Abstract: In a world in which the mere click of a mouse opens up an entire world of unimaginable richness of information, the concept of “infocentricity” is not difficult to grasp. However, designer Bill Lucas and software engineer Michael Higgins, who work for the MAYA product design consultancy in Pittsburgh, have a different concept in mind when they discuss infocentricity. In the context of the world of computer interfaces, an “information-centric” approach to the presentation of information allows information to be displayed as arrangements of elements that can be broken apart by users and directly manipulated, giving people a real sense of “getting their hands on the data.” It’s a method that, say the authors, “empowers people to perform actions directly that would traditionally require extensive knowledge of numerous specialized interface features.”
Lucas and Higgins see the development of infocentricity as part of a long progression in the history of computing-a trend toward greater decentralization and personalization of the computing experience. Even so, they point out, there are few operations that can be done to a piece of information, without first explicitly invoking a program to do them. Partly, that’s due to the fact that data is strongly associated with the programs that manipulate it. Files can be moved from folder to folder, but that’s about all you can do to them directly. Another factor is the inconsistency of interfaces. Operations are often performed differently in various applications-or even in the same application.
MAYA’s new infocentric prototype, which is called Renex, permits hands-on drag-and-drop manipulation of data-a numeric entry in a table, selected bars from a bar chart, and other graphics-at any level of granularity. Data are treated as “things” in “places” rather than as abstract information.
What does this have to do with branding? Well, in a world of shared and always-available information, say the authors, brand identity becomes a more holistic phenomenon. Because of this, “no single application experience can be counted on to shoulder the brand burden; instead, brand must be woven into a large number of cooperating elements.” MAYA’s design team is experimenting with the growth of the Renex brand as if it were a living, evolving system, and the metaphor they’ve chosen to use in doing so is the totem pole. They began by crafting two “inaugural totems,” abstract expressions of the look and feel of the Renex interface: “They are silent and static, yet they evoke a full range of sensory dimensions, such that subsequent iterations can include acoustics, kinetics, and the like.” Eventually, the totems that were initially built to help shape Renex’s graphical user interface will become foundational totems for more and more user interfaces with the brand-from introductory promotional materials to touch-points within the product’s culture.
The MAYA design team believes the totem idea could apply to any branding effort. It could start with corporate strategy statements, a specific experience, or a combination. As a vehicle for making customers integral to shaping the brand, it could continue to work as user populations expand, ensuring “a prosperous push-pull relationship between designers and customers,” write Lucas and Higgins.
Published in DMI Journal, Vol. 14, No. 1, Winter 2003Download File: Download PDF (553KB)
Bill Lucas, Michael Higgins