Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Analysing Photographs

One of the things I have often wanted to during a photo-shoot is analyze why I enjoy doing it. After the past few readings on experience, I definitely feel I have some answer to it.
Now, I have traveled wide across India doing photography and had similar interesting experiences over and over again. One of the shoots that I recall well is the street photography on the streets of Kolkata, India. I had always wanted to find an answer as to why they call Kolkata the "City of Joy." This album resulting from the photo-shoot is a result of that quest.

Kolkata 2007

Everywhere around me when I am clicking I am seeking to get a good experience of doing the act. I try to capture the elements that would at a later stage give me as close to the same experience I had while clicking it.
Freshen Up

There were many factors that lead to the overall experience. Each moment that was experienced was expressed in the form of a photograph that can be said as an expression of that instantaneous experience. Today whenever I re-look at that photo album I am able to relate to the time I had, and the experience I had. For every shot I took there was a story associated with it and it was these individual stories or expressions that made up the entire experience a memorable one. These stories which are culturally constructed expressions, would be beneficial in a person recalling the experience, as well as to the people who are not familiar with the culture.

These photographs allow me to make a better sense of experience by virtue of connecting of the cognition (of what's there in the mind from the past), the feelings associated with it (the present) and also the expectations (the future).
After analyzing each photograph in the album, one is transcending the narrow sphere of experience by interpreting the expressions, as Dilthey would put it. These expressions (photographs) consummate to the overall experience of the city, as seen by the outer self and perceived by the conscious or the inner self. Here each photograph is a story that has a beginning and an end. These multiple expressions transcends together, in a temporal flow to give us the experience.


These stories presented in the photographs touched the heart, and hence we could call it of an inner felt experience. It is a testimony to the lived experience, as Dilthey would put it. The elements in the frames, the aesthetics associated with each frame compel us to have the “an experiences” in a similar manner across viewers. In most of the cases the expressions here would be the same.

The ability of photographs to be more powerful than a narrative, results in we being able to identify the context better. Photographs do a better job in trying to re-showcase the reality and an indication of the experience had. The elements in the photographs allow one to interpret the experience in a similar manner by different subjects. (I am actually trying this experiment with the online group of photographers I interact with.)

3 Kalis and a Shiva

Thus the photographs here are the reminiscence of the existing conditions in the city. Kolkata is also known as the City of Joy, but when one visits there it’s hard to find the joy in the experience of visiting that place. Through these told expressions (the photographs) we are trying to present a reality (of what is there) of the situation as was experienced by the photographer.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bloomington Startup Weekend

This is an interesting concept that has had me amazed recently. A group of people, get together over a weekend and build a company from the scratch, and launch it by the night before the weekend ends.
The one in Bloomington is to be held on the Feb 8-10th Weekend.

Read more about this here. Bloomington Startup Weekend
The idea is catching up and there are many places in the US and also in the other parts of the world where this is taking place.
The crowd composes of many kinds of people from business to technical to design background and I am so excited about it.
This is a unique three-day experience, Startup Weekend brings the best and brightest people together in a local office space to select the concept, break into teams, and develop the product, marketing and revenue model.

There are a few tickets left. They cost only 20$ and is definitely worth the experience!
You can purchase them here

This would also be a good way to put into the knowledge gained in the Entrepreneurship in Informatics class.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


We all have a general conception about aesthetics.
In common terms, it is something that is appealing, an epitome of beauty, a piece of art, or more broadly something that gives us joy.
It is contextual. It deals with balance and co-ordination, it is a consummation or a closure.
Aesthetics is a subjective responses to the things we consider beautiful.

Wikipedia defines it as :
is commonly perceived as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste. More broadly, scholars in the field define aesthetics as "critical reflection on art, culture and nature."Aesthetics is a subdiscipline of axiology, a branch of philosophy, and is closely associated with the philosophy of art. Aesthetics studies new ways of seeing and of perceiving the world.

So anyone would agree to this.
Now we know that there are some things that give us joy and that is not visible. There are somethings in life that makes us smile. Thus, can we classify these things as aesthetic?

Do things that are unpleasing to us not have aesthetics? What about a photograph of a war?
Is there a thing called the negative aesthetics?
Negative aesthetics are those that evoke negative emotions amongst us. This could be sorrow, pain, disarray, hatred, grimace etc.

Also there is something called the anti-aesthetics. Now this is something that is not aesthetical, but neither negatively aesthetical.

So when we talk about experience, we generally talk about the pleasurable experiences and hence the events are remembered for long. However, a nightmare, is equally reminiscence of the experience. An accident in an event that would have otherwise lead to a pleasant experience. The mind constantly aims to forget these things, but the very sight of any connecting element, reminds one of the bad experiences had.

Happens in movies.. You let out "an experience"s every-time you see them again and again. These incidents happens frequently in life as well. One small incident in childhood leaves a mark that haunts for life.

So when we think about experience, why do we always think of only a positive experience? As experience designers we are constantly trying to design for the positive expressions.
Is there a way in which using negative aesthetics, one could build up to a positive aesthetics and in the end result in a positive experience (suspense movies, horror flicks) .
Does a roller coaster evoke a negative emotion in course of its travel, and then when one has completed it, the overall feeling is of accomplishment, which is again a positive experience.

How the balance is reached between the two is important. It is imperative for the designer to be able to create the positive experiences in the end. After all who would not like to see more smiles on faces!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Genuine Compassion vs Personal Ambition

One of my photographer friend asked this question: "I have noticed many many photographers after a point seem to be sticking to some basic themes." like
Old people, people in old age homes , dying people, AIDS patients, child workers etc .
It seems to me that to be considered as a 'serious photographer' you need to touch upon this syllabus at least.

Is the above statement true? I personally don't think so.

Being a photojournalist is not easy ... Its a lot about being involved in the things you see around you....This involvement could lead to disturbing thoughts at times.. I had this feeling once when I had shot this image
It haunts me...
and every-time i see it.. I have the same haunting feeling.. I remember not shooting for days after that ... Many lives are changed because of the photograph. That one shot could give a photographer his stardom, but at the same time it also could end up in getting help for the subject and the surroundings. More often than not, its that one photograph or one shoot that changes ones life forever.

I have been so influenced by this person James Natchwey.. that I am again bringing his name up.. have a look at this TED talk
from the timeline 00:48 to 02:53 especially.

In another of his talks, he says this
The worst thing is to feel is that as a photographer I am benefiting from someone else's tragedy. This idea haunts me. Its something I have to reckon with everyday because I know, that if i ever really allow our genuine compassion to be overtaken by personal ambition; I will have sold my soul. The only way I can justify my role is to have respect for the other person's predicament. The extent to which I do that is the extent to which I become accepted by the other and to that extent I can accept myself."

The one thing that I really like about being a photographer is the fact that your vision changes. This could be for the good things, but could be the sad things as well.
You tend to become aware of your surroundings. There is certain level of association that you develop with the things around you. Being a photographer I feel its important to be aware / good at both extremes of things around us...

Any art form is known to generate a expression in a viewer, as discussed in the previous blogs... and numerous of those expressions combine together to form experience. Many a time we often tend to denote the beautiful things as being aesthetical and we tend to enjoy viewing it. Thus aesthetics becomes a parameter that invokes a positive feeling. However what about a war photograph / aids/ street children? Does it not evoke a feeling? There is .. only that in this case its more of a negative feeling.. feelings of sorrow, remorse, pity and a sense of feeling bad.
This feeling also cannot be neglected and one cannot capture any of those essence if one is not prepared to undergo those feelings.
So are these photographs not aesthetical ?
A photograph of a flower is aesthetical but so is a photograph of a Afghan girl and equally aesthetical is a street photo by Henri.

I like what James Natchwey mentions in his site called Witness
"I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated."

Being a photojournalist is not easy. Its a way of life. Being able to feel the same pain is an essential entity. Thousands of photographers attempt the themes as mentioned by Vinayak, but i am sure most drop out.

There is another aspect to it. There are many who would argue... that in those places there could be an atmosphere of positivity, and one could try capturing that. Its like trying to find the smiles in the sad faces...But we all know... as photographers we tend to bring in exactly what is mentioned above...i.e. ..the whole debate in our minds about the genuine compassion versus the personal ambition.

Photographers who go on to become world know would have perhaps put their genuine compassion over personal ambition. Again its important to mention that its not that only the war / aids/ poverty etc photographers become famous. We all quote Ansel Adams frequently, wonder how many pictures of sorrow he took in-order to become famous? And do we know him by that ...

This "genuine compassion" can be for flowers or people or war photographs.
Buds of Desire

In the end Photography, as all agree is that its subjective.
The human psyche is such that it tends to develop an interest in unfamiliar things. What slowly starts as a inquisitiveness to capture the world we are unfamiliar of, becomes a thing that could end up changing out lives.
This develops into a compassion and then into a determination to show to the world a thing that we feel and showcase our felt experiences through the medium of photography.

The point I am trying to make it, as long as that compassion is maintained, I think its SERIOUS enough.

Photographs have the power to change human lives. I am sure it would have done to many of us already. Photographers have this unique vision within them to show to the world something that they are not aware of...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Kinds of Experience

Analysing Bruner's Anthropology of Experience.
So, which was the last movie that made you go wow! That was an amazing experience! For me it was "Taare Zameen Par", directed by Aamir Khan.

Which was the last photograph that you saw and made you go wow! This is great photograph. This was a series of photographs that I saw from the movie War-Photographer.

When was the last narrative that you read , that made you have a good experience?

Well... i am sure you would agree that the degree of experience is not the same in all of these. Most of the people would say that the movie watching is perhaps the best experience amongst all. I agree to that as well.

So getting a bit more into the anthropology of experience, we try to analyze why this is the case. Why a movie makes me go more wow as compared to a novel?
The answer lies in the way we define reality (what is there is there... ), expressions (how individual experience is framed and articulated) and experience (how the reality presents itself to the consciousness).
Experience is valuable only if its affecting the inner consciousness and that affect stays with us for long. Expressions or an experiences are short lived and we tend to get over it soon.

We know as discussed, that experience is a collection of a group of expressions or the "an experiences". Anthropologists and ethnographers aim at experiencing the cultures and look at retelling in their words. This often leads us to believing what they say. However,
there is a difference in the life lived ( the reality) , the life experienced (the felt) and the life expressed (the told).

Now there are two kinds of experiences. Felt experience and the Told Experience. More often than not, these two fail to match up. This thus, results in the an indifference in the way we interpret the experience and the way the person narrating the experience tells it. As Kapferer puts it, "I do not experience your experience, I experience my experience of you." This means that the actual experience of the thing is lost.
There are also some inexperiences that are called the inchoate experiences i.e. the experiences that we are unable to understand. Like many a times we say, I feel good, but don't really know why we are feeling good. These experiences are the ones that are the most often left out in the process of retelling and narration.

Quite often we tend to confuse between the experience and behavior. Experience is more personal, whereas behavior is what some outsider describes. Experience thus is more self referential. Therefore it is concluded that experience is also subjective.

Which brings me to my question!
How can we as designers of user experience, create designs that are objective in experience? How can we remove the element of subjectivity and try to look into a common thing amongst mind of users across a demographic, who will experience the design in the same manner in which I as a designer am experiencing?

There have been different ways of conveying experiences. The oldest way was perhaps Narratives. (Rosaldo, Bruner) This was often in the form of speech or written text. Story telling also forms a part of the narrative. However, if an incident has occured to the narrator, there is often a case of over emphasizing a certain chapter / portion in order to enhance the experience while saying it.
However, the narrator fails to understand that in the absence of an imagery, there is a picture in the mind of the listener that is constantly changing. Thus, the felt experience of the listener and the told experience of the narrator is not the same.

However if the context has been set, if the images (Fernandez, Kapferer) are used to give a clear indication of the culture in which the enactment had taken place, the listener (user in case of a design) is more likely to develop a better picture of what is being said.

And when this is attached to a movie, where we not only have a cultural context prior set, but also some parameters that help in increasing that experience. There is an enactment (Stewart, Babcock, Schechner) A movie is composed of those numerous expressions or say numerous moments of an experience. A movie makes us go wow, because these expressions are not just a collection, but a proper connected timeline of whats going on. This consummation of experiences over a period of time when presented to us, increases the felt experience thing and hence we get a better experience.
In a movie the reflexivity (Gorfain, Boon, Myeroff) factor also plays an important role. Here we couple the frames with our reflection with our own interpretation and hence the experience is enhanced.

As Kapferer puts it, we transcends individual experiences through the participation in the cultural expressions. While watching a movie, we are so deeply engrossed and our mind is full of these expressions, that we forget completely what is outside. This engrossment further enhances the overall experience.

Movies are thus, a field where the art of creating experience has been perfected!
It is now completely understandable why I watch so many movies!

Its for the experience!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Expressions and Experience

Readings from Dewey's Art as an Experience and Bruner's Anthropology of Experience.
One of the things that is really important and perhaps necessary for us to understand is the theory behind creating an experience. As interaction designers we are constantly seeking to create designs that are going to give our users (humans) a better user experience. This thus means that everything needs to be joyous. Experience has a aesthetic quality and when we say a good experience, we mean a good aesthetic value to it.
There is a difference between the experience and "an experience". When we say an experience, its the significance of an instance of time when we felt that way. Experience however is
For example if we say that this lady in this picture:
On interacting with a person, when you say a joke, or say give a momentary joy, its called "An experience". Its a function of time. It has a beginning, a maxima and an end. It is very mechanical.
Experience on the other hand is a consummation of multiple "an experience"s.
Thus when we see a movie we are able to remember of "an experience". These "an experience"s are called expressions. In-order to have an experience its important that there is a satisfying emotional quality because it possesses an internal integration and fulfillment reached through ordered and organized movement.

Being creators of experience we often tend to design taking into consideration our experience. This is highly mistaking as experience is a subjective thing and varies from one person to the other. However, on the other hand we should be trying to design in a manner that the experience of the users will be the same as the felt experience of the designers.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Photography as Information Visualizations

When you look at Photography, do you see a transfer of information? Like you being the story teller trying to convey a story or a piece of information to an audience. How about thinking of your photographs as a source of data. Scientific photographers constantly try to achieve this by virtue of photographing things at the minutest levels, where they try to surpass information.

The following talk is by a Scientific Photographer,
Felice Frankel's Envisioning Science: The Design and Craft of the Science Image who on a grant from the National Science Foundation, did a book that the slides are now made up of.
Its a long talk, but quite interesting. I was glued to it!
This was a part of a talk that we saw for my Info Viz class here. I love it when she ends the talk on :
"Picture Making should be a part of the Vocabulary." Think about it!

Also today, I was doing an exercise on how we can use photographs to show valuable information.

C for Chicago

I would like to showcase is this photograph of the Chicago city along the Lake Michigan. The roads that are more lit have more traffic over it. All portions of the photograph have been exposed for the same time. Thus the more conglomeration of spots on the left indicate the high traffic zone. There is an area on the right, which is completely dark. This indicates the absence of any people / traffic there hence showing an uninhabited land. The left portion of the image, where there is more light spots show the areas where there is inhabitation. This kind of visualization would be extremely helpful for flights, which are crossing the area. An indication of a water body is further enhanced by the reflection along the pier.

Similarly thinking of photography as a tool to represent data can be exciting. What we see in the talk is the use in the case of a scientific context, however I feel the same can be applied to other fields. Some of the fields that i find this being applicable is the street photography (showing patterns in crowd movements, traffic snarls, busy locations) and then in nature photography (showing the patterns in nature).

A pretty exciting field when I think about it this way.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Apple and Design

I recently came across this post... And I found it well written and perhaps an answer to why Apple products sell well! A very well written article and worth pondering over.

10 things to learn from Apple

Excerpts from the article...
There’s no need to restate the high reverence (or pangs of envy, depending on where your loyalty lies) of Apple. They have innovated, floundered, and in recent years, risen from the ashes to make one hell of a run in computing and electronics devices. Love them or hate them, you can’t deny that they are adored by their fans. Their brand has reached that highly sought-after place in the world of marketing: they can do no wrong.

So how did they get there? Is it dumb luck? Or are they just much smarter than the rest of us? The most common reason given is Apple’s rabid devotion to design. That is, without a doubt, a key component of Apple’s success. But I think there’s more to it than that. Here are ten reasons why I think Apple is so successful today, and what we can learn from them

Now I love Apple products but not necessarily that I find them the most usable, but they have something more to them than just design.
It's a lot to do with the three kinds of design that Don Norman talks in his book Emotional Deisgn, namely the Visceral Design, Behavioral Design and Reflective Design.
One interesting example that Norman gives in his book is about the not-so-usable kettle for his morning tea, but still prefer to use it because of its form and other features.
The chapter where he discusses these three kinds of design is a must read! I find it so true with the facts that he mentions in the chapter and what is applied at Apple.

Recently I shifted from Windows to Apple. Initially I was pretty uncomfortable with the usage but now it seems set. I guess here it is more of being used to the system and creating a mental model of the softwares that one uses. Over a period of time a design pattern is set on the user's mind. If we go by this argument then all design will be a success over a period of time. But this is not the case.

One of the things that I recently am having trouble in using is the Master lock, that opens with a number combination in a particular order, through a combination of clockwise and anti-clockwise rotation.

I have nothing against it but yesterday I spent almost 30 minutes trying to open it and still I find it difficult to use it. This product definitely over a period of time is not going to give me better user experience. However, there are people who open it in seconds!
Perhaps I will get used to it someday soon!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Waves of HCI

This is perhaps one of the important things that we need to know as an Interaction designer. The waves of Human Computer Interaction.
This is a precis and some of my understanding from the paper "When second wave HCI meets third wave challenges" by Susanne Bødker .
Roughly classified as the 1980s-first wave, 1990s-second wave and the 2000s-third wave and possibly a 4th wave in the 2010s.

So the first wave HCI dealt a lot with rigid guidelines, the testing of the guidelines against the products. There was a strong focus on the user and the user dimensions. Thus the fields like Human Factors and Ergonomics were the guiding forces. There was a notion of uniting everything on the desktop. The notion that the desktop is where all the work takes place and that everything on the desktop needs to be for the person using it. The machine centered notion was in place and almost everything was defined in this context. Things like usability testing and experimental psychology came into the picture where the emphasis was on the ways in which the users were able to complete tasks and what were the cognitive aspects behind performing each task.

The second wave turned out to be more context specific. The context played a huge role in the design of things. This was where the focus shifted from the desktop to the workspace. The office and the places around where the people did all the interactions with the computers. The focus also started to shift towards computers that were not a part of the desktop interactions.
The focus was now on "Humans" rather than "Users". The stringent boundaries between the workspace and the non-workspace started being discussed in circles and also emphasis on trying to design for the workspace. These boundaries were later to be broken in the third wave.
Here we also see the emergence of the design-as-a-science paradigm. The focus here was on methods too but it was too much rationality oriented. There was a seeking for a proper rationality behind everything that was done. Participatory Design became famous owing to its involving the users in the design process so that the contexts could be well defined.

In the third wave, the current wave, there are a lot of challenges. One of the most important of those is the role of the user, the humans or better to call the Actors. The roles that the humans now play in the design process is more than what it used to be ever. There is an emergence of the design-as-an-art initiative. But on the downside of it, many fear that this may well lead to design becoming too art oriented. Or as is mentioned in the paper, artsy-fartsy.
The focus in the third wave seems to revolve around cultures and ethnography. There is a non-rationale approach to design being adopted at times. The domain of looking is now expanded to a wider area that now covers homes, leisure places, homes. The whole aspect of tying emotions to design is really hot and forms a major chunk of the research.
interaction design is now no more seen for a single mediator (like the desktop as seen in the 1st wave) but as from multiple mediators. This I believe has a lot to do with the expansion of computers to a wider range of applications. The context is not so well defined in this wave, because it is not sure in what form the user will be interacting with the interface.
As a designer, it now becomes imperative to focus on the "lifeworld" and the gamut of our design space is large. Now everything around us revolves around design.

A possibly 4th wave could be coming where the user has completely different says in the whole design space. The whole aspect of the users defining the content like the Facebook, the Flickr, etc could form a major part of what would be termed as the 4th wave.

In the end as a designer, we should all remember and constantly try to answer the question, how is my design going to change people's lives. Is it going to be better? Or worse? Ultimately, we should ask ourselves... will the design bring about a smile to the people who will use it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A tribute to Sir Edmund Hillary

Just heard news about the death of Sir Edmund Hillary today. He was the first person to climb the Mount Everest along with Tenzing Norgey.

(Photo Courtesy: The Auckland Museum website)
I remember meeting him in 1997, back in Darjeeling when I was a student at St Joseph's, North Point in class 10.

(Photo Courtesy: The BBC Website)

He was perhaps one of the first world famous personalities that I had seen and shook hands with. We as class ten students were given this privilege that we called the "Tenners Privilege" to greet and welcome him to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling, where the body and soul of his partner, Tenzing Norgey resides.

I remember standing along side the roads, waving the flags, and he walking to the gates greeting all students and people along the way.

A very humble man who of all things respected other cultures values and traditions.

May his soul rest in peace.

Taking Joy in what you do...

One of the things that I truly believe is being a designer is about being passionate about life the way it is.. and also the things around us.. This all boils down to taking pleasures and joy in what we do... and this will only come if we are passionate about what we do..

One thing i really like is traveling and i was recently at the Grand Canyon...
Oh Boy! What an experience! There I stood against one of nature's most amazing wonders.. The millions of years of wind-work.. the rains.. the snow.. the forces of nature showing its prowess...
The breathtaking view that it provides is a sight to cherish all through life.. Its one of those places that you would want to go again and again if possible...
A wonder called Grand Canyon

This is one place where you could realize in a single moment how small we as humans are ...
What helplessness could mean if one were to get lost in here...Suddenly a thought strikes that no matter how much advancements we make in technology... mother nature is watching us.. and we can be reduced to dust in just one blow....
Red Canyon

The ride on the Pacific Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles was nothing short of inexplicable..
The blue ocean on your side as you make your progress on the roads.. is wonderful.
The miles of visibility of the winding roads making you wanna reach out.. making you want to go on it forever and ever..
Morning Mist

The sunset is one of the best I have seen... the wonderful sky.. the lovely waters..
A Pacific Sunset

There have been more places and sunsets that I have covered as a photographer... but this time I felt I was more trying to enjoy the places that I was visiting.
The number of shots that i took were fewer... perhaps this time I was happier taking photographs with my eyes!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Rise of the Pro-Ams

This is an interesting talk about the value of communities in today's innovation. The whole talk about the communities and the users being the content creators and the ideas that they generate and execute! Interesting to hear!

Friday, January 04, 2008

About me...How much do u think is true?

What Kshitiz Means

You are a seeker of knowledge, and you have learned many things in your life.

You are also a keeper of knowledge - meaning you don't spill secrets or spread gossip.

People sometimes think you're snobby or aloof, but you're just too deep in thought to pay attention to them.

You are the total package - suave, sexy, smart, and strong.

You have the whole world under your spell, and you can influence almost everyone you know.

You don't always resist your urges to crush the weak. Just remember, they don't have as much going for them as you do.

You are truly an original person. You have amazing ideas, and the power to carry them out.

Success comes rather easily for you... especially in business and academia.

Some people find you to be selfish and a bit overbearing. You're a strong person.

You tend to be pretty tightly wound. It's easy to get you excited... which can be a good or bad thing.

You have a lot of enthusiasm, but it fades rather quickly. You don't stick with any one thing for very long.

You have the drive to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. Your biggest problem is making sure you finish the projects you start.

You are a seeker. You often find yourself restless - and you have a lot of questions about life.

You tend to travel often, to fairly random locations. You're most comfortable when you're far away from home.

You are quite passionate and easily tempted. Your impulses sometimes get you into trouble.

You are incredibly wise and perceptive. You have a lot of life experience.

You are a natural peacemaker, and you are especially good at helping others get along.

But keeping the peace in your own life is not easy. You see things very differently, and it's hard to get you to budge.