders songs into new albums (or “playlists,” as they are called in iTunes), the universal library will encourage the creation of virtual “bookshelves” — a collection of texts, some as short as a paragraph, others as long as entire books, that form a library shelf’s worth of specialized information. And as with music playlists, once created, these “bookshelves” will be published and swapped in the public commons. Indeed, some authors will begin to write books to be read as snippets or to be remixed as pages.

At the moment, writes Kelly, the real obstacle facing the universal library isn’t technology, but copyright:

In the world of books, the indefinite extension of copyright has had a perverse effect. It has created a vast collection of works that have been abandoned by publishers, a continent of books left permanently in the dark. In most cases, the original publisher simply doesn’t find it profitable to keep these books in print. In other cases, the publishing company doesn’t know whether it even owns the work, since author contracts in the past were not as explicit as they are now. The size of this abandoned library is shocking: about 75 percent of all books in the world’s libraries are orphaned. Only about 15 percent of all books are in the public domain. A luckier 10 percent are still in print. The rest, the bulk of our universal library, is dark.

Google has an answer. But it’s being contested by publishers. Read the article to get the gory details.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Scholarly Publishing, Technology

May 15, 2006, 11:29 am

Success by Design Conference, Providence, Rhode Island, 4/27/06

By d/D


We recently attended the Success by Design Conference, an annual event sponsored by The Center for Design and Business in Providence, Rhode Island, USA ( The Center’s mission is to explore the intersection of design principles and business intelligence. This year’s conference focused on innovation in product design and service delivery. The following is a recap of our team notes and conclusions from several key sessions.

“Service Innovation: Design’s New Frontier” by Jeneanne Rae, Co-founder, Peer Insight, LLC

A nationally recognized thought leader for innovation management and design strategy, Jeneanne Rae of Peer Insight, LLC, ( helps organizations recognize and take advantage of critical business opportunities. Services currently represent 80 percent of the U.S. economy and is growing. As this market expands, companies need to think creatively about how to get a competitive edge. According to Rae, infusing service delivery with well-established design skills can lead to innovations in the customer experience. The designer’s skill set is a natural fit for improving service delivery because it encompasses the following:

Empathy. Designing a service experience requires understanding users — not just their goals, but also their emotional, social, and cultural needs.

Broader Thinking. Designers think about the possibilities: What if? What could be?

Visualizing and Prototyping. Designers are used to developing typical scenarios to better understand how and why a product might be used. Some service scenarios can be studied with a physical model (for example, a passenger train car, built to scale); others can benefit from getting user response to verbal, visual, or virtual scenarios.

Iterative Testing. Designers know that good products only become better by repeated testing and iterative improvement.

Integrated Solutions. Design takes into account the perspectives of both users and key stakeholders. Achieving a balance is key.
Rae acknowledged that innovation in service delivery is not without its challenges:

There is no product portfolio. A company that innovates a service will find it challenging to describe the offering in a way that has immediate appeal and can, at a glance, stand apart from the competition. This is where visualization can make a difference.

Services are fuzzy. Unlike products that can use a platform strategy and established pricing model, services require companies to think more conceptually about an offering that is intangible and perishable (can’t be inventoried).

It’s hard to go it alone. Innovating services delivery with design approaches requires some expert help; service companies need to recognize this and form professional partnerships as appropriate.

We found Rae’s talk to be both observant and insightful. Design isn’t (only) about making objects more attractive or fun to use. It’s about understanding what goes into the ideal customer experience, and working to achieve that through research, modeling and testing.

“Designing the Xbox 360 Experience” by Jonathan Hayes, Xbox Design Director, Microsoft

Jonathan Hayes was responsible for leading the development of the Xbox 360 (, the Microsoft entertainment system known not only for its powerful performance, but also its beautiful presentation. Microsoft’s goal of expanding the audience for Xbox beyond core gamers to a global market demanded a unique collaboration of artists, engineers and researchers. According to Hayes, “technology needs poetry.” But balancing the tension between technology and design required some ground rules:

Structure the process. Because the team was very large and distributed worldwide, establishing a process, milestones, and master timeline was essential to keeping the project on track. Groups worked on specific activities independently, but also had a clear idea of when to converge with the rest of the team to share results and feedback.

Structure the solution space. The subjective nature of design can lead to excessive iterations, sometimes without an end in sight (“The right design? I’ll know it when I see it.”) The Xbox team managed this risk by creating a visual framework for articulating possible solutions: a quadrant system that indexed “Mild to Wild” on one axis vs. “Organic to Architectural” on the other. Stakeholders and users were told to frame their feedback within the context of these terms. This allowed very different prototype designs to be evaluated at a thematic level with specifics deferred for later.

Predefine inclusive design values. Before beginning the design process, the team established the requirements that the new product had to meet. By doing this, the team eliminated the risk of personal preference steering the design solution.

Look at work in context and in person. Throughout the process, the team validated the proposed solution by testing the Xbox with potential users and eliciting their feedback.

Hayes’ session demonstrated that successful design solutions aren’t crafted in a vacuum and often require the input of other talented individuals such as researchers and technologists. To make such a collaboration work, there needs to be agreement on the criteria for success and how to get there.

“Innovate/Resonate: Tools for Change” by Stuart Karten, Principal, Stuart Karten Design

Stuart Karten Design ( is an industrial design consultancy that creates products using a user-centric approach. During his session, Karten outlined a specific process, “mode mapping,” that visually represents observational and ethnographic data. The mode mapping process for human activity typically involves the following key steps:

  1. Do the research, then determining personas for the research subjects and a common set of appropriate “modes.” For example, the modes for a person’s average day might include: family, friends, work, play, rest, transit, etc.
  2. Determine more specific modes for specific inquiries. Peoples’ relationships with their cars might generate modes like: chauffer, errand, commute, maintain, etc.
  3. Create sub-modes for the personas that tie into a primary person’s mode. A “parent” may link to a “child” or a “patient” may be linked to a “caregiver”.
  4. Map the modes against appropriate axes, such as “State of Mind” and “Time” or “Active / Passive” and “Time.”
  5. Add pressure points, or the fixed demands on individuals, features that do not change (e.g., soccer practice schedule).
  6. Mark decision points — points where subject has choices.
  7. Look for patterns across multiple subjects and label them with descriptive terms (e.g., “mad rush”)
  8. Look for ways to improve transitions and decisions within the key patterns.

Karten’s approach to solving product design challenges resonated with our own approach to discovering user goals and needs. Using visual methodologies to translate research into requirements is a powerful tool for creating successful design solutions.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Implementation, User Experience, Visual Explanation