Watching the video at Google’s Little Signals site, I was struck by the thought that all these oh-so polite, unobtrusive attempts to replace notifications look fine in a demonstration video but they really don’t scale well.

Take the use of a device – shown 1 minute, 15 seconds in – that taps on a solitary bottle of pills to hint that it’s time for you to take your morning (or evening, or whatever) medication…

Looks cute, doesn’t it.

Outside of demo-world, at present I take six different pills after breakfast, then one of the same pills again after tea, then one other pill after supper. A gentle tap threatens to turn into a drum solo accompanying my morning repast.1 In practice, the fact that I currently keep my pill dispenser out of sight in a cabinet in my kitchen might also be a bit of a problem.

Don’t we want alerts to take your medication to be difficult to ignore?

What I really want is…

  • A medication timer app for iPadOS (or simply daily recurring entries on any halfway-decent ToDo app) that sends me notifications that I can’t easily ignore, not a polite tapping sound from the kitchen cabinet that I might miss completely.
  • Or a high-tech version of my cheap plastic pill organiser that can light up the appropriate compartment containing the pills I need to take at the appropriate time.2
  • Or just the self-discipline to keep on top of and check off the uncleared medication-related tasks from my Markdown-formatted Daily Note.3

[Via Dan Hon

  1. Also, all my pills come in cardboard boxes and once a week I file them away in the right compartment in a weekly pill organiser according to when I’m due to take them. A dull tap on a plastic pillbox just won’t deliver the same distinct audible signal as a tap on a glass pill bottle, I fear. 
  2. With a companion app to program the times, set default colour schemes and sound effects, naturally. 
  3. Yes, I’ve turned into an Obsidian zombie. 

Getting [On | Old]

Dan Hon ponders an increasingly important question:

I gave in and upped the font size on on my Mac because I’m now not too precious to admit that I need to be able to read things. Which got me thinking: if we’ve got Dark Mode, then what does Old Mode for Internet Olds look like?

Potential Old Modes:

  • text-only sports websites because Old Internet People remember when stuff loaded quickly and was just text and then evergreen example
  • Make This Like A Chronological Feed For Me Mode for Old Internets who keep going on about some “Google Reader” and “RSS” and can’t handle intrinsically algorithmic/recommendation-powered feeds like TikTok
  • So, you know, not just skins that make things look old, but skins that are interfaces on top of modern services that behave in certain kinds of old. Or interface aesthetics that work for Old People.

I realise this is really just a subset of the last item, but it’s an important one. Letting users control your software using keyboard shortcuts1 is a big one, for me.

  1. If your software has drop-down menus, have it display those shortcuts on-screen, right next to the menu items. 

In memoriam

Jon Hicks, being a graphic designer and a Mac enthusiast, chose to memorialise his father in a very particular way:

Growing up I was subconsciously inspired by the different aspects of design that he introduced to me, from mid-century vinyl record covers to architecture and signage. In particular, his distinctive architect’s handwriting was very evocative to me, and I decided I should try and capture it as a font. It could be something carrying his name that outlives him, and also something else to talk to him about.

Not something that everyone would care about,1 but Jon Hicks had the tools and the inclination, so why not?

  1. If it was, someone would be offering this sort of thing as an automated service you can access via an app, with the service using Machine Learning to extrapolate letters that weren’t included in the sample and to equalise character sizes and so on. For a premium fee, the supplier would offer to lock the resulting font file down so that only the paying customer could use it (because clearly there’s a risk of rampant forgery, or so we’d be warned.) Fidelity-wise, the results would very likely be considerably less good than what Jon Hicks can do manually, but in fairness that’s not the sort of thing that it’s easy to quantify. 

Looking at history

Version Museum concentrates on the look of applications more than it does the story behind that redesign.

Version Museum showcases the visual history of popular websites, operating systems, applications, and games that have shaped our lives. Much like walking through a real-life museum, this site focuses on the design changes of historic versions of technology, rather than just the written history behind it.

It’s a pity the selection of applications is so limited right now, but what is there is covered pretty well.

Looking at the Microsoft Excel entry mostly reinforced how much I loathe the Ribbon interface. I don’t care how many studies Microsoft wave around proving that the average user prefers the way the Ribbon surfaces what Microsoft claim are the application’s most-used features. Taking away the user’s ability to add their most-used features to the Ribbon was (and remains to this day) a lousy idea.

[Via Daring Fireball]

Akin’s Laws

Akin’s Laws of Spacecraft Design. Hard-won words of wisdom, offered freely.

I’ve been involved in spacecraft and space systems design and development for my entire career, including teaching the senior-level capstone spacecraft design course, for ten years at MIT and now at the University of Maryland for more than two decades. These are some bits of wisdom that I have gleaned during that time, some by picking up on the experience of others, but mostly by screwing up myself. I originally wrote these up and handed them out to my senior design class, as a strong hint on how best to survive my design experience. […]

  1. Past experience is excellent for providing a reality check. Too much reality can doom an otherwise worthwhile design, though.

  2. The odds are greatly against you being immensely smarter than everyone else in the field. If your analysis says your terminal velocity is twice the speed of light, you may have invented warp drive, but the chances are a lot better that you’ve screwed up.

[Via LinkMachineGo!]

British. Not entirely Great.

Mary Beard is right: the new set of 10p coins do look awfully ‘Theme Park Britain.’ I get the urge to keep the designs simple, but English Breakfast followed by Fish & Chips isn’t a very inspiring combination, and World Wide Web is utterly uninspired. [note]Not to mention, Tim Berners-Lee is unquestionably English, but he was working at CERN in Switzerland when he came up with the idea and the global spread of his invention has had at least as much to do with how American companies jumped on board the concept as anything that’s happened in Britain.[/note]

‘T’ clearly ought to stand for TARDIS. Granted, Gallifrey isn’t in the UK, but the Doctor is this generation’s combination of Gandalf and Merlin and he/she is a far more potent and positive symbol of Britain’s contribution to the world’s imagination over the last half-century or so than James bloody Bond! [note]For that matter, never mind ‘P’ for Postbox: ‘P’ should be for PTerry![/note]

Generally, it’s not a set of images that suggests a confident, forward-looking nation.

[Via Mary Beard]