Caution: that last story has seizure-trigger potential.

The Human API


MedTech Boston recently posted an interview with Michael DePalma and Richie Etwaru, founders of The Human API. Their mission is to create a “prevention industry” with a new economic and behavioral model for health. According to the article, The Human API wants to “foster paradigm shift by instilling prevention and early identification health barometers into everyday life.” We should talk.

Why Life Exists


Business Insider this week featured a story about MIT physicist Jeremy England who has derived a mathematical formula that he asserts underlies the theory of evolution by natural selection. I particularly appreciated the explanation of thermodynamic equilibrium using the example of a room-temperature cup of coffee: it will never spontaneously reheat. That is my kind of physics.



According to John Brownlee on Fast Company’s CoDesign, “the experience of using Nintype is like playing the craziest game of Dance Dance Revolution ever at some futuristic space rave while out of your gourd on LSD-infused cotton candy.”

Highlights From the Week

This week, on Episode 81 of The Digital Life, Jon and Dirk talk about the landscape of speech recognition and the magic of VUI in Exploring the Voice User Interface.

Wednesday brought the third article in our UX Maturity series, Establishment.

This week’s Around the Studio: Tech Talks talks about our own brand of learning experiences.


The turkey coma has come and gone and the trees are sporting colorful lights.

My most recent family gathering included a few of my favorite engineers, so I brought back this gem to share.

Big Little Details


Self-described, Big Little Details is “a curated collection of the finer details of design, updated every day.”

Stephen Hawking: How He Speaks & Spells


The EE | Times medical blog featured a fascinating piece on the technology that Stephen Hawking uses to communicate. Timely, given The Theory of Everything’s recent release.

PopChart Lab


The perfect seasonal hello: The Fractal Formations of Snowflakes greeting card.

Highlights From the Week

Yesterday we launched Episode 80 of The Digital Life, especially exciting in that it coincides with the release of Jon Follet’s new book, Designing for Emerging Technologies,” already one of the top 10 UX books on Amazon. Jon discusses how he went about writing and editing this collection of essays from the tech industry’s top thinkers. Congratulations, Jon and all of the people who helped make this book happen! Follow @designemerging on Twitter.

Thanksgiving Thursday brought Episode 79 of The Digital Life, covering recent news including the Uber snafu over targeting critical journalists, the rising popularity of the e-book versus the tenacity of print, and the ongoing battle over net neutrality.

On Wednesday we posted the second article in our UX Maturity series, Foundation.

This week’s Around the Studio: Does desk + mess = great design? lets you see (literally!) how Invo-ites think about order and creativity.

“Posters are dissent made visible—they communicate, advocate, instruct, celebrate, and warn, while jarring us to action with their bold messages and striking iconography. ... Without a doubt, the poster remains the most resonant, intrinsic and enduring item in the arsenal of a contemporary graphic designer.”
Elizabeth Resnick


“Despite the fact that we’re the ‘lower’ 99 percent, we’re still the 99 percent, and acting together we can make change.” Sarah Kaiser

Nearly two years ago, we blogged about “Wake Up!” the poster created by Invo designer Sarah Kaiser and Chief Creative Director Juhan Sonin, and its inclusion in Graphic Advocacy: International Posters for the Digital Age 2001-2012” which features over 122 posters from artists in 32 countries.

Graphic Advocacy: International Posters for the Digital Age 2001–2012 comprises a significant collection of empathetic and visually compelling messages for our time. The third in a series of socio-political poster exhibitions, Graphic Advocacy has been shown in Korea, Mexico, Bolivia, and numerous galleries across the United States, and will continue to tour in 2015.


Graphic Advocacy will be on exhibition at Towson University until December 20, 2014. (Towson is a short distance from Baltimore, Maryland.) See the Schedule for upcoming showings.

Graphic Advocacy creator Elizabeth Resnick is Professor and Chair of the Graphic Design Department at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, Massachusetts. She is a passionate design curator who has developed and organized design exhibitions since in 1991. In a 2013 TEDx talk, Resnick describes how her own early experiences in art school during the Vietnam War era contributed to the work she does today.


Elizabeth Resnick at the exhibit’s opening at Pratt Institute in New York. 


I was all set to compose a riveting post (pun intended) about the creative work of Invo designer Sarah Kaiser, who sits next to me, makes me tea, and amazes me several times a day with her magical skills. While thinking about how to frame this little story, I did some quick research into Maker culture, which seemed to be the right context. I discovered that the theory of constructivism that I had studied so long ago in college, is a foundational value of Makers. Venturing over to Pinterest opened a whole new world of time-sink bliss with links to education, science, school libraries, learning, DIY, projects, and—yes!!—design.

But then I happened to open Facebook (note to self: no FB before homework is done). A literary academic friend had posted a link to a scathing article that very nearly burst my artisanal, plant-dyed, spun-local-organic cane sugar balloon: Keywords for the Age of Austerity 12: DIY (Do It Your [Damn] Self). Here I sat in my cozy little home studio, surrounded by my craft library and supplies (yes, some rescued from the trash) and read this political rant against an admittedly appalling suggestion that poor residents of government housing learn to make their own repairs. It was the trashing of middle-class do-it-yourselfers (hey, that’s me!), along with the reference to “the apolitical hubris that ... fatally compromise[d] the Arts and Crafts and 60s ‘maker’ movements” that bothered me. Yes, I understood his points about lack of significant economic reforms in the context of those historical movements. And that the DIY trends of the 1950s and 60s and even now were and are heavily gender-biased. In my childhood years it was my oldest brother who subscribed to Popular Mechanics and built Healthkit radio sets. He once bottled his own root beer and we spent summer nights listening to the caps blow off the bottles in the basement. My mom made many of my clothes and I was sewing by the time I was 8 or so, we made grape jelly and pie from scratch and never used gravy from a can or a bottle. My dad, a doctor, wasn’t “handy” but, when my sister tore her ACL in a childhood fall, he splinted her leg with cedar shakes and sanitary pads wrapped with Ace™ bandages.

Except for the splinting, it wasn't out of necessity that we did these things, it was because it was fun and interesting. Is that not a good enough reason? And now, in the 21st century, puttering around the makerspace involves a new level of industrial magic with the integration of contemporary technologies. The lines between work and play are interweaving, not just blurring. Anyone can weld sturdy, pretty things. Anyone can sew pretty, sturdy things. Anyone can learn to program them, in some cases, even quite a young child. Or an, ahem, older person.

So, not to disapoint, back to Sarah's play/work/art/construction. Sarah grew up what might now be called a free-range kid, exporing the woods and fields around her rural home while crafting her own toys and fixing broken electronics. Her mom taught her to solder at an early age, which garden flowers were edible, and a fiercely independent self-reliance. RIT nurtured her design and coding skills. A nearby makerspace, Artisan’s Asylum gives her room to work on bigger project using power tools. Commuting by public transit allows plenty of sketching time, and she is never without a sketchbook. Ever.

Take a few minutes to indulge your mind and consider a few examples of the incredible range of talents that Sarah brings to Invo and to our clients. No apolitical hubris here, nor gender bias, nor the dabblings of a discontented Millenial. This is real art, from-scratch making, seriously true design work.


Sarah designed and constructed this costume. At right is a portion of the Arduino program she wrote to control the claw you see over her left shoulder.


Sarah’s prized Form 1 3-D printer with its first form emerging like closely spaced tiny icicles. At right is a set of detailed wings she designed and printed to use in a new costume embellishment.


Sarah giving an Invo tech talk on molding with resins.


Many sketches are always hand-drawn first, for new a Health Axioms card.


Sarah casually drinking tea while modeling a flexible armored glove she created. Note the finished wing decoration on the (faux) weapon.


Sarah helped to design Tabeeb, a medical interaction framework that enables clinicians to discuss and document patient cases. Tabeeb is a product of NxTec Corporation.

I hope you have enjoyed this artistic interlude, it was fun sharing with you. Have a good week!


Utopia in our Pocket
Watch this presentation.

This past March, Involution's Dirk Knemeyer spoke at TEDxDenisonU as part of a series entitled “Real Utopias: From Dreams to Practice.”

In “Utopia in our Pocket” Dirk proposes that, thanks to the proliferation of the smartphone, we can start to think about radical changes that will fundamentally shift the way we live for the better. He charges his young audience to consider how they can participate in exploring and leveraging technology for truly meaningful change in our world.

About TEDx
TEDx was created in the spirit of TED's mission, "ideas worth spreading." The program is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.

About Involution Studios
Involution designs and builds exceptional software for innovative and visionary companies. We deploy small and experienced teams to create applications that are highly usable and appropriately beautiful. Our client list includes Apple, AstraZeneca, McAfee, Microsoft, Oracle, PayPal, Shutterfly, and Yahoo. For more information please contact or +1 617 803 7043.

Dirk Knemeyer has a few questions about Apple's ideas for a mobile medical solution.

This coming June, Apple is expected to announce their “Healthbook” app. In a bold expansion on the concepts of Involution’s hGraph app, Apple is attempting not only to federate all of a user’s important, top-level health and wellness data but also to synchronize with hardware devices that do everything from analyze blood to count steps to monitor heart rate.

Healthbook mockup

Mockup of Healthbook screen published to Behance this past February.

hGraph, your health in one picture

hGraph, the only open source visualization for your complete health, developed by Involution Studios.

There is an enormous need for this kind of software. Right now hundreds of companies are shipping devices that collect or track health and wellness information, but locking that data into proprietary interfaces that they are trying to monetize in order to sustain a business. This bottom-up approach worked in validating the market, but it is not at all consumer-friendly in the aggregate. It is too hard for a user who knows how all of his or her different services work to get a good picture, let alone a doctor or emergency healthcare professional. Having one software interface where all of your data is tracked and displayed is clearly the correct solution. Someone certainly needs to do it. The question is, is Apple the right company to be doing it?

Emphatically: No, for three reasons.

  1. Apple is terrible at software. Can you name one piece of software that Apple makes which is really excellent? From iTunes to Mail to Pages to iCloud, one is worse than the other. OS X? Used to be the best, largely thanks to engineering, not design, but as they try to unify their desktop and mobile operating systems and user experience, it gets worse every day. Keynote? OK, I will grant you Keynote. But Apple has a long track record of being astonishingly good at hardware and cover-your-eyes-bad at software. Maybe they get it right here—I hope they do—but as my Mail app continues to misbehave and iCloud remains unusable after more than a decade of trying, I can’t fathom that they will.
  2. Health information access needs to be universal and consistent, not specific to mobile OS providers. Apple, Google, and Microsoft are locked in a battle for digital supremacy. Rather than search for solutions that are complementary they are each trying to create their own OS, their own devices, and their own mapping programs. If they are now also providing their own Healthbook equivalents, it could present a serious challenge. Do we expect healthcare professionals to train up on three different software environments? What happens to your Apple data if you change to Microsoft, will it be lost or just offline and not integrated? Do these shortsighted competitors have the vision to cooperate?
  3. Apple’s parochial interests will stifle innovation. The totality of this picture is a complex one. Apple, correctly, is trying to bring together a tremendous amount of health data and information from potentially very different sources and devices. Meanwhile, they are rapidly patenting various hardware, software, and input and output mechanisms aimed at the rapidly expanding mobile medical device market. Each success brings Apple closer to developing a Healthbook that is more proprietary, less universal, and infinitely less useful in the long-term and/or outside of the Apple bubble.

Ideally this sort of software would be created by an international non-profit focused solely on health and wellness as part of a blueprint for healthful humanity. Among their initiatives they would make this sort of top-order software as accessible and transferable and standardized as possible. Of course, there is no such organization. It seems like an obvious thing to be funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but how much Microsoft stock does the Family Gates still hold? Around and around we go.

About Involution’s Health Design Practice
For almost 10 years, Involution has been building software for health companies of every shape and size, from household names like AstraZeneca and Walgreens, to research leaders like the Personal Genome Project and Partners HealthCare. We also work with the most exciting and progressive health startups. We’ve made digital healthcare our top focus.

OSCON2014 logo
O'Reilly OSCON

Open Source Convention
July 20-24, 2014
Portland, OR

Remember doctor’s visits when you were growing up?
The wooden tongue depressor. The well-worn stethoscope. That weird thing they jammed in your ears.

As design harnesses digital, materials, and networking technologies, a very new health experience is just over the horizon. Proactive, lifestyle design. Tracking real-time health data. Non-invasive tools. Custom “just for you” treatments based on your actual genome. These are all real technologies, being used by ordinary people. Together they are leading us to “stage zero” detection and treatment which has the potential to double or better the lifespan of every first-world citizen. Not science fiction, the children of the 2020s will only know this reality. Tongue depressors will be limited to school craft projects and popsicles. And it is all the product of technology and design.

Join Involution Studios Creative Director Juhan Sonin in Portland this July as he introduces participants to the macro factors shaping these realities, along with an in-depth exploration of the various impacts of and opportunities for design.

Once considered a radical upstart, open source has moved from disruption to default. Its methods and culture commoditized the technologies that drove the Internet revolution, and transformed the practice of software development. Collaborative and transparent, open source has become modus operandi, powering the next wave of innovation in cloud, data, and mobile technologies.

Now in its 16th year, OSCON is a unique gathering of all things open source, where participants find inspiration, confront new challenges, share their expertise, renew bonds to community, make significant connections, and find ways to give back to the open source movement. The event has also become one of the most important venues to unveil ground-breaking open source projects and products.

About Juhan Sonin
Juhan is the Creative Director of Involution Studios, and has been the creative leader of four different organizations, producing work recognized by the BBC, the New York Times, Ars Electronica, National Public Radio, and Billboard Magazine. Prior to joining Involution, Juhan spent time at Apple, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), a few startups, and MITRE. He is also a lecturer on design and rapid prototyping at MIT.

Arlington Visual Budget recognized for innovation, value, and impact.

BOSTON, MAInvolution Studios today announced its Arlington Visual Budget has been selected as a finalist in the Best Doing Good Innovation - Product and Most Insightful: Big Data and Analytics Innovations - Product categories for the MITX What’s Next Awards. This year MITX combined its annual Innovation and Interactive Awards into a single show recognizing Boston’s entire digital ecosystem.

Since 1996 the MITX Award shows have grown to become the largest and most prestigious awards competitions in the country for marketing innovations, celebrating the best creative and technological accomplishments emerging from New England.

“The finalists that emerged from an unprecedented number of submissions received for this year’s MITX What’s Next Awards demonstrate the creativity and innovation of our region’s rich digital ecosystem,” says MITX Board Member and Communispace Chief Operating Officer Howard Kogan, who serves as Chairman of the MITX What’s Next Awards Advisory Committee. “From startups to large corporations and everything in between, the individuals behind this work continue to raise the bar for the entire digital community.”

Arlington Visual Budget

AVB provides the next generation of accessibility in financial information that enables citizens to see, engage, and discuss.

The Visual Budget system converts the town of Arlington's revenues and expenditures to simple graphics and charts that describe Arlington’s finances. It also provides definitions for complex budgeting terminology, and includes a tool where residents can input their yearly property tax bill and find out exactly how the town spends their tax dollars. Taxpayers can learn about town revenues, expenses, and funds displayed in both graphical and tabular formats. What’s more, the system enables users to provide feedback and ideas, an essential component of empowering citizens with both information and a greater voice in decision-making.

Town Management Analyst Michael Bouton said he was happy to work with Involution’s creative team on the project. “It was a blank canvas,” Bouton said. “We came in with an idea and the conceptualization of it was them.” Involution designers Roger Zhu and Ivan Dilernia donated their time, and the company has made the code for the project available online for other town governments to use. An Arlington resident, Involution’s Creative Director Juhan Sonin was excited about the collaboration, saying “It’s a part of our civic responsibility as designers to get involved in the design of policy.”

Involution Studios will be recognized with the other finalists in the Best Doing Good Innovation - Product and Most Insightful: Big Data and Analytics Innovations - Product categories at a gala awards ceremony traditionally attended by over 1,000 of the region’s top interactive marketing and technology professionals. Winners will be announced at a ceremony at the Westin Waterfront Hotel on May 29th.
Purchase tickets for the Awards Ceremony

About Involution Studios
Involution designs and builds exceptional software for innovative and visionary companies. We deploy small and experienced teams to create applications that are highly usable and appropriately beautiful. Our client list includes Apple, AstraZeneca, McAfee, Microsoft, Oracle, PayPal, Shutterfly, and Yahoo. For more information please contact or +1 617 803 7043.

About MITX
Established in 1996, MITX — the Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange — is the leading industry organization focused on the web and mobile, bringing together the digital marketing, media and technology community to engage in what's next and how it will impact the marketing and business worlds. Connecting more than 7,500 professionals in New England, MITX is a dynamic community of thought leaders and collaborators in search of insight, education and opportunity. Creator of FutureM, MITX is headquartered in Boston, MA.

User Experience Conference 2014

May 15, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.
Sheraton Boston Hotel
39 Dalton Street, Boston, MA 02199

The wealth of tools recently released makes it easier to stitch design assets together into “interactive prototypes.” The limiting factor in these tools is that they rely on the static data in your comps.

Join Involution designer-engineer Ben Salinas as he introduces techniques for gathering real data and incorporating that data into comps and prototypes. In a live demo, Ben will discuss techniques for processing data and generating data as well as how to use these techniques to evaluate the success or failure of a design.

This session will help the intermediate or experienced designer expand their design prowess by breathing new life into their stale and static comps. The participant will walk away understanding the tradeoffs around when to choose to incorporate real data and when a static comp can perform just as well. Most importantly, the participant will have been exposed to the tools they need to incorporate these techniques into their day-to-day design work.

Involution Studios is a sponsor of this year’s Boston User Experience Conference. In its 13th year, the Conference will cover critical topics in usability and user-centered design with practitioners, students, and experts in the field. Participants can partake of unique content and one-of-a-kind learning opportunities for all—newcomers and seasoned professional alike.

About UXPA Boston
The Boston Chapter of the User Experience Professionals’ Association is a highly active community for persons with individual and professional interests in usability, user experience design, and their many related fields. UXPA Boston is a regional chapter of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA). Membership is free and includes user experience events, access to job listings, and a role in the vibrant Boston usability community.

About Involution Studios
Involution designs and builds exceptional software for innovative and visionary companies. We specify, architect, design, and develop applications for web, mobile, desktop, devices, and emerging technologies. Involution deploys small and experienced teams to create applications that are highly usable and appropriately beautiful. Founded in 2004, complex, mission critical software has always been our business. We've produced high-quality applications that are being used every day by over 150 million people. Our clients include Apple, AstraZeneca, 3M Health Information Systems, McAfee, Microsoft, Oracle, Personal Genome Project, Partners HealthCare, and US Department of Health and Human Services.

Dirk Knemeyer on multimedia information design.

Over the past month numerous news outlets--CNN in particular--have devoted extensive coverage to the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370. While the story is certainly a tragedy, the degree to which its coverage has eclipsed that of stories like the Ukraine situation is a little curious. Regardless, what really raised my ire most recently was CNN’s featured homepage graphic related to the lost plane saga, shown here.

Health Axioms Sketches

The image that CNN featured in their April 7 homepage headline on was a screen capture from one of the videos associated with the story. Source: Malaysia Flight 370: 'Our optimism is fading away, ever so slightly' By Tom Watkins, CNN. April 7, 2014.

This is an example of some of the worst information design I’ve recently seen in such a prominent and frequently visited position on a major news site.

Let us examine the many problems here:

Because everything is important, nothing is important. No less than six pieces of data are put into boxed backgrounds and presented with some form of blaring text. What is really important? Where should the reader look? There is no information hierarchy here.

Fonts, fonts, so many fonts! There are (at least) eight different fonts being used on this graphic, if we count font type, size, color, and style. This inconsistency exacerbates the muddying of importance and hierarchy that was already introduced via other display techniques.

Superfluous information clutters a very small space, further undermining comprehension. The yellow callouts contain too much specific information to go with a headline. The lines showing mileage lack context when viewed outside of the video. At a glance, the combined elements serve to make ambiguous what the “Planned Search Areas April 7” are, which is a real problem!

And onward… Presumably the proper order of importance should be:

  1. Focus on the fact that there are search areas planned for April 7 and indicate where those areas will be. The copy in the current box is correct, but it should relate to the red highlight boxes in color presentation, not the completely unrelated white/black that is currently used (and which is also redundant with the cognitively unrelated AUSTRALIA box). Moving this “Search Areas” callout to the upper left of the graphic would also bring it spatially proximate to the actual spots it is calling out to.
  2. Identify the spots where signals were detected. This should be done with a single callout box that reads something like “Possible signals detected” pointing to both of the bulls-eye graphics. These elements should share a color palette to emphasize their relationship (so, green/back/white instead of yellow/black). This callout should be located in the lower left or lower middle to be spatially proximate to the actual spots it is calling out to.
  3. Clarify the purpose of showing the distance of each of the five ocean locations to Learmonth and Perth. If important, each of the five targets should clearly be pointed to instead of just the four lines shown (and some of those being ambiguous as to what they are pointing to and why). This needs consistency of treatment and clarity of purpose. Still, these are too detailed for a headline image and would be best simply left out.
  4. Make geographic elements consistent. The label identifiers for the relevant locations: Australia, Perth, Learmonth, and Indian Ocean should be presented more subtly, similar to “Indian Ocean” on the original graphic. They should be completely presented--not cut off as “Australia” and “Indian Ocean” are, or obscured like “Southern” in the lower right.

Here is our version of a redesign, from Involution designer Jen Patel:

Redesigned Planned Search Areas graphic.

A cleaner, clearer version of the "Planned Search Areas" graphic. Designed by Jen Patel.

Executing strong information design is not difficult, but as CNN has illustrated, very poor information design is unfortunately easier to fall into than we might like it to be. A well-crafted, succinct headline deserves a clean and clear graphic.

About Involution Studios
Involution designs and builds exceptional software for innovative and visionary companies. We specify, architect, design, and develop applications for web, mobile, desktop, devices, and emerging technologies. Involution deploys small and experienced teams to create applications that are highly usable and appropriately beautiful. Founded in 2004, complex, mission critical software has always been our business. We've produced high-quality applications that are being used every day by over 150 million people. Our clients include Apple, AstraZeneca, 3M Health Information Systems, McAfee, Microsoft, Oracle, Personal Genome Project, Partners HealthCare, and US Department of Health and Human Services.

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