published 12 February 2013
Dustin Curtis, adding his voice to a dilemma that I’ve had to wrestle with almost since day one of my career:
A question that inevitably comes up very early in the process of designing a new app is this: should the interface refer to the user as “your” or “my” when talking about the user’s stuff, as in “my profile” or “your settings”? For a long time, this question ate at my soul. Which is right?
Dustin sides with the “yours” camp, as have I for quite some time:
After thinking about this stuff for a very long time, I’ve settled pretty firmly in the camp of thinking that interfaces should mimic social creatures, that they should have personalities, and that I should be communicating with the interface rather than the interface being an extension of myself.
Others, notably Twitter for example, side with “mine”:
However, there’s a third option that deserves attention. No, not third person, though that’d make for an interesting user experience (“Her Profile”). It’s simply making the interface clear enough that pronouns and possessive adjectives aren’t needed. “Profile”, “Documents”, and the like.
In today’s world of following, favoriting, and friending, it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish between what’s yours (mine?) and what’s theirs (yours?). Understandably, labels are still needed, despite our best efforts to present the UI with clarity.
Hence, I’ll continue to side with “yours” as long as it remains necessary. There’s nothing worse than a FAQ page that says, “Please visit your ‘My English Lit’ page to learn more about pronouns and possessive adjectives.”
published 11 February 2013
Using a [minimum] viable product is like visiting someone in an intensive care unit. They’re alive, but not fun to spend time with. As a result, I see more and more companies who focus on MVP produce products that fail to achieve their goals.
Instead, Ian suggests shifting development focus to creating a “Minimum Delightful Product”:
When a product is delightful it just makes sense. It works the way you’d expect and the experience is highly satisfying. Delightful products are adopted faster, get better word of mouth, and create higher satisfaction.
Those are claims that warrant data to back them up. But I can say from personal experience—and I bet you can too—that I have signed up for many websites and apps, only to leave some of them within 5 minutes after registration, never to return. They functioned, indeed. But they failed to delight and didn’t fill a void.
I side with something said at SXSW 2012 by @TravisBogard:
It’s not about being first, it’s about being first to get it right.
published 8 February 2013
It’s strangely coincidental that earlier today Mark Boulton wrote about his daughter’s school being slated for closure, including a personal note from his daughter’s hand. For earlier this week I had planned to pen something similar, only a stone’s throw away from the tone of his.
One of my sons is a Type 1 diabetic. He was diagnosed during a cross-country trip three years ago. Unlike Type 2 which can be managed through better health, currently there is no cure for Type 1. Once diagnosed, you cope with it for life—daily shots and all.
Often we’re reminded he isn’t alone. There are many others around the globe that live happy, productive lives as Type 1 diabetics. Some names are even recognizable: Jay Cutler, Nick Jonas, Victor Garber, and many more. These, and the many other unknown-but-undeniably-important names, give him, give us, hope.
One of these names that have given us a substantial amount of hope recently is Nial Giacomelli. An iPhone developer based in the UK, Nial is also a Type 1 diabetic. His Kickstarter project, The Diabetic Journal, hopes to fund the last leg of development by raising £7,500 for reporting tools and visual design help. The app will be released in the App Store for free, if funded.
If your financial circumstances allow, please back Nial’s project by pledging £1 or more. My son and so many more like him will be in indebted to you for helping make their lives a little easier to manage.
All of this brings me to Mark’s daughter and her heartfelt letter. While we were in the hospital adjusting to life with diabetes, my son wrote an entry in his journal. He was six at the time. I photographed the entry while at the hospital:
I love the Hospital. It’s fun. I like the foods in the Hospital. I love when Mom and Dad help. I like when people help me get better. The end.
Although the week we spent in the hospital was one of the worst weeks of our family’s life, you wouldn’t know it from his letter. “I like when people help me get better.” Like Nial. Like you.
published 7 February 2013
We took a popular ecommerce store (O’Neill Clothing) that we’d recently redesigned and monitored conversions, transactions and revenue for three weeks. Then we quietly deployed the responsive conditions to the already live site and monitored for another three weeks….
iPhone transactions more than doubled. Android transactions more than tripled. All from relatively quick optimization.
In the article, they lay out some pretty impressive increases in conversions, transactions, and revenue as responsive features were introduced to the site.
published 5 February 2013
Erika Hall, guest author in A List Apart’s “What We Learned in 2012”:
Changing the design of an interactive system changes the organization behind it…. Organizations are just groups of people with goals, rules, and customs. Designers are just people with certain skills. But because of insecurity on both sides, differences trigger defense mechanisms. We resort to jargon. All the hoo-ha around “design thinking” is just a distraction. Design is a business activity. It goes well when designers and businesses work together to solve a real problem with good information and clear goals. The hard part is confronting all the specific mundane things that interfere.
Plenty of other savvy observations in ALA’s round-up from various authors, including predictions for the coming year.
published 24 January 2013
Yaron Schoen adding (subtly) his voice to the “flat design”, “to PSD or not to”, and skeuomorphism banter making the rounds of late:
Clearly without function, form is pointless. But a beautiful and timeless product has both an elegant solution and an elegant aesthetic, it rarely ever is one or the other. For example, the problem of sitting comfortably was solved already, what makes the Eames chair iconic is its timeless beauty and its comfortableness….
There are many ways to achieve or interpret beauty, it’s not an absolute science. If it were we’d all be out of a job and life would be pretty boring.
Takeaway: Beauty has, and will always have, a place in making our world better. But we designers should avoid absolutes, even if they seem reasonable. (After all, the skilled designer intentionally breaks rules from time to time, confidently knowing what the rules are.)
published 23 January 2013
To be fair, I don’t think we’re in a post-PSD era, but I do think we’re moving towards a post-“full-comp” era. I can’t envision a project where I don’t use Photoshop. Photoshop isn’t the problem. It’s a great tool. My favorite, actually. It’s the stigma that comes with presenting a full comp (I define “full comp” as an image of a website viewed on a desktop, typically around 960px wide). By default, presenting a full comp says to your client, “This is how everyone will see your site.” In our multi-device world, we’re quickly moving towards, “This is how some people will see your site,” but we’re not doing a great job of communicating that.
As an industry, we sell websites like paintings. Instead, we should be selling beautiful and easy access to content, agnostic of device, screen size, or context.
published 22 January 2013
Noah Stokes, admitting that the general simplicity of current responsive web design leaves him wanting more:
Where are the RWD sites that have some sense of unique design that goes further than a clean/clear grid, beautiful imagery and nice typography?
Continuing in want, Noah confesses something that I wish more of us would admit, as Noah and I surely aren’t the only ones longing for optimal renderings of our intended designs:
The purist in me wants a pixel perfect design in the browser and responsive gives me that at certain break points, but the in betweens are what kill me. It’s like looking at an awkward love child of two designs….
Bottom line: I’m a perfectionist and a design junkie. I want to see beautiful, immersive sites executed with perfection in every browser and responsive web design doesn’t play to either of those tendencies very well, thus leaving me wanting.
We are indebted to Ethan Marcotte, Dan Cederholm, and the many voices that have rallied for responsive, bulletproof web design over the years. But perhaps we’ve gotten a little carried away lately, arguing that there’s little value in tools and processes outside those that are optimized for flexible designs fleshed out with code from the beginning.
Brad Frost’s “The Post-PSD Era” comes to mind. It’s well-written and makes a compelling case for using methods more efficient than Photoshop for articulating interactions and screen resolutions. Brad is another voice that, thankfully, has championed the cause of responsive design.
But just as Noah is left wanting more, I find myself longing for more of us to encourage you and your team to do what works best for you, not what works best for the experts. You know your circumstances, your users, and your personal preferences best. And if that means responsive web design — or design methodology or todo app or office chair or whatever — isn’t the right choice for you, don’t be ashamed if you find yourself wanting more, or at least wanting something else.
published 2 January 2013
Get a jump start on hiring new employees and finding freelancers at Authentic Jobs with our annual New Year’s promotion: 50% off all listings. Use promo code
We typically offer a discount this steep only twice a year, so take advantage of the promotion while it lasts. Expires midnight on January 11.
(Bokeh photo used in the promotional artwork is from my Flickr stream.)
published 18 December 2012
This is terrific, beautiful storytelling. Angelo Badalamenti, composer of the theme for TV series “Twin Peaks”, describes how the music came to life in a conversation with the show’s creator, David Lynch.
published 14 December 2012
I’ve waited literally months to share this.
The annual September campaign is past, and respect for the privacy and security of the Smiths has been given. I’m now free to share some of the details of our trip to Ethiopia this past summer.
Rewind a little bit. In 2011, you helped my company, Authentic Jobs, raise nearly $25,000 for charity: water in our annual campaign. That amount, or the sum of your generous donations, qualified our campaign for the chance to visit Ethiopia with Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith.
But only two spots on the trip were given to each of the three qualifying campaigns, based on overall donation amount. I remember fielding the call from Paull Young, notifying me that our campaign was one of the three, while I was at the soccer fields watching my sons train. I was elated. And yet, simultaneously, I felt empty inside. You, all of you, had donated so charitably, and I didn’t feel worthy of an opportunity that every one of you should have been privy to.
Weeks passed before the details of the trip were finalized by charity: water, in large part due to working around the Smiths’ schedule. This afforded me plenty of time to continue lamenting the fact that I shouldn’t be the one to go; that all of you were equal suitors for the chance. In the end, I convinced myself that I would represent all of you on the trip. My wife, Suzanne, was the logical choice to occupy the second spot, having been at my side since founding Authentic Jobs seven years ago. I felt her perspective would be critical to sharing the experience with all of you.
Fast-forward to Summer 2012. We were on a flight. A rather long one. To Ethiopia. TO JOIN UP WITH WILL SMITH WOW THIS IS CRAZINESS SRSLY? And how were we supposed to address them? Mr. & Mrs. Smith? Agent Jay & Gloria? We asked ourselves this question numerous times, I assure you.
To clarify, and this is important clarification, the trip wasn’t about the Smiths. It wasn’t about visiting Africa with an international superstar and his celebrity wife. We were there to see the impact charity: water and its supporters (again, you) have made in one of the many regions where charity: water has brought clean drinking water to local villages through freshwater wells and other purification efforts. We were all in this together for three days.1 And it really felt like that.
For those three days from sun up to sun down, we traveled from village to village. Some villages were very remote requiring half-hour drives by car over rough terrain. Some had received a well already. Others were anticipating receiving a well. All were welcoming.
As we drove into each village, a welcoming party was there to greet us, sometimes numbering several hundred strong. Signs in both Tigrinya and English were waving, drums were beating, and we were expected to dance with the locals (which we did). It was a party unlike any other I’d ever seen. Most importantly, it was a gratitude party, as I’d call it. Have you ever attended one of those? I hadn’t prior to Ethiopia, and it was incredible to experience.
After the initial welcome, we were whisked away to the center of the village where we were fed and showered with gifts.
The expressions of gratitude continued, which were nearly redundant, for you could see the gratitude written all over their faces. Words weren’t necessary to convey their appreciation. It shone abundantly in their countenances.
There was plenty of walking, and during that time we had a few moments to chat with the Smiths. We joked about the scene in one of his movies where his face swells up from a food allergy. “That really happened to me as a kid,” he explained, but from a bee sting. “So we worked it into the movie.”
There were other times we shared meals together, back at the Gheralta Lodge. We sat right across the table from Will and Jada on a couple occasions, and they were genuinely pleasant.
Yet as I said earlier, we were all in this together. We were there for the locals, not the other way around. Will and Jada took every step in stride, as we all did. You can see, for example, the genuine interest and concern on Will’s face as he watched Suzanne give an impromptu speech at one of the schools we visited.
I was fortunate to capture her speech with my iPhone. I was seated with the rest of the locals, and pulling out my rather cumbersome Canon 7D didn’t feel right. So I quietly removed my phone from pocket and began filming. How grateful I am for doing that.
But of everything we experienced during the trip, nothing impacted us like the children. Consistently we were left behind by our group as we tried to communicate with them using hand gestures, as we took photos and showed them the images on the camera’s screen, and as we made them smile and laugh with high-fives and other Western gestures.
Just look at those faces. How can you not fall in love with that?
Below are video recaps from our trip. The first we produced, and the second was produced by charity: water. Most of the footage in both was captured with my Canon 7D camera, which records video exceptionally well.
As for the impact the children had on us, I’ll share more about that before the year is over. For now, please enjoy the videos and photos. More importantly, please share our campaign site on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and consider donating generously to help us reach our $30,000 goal.
The ‘we’ being Suzanne and myself; Will and Jada Smith; Matt Hall and Dr. John Nosti of Smile Generation (the second qualifying campaign); charity: water founder Scott Harrison and two important staff members, Lindsay Ratowsky and Lauren Miller, who masterminded literally the entire trip. Jane Berentson of Inc. magazine, the third qualifying campaign, was unable to attend our trip but did attend another. ↩
published 6 December 2012
Tech conferences can be a hostile environment for presenting. Everybody has four devices, three IRC channels, mail, twitter, and a commit or two in flight while you are doing your thing onstage. Attendees know that the talks are going to be available later online. They can afford to tune you out because they’re here for the “hallway track”. Attempting to harness attention can feel as futile as spooning back the tide.
Every design decision you make, from the talk topic to the slide design, must help you combat this reality by making it easier to acquire and retain audience attention. Learning how to write a succinct talk abstract is half the battle. Know thine audience, and make sure the first sentence or two will pique their curiosity and leave them with a taste for more.
Idan’s full article, Designing Presentations, is wonderfully insightful, even for a speaking veteran like myself.
From my personal archives, see also 20 tips for better conference speaking. Three years after the article was authored, #1 on the list still remains my #1 tip. And it aligns nicely with the advice from Idan above.
published 13 November 2012
Apple didn’t make an arbitrary decision to withhold Retina on the Mini to save money, upsell more buyers to the iPad 4, or “force” the first generation of iPad Mini owners to upgrade next year. They chose not to ship a Retina iPad Mini because it would be significantly worse than the previous iPads in very important factors.
Imagine the fallout if a Retina Mini shipped with only three hours of battery life, or was inelegantly thick and heavy. Or, very importantly to the iPad’s market, imagine if its GPUs were slower and it ran existing iPad games extremely poorly….
That’s why we don’t have a Retina iPad Mini yet. It’s not only about price: it’s because the resulting product would suck in at least two other important ways.
Speaking of previous models, you can pick up refurbished iPads for as little as $319.
(For the record, I’m still strongly considering getting an iPad mini, even if that means ebaying it when the retina model comes out.)
published 1 November 2012
New York Times, yesterday:
[Steve Jobs] pushed the company’s software designers to use the linen texture liberally in the software for the company’s mobile devices. He did the same with many other virtual doodads that mimic the appearance and behavior of real-world things, like wooden shelves for organizing newspapers and the page-flipping motion of a book, according to people who worked with him but declined to be named to avoid Apple’s ire.
The management shake-up that Apple announced on Monday is likely to mean that Apple will shift away from such visual tricks, which many people within the company look down upon.
Yes, please. And a shift away from Jobs’ preference for skeuomorphism would perfectly align with this advice given shortly before his passing to Tim Cook:
“Among his last advice he had for me, and for all of you, was to never ask what he would do. ‘Just do what’s right,’” Cook said. Jobs wanted Apple to avoid the trap that Walt Disney Co. fell into after the death of its iconic founder, Cook said, where “everyone spent all their time thinking and talking about what Walt would do.”
Hats off to Tim Cook for following through on a dying wish.
published 22 October 2012
Mark Boulton, on adaptive content management:
For a long while, our content problems were hard problems and nobody wanted to confront them. But as far back as the monks, good designers have always concerned themselves with content however difficult it was. So let’s not think about our pages of content anymore, let’s think about bits of content. Let’s think about stories as collections of resources, meta data and links that never have a beginning, middle and end. Let’s think of our stories as adaptive. And let’s build systems so we can make them that way.