People seem to like my Burning Man essay.
Where I'll Be
The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley is featuring a Robert Bresson retrospective throughout December. Gonna go? Find me!
December 5
6:00pm - The Way to Bresson
7:00pm - Au Hasard Balthazar
December 6
5:30pm - Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
[more later in the month]
What I'm Browsing
December 1, 1998
Don't drink milk while reading this comic on
Nature's Turkeys, as you might end up spitting it out your nose.

November 30, 1998
Not all my writing appears here! I've posted a couple tales to
San Francisco Stories, Derek Powazek's ode to the city he loves. Make sure to tell him a story about your neighborhood.

November 17, 1998
User Interface Guru Bruce Tognazzini answers your interaction design questions at
AskTog. A worthwhile resource--Tog brings his wealth of traditional software design awareness to the Web in a helpful, not damning, way.

The main product of my labor at Phoenix-Pop has gone live: It's an online store for purchasing paper greeting cards, just in time for the holidays! Visit it and let me know what you think. Especially about the checkout process-- designing it was a bitch.

November 16, 1998
Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould discuss the
fallacy of too much reduction in evolutionary theory.

Metababy! Anyone can get in on the fun. Just send an email message to containing HTML in the body of the message, and the page's title as the subject. See your email turn into a web page in seconds!

November 13, 1998

From one of the brilliant minds behind the sadly-passed MIGHT magazine comes
Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

November 9, 1998
The Industry Standard has a special feature on
Internet Professional Services. Wow! About time someone covered my industry!

November 4, 1998
From the "That's Kinda In The Past Isn't It?" File--a
picture of me at Burning Man. We get it.

November 3, 1998
Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics, is
online! Dig his "spatial" navigation, and, if you got the cash, buy some original art from UC.

The Dutch commercial mentioned yesterday has been taken off that website, but can be found

November 2, 1998
It's Magic Lens day here at! Magic Lenses are an interface tool that allow for a more direct representation and manipulation of items on the screen. I know that sounds wonky, but trust, me, they're super cool, and you want to read about them:
Where it all began: Xerox PARC's Magic Lens Interface Project. Some papers explaining Magic Lens, and a couple (lame) Java applets showing how they work.
Two Deep Magic Reports on Magic Lenses. The first one has the world's grossest Magic Lens applet. The second has a thoughtful discussion of their potential.
An intriguing authoring and presentation environment for Zooming User Interfaces, Pad++, features some interesting applications of the lens. Pad++ is interesting in all kinds of other ways, too, and one day I'll write more about it.
Finally, there's my DHTML X-Ray Viewer, which is a kind of faked lens, in that it doesn't re-represent data in realtime. The shinier looking version can be found under DHTML Experiments here.

And now for something completely different. A
Dutch commercial that is HILARIOUS. Um, and uses profanity. (Quicktime)

October 30, 1998

Blast from the past: Netscape Mosaic v 0.93 Beta for Windows. Marvel at the grey backgrounds! Cheer with glee at the fact it's less than a meg! See how it renders the current!

October 29, 1998
Tasty Bits from the Technology Front is a newsletter providing insightful thought on a number of internet and tech-related issues. Of particular interest is their coverage of quantum physics--stuff has been going on in that field that could really mess with the way things work.

October 27, 1998
"I suppose this implies that informers are fuckers and the well-informed are truly fucked."-- find out what's being discussed (and it's actually very interesting),

October 25, 1998
Alison Grippo's
Ten Commandments for Producers should be read and followed by all involved in Web development.

The Finger points to
buzzwords and catchphrases that have been drained of meaning, such as "alternative", "interactive", "thinking out of the box." Submit your own favorites! (If that article isn't what you see when you click the link above, click on the "pinkies"/Friday icon on the left.)

October 24, 1998
Two off-line browses:
Okay, I'm a sap. I teared up, and nearly cried (the only reason I didn't was that I was in public, at a coffeehouse) while reading the current Esquire piece on Mr. Rogers. He's just such an amazing man.

Eightball Issue #19 has one story, introducing David Boring. An engrossing read, as Daniel Clowes has the ability to take the seemingly most mundane topics and make them interesting. He also doesn't shy from showing how people truly are. Comic book as literature.

October 22, 1998
Need affirmation of your failing and proscratinating ways? Shop, a kind of for the yupwardly immoble.

October 21, 1998
Another exciting
POKEY THE PENGUIN adventure. Pokey is definitely a hero for our times.

October 20, 1998
Peer into the future with
Red Sky's Millennium Clock. It's a bit of a download, but quite beautiful and intellectually interesting. If you don't want to download, the site is still worth looking at.

Six Degrees of Carl. (Yes, the Carl over there in the picture on the right. Yes, the Web/Internet is one big clusterfuck. Ain't it great?)

October 19, 1998
Wired News pointed me to the
Comic Explorer, which uses Plumbdesign's ThinkMap (mentioned here before). An interesting Way-New Interface, but it doesn't work, conceptually, for me. Too cutesy. I still prefer Revealing Things and the Thesaurus. (Requires Java.)

Sign of the times. (When done reading, make sure to head to the home page, and then email Sam, and tell him that content-oriented framed-sites suck if you can't direct people to the tidbit you want to send them to because it's buried in a frameset somewhere.)

Virtual Autopsy gets big points for this intro:
"This site has been designed with medical students in mind--i.e., lots of big buttons, simple instructions and pretty colours."

October 14, 1998
Edward Vielmetti hosts
Vacuum, and is clearly into the meta-information- visualization-thebrain-kinda crap I like.

October 13, 1998
I|0 360's
sooper-cool employee pages, using DHTML. Needs IE4.0.

Previously Browsed...
What Is Up

November 24, 1998
[this piece permanently lives at]

Whither "User Experience"?
As of Thanksgiving, I'll be an independent contractor. And I considered describing what I do as designing "User Experience." But in researching the etymology of that term, I uncovered an unsettling notion with how it encourages practitioners to think of the audience as a singular faceless entity.

I ask: Web designers (and by that I mean, information architects, interaction designers, graphic designers, etc.), how many of you have said, "users don't [do this thing]" as if the entire audience were one seething mass? ("Users don't scroll" is probably the most uttered such phrase.) The ascent of the noble notion of User Experience unfortunately caused the rise of the faceless monolithic User, leading to lowest-common-denominator design becoming the standard on the Web. It is time for designers to embrace the individuals comprising their audiences and take into account their particular needs and desires.

The nebulous compound noun "User Experience" has become a too-vague notion of to what we are designing. I suggest the small step toward designing the "user's experience," with the simple possessive to remind us for whom we are designing. I think that acknowledging the focus of scope is also important--for me, specifying it as the "Web user's experience" reinforces that my work is part of a greater whole.

The research that lead to this notion is, I believe, of interest itself. Forthwith my tale of pursuing the origin of the term "User Experience.'

Whence "User Experience"?
As with damn near everything around the field of user-centered design, all signs pointed straight to
Don Norman. Using the HCI Bibliography (a great resource, by the way), the earliest reference I found was a 1995 CHI proceedings paper, wherein Don and a couple colleagues write an organizational overview where they

cover some of the critical aspects of human interface research and application at Apple or, as we prefer to call it, the "User Experience."

Posing the origin question to the CHI-WEB mailing list, I received some amazing responses. Of particular note was Tom Erickson, who worked with Don Norman at Apple. An electronic pack rat, his post contained these electronic meeting notes from 1993:

"These are rough notes on the user experience meeting ...

"Don also described and solicited discussion on, the "User Interface [sic] Architect's office" (hereafter UEA). ..."

Sustained with this lead, I consulted the Oracle himself. A quick email to Don Norman elicited a reply which contained:

I invented the term because I thought Human Interface and usability were too narrow: I wanted to cover all aspects of the person's experience with a system, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical
interaction, and the manual.

Since then, the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose its meaning.

As it was that last concern that started my research, I found Don's justification interesting. But I think he may have sowed those seeds of misunderstanding, as his term is so broad in the disciplines and people it requires, that it was inevitable for folks to reduce its meaning in order to get their arms around it.

An additional thread to pursue came from
Nick Ragouzis, who, true to his thought-provoking form, revealed this to me in email:

The earliest example I can find ... is Brenda K. Laurel in "Interface as Mimesis" (in Norman & Draper's User Centered Systems Design, 1986). It appears as "the user's experience" in the last para of the sectioned titled "Interactive Aspects of First Personness."

Nick went on to say how, even though folks approaching "User Experience" have done so with only best intentions in mind, the term has helped lead to "the concept of individual, real, experience, [being] transformed into some sort of generalized result."

It was at this point that I began to percolate the ideas that formulated my thesis, above. I love that my preferred term goes so far back--it's time to let it no longer be forgotten.

As with all pieces on, your thoughts are welcome.

Recently Up
November 16, 1998:
Odds and Ends
October 26, 1998: Interface Design Recommended Reading List
October 13, 1998:
Webpardy Web98 East!
September 7, 1998:
Wherever I Go, There I Am
September 3, 1998:
Seybold SF Presentations - Designing for ECommerce and Designing For Speed
August 10, 1998:
Whose "My" Is It Anyway?

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All contents of are © 1998, Peter Merholz.