A random collection of things that inspire, interest and trouble me
from the world of design, politics, art and culture.

Beautiful words, terrible reality

Posted: March 27th, 2010 | Author: ktcita | Filed under: activism, war, writing | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

One reading a piece by Arundahti Roy in the Guardian today I was left with the same bittersweet feeling I always get when reading her work. Such beautiful words for such terrible realities. I was pleased to see that the Guardian had posted a video of Arundahti Roy reading from her essay, as hearing her speak is so powerful. Unfortunately this time the quality of the video is poor, and the usual resonant power of her voice has been lost. If you ever get the chance to hear her speak live, I highly recommend it.

I note that the Guardian has referred to Roy as a author and activist. I recall her questioning the validity of this statement: “It seems to suggest that it isn’t the business of writers to look deeply into the society they live in. It reduces what a writer is as well as an activist, suggesting they’re somewhat unidimensional,” [from here]

The Guardian essay is about the tribal Indian people who are fighting against the better armed Indian government for the rights to their homeland. This is an excerpt:

“Why must they die? What for? To turn all of this into a mine? I remember my visit to the opencast iron-ore mines in Keonjhar, Orissa. There was forest there once. And children like these. Now the land is like a raw, red wound. Red dust fills your nostrils and lungs. The water is red, the air is red, the people are red, their lungs and hair are red. All day and all night trucks rumble through their villages, bumper to bumper, thousands and thousands of trucks, taking ore to Paradip port from where it will go to China. There it will turn into cars and smoke and sudden cities that spring up overnight. Into a “growth rate” that leaves economists breathless. Into weapons to make war.”

Lessons from the science museum

Posted: March 3rd, 2010 | Author: ktcita | Filed under: Experience design | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

I have just finished listening to a podcast from Fora.tv about science museums and how they have developed from top-down, one-way conversations to places that incorporate interactivity as a way to make the experience more interesting to visitors. It was an interesting talk to consider in terms of a project I am working on right now which is to design an online tool to support the environmental programmes in schools. the tool has to be both educational and ‘fun’, something that science museums have been trying to achieve for a long time.

Some of the key points:

Remo Besio, the former director of the Technorama science centre in Switzerland was saying that they do not have a target market in mind when they design their exhibits. Instead they design their exhibits to appeal to a 4-year-old as well as a physics professor. He then went on to say that a purely online experience of science will never work as it is important that people experience the real, physical phenomena to truly learn about scientific concepts. I wonder if this will change some day? Obviously he is pretty keen to keep the visitor numbers up at his museum!

Some other random points:

  • A good experience is one that is open to interpretation and can be built upon.
  • A good experience is something that is a little bit mentally challenging but easy to use.
  • Let the user discover things for themselves. Don’t show them everything at once.
  • Make it fun, but fun in this sense means “mind explosions” not frivolous enjoyment.
  • Allow the user to take more than one path. Don’t restrict their movement.
  • Free choice learning is something they try to achieve: that is, where visitors to the exhibition discover and then teach each other about the exhibits

How we decide

Posted: February 4th, 2010 | Author: ktcita | Filed under: behaviour | Tags: , | No Comments »

My new favourie science writer is Jonah Lehrer. This lecture is about decision making. Lehrer has written a few books incuding How We Decide.

Comics on the iPhone

Posted: February 4th, 2010 | Author: ktcita | Filed under: behaviour, comics, iPhone | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Is the iPhone the platform I needed to kickstart a new love of comics? After reading a special 20th anniversary edition of Wallace & Gromit, I think it might be.

The experience of reading comics on a phone with a dynamic touch interface is one that I really like and, have to say prefer, to reading comics on paper. I was trying to think why this might be, and the only reason I could come up with is that when I usually read a paper comic I am so distracted by every scene on the page that I can’t focus on what I am reading. With an iPhone, my focus is (how can I put this) more focused? You choose just one screen at a time, and then swisshhhhhh, with a flick of the finger the next one appears.


I was sure that Scott McCloud would have something to say on the matter, and in the interest of time saving (this full time job thing really kills my spare time) I am going to paraphrase some stuff I have found on his site.

The first link I found on McCloud’s site was for Bludzee, an iPhone comic from Ave!Comics. This company makes a few different comics for the iPhone. I’ve just downloaded it, so will let you know what it’s like.

In another brief post, McCloud mentions a panel on handheld electronic comics that was held at SXSW in 2009. The comments after his brief comment are worth reading. You can also read some reviews of this panel on Comic Book Resources and the Unofficial Apple Weblog.

What strikes me (after a brief skim) is that some old school comic book creators are having difficulty knowing whether to fully embrace the new media. It reminds me of something that Elisabeth Eisenstein said in her seminal book the Printing Press as an Agent of Change, about the problems that occur with a change from one media to another. Eisenstein (1979) proposed that the complications arise because a new technology is being used at a time when old consumption methods are still dominant (p. 130). For example, the exquisite hand-rendered illuminations of manuscript books were not easy to replicate in print. In order to satisfy the reader who had become accustomed to beautifully illustrated books, printers were forced to either add illustrations by hand after printing or resort to crude woodblock prints. Both methods were unsatisfactory attempts at copying what
had been perfected in an old technology.

So perhaps that is where we are at with comics on the iPhone: using old behaviour methods on a new technology. I wonder what the future holds?  Will we change our comic reading behaviour to embrace them on a handheld device?

One other interesting link I have found is to a digital comic called Ruben & Lullaby that allows users to change the path of the story by touching the iPhone screen in various ways:”shaking makes them angry, stroking makes them sad”. One review on the app store says that it doesn’t live up to the promise, but I look forward to experience more of this sort of storytelling. You can watch a preview on Youtube.

A break in transmission

Posted: January 18th, 2010 | Author: ktcita | Filed under: Blog, events, information design, user experience | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Apologies for the severe lack of posting. I have started a new job and just can’t seem to find the time to blog. I hope this will settle down in the next couple of weeks.

I am also enjoying attending design events in London, something I didn’t have the chance to do when living in Reading. Last week I went to St. Bride’s Library to listen to Paul Stiff and colleagues talk of their research into 19th century information design. They are looking at how people used to read information for action, a difficult task as it is not the kind of reading that many people have written about. There is a related exhibition at the library full of timetables, maps, tables and forms.

The ‘indicator’ map below is part of the exhibition. I saw this in a class given by Michael Twyman at Reading University last year. The tape measure is used to find any street with accuracy. Note the numbers along the sides of the map and the lines that would be used to line up the tape. Lining up a set of numbers listed after a street in the index would allow users to find the street.


Next week some UX folks from Google are speaking at a UX UPA event at the Truman Brewery. Very much looking forward to that. You can read more about that event on the UX UPA Eventbrite page.

Eye tests

Posted: December 12th, 2009 | Author: ktcita | Filed under: medical design, typography | Tags: , , | No Comments »

The standard eye test chart is such a recognised artefact in western culture that it has been frequently hijacked by designers to use in their products, layouts, t-shirts and prints. Designers do this, I think, as they appreciate the simplicity of the typography and the purity of the functional form of the chart. Unlike the use of a certain red cross, the overuse of the eye chart typography is not likely to find the designer the subject of a lawsuit. It could however be a design cliché worth avoiding unless you can do it well.

Some designers, however, have augmented the design in a commercially successful way, for example, this print by the Keep Calm and Carry On‘s founding duo Hayley & Lucas:


I had my eyes tested today and was introduced to two eye charts that are used for young children and illiterate people. The Lea test (according to Wikipedia) was developed by a Finnish ophthalmologist Lea Hyvärinen in 1976. It uses simple line drawings of an apple, a house, a square, and a circle rather than the usual letters. Can’t say that the apple is particularly successful.


The other test, the “Tumbling E Chart” was also developed in 1976 by Hugh Taylor and is used to test the visual acuity of illiterate people.


One interesting fact that Wikipedia has alerted me to, in regards to the standard Snellen chart, is that the letters are not a standard typeface but a specially drawn font that has equal weighting between the black lines and the white space of each letter. Only the letters C, D, E, F, L, N, O, P, T, Z are used, and the height of the letter is five times the width of the line.


Selling the sizzle

Posted: December 9th, 2009 | Author: ktcita | Filed under: behaviour, environment, future | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments »


Have just read Futerra’s report Selling the Sizzle. It is a basic outline of how, through positive framing, climate change activists can radically change people’s behaviour toward climate change. It’s all about making the actions desirable so that people actually take them. For, “without public support the Cynics win by default. All they need is inaction”

The basic problem, Futerra says, is that “most climate friendly behaviours, especially the big hard ones (travel, diet, etc) are not aspirational or desirable. One factor that tars them is their association with a problem. You’re asked to make a sacrifice for the greater good, which has rarely in human history been a high status pastime.”

But Futerra believes that if we frame these actions positively then they could become desirable. They list the process that communicators should use as:


This step-by-step process feels a bit like a quit smoking programme. First, envision the glorious future without cigarettes. Then once the patient can see the positive future, give them a choice between this, and the hell of a lifetime of smoking. Then you and the patient start planning on how you will tackle quitting smoking. And finally the patient takes action and quits smoking, and you keep reinforcing the positive future they have chosen.

The question is, will it work? Can we make desirable the behaviour and lifestyle changes that are necessary to mitigate the worst effects of climate change? If you are in the business of communicating climate change, I suggest you read the report.

Reading and watching

Posted: December 8th, 2009 | Author: ktcita | Filed under: Blog | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Today I have been watching Copenhagen TV via Oneclimate.net. There have been some very thought provoking interviews and some inspiring films on there so far. You can also keep track of course via Twitter (#COP15), or the Tck Tck Tck live blog, or even the on demand videos from the UNFCC. It is interesting how much more I feel a part of this conference than I did that of Bali, basically down to the ability to access live streaming video and read the Twitter stream.

I also watched a very interesting talk on the next big thing in digital media (or below if the player works for you), put on by the Paley Centre for Media. The talk was convened by Quincy Smith from CBS Interactive and introduces and explains the ideas and funding models behind start ups like Boxee, Chartbeat, Hot Potato, Jelli, gdgt.com and Tapulous. Of some interestwas Chartbeat which is a real time analytic service that allows companies to track what people are doing on their sites in real time and adjust the content or direction accordingly.

Tomorrow is a reading day and I am going to sit myself down with a nice cup of tea to read Futerra’s Sell the Sizzle report which calls on campaigners and the government to stop selling doom and gloom about the climate and instead talk about how living a low-carbon life will be heavenly. The name of the report comes from the idea that with sausages you don’t sell dead pork, you sell the sizzle and smell of them cooking. It’s all about positive framing. You can download it on Futerra’s site.

I am also going to read a working paper entitled Culture|Futures Cultural Transformations for a Cultural Age, edited by Olaf Gerlach-Hansen. This investigates how “culture interconnects with the reality of climate change and with ecology. It aims to establish a set of common understandings and definitions, and to identifiy important perspectives for cultural strategies for sustainable development”. You can download the report on the RSA’s Arts & Ecology site.

I also plan on wading through the many useful articles on user experience on the Usability Professional’s website. This is to swot up on what I hope will be my new career. Enough with print, bring in the digital.

Rob Hopkins introduces the Transition Movement

Posted: December 7th, 2009 | Author: ktcita | Filed under: environment, future | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

In this TED presentation, Rob Hopkins introduces the concept of the Transition Movement: where people come to terms with a low-carbon future and teach and prepare their community for it. I really like that he says is thankful for what an oil-rich life has given him, but that it is time to move on from this and take a new path.

News from Copenhagen: Transport policy for a low-carbon future

Posted: December 7th, 2009 | Author: ktcita | Filed under: environment | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

A colleague, client, and friend of mine, Sean Kidney, is in Copenhagen at the moment working toward a low-carbon future. He is part of the Climate Bonds Initiative which is looking to gather large-scale investment in clean energy and low carbon technologies through the deployment of government-secured bonds.

This morning he has sent the email below regarding the move to low-emissions transport. Many of these seem achievable to me (given that I ride a bike and don’t own a car), but how about for you? Would you reduce your car use by 60% and stop flying for some of the time?


I’ve just come from a sobering presentation in Copenhagen by Yuki Tanaka of the Japanese Institution of Transport Policy Studies. They have done detailed modeling of global transport emissions and how we can reduce them by 2050.

They’ve done different scenarios, and have settled on pushing for keeping emissions at 2000 levels because they believe the lower scenarios are not likely to be achieved. I started off sceptically, thinking “we’ll need to figure out how to do better than that”. But by the end of the presentation, overwhelmed by the robustness of their research, I can see why they made that decision.

Bear in mind this is in the context of rapidly growing economies in Asia and Latin America.

Key points: Read the rest of this entry »