Eric Raymond on cognitive stress and knowledge work

A Taxonomy of Cognitive Stress: I have. A Taxonomy of Cognitive Stress: I have been thinking about UI design lately. With some help from my friend Rob Landley, I’ve come up with a classification schema for the levels at which users are willing to invest effort to build competence. The base assumption is that for any … [Armed and Dangerous]

Somehow, I missed this when it first appeared in May from Eric Raymond. I find his RSS feed erratic at best. It shows up at a good time, however, as I’m thinking through the implications of shifting focus to knowledge workers instead of knowledge management. Raymond is focused on user interfaces, but I think his perspective can be generalized to the challenges of doing and coaching knowledge work.

Research on how designers work

How designers work. I haven’t looked at lots of dissertations, but this one is a beaut. It’s Henrik Gedenryd’s How designers work: Making sense of authentic cognitive activities. Here’s the abstract: In recent years, the growing scientific interest in design has led to great advances in our knowledge of authentic design processes. However,… [IDblog]

More from the abstract

At the same time, there is a growing movement of research on authentic cognitive activities, which has among other things documented the central roles of action and the physical environment in these activities, something that existing cognitive theories have overlooked and cannot properly account for. This creates an explanatory gap analogous to the one found in design.

This is definitely something for the short term reading list.

Murphy’s Law and Design


James Vornov has been posting some interesting reflections on Murphy’s Law over on his weblog, on deciding…better , recently. Here’s where he started.

Murphy’s Law Was Invented Here: It was named after Capt. Edward A. Murphy, an engineer working on Air Force Project MX981, (a project) designed to see how much sudden deceleration a person can stand in a crash. One day, after finding that a transducer was wired wrong, he cursed the technician responsible and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

  The Origin of Murphy’s Law: The traditional version of Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”) is actually “Finagle’s Law of Dynamic Negatives.” Finagle’s Law was popularized by science fiction author Larry Niven in several stories depicting a frontier culture of asteroid miners; this “Belter” culture professed a religion and/or running joke involving the worship of the dread god Finagle and his mad prophet Murphy. Since then, the relentless truth inherent in Murphy’s Law has become a persistent thorn in the side of humanity.
  Sod’s Law? While I admit that the name of Murphy’s laws is a pleasant one as is the story of how it came to light, but the original name for ‘if anything can go wrong it will’ was sod’s law because it would happen to any poor sod who needed such a catastrophic event the least.

What I find really interesting is this:

  Murphy’s Law The correct, _original_ Murphy’s Law reads: “If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it.” This is a principle of defensive design, cited here because it is usually given in mutant forms less descriptive of the challenges of design for lusers. For example, you don’t make a two-pin plug symmetrical and then label it `THIS WAY UP’; if it matters which way it is plugged in, then you make the design asymmetrical (see also the anecdote under magic smoke).

I think this statement is true. I hope to come back to it after exploring the more generalized statement of the law.

[OnDecidingBetter News]

What I’m especially intrigued by is the connection between Murphy’s Law and design. While usually invoked against some abstract malevolent force, it’s really about the conquences of not thinking designs all the way through.

More and more, we’re not only living in a designed world, we are all becoming active designers. In the immortal words of Pogo, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

Viridian design

Viridian books.

Former colleague Paul Beard to made reference to “Viridian Design.” I haven’t really groked what that means yet, but I did found a list of Viridian recommended books. There are some very interesting titles on that list; if these books are related to the Viridian movement, I’ll have pay more attention to it.

[Paul Holbrook’s Radio Weblog]

Any movement launched by the likes of Bruce Sterling is worth paying attention to for entertainment value alone. Beneath the entertainment, however, are some deep thoughts about what kind of future we need to be about creating for ourselves. Some excerpts from the Virdian Manifesto of January 3, 2000

What is culturally required at the dawn of the new millennium is a genuine avant-garde, in the sense of a cultural elite with an advanced sensibility not yet shared by most people, who are creating a new awareness requiring a new mode of life. The task of this avant-garde is to design a stable and sustainable physical economy in which the wealthy and powerful will prefer to live.

The task at hand is therefore basically an act of social engineering. Society must become Green, and it must be a variety of Green that society will eagerly consume. What is required is not a natural Green, or a spiritual Green, or a primitivist Green, or a blood-and-soil romantic Green…The world needs a new, unnatural, seductive, mediated, glamorous Green. A Viridian Green, if you will.

The current industrial base is outmoded, crass and nasty, but this is not yet entirely obvious. Scolding it and brandishing the stick is just part of the approach. Proving it requires the construction of an alternative twenty-first century industrial base which seems elegant, beautiful and refined. This effort should not be portrayed as appropriate, frugal, and sensible, even if it is. It must be perceived as glamorous and visionary. It will be very good if this new industrial base actually functions, but it will work best if it is spectacularly novel and beautiful. If it is accepted, it can be made to work; if it is not accepted, it will never have a chance to work.

An excellent example of Alan Kay’s dictum that the “best way to predict the future is to invent it.”