Computers should help us concentrate on our work, without concentrating on the computer

Ben Bederson has written an interesting article “Interfaces for Staying in the Flow” (via Surf*Minf*Musings).

Five characteristics of flow (observed by Csikszentmihalyi):
1. Challenge and require skill
2. Concentrate and avoid interruption
3. Maintain control
4. Speed and feedback
5. Transformation of time

I was interested to read the discussion of animation between screen states as a way to reduce the perception of interruption. “While animation in general can be used in ways that are very disruptive, we have found that animation can be helpful if used to help users understand how the interface changes. The potential for this kind of animated transition is that it can reduce the cognitive overhead of understanding of the relationship between two screen sates, thus enabling users to stay focused on the task…Reducing the need for users to consciously make connections between different interface states has the potential for reducing their short-term memory load.”

While I have often experienced the transformation of time associated with flow. I never thought to measure it in usability studies. “People regularly report that their perception of time changes when they are in the flow.” Bederson reports that Czerwinski, Horvitz and Cutrell “found that the more difficult the task, the longer the participans thought the task took relative to the actual task time.”

Russian Translation

I’m at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (note that its not just a conference, its a celebration!). There was a great panel today on Open Source:

* Danese Cooper, Sun Microsystems and Open Source Initiative
* Mitchell Baker, Chief Lizard Wrangler,
* Leslie Proctor, Gnome
* Katie Parlante, OSAF

It was postively inspiring for a gal who comes from a background of proprietary coding and is embarking upon a brave new journey into open source with Laszlo’s recent announcement. I particularly liked the answer that Mitchell Baker gave to the question of how the industry was changing in response to open source initiatives. She said that the industry is overdue for a change and open source is one response. We have a relatively young industry that sells products that are very hard for people to understand how to use and that often need to be combined in ways that are seldom documented and sometimes incompatible. In addition, people pay real money for this software that comes with licensing agreements which expressly do not guarantee that the products work at all, let alone work together. She’s right. The software industry is crazy. Maybe open source will help.

Its inspiring to be amongst over 800 technical women, knowing that this is just a small group of women in the field. I’ll never get used to the occasions when I am the only woman in the room. I hope that we’ll achieve Anita’s goal of 50/50 in 2020. Whenever it happens, I believe change is inevitable in this respect as well. It was both amazing and unsurprising to hear that of people contributing to open source projects, women represent only 2%. It seems to me that open source projects represent a great opportunity to write code, get involved, and make a difference. Danese Cooper talked about quilting by early American women who would create masterpieces that would be passed on for generations. They took the time to craft these works of art because they were something that would live on beyond their time. This is a wonderful analogy to open source software. Unlike proprietary software which often becomes obsolete in a few years, open source software is a contribution to the greater community and can live on beyond our individual participation. In addition to the practical value of writing source code that you can show to a prospective employer and prove your cred without a hiring manager as a gatekeeper, open source appeals to altruistic ideals and offers community values that are traditionally appealing to women.

Belorussian translation provided by PC</a

Jason Fried spoke yesterday at Web 2.0 in a talk titled “Ligtweight Business Models.” I might have titled his portion of the talk “Agile Design.” It seems like the ideas from Xtreme Programming aka Agile Development are cropping up for non-programmers. This internet savvy generation is not content as a worker bee within out-dated structures that supress creativity. I see more often this relentless pursuit of effectiveness.

I’m diving into yet another exciting project with an insane timeline and a small team. I enjoyed the reminder that those constraints can be a key success factor. Here are some of the highlights from Jason’s talk about best practices in designing and building a web site (along with my interpretations):

* Start with the Interface: Design the interface first. Worry about implmentation second. The architecture of the code and the data model needs to support the UI, not the other way round.
* Say no by default: Of course, you don’t actaully say no, but don’t add a feature just because someone asked for it. Give them what they need, which is often not precisely what they asked for. Often fewer features done better is the right answer.
* Iterate quickly: making it real helps the design process. Jason had this great Christopher Alexander quote that I wish I could find about when designing in a real setting, ideas tend to converge, but when its hypothetical, ideas often diverge.
* Use it while you build it: we all need to use the software we build, during the development process. You are your own best beta tester.
* Iterate in the wild: let real people use the software while you are still working on it. This lets you see real patterns of beahvior and make critical corrections. Its also fun to see your stuff in action.

Working styles can change when the instant comunication of the Internet is asummed. Whether it is the near-instant feedback loop of google’s ad sense or the “ability to iterate in the wild,” this new working style is affecting engineers, designers and marketing folks alike.