August 21st, 2013
The other day I came across UX designer Fred Nerby's mock up of his idea for a new look for Facebook.
There's a lot more to it than that one screenshot, so I urge you to click on the link or the image to see the full presentation. It's neat and unquestionably it showcases one way to look at what 1.15 billion people want from a social network.1
I can't help looking at it and thinking that I'm never, ever going to want a Facebook account, because these people just aren't the same species as me.2 The thing is, this vision of the world seems to demand that everyone is constantly performing, living their lives on camera and incessantly telling anyone who'll listen about how awesome a time they're having and how fabulous their round of drinks looked when the light caught the glasses just so, and everyone seems to have a gallery of pictures of themselves looking smiley and sexy and fabulous. Doesn't all that performing for the camera just get a bit exhausting after a while?
Also, I assume that this is a proposal for some future version of Facebook that offers a paid-subscription option, because there's not an ad in sight and young Zuckerberg isn't going to be able to pay for all those servers without some source of income.3
- Or at any rate, what some people want and some people simply have to use if they want to remain in touch with some of their less IT literate friends and relations, whereas others moved to Facebook once they found there was nobody they knew left on MySpace and they don't want the hassle of moving to the next big thing and re-establishing their social graph all over again. Then there are all the spammers and scammers and people who don't use the site any more but never got round to deleting their account. Whatever: any way you look at the numbers, rather a lot of people use Facebook. ↩
- Ignore the fact that the designer has populated his site with a bunch of youngish, attractive friends whose lives are filled with visits to picturesque locations: that's just a matter of showing his design in the best possible light. ↩
- Unless of course this is a future where the NSA has taken to funding Facebook directly, because why go to the time and trouble to spy on people's online communications when they'll give out so much information about their whereabouts, their plans and their social circle gratis. ↩
July 12th, 2013
If you're quick, $13,999 could buy you a limited edition Quartz Armchair:
It is not often that we come across furniture items inspired by mathematical series. However, the Quartz Armchair (the collaborative effort of CTRL ZAK and Davide Barzaghi) changes our perception of furniture with its juxtaposition of a two-dimensional beech wood structure and the three-dimensional, 'volumetric' padding. These padding elements are comprised of uniform shapes of pentagons and hexagons, while being upholstered in natural fibers. As a result, the overall system of the armchair presents itself as a micro-habitat, with the remarkable fusion of natural wood, aluminum and geometric bearing.
April 1st, 2013
Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox: April 1, 2013 Mobile Usability for Cats: Essential Design Principles for Felines…
- Rapid double and triple taps are common among felines, especially kittens; any response from a multi-tap should be even faster/louder/blinkier than from a single tap.
- Swiping is expected to work from any and every direction, so ensure that your targets are extra responsive and include corresponding sounds.
- Animation is especially important, including blinking. In fact, if your site or app doesn't animate, it's pretty much useless.
- This is a revolutionary finding, considering that blinking has been contraindicated in web design ever since it was #3 on the list of top-10 design mistakes of 1996.
- A sensory-activated "pause mode" is highly suggested, as nearly half the cats randomly stopped what they were doing to lie down on their devices and stretch, nap, or self-groom for extended periods before resuming their tasks.
February 19th, 2013
February 9th, 2013
I read not one but two pretty good pieces today on the practicalities of developing software. I'm not a software developer by any stretch of the imagination1 but I have just enough of a programmer's mindset to appreciate the amount of effort it takes to think through all the little bits and pieces that make a bit of software usable as well as functional:
- Hilton Lipschitz has made multiple posts exploring the decisions he made in designing his app TimeToCall. He covers the whole process, from his having the idea to write an app to help users arrange telephone conferences across time zones, right up to the point of polishing minor but important user interface details about translating the phrases used in the Japanese language localisation of the app without breaking his user interface.
- Mark Bernstein posted a piece describing the amount of thought that had to be put into adding a tab bar to Tinderbox. This is more focussed on a single user interface element than the Lipschitz piece: multiply the number of design considerations Bernstein describes for his one feature by the number of steps in the project Lipschitz recounts and you start to realise just how many decisions go into the making of even a comparatively simple application.
Neither article is aimed solely at programmers by any means – Lipschitz and Bernstein both explain in plain English the problems they're trying to resolve and the pros and cons of the different approaches they considered, so I think even people who've never written a line of code in their life will have no problem following either post.
One more, unrelated thing (courtesy of Hilton Lipschitz's Twitter feed). If you have access to a command line, go to it right now and type either tracert 184.108.40.206 (if you're running Windows) or traceroute 220.127.116.11 (for the rest of us.) Then watch and wait…
[Hilton Lipschitz posts via Brett Terpstra. I'm afraid I can't remember where I saw a link to Mark Bernstein's post.]
- I'm barely a programmer at all. At home, I hack together unholy combinations of shell scripts, Applescripts and Automator actions in an attempt to knock some rough edges off my workflows. At work I make life a little simpler by doing mildly complicated things with data in Excel and VBA and occasionally Access, but this isn't part of the job description. ↩
January 8th, 2013
Australia is experiencing such a heatwave that meteorologists are having to come up with new colours for their weather maps:
SYDNEY – Extreme heat in Australia forced the government's weather bureau to upgrade its temperature scale, with new colours on the climate map to reflect new highs forecast next week.
Central Australia was shown with a purple area on the latest Bureau of Meteorology forecast map issued for next Monday, a new colour code suggesting temperatures will soar above 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).
The bureau's head of climate monitoring and prediction David Jones said the new scale, which also features a pink code for temperatures from 52 to 54 degrees, reflected the potential for old heat records to be smashed.
(Meanwhile in the UK, the Met Office is most likely devising symbols to represent how deep the flooding gets, in the event that your local river decides to burst through your flood defences and saunter up to – and under – your front door. With bonus points if they can design a symbol that simultaneously indicates both how deep the flooding is and how many years in a row flooding has affected that particular town or village.)
January 6th, 2013
BLDGBLOG relates the story of a 'Test Room' in Eugene, Oregon:
In August 1965 [...] "ads in the local newspaper… promised complimentary checkups at the new Oregon Research Institute Vision Research Center." But these promised eye exams were not all that they seemed.
The office was, in fact, a model – a disguised simulation – including a "stereotypical waiting room" where respondents to the ad would be "greeted by a receptionist" who could escort them into a fake "examination room" that turned out to be examining something else entirely.
I guarantee that you won't guess what they were testing for.
December 1st, 2012
Designer Sam Van Doorn has made a way to render your prowess at pinball in tangible form:
I deconstructed a pinball machine an reconstructed it as a design tool.
A poster is placed on top of the machine, which has a grid printed on it. Based on this grid you can structure your playing field to your desire. By playing the machine the balls create an unpredictable pattern, dependent on the interaction between the user and the machine. The better you are as a player, the better the poster that you create.
[Via Flowing Data]
September 5th, 2012
For some years I've been collating a list in a text file, which has the banal filename "21st_century_gestures.txt". These are a set of gestures, spatial patterns and physical, often bodily, interactions that seemed to me to be entirely novel. They all concern our interactions with The Network, and reflect how a particular Networked development, and its affordances, actually results in intriguing physical interactions. The intriguing aspect is that most of the gestures and movements here are undesigned, inadvertent, unintended, the accidental offcuts of design processes and technological development that are either forced upon the body, or adopted by bodies.
Walking around "eating the world with your eyes", as the fictional design tutor in Chip Kidd's novel The Cheese Monkeys puts it, you can't help but observe the influence of The Network on our world. Yet The Network is often still spoken about as if it were somehow something separate to Us, as if it were an ethereal plane hovering above us, or perhaps something we might be increasingly immersed in but still separate to our bodies, to our selves. This doesn't feel accurate now. There is no separate world, and this list indicates how we are even changing what our bodies do in entirely emergent, or at least unplanned, everyday fashion, in response to The Network's demands. [...]
The Curious Rituals team have created a video to illustrate how A Digital Tomorrow might work:
June 23rd, 2012
June 20th, 2012
At BLDGBLOG, evidence that the Swiss take the concept of national security very seriously:
McPhee describes [...] how the Swiss military has, in effect, wired the entire country to blow in the event of foreign invasion. To keep enemy armies out, bridges will be dynamited and, whenever possible, deliberately collapsed onto other roads and bridges below; hills have been weaponized to be activated as valley-sweeping artificial landslides; mountain tunnels will be sealed from within to act as nuclear-proof air raid shelters; and much more.
[Via Bruce Schneier]
June 11th, 2012
May 24th, 2012
Designing the mobile wallet – A case study. Slide 59 is a particular delight, but this entire presentation by Tim Caynes is worth a look.
May 4th, 2012
Roman seems to particularly delight in explanations of why you haven't heard of the object in the first place. Take, for example, an episode Roman collaborated on with writer Jon Mooallem. The two examined two children's toys, the teddy bear, and the billy possum; yes, the billy possum. Thanks to Teddy Roosevelt, the origin of the teddy bear is of course legendary. What you may not have known is the origin of the other toy, the billy possum, which is linked to Roosevelt's successor, William Taft. After a political dinner in the South, at which he ate homecooked possum, Taft supporters introduced the next president with his own children's toy, named the Billy Possum. Since he was going to follow in Roosevelt's footsteps as president, he needed a stuffed animal to accompany him. Which is ridiculous. And now the teddy bear lives on as a cherished children's toy, while the billy possum has faded into obscurity. Why? It's with questions like these that 99% Invisible's at its most fun. Roman and Jon conclude that the billy possum doll faded into obscurity because of the toy's lackluster origin story. Because honestly, who wants to play with a toy inspired by a president devouring a cooked possum?
Lukach notes that the radio version of the show is required to stick to a four and a half minute running time. I knew that the podcast was derived from a public radio show, but I hadn't fully appreciated that the podcast always acted as an extended edition of the radio version. I can't say that I've ever listened to the podcast and felt that it outstayed its' welcome, so I'm all for the extra little flourishes that make the podcast a different entity from the parent show. It's short enough to be easy to find room for, and long enough to intrigue the listener.
Seeing a new episode of 99% Invisible pop up on my iPod Touch is always good news: I know that I'm guaranteed to learn something new in the course of my 12 minute walk from the Metro station to the office.
April 8th, 2012
BERG's Matt Jones on the human race's newest companion species:
They see the world differently to us, picking up on things we miss.
They adapt to us, our routines. They look to us for attention, guidance and sustenance. We imagine what they are thinking, and vice-versa.
Dogs? Or smartphones? [...]
March 26th, 2012
Mike Solomon, one of YouTube's original engineers, has learned a great deal about scalability over the last seven years:
Jitter – Add Entropy Back into Your System
[...] Systems have a tendency to self synchronize as operations line up and try to destroy themselves. Fascinating to watch. You get slow disk system on one machine and everybody is waiting on a request so all of a sudden all these other requests on all these other machines are completely synchronized. This happens when you have many machines and you have many events. Each one actually removes entropy from the system so you have to add some back in.
Also (this one is my favourite)…
Cheating – Know How to Fake Data
[...] The fastest function call is the one that doesn't happen. When you have a monotonically increasing counter, like movie view counts or profile view counts, you could do a transaction every update. Or you could do a transaction every once in awhile and update by a random amount and as long as it changes from odd to even people would probably believe it's real. Know how to fake data.
March 17th, 2012
Dan Hill's review for Domus of the already-defunct Nokia N9 serves both as a requiem for an elegant smartphone and as a reminder that there's more that one approach to designing mobile computers:
Imagine an inverted pyramid representing the Apple mobile product line, with the MacBook Pro at the top, moving down into the Macbook Air, then down again into the IPad, before miniaturizing further into the iPhone at the apex. Each step down the 'computer-ness' diminishes and the 'phone-ness' increases, yet Apple takes its knowledge of building computers and runs it through the entire stack, with iOS simply a version of MacOS. As a result, the flexibility and efficiency of its software is evident at each stage, just as integration is enabled up and down the pyramid. This strategic alignment has an impact on consistency of functions, interactions and integration, yet also the operational requirements of device maintenance, code libraries, and battery life.
Nokia has been effectively starting at the bottom of the pyramid, the phone, and trying to move up. (To be fair, when they started, there was no pyramid above the phone.) [...]
February 19th, 2012
John Naughton's article charging that Graphic designers are ruining the web isn't entirely fair to graphic designers. In fact, to my mind it's a rare example of Naughton being almost completely wrong.
It's only occasionally a case of designers trying to design prettier pages and increasing the size and number of files required to produce their desired look; more often, the root of the problem is the desire of publishers to embed a couple of dozen separate objects on a page, many of them being links to social networking sites or pointers to other parts of the site you're on. And, of course, adverts. Lots of adverts.
As it happens, I was so tired of the Guardian's site cramming the articles I read into less than half of my browser's window and surrounding it with extraneous crap that I read Naughton's article using the wonderful Instapaper Text bookmarklet: much better. The Readability Bookmarklets do a similar job, and with the bonus that a share of your monthly subscription1 can be claimed by the publisher, providing them with at least some income to compensate them for the income they wouldn't have got from the ads you didn't see.2
February 16th, 2012
Building a clock that will run for 10,000 years requires you to try to anticipate problems other clocks just don't face:
Notes taken during [a colloquium on the Long Now Foundation's plans to ensure that the 10,000-Year Clock keeps time despite long-term variations in the length of a day] show that, while the technical success of the Clock's durability is yet to be determined, its ability to inspire long-term thinking is already taking hold:
Neil deGrasse Tyson jested that the Long Now should put some signage on the 10,000 Year Clock so that a post-apocalyptic Earth will not think that the world will end when the clock stops working.