Everything Old is New Again

I live for good questions which cause me to stand back and have to think and reflect.

While attending Professor David Socha’s UW Bothell CSS 572 course on Evidence Based Design, during a break David asked me to compare and contrast our experience with the success of developing DEC’s ALL-IN-1 to the Kleiner Perkins 10 Criteria for iFund Success:

10 Criteria for iFund Success from Chi-Hua Chien

Chi-Hua Chien shared these criteria as part of his presentation to a Stanford iOS class. My first response to the question was to laugh at the absurdity.  ALL-IN-1’s design center was on dumb video terminals and aimed at Enterprises in 1981.  Mobile smartphone applications are at the complete opposite at end of the spectrum of rich multiple media portable communications.

However, with David’s wonderfully curious encouragement we went through the ten criteria.  While we had to change some of the terms like “iPhone” to VAX/VMS platform and “mobile” to “remote access,” the criteria were surprisingly timeless in their applicability.

As I was dragging myself through the cobwebs of my memory, I shared with David “did I ever tell you that with ALL-IN-1 we actually ‘invented’ what we know today as Javascript?”

David looked at me like I was crazy and said “What are you talking about?”

While we never emphasized it, for a number of design reasons (primarily for things like calendaring and forms data entry), each email message was an actual program, not just a text stream. We took each email entry and wrapped it in a program.  So we were really emailing application programs around.  We had to invent our own scripting language to wrap around the email text.  The scripting language looks surprisingly like what we know as Javascript today.

As I said those words, the impact of what I was saying in the context of the digital humanities discussions hit me between the eyes.  I’ve struggled to articulate the design essence of a new medium of communication that is emerging from my understanding of the thoughts that Kate Hayles has imparted.

In the iOS video, Chien makes the observation that the content world of the web is morphing into the “Context over Content” app world of the iPhone/iPad.  In other words we are transitioning from a content world (books, web pages) to an app world and from a static content world to a dynamic and highly personalized and contextualized world.

Kate Hayles pointed out that at many levels this mediated world of text was an old development as William Blake wanted tight control of the publishing of his poetry so that he could publish the “text” of the poem embedded within his art (see post on Digital Humanities).

William Blake Poem within Art

In a more recent form of this print rendition, Nick Bantock embedded his story of Griffin and Sabine as an illustrated “correspondence”:

Griffin and Sabine Mediated Conversation

Thinking back to what we did with ALL-IN-1, I wondered whether we could bring back the notion of an email message as a dynamic application where I could bring art to the medium of business communications. Business communication could now be a fully mediating object of socialability.

I then remembered what Harvey Brightman shared for his technique for providing quick feedback to his students for their assignments – just record his comments rather than having to spend a lot of time trying to type his comments.  He was four times more productive speaking into the computer than trying to type his response. More importantly, the students loved the verbal feedback much more than the flat text. For myself, I find reading documents from people I’ve met face to face takes on a different meaning.  As I read, I am able to hear their voice in my head, not a generic voice.  What if we audio recorded the key components of our business communications so that the recipients can hear the communication in our actual vibrant voices.

Synchronicity struck once again.  I’d arranged to meet Sylvia Taylor the morning after David’s class to gain a better understanding of her intentional work in energizing teams and developing leaders through her work with the VisualsSpeak image kits. She showed me an example of an online/offline use of the tool:

VisualsSpeak "Making your Training Stick"

As she described how she used the photo images and the online version to coach her clients, the vision of the future of business communication crystallized. What if for each business email (or proposal or plan) we sent, we really sent an interactive app (that could come alive on an iPad) that was composed of the text, the images that represented a visual rendering of our ideas, and an audio track that captured our key points and actions in our own voice.  The email “app” would then become a container for the social commentary of the recipients (in text, visuals, and audio). The key design aspect is that instead of the content objects being put together sequentially like this blog, it would look more like the Image Center example above – with the text, visuals, and audio integrated into a dynamic form. With this simple transform we would realize on a minute by minute basis what Stan Davis talked about in The Art of Business.

While I was fascinated by the photographic images, I remain impressed with the notion of Team Art from the McCarthy Bootcamp where I first met Sylvia.  I asked Sylvia if the VisualsSpeak founders thought about using artwork. Sylvia chuckled and pointed me to co-founder Christine Martell’s blog about “Making a Difference with Art Every Day.”  She also showed me a gallery of Christine’s art, some of which was created on the iPad.

I can’t wait to dust off our ALL-IN-1 software designs and bring them into the mediated world of iOS and Android.

What if the critique or responses to our business communications had the ability for the recipients to participate in the team art process of adding to the artwork that came with the text message?

What if we could make a difference with art in our business communications every minute with our intentional emails and business communications?

This entry was posted in ALL-IN-1, Content with Context, Human Centered Design, Photos, User Experience. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Everything Old is New Again

  1. Tom Tiernan says:

    Our work at VisualsSpeak is really about making the use of ‘art’ to deepen conversations and spark new ideas approachable for anybody to use. By selecting/designing our photos and paintings for their ability to enhance conversations, we create a process where everyone can be successful.

    Many people will shut down when asked to create art due to previous negative associations with having done it (nasty grade school teacher, I’m not creative enough, etc), so we don’t emphasize the art part of what we do.

    Our tools can be used for processes where a group creates an image together. This provides the potential for them to take big leaps in their thinking and provides the facilitator with a good idea of how they function as a team. I imagine this is similar to the TeamArt process except that people aren’t asked to paint or draw which tends to lessen their anxiety level and allows them to jump right in.

    Look forward to meeting you next week.


  2. swaltersky says:

    Thanks so much for the clarification. I agree with your comments which is what I loved about your idea kits. You give people something to start with and then as Sylvia explained the “designer” in us selects the visuals (Visual), selects the visuals and arranges them (Kinesthetic), and then tells a story about the selected and arranged visuals (Auditory). Certainly selecting is a lot easier than creating. However, I am also impressed with how easy it was to create team art and that was why I was excited to find the art component of what you are doing. My suspicion is that having a good set of visuals to select from will get people started and then hopefully allow them to progress/evolve to wanting to create their own visuals.

    I am looking forward to getting together.


  3. John Hertel says:


    Your observation about text taking on a different meaning when you’ve met the author is really interesting. Not that I ever met Steve Jobs, but I’ve always thought that as good as the original Apple “Think Different” ad was that had Richard Dreyfuss doing the narration (http://youtu.be/dX9GTUMh490), it didn’t approach the passion and connection that I felt when seeing and hearing the exact same ad in the unaired version which was narrated by Steve Jobs himself (http://youtu.be/8rwsuXHA7RA).

  4. swaltersky says:

    Thanks John. Great connection. I suspect this will show up in one of my graduate school lectures soon.

  5. Pingback: Visuals Speak to Me – Quite Loudly as it Turns Out | On the Way to Somewhere Else

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