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Posts Tagged ‘design

When I travel overseas, I try to visit a local library. This might be a tiny one in Vietnam, a traditional one in a university, or a modern one in Amsterdam.

Why do this on vacation? I find that what people stand or wish for translates into the design of such a public space.

A trend that seems to have consumed progressive libraries and librarians is the mantra that the modern library is not just a place but also a space. This statement leaves room for interpretation. Mine is that a library should not just be a place to read or borrow books; it is space to work, chill, collaborate, get inspired, or learn in less restrictive and self-directed ways.

Some libraries slap old and new together and expect them to meld. Others integrate the two seamlessly or relegate the redundant pragmatically. My recent visit to the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (OBA) — the Public Library of Amsterdam — was a perfect example of what I think a library should be.

The OBA was not a gem to admire on the outside, but once inside you might find it hard to describe why it is so welcoming and different. Note: Several Instagram embeds to follow.
 

Descending the escalator & listening to impromptu piano playing at the Public Library of Amsterdam #oba #amsterdam

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

Near the entrance was the kids’ section and a piano. I recorded this video while a pianist provided an impromptu soundtrack.

Function meets form: Provide a piano in a prominent place and someone will play it.
 

Absolutely love the main Public Library of Amsterdam #oba #amsterdam

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

The kids’ section dominated the entrance on the left. The unusually shaped lights reminded me of ball-and-stick chemical molecules or some diatoms underneath a microscope. The section was predominantly white with bright splashes of colour from the toys, furniture, and displays that strategically littered the space.

Function meets form: Provide a welcoming and curious place to explore and kids will learn by play.
 

I noticed at least two displays: One was a comic exhibition that ran along three walls; the other was a three-metre high Mouse Mansion. The comics were as thought-provoking as the mansion was fascinatingly detailed.

Function meets form: Provoke with dissonance and detail, and people will learn by critique and observation.

I forgot to photograph the space to the right of the entrance. Other than elevators and a service desk, that side was dominated with self-help kiosks for membership, buying wifi time (for non-members), returning books, borrowing books.

The book system was particularly impressive. It sported a modern, brushed metal interaction front, and a robotic complex of tubes and arms behind plexiglass in the back.

Function meets form: Provide minimal instructions and slick but compelling tools, and people will learn to use them.
 

Computers for the public to use at the Public Library of Amsterdam #oba #amsterdam

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The ceilings were high and the place well-lit either by large windows or bright white light.

OBA upper floor.

The library had a basement and six upper levels. I explored them all and discovered a common theme despite each floor having is own character. There were relatively few bookshelves and books. The mid-level floors featured reading and display areas that might look like a Barnes and Noble or part of a modern museum.
 

The spaces seemed to be designed with people and creature comforts in mind, not silent reading or maintaining order. The strange thing about giving people what they wanted was that they respected the place with a hush that would make a mouse blush.

Function meets form: Provide variations on a human-centric theme and people will do what comes naturally.

Not cubicles.

Definitely not cubicles.

There were several seating configurations. I only managed to discreetly photograph the café-like arrangement. There were also comfortable single seats, sofas, glass-walled cubicles and meeting rooms, and computer terminals that ringed the central atrium on almost all floors.

Function meets form: Recreate what people are already familiar with and they will transfer behaviours or learn new ones with minimal barriers.
 

Stairs from the 6th level to the top floor of the Public Library of Amsterdam #oba #amsterdam

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

The top floor was accessible only by this staircase or a set of elevators. If you ventured to this floor, you were rewarded with a restaurant and excellent views of Amsterdam.

View from the top floor of the OBA.

My family and I spent about four hours at the library. While I had my fix of photo-taking, my wife and son chilled at the top floor for much of the time. We had dinner there and relaxed some more.

Function meets form: Provide rewards that are not purely extrinsic or obvious. A room with a view is a room with a view.

Rising above all of this, I was reminded that there was no point rushing from point to point during a family vacation. The point was to relax and recharge, and in doing so, learn incidentally and accidentally. I knew about form meeting function, but I received informal lessons on function meeting form.

The principle of form meeting function applies in web design as much as it does in interior design. It is about putting human function first. But just as we shape our environments, our creations also shape what we do and how we do it. Function meeting form is a human-centric principle of recognising that this reverse and balance is also true.

There is something fundamentally wrong with most instructional design (ID) programmes and processes.

Novice instructional designers are often taught to design FOR someone. They do not necessarily learn to design WITH someone. I call the latter ID+.
 

 
This is a fundamental shift in the multifaceted processes of ID. Just like teaching is not the same as learning, the focus of designing with someone is about putting the learner first.

Now how many Masters programmes and ID companies will buy into this idea? How many will take such ownership? How many will say they already do this, but not have the evidence that they really do? Why will they still focus on what is efficient and ignore what is effective?

This is an unplanned part 3 of my notes and reflection on a talk on gamification. [Part 1] [Part 2]

In the two previous parts, I noted and critiqued the narrative element. Narratives in games, game-based learning, and gamification are driven by stories. Good stories depend on skilled storytelling.

So what does such storytelling look like?

I have shared the work of brilliant storytellers on Vimeo and YouTube many times before. Earlier this week I found a story told by British Airways (BA).


Video source

BA obviously wanted to sell its planes, service, and people. It did so with a story that focused on the relationship between the two main characters in the video.

Despite being a made up story, it was believable because the characters looked real. They were not movie stars and could pass for an actual flight attendant and passenger. The focus on the relationship between the two characters created an emotional link between the two.

The strong storytelling elements were believability and emotions. The same two elements could also be part of the narratives of qualitative reports, educational videos, or conference presentations.

A research study or lesson example could be contrived, but it must be real to the participants. To be effective, the intervention needs to elicit the emotions of the participants. Fail to do these and you succeed only in disconnecting with your learners.

Just one of CNET’s eleven reasons why Apple and Adobe should fear Microsoft caught me eye. It was Microsoft Story Remix (MSR).


Video source

The video above outlines what MSR might do.

I was not impressed with the bling factors like the fire football and exploding goal. I was taken more by the seamless combining of videos shot by different people.

The seamless stitching is an example of using technology productively and meaningfully. The software does the heavy lifting of collating videos and presenting preliminary cuts and sequences. The human can decide to make tweaks like rearranging sequences and providing one or more foci. The software and humanware each do what they do best.

Is creativity threatened by technology now? Only if we let it do all the doing and thinking.

The technologies we invent are our tools and instruments. We need to acknowledge that we shape our tools and instruments, and in doing so, they influence our expectations and behaviours.

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. -- Marshall McLuhan.

With something like MSR, there is no need to hoard and rely on individually shot videos. Instead, there is incentive to share and truly collaborate. Contributors simply need to upload to a shared space.

Once the videos are there, each contributor can make their own video or they can rely on one person to do this. In either case, MSR take the tedium out of the task.

Anything that promotes meaningful and helpful collaboration is good in my book. MSR is a great example of how to design for it.

Disclosure: This reflection was not prompted by or paid for by Microsoft. It is also not a product endorsement. My focus is about powerful and meaningful integration of technology for education. My goal is not to make rich corporations richer. It is to enrich the thinking of educators.

I am evaluating the lesson plans of future facilitators. Normally I wait till the end of the semester to reflect on the common misconceptions that arise. However, critical patterns have already emerged.

One mistake is not articulating how they form student groups using pedagogical principles. Novice instructors often assume that students will form groups, know how to form different types of groups, and/or know what to do in those groups. This is not true even with learners who have worked in loose cooperative groups before. This is because context and content change the strategy for the type of cooperative work.

What might work with heterogeneous grouping in one context might not work with another class learning the same content. The second class might need different-sized groups, more homogeneous groups, or different group strategies.

I model these strategies in my workshops. Here is one example.

As my learners come from different schools in a university, I make them find peers of similar backgrounds so that they are in more homogenous groups. I get them to play an academic dating game by asking each person to write their school and teaching topic on a piece of paper. Then I ask them to use that paper sign to find birds of similar feather and to flock together. The rest of the session then looks something like this.

My design rationale is simple: My learners uncover generic cooperative and learner-centric strategies during my workshops. However, they need to apply them in specific teaching contexts. What works in one context might not work in another. So the more similar their backgrounds and shared histories, the less cognitive burden my learners have to shoulder when they unpack and repack the strategies.

There is value in using more diverse groups, of course. The cross-fertilisation of ideas when an language historian shares strategies with a theoretical physicist can be wonderful, but this is more likely to work for a group of more advanced participants.

Depending on the group of learners I have that day, I facilitate a rise above of the experience so that we analyse the design of grouping for cooperative learning. Perhaps I should not assume some groups get it and others do not. I should set aside time and space for all groups to rise to this lofty ideal.

Last year I outlined how the poorly designed McCafe app could be used to learn design principles. Missteps and mistakes are often the best sources of learning.

My StarHub is an app that I use to check my data consumption and it is a wellspring of lessons on how NOT to design a mobile app.

The app claims to let users customise what they see. Currently, there are four fixed cards and six selectable ones. The latter are selected by default.

One cannot actually customise as 1) there are fixed selections (including ads), and 2) if deselected, the optional cards return after restarting the app.

The people behind the StarHub app might have forgotten (or do not care) that the customer likes to customise. Perhaps they need to adopt a new custom and repeat it as a mantra.

The app also breaks the old web page three-click rule. This is the rule that states that a user should be able to find what they need within three mouse clicks. In the mobile app universe, this should be a one or two tap rule given the nature of the platform.

Once I open the app, I need to make six taps to know how much data I have consumed in detail. I need to tap on:

  1. My Account.
  2. Mobile usage.
  3. The filter option (I manage and pay for my family’s numbers and mine does not appear by default and I have no option to choose my mobile number as default.)
  4. My number in the filter.
  5. The done button.
  6. Data usage to view current usage.

The app offers a minimalist graphic on main page that looks nice, but 1) it does not always appear, 2) when it does, it sometimes happens after a delay, 3) it is not detailed enough for my needs.

All this puts form over function and the needs of the designers over that of the user. This makes for a terrible app experience and I am reminded of it every time I use it.

Designers of user interfaces should be familiar with the concept of user-centric design. I wish more were passionate about the practice of the same. This is particularly important for designers of educational apps, especially those that provide access to content and learning management systems. No one wants angry, frustrated, or anxious users even before the learning begins.

Yesterday I shared some visual design considerations I take for my talks. Today I focus on interaction design.

My latest effort is a step down from what I normally do. I am designing for lower grade interaction by leaving out a backchannel throughout the session and one-minute paper at the end.

I am doing this because I understand my overseas audience. It is a place I have been invited to every year since 2013 and the mobile connection is unpredictable. It is not that they are unresponsive; they just cannot reliably connect to the Internet.

That said, I am still relying on two online tools that require low bandwidth from the participants.

My go-to presentation platform is Google Slides because it is free, flexible, and online. I can edit the content up to the last minute and share the slides with my audience.


Video source

In terms of interaction, I intend to try Google Slide’s “new” Q&A tool since I am not relying on my preferred tool, TodaysMeet. The audience can participate by suggesting and ranking questions.

I will also use Google Form’s quiz and auto-grading feature (similar to Flubaroo). I will create this experience for my participant as an introduction to being information literate and to establish the themes of my session.

Mobile access to online quiz and themes of my session.

I anticipate that most participants will be armed with their own phones and this will also be message about leveraging on BYOD and personal forms of learning.

Most talks seem to focus on the talk. I plan mine with lessons from educational psychology and visual design principles. I try to focus on listening as I talk in order to change minds. This is effort that often goes unappreciated, but I know that it matters.


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