Archive for the ‘ philosophy ’ Category

“The medium is the message”

Marshall McLuhan (1911 – 1980)

Media theorist and visionary, Marshall McLuhan said it first – “the Medium is the Message!”

Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964)

This famous phrase implies that the “form of a medium embeds itself in the message, thereby creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how an audience perceives the message” … or something like that.

McLuhan coined other phrases, like the ‘global village‘ –the idea that the world is ‘shrinking’ through the diffuse use of technology (Television and Web). McLuhan’s ideas were well ahead of his time. McLuhan also described properties of media as ‘push’ and ‘pull’, or ‘hot’ and ‘cool’. Indeed McLuhan was cool….

He segued from academia to popular culture, when he made a cameo appearance in Woody Allen’s 1977 film, Annie Hall.

In the formative years of the Web, I had the pleasure of working at the McLuhan Program in Culture & Technology at UofT. At the time, I worked for McLuhan’s protegé and influential media theorist, Derrick de Kereckhove along with Liss Jeffries on the New Media Policy Lecture Series. It was a great success and inspired me to pursue a career in new media!

Universal Design: A philosophy of design:

Universal design, or Inclusive Design is simply design intended for all to use and enjoy. Accessibility, usability and readability are important concepts of inclusive design –an area of Human-Computer Interface design, and are loosely defined below:


Perceptibility: design achieved for all to perceive, regardless of sensory abilities. To achieve this, provide redundant alternatives. (i.e. text, visual, auditory). For example, when including an image in a web page, provide an ‘alternative description of the image’ known as -ALT text.

Operability: design achieved for all to use, regardless of physical abilities. A few guidelines to achieve this are: minimize repetitive tasks and the need for physical exertion, provide hotspots or target areas that are big enough for track ball pointers or other assistive devices; and provide compatible design for wheelchair access (i.e. position controls for seated and standing users) and adaptive technologies.

Simplicity: design that is easy to use or understand, regardless of a user’s experience, literacy, or ability to focus. A few guidelines to achieve this are: eliminate unnecessary complexity, be clear; use consistent codes, controls and modes of operation; provide only relevant information and controls; provide clear prompts and feedback for all actions; and accommodate all levels of literacy (including media literacy).

Forgiveness: minimize the likelihood of user errors. A few guidelines to achieve this are: design controls that can be interpreted and used only one way to prevent errors from occurring; use warnings (alerts) and confirmations to reduce errors from occurring; include reversible actions to minimize the consequence of the error. (e.g. ‘undo’)

UsabilityAccording to usability guru, Jacob Nielsen, “Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. The word “usability” also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.”

Nielsen’s concept of Usability is defined by the following five qualities:

* Learnability: How easy is it for users to do basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
* Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
* Memorability: When users return to the design after a while of not using it, how easily can they remember how to do what they did the last time they encountered the design?
* Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
* Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?


Jacob Nielsen’s The Alert Box, Usability 101: Introduction to Usability

Universal Principles of Design, by Lidwell, Holden and Butler. Rockport Publishers (2003)

Special thanks to Jutta Treviranus and the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, for helping to raise my awareness of accessibility issues. Having worked for the ATRC for nearly a decade, I gained first-hand knowledge and experience that could never have been taught by any book or classroom setting!

Why design?


The Etymology of Design: Pre-Socratic Perspective, by Kostas Terzidi, MIT Press, 2007