serving brain food since 1998



Mike Schindler
Curtains 1995
Ink on Died Canvas
78¼ x 51½ inches

Thirteen years later, I still consider this piece to be one of the most significant breakthroughs of my early artistic development. It was made in 1995 through a process of hand dying raw canvas, which was then brushed with ink. Titled Curtains, it’s an overtly political work which solidified my tendency to map imagery into adjacent relationships and unlikely contexts.

At the time it was created, academia was still trying to explain the collapse of the Soviet Union. Having read several books by Michael Parenti and becoming more and more influenced by the obsessive drive of artist Robert Gober, I set out to do a piece that tied together (quite literally as it turned out) some thoughts on politics, media, and culture.

There are four repeating images on this loose canvas, which when hung properly could appear to be working curtains to a non-attentive passerby. On the left hand side in red is a recognizable portait of Stalin set against the backdrop of the Sputnik satellite. On the right in brilliant blue is a map of a country with a legend that reads Panama, 1989. It’s checkered by a bottle from the popular sitcom I Dream of Jeanie.

It dances around, tumbling and emitting smoke as if to foretell a future spelled out in mystery, war, and deception.

The Impossible Dream

The powerful and moving story of Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke reminds me why I tend to be so personally interested in the mechanics of the human brain, sometimes taking great lengths to apply that interest into my own discipline.

In 1983 my grandfather suffered a debilitating stroke which rendered the left side of his entire body non-functioning for most purposes, including his brain. Because of his paralysis, he was robbed of speech for the remainder of his life, limited only to a few non-sensical words.

In his health my grandfather was a gifted musician who could play any instrument, from banjo, to drums, to piano–you name it. He operated in high command of his creative right brain for the better part of his time on earth. Part of the tragedy of his stroke was the thought of never seeing that side of him again.

Having visited him so often while he was in private care, I had witnessed many days when his inability to communicate clearly frustrated him, at the same time revealing his conscious sense of sadness. Then one quiet day, when my family got together for a special occasion, perhaps on his birthday, he gave us all a surprise. My aunt, who was also talented at the piano, decided to play a familiar song for my grandfather. And without hesitation, seemingly out from nowhere, he started to sing for us. In perfect clarity. Forming perfect words. Perfect melodies.

It was simply one of the most spiritual and at once scientific experiences I have ever encountered. It fascinates and inspires me beyond my own powers of articulation. One day we may come to understand the consciousness of being. Until then, we’ll slowly be informed by these tiny little awe-inspiring surprises.

And because it simply cannot be missed, here is Jill’s recent talk.

design, user experience

Comments Off on Desire and Intent

Desire and Intent

Desire vs. Intent

Given the semantic nature of the argument, I’ve tried to avoid splitting this hair. But I’m started to see an important distinction between two very similar words which are often used to describe a user’s potential behavioral motivation–desire and intent.

While these two words appear to have the same meaning in certain contexts, I think they probably have very different origins. It may be anecdotal and even difficult to demonstrate, but I believe there is an argument that while the two concepts may lead to the same end result (i.e. behavior), they’re really two separate devices which often facilitate a user’s decision making in combination with each other, like two spinning cogs.

Let’s take a look at the definitions.

According to New Oxford the word desire means, “a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.”

The word intent, on the other hand, means, “resolved or determined to do (something).” And according to Merriam Webster this something is “usually clearly formulated or planned […]”

So, intent then seems to require some level of forethought, whereas desire requires nothing but a longing. I’ll take it a step further and say that within interaction design intent usually takes a specific action. This action is usually rooted in a basic need (i.e. to do something),

Meanwhile, desire has more to do with a thought process rooted in a basic want (usually to know something). Perhaps this is oversimplifying a bit, but I think the two ideas are isolated enough for closer examination.

This distinction can manifest itself in many ways within a typical human-centered design. The easiest example I can think of are the everyday links found on many e-commerce sites to either “Learn more” or “Buy now.” While it could be argued that both are intents (or desires), the link to learn more is usually designed to precede any decision-making by a user. Therefore, if we accept that intent requires forethought or planning, the learn more link becomes much more about the fulfillment of the user’s on-demand desire (and if I’m honest, to instill enough confidence into the user for them to ultimately have the intent to purchase).

Of course, desire can lead to other decisions, insights, or navigational paths, while intent is usually more directed and orchestrated by a specific design or process. Again, I may be simplifying an already gray area, but I think this contrast may reflect a basic design tension in and of itself and can be used to resolve designs that require various levels of decision making by an end user.

Usable Taco Shell Design

Square Tacos

The patent for this invention takes 65 paragraphs to explain a design that’s utterly, if not painfully, obvious in hindsight–the square taco.

The self-standing taco shell makes it easier to prepare multiple tacos at the same time. This advantage is especially desirable in fast food, cafeteria and party environments where multiple tacos are being prepared at one time.

Still another advantage of the present tacos is that even if taco breakage occurs along either connection between flat base and sidewall, the flat base and remaining sidewall forms a ledge minimizing loss of the added fillings to allow for consumption completion with reduced mess.

Also, another advantage of a taco made using the taco shell of the present invention may be presented for consumption in an upright and filled orientation.

Some low-level testing at dinner validated this premise. Soon afterward, Mrs. Usability was heard saying in a self-satisfied tone, “It’s about time.”


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Mind Mapping

If you overlook the sensational title from Newsweek’s Mind Reading is Now Possible, there’s something worth pointing out here. Scientists are finding that thoughts and ideas map to predictable patterns in the brain.

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University showed people drawings of five tools (hammer, drill and the like) and five dwellings (castle, igloo …) and asked them to think about each object’s properties, uses and anything else that came to mind. Meanwhile, fMRI measured activity throughout each volunteer’s brain. As the scientists report this month in the journal PLoS One, the activity pattern evoked by each object was so distinctive that the computer could tell with 78 percent accuracy when someone was thinking about a hammer and not, say, pliers. CMU neuroscientist Marcel Just thinks they can improve the accuracy (which reached 94 percent for one person) if people hold still in the fMRI and keep their thoughts from drifting to, say, lunch.

As always, the results have to be replicated by independent labs before they can be accepted. But this is the first time any mind-reading technique has achieved such specificity. Remarkably, the activity patterns—from visual areas to movement area to regions that encode abstract ideas like the feudal associations of a castle—were eerily similar from one person to another. “This establishes, as never before, that there is a commonality in how different people’s brains represent the same object,” said CMU’s Tom Mitchell.

If what your brain does when it thinks about an igloo is almost identical to what mine does, that suggests the possibility of a universal mind-reading dictionary, in which brain-activity pattern x means thought y in most people. It is not clear if that will be true for things more complicated that pliers and igloos, however. “The more detailed the thought is, the more different these patterns get, because different people have different associations for an object or idea,” says Haynes. “We’re much closer to this than we were two years ago, but still far from a universal mind-reading machine.”

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