Is It Usable Yet?


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Opening keynote presentation for World Usability Day in Bristol, UK 14 November 2013

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  • 37 hours =v2013 average weekly internet usage per capita in the UK
  • I thought I would be doing this today
  • 15 - Vitruvius’ Ten Books for the Emporer Octavian
  • Systematic differentiation between “just a building” and Architecture
  • My initial strategy for putting this talk together: position usability as the evolutionary “missing link” between Just Making Stuff and Architecture for places made of information
  • I’d planned to do this by applying Vitrivus’ triple heuristic for differentiating between “just a building” and Architecture to the work that we-all do
  • And to do so by positing that the Vitruvian triad works equally well for differentiating between space and place
  • Emblem for space / “just a structure” becomes place / Architecture:1864 – Brunel’s magnificent suspension bridge here in Bristol
  • Brunel’s approach to making this bridge made the crossing of this river valley into a place. Somewhere you want to stop and be. And while dogs and sheep and cows will ignore the bench and keep walking toward their destination on the other side, humans respond to this as Architecture – as a place, that’s gushing with meaning people understand and respond to
  • It’s clearly Architecture when Firmness, Commodity and Delight are all employed in the place-making. Another nearby emblem for struturesthat’re quite “more than a set of buildings” 1755 – John Wood the Elder / + Younger’s King’s Circus in Bath.
  • The Architecture here is as much about the spaces between, behind and within the circle as it is about the buildings. The skill and understanding with which the Woods-es worked with these ABCs of Architecture - matters of structure, utility and beauty -can be read as an equasion. Like a kind of signature.
  • And just like how FLLW literally applied his signature to the buildings he deemed worthy (he famously withheld it from buildings whose owners who countermanded his instructions such as the Palmer House where Mrs. Palmer insisted on a basement and then rotated the thing 180)
  • The equation for his application of the Vitruvian triad is another kind of signature. Wright famously retorted to criticism of the leaky flat roof of one of his buildings dripping onto the client’s desk that the homeowner should simply move the desk – that leaks are how you know it’s a roof… Some critics explain that Wright was so devoted to his architectural vision that he was willing to push beyond accepted engineering standards and knew that technology would eventually catch up and that the cantilevers and roofs would be fixed … eventually. His focus was on shipping the thing, and he was banking on the function and beauty being so sublime that the lack of firmness would be forgiven.
  • We saw this same equation being used by Apple with the launch of its Mapping app
  • … and scandalously with the new Health Care Exchanges in the USA. The thing *had to* ship, and while they got the utility piece taken care of – it serves a critical function - and the site is quite lovely … something had to give so we gave up firmness.
  • Philip Johnson’s take on the Vitruvian triad changes over the course of his career
  • In his most famous work, the Glass House, he was able to create an icon of the international style by working the equation in such a way that firmness and beauty become the function of the building. That’s what it’s purpose is: to be an enduring and beautiful place. And it is.
  • I think Johnson’s signature approach to the Glass House might be part of the magic of Pinterest. Were we not able to upload, “like,” comment on and share photos before Pinterest? The function here is not remarkable in any way. It’s all about an experience that is free from bugs or performance flaws and that is beautiful.
  • The ABCs of Architecture… at the beginning of the talk I posited that we can use the Vitruvian triad in consideration of Brunel’s suspension bridge… to apply not just to buildings but to places.
  • DaVinci (these are his sketchnotes from reading Vitruvius) extrapolated the Vitruvian principles even further as a way of understanding the human body, and the human condition.
  • And if you allow what I posited earlier about the stuff we-all make as places… places where you guys are spending 37 hours/week
  • My contention that in the same ways that Vitruvian thinking helps us ask and answer the question “is it architecture yet”
  • We can and should be using this kind of thinking to help us ask and answer the question of usability
  • Is It Usable Yet?

    1. 1. IS IT USABLE14, 2013 YET? #WUDBristol – November By Dan Klyn from
    2. 2. Photo: Jan Berckmans City of Words, Vito Acconci
    5. 5. Usability < Architecture
    6. 6. Micro < Macro
    7. 7. Ensuring functions function functionally
    8. 8. Structuring meaning and place-making
    9. 9. Wurman
    10. 10. Vitruvius
    11. 11. firmatatis utilitatis venustatis
    12. 12. Spaces < Places
    13. 13. a) firmitatis Firmness Strength
    14. 14. b) utilitatis Commodity Utility
    15. 15. c) venustatis Delight Beauty
    16. 16. Wright
    17. 17. B+C
    18. 18. Johnson
    19. 19. A+C=B
    20. 20. Gropius
    21. 21. A+B=C
    22. 22. Venturi and Scott Brown
    23. 23. (A + B) + C
    24. 24. firmatatis utilitatis venustatis
    25. 25. IS IT ARCHITECTURE YET? By Dan Klyn from
    26. 26. IS IT USABLE YET? By Dan Klyn from
    27. 27. 1) ORDER ordinatio Its objective is the creation of a hierarchy, the establishment of a rank order among the elements constituting the work by attributing the proper magnitude to each of them.
    28. 28. 2) ARRANGEMENT dispositio Deals with the right placement of the elements, their right grouping, by which the work acquires its unique identity.
    29. 29. ‣ Usable?
    30. 30. 3) PROPORTION eurythmia Is the attribution of the quality of being well formed to each one of the members, in such a way that the members may be perceived as forming groups distinguished by balanced appearance.
    31. 31. 4) SYMMETRY symmetria Describes the internal harmony of the work, achieved when there is consensus formed on the basis of a module, and between members and the whole, that is when the proportions are congruous.
    32. 32. CONGRUOUS?
    33. 33. 5) PROPRIETY décor Deals with the appropriate articulation, the authoritative construction of the work on principles respecting religion, nature and social conventions.
    34. 34. 6) ECONOMY distributio Aims at achieving the best result with the means one has at one’s disposal.
    35. 35. places made of information for use by people
    36. 36. Order Arrangement Proportion Symmetry Propriety Economy
    37. 37. THANK YOU