Sometimes amongst the noise of Facebook a signal appears; some great advice from a high school classmate.

I’ve always taken risks in my life, sometimes they didn’t work out and I was embarrassed. I learned from every one, because I looked for the learning. And I didn’t stop taking risks. Over time, they stopped feeling so much like risks and it’s gotten harder to embarrass me. I’ve learned a lot.

What are you afraid to do? Be bold today. Do something you’ve always wanted to do, something you’ve been scared to try. Look for the learning and do it again next week.
Kirsten

Fear of embarrassment has long been a motivator for me but also an inhibitor to stepping outside my bubble and trying something new. I think I’ll take her advice.


OmniGraffle for User Interface Design

A video detailing how Omni designs its own apps, “starting with a quick iPad sketch and ending up at a pixel-perfect, interactive design”. I may revisit using OmniGraffle but for the short term at least I’m invested in using Sketch.

This is not seat-of-your-pants level of exciting but I always enjoy listening to how another teams approach interface design.


Business and industry have learned that their products ought to be aesthetically pleasing. A large community of designers exists to help improve appearances. But appearances are only part of the story: usability and understandability are more important, for if a product can’t be used easily and safely, how valuable is its attractiveness? Usable design and aesthetics should go hand in hand: aesthetics need not be sacrificed for usability, which can be designed in from the first conceptualisation of the product.
Donald Norman, The Design of Everyday Things, Doubleday, 1988


Humane Interface Design

An interface is humane if it is responsive to human needs and considerate of human frailties. We make mistakes. No matter how hard we try to concentrate and prevent errors, errors will happen when our concentration wanes or when we are forced to do something that is beyond our cognitive abilities like multi-tasking: the act of consciously thinking about two things at once — and, with the use of Queueing Theory & Little’s Law, we learn that multi-tasking leads to lower productivity.
Aza Raskin

A humane interface design philosophy:

1. It’s the fault of the interface, not you.
The main thing you have to remember—and please remember this, because it could be vital to your sanity—is that any problems you have with an interface are not your fault. If you have trouble using your microwave, it’s not because you’re “not good with technology”, it’s because the people in charge of designing the interface for that microwave didn’t do their job right. User interface design is incredibly hard, and carries with it a great deal of responsibility; this is something that’s taken quite seriously when it comes life-critical systems such as flight control software. But in today’s consumer culture, what should be blamed on bad interface design is instead blamed on the “incompetence” of users. Just remember that it’s not your fault.

2. Don’t take something simple and make it complex.
Some tasks—for instance, teaching a child arithmetic—are intrinsically pretty complicated. But some aren’t. Setting the time on a wristwatch, for instance, shouldn’t be that hard; on old analog wristwatches, it basically involved pulling out a knob, twisting it until the watch showed the correct time, and pushing the knob back in again. But on newer digital wristwatches—ones that claim to be more powerful and feature-loaded than their analog counterparts—it involves pressing a series of buttons in a hard-to-remember, often unforgiving order. Most people dread setting the time on their digital watches, and for good reason.

It’s right and proper for complicated tasks to take time and expertise to accomplish. But something that is fundamentally simple—like changing the time on a wristwatch—should stay simple.

3. Fewer choices are better than many.
People love having choices, because having choices means having freedom. Well, we don’t think this is necessarily a good thing when it comes to usability. We believe that when someone wants to do something on their computer, they want to spend their time doing it, not deciding how to do it. For instance, Microsoft Windows provides you with at least three different ways to launch applications and services on your computer: desktop icons, a quick-launch bar, and a Start Menu. Each one of these mechanisms is useful in one or two situations but horrible in others, and each has completely different instructions for operation. Microsoft even gives you a wealth of choices to configure them the way you want, which makes the situation that much more complex.

When we can, we try to avoid burdening our users with choices like this: we’d rather just take the time to make one simple mechanism that the user can use for all their purposes. Because the less burdened a user’s mind is with irrelevant decisions, the more clear their mind is to accomplish what they need to get done.

4. Reliability is sacred.
It’s that simple, really. When one ensures that a machine can’t lose a user’s work, interfaces become a lot simpler; no more dialog boxes asking questions like “Are you sure you want to delete that entry?”; no more remembering to click a “Save” button like it’s a nervous twitch. You never need to regret any action you take, because any action you take can instantly be undone. Not to mention your complete lack of terror when you’re in the middle of working on your computer and the power goes out.

5. Your train of thought is sacred. Don’t break the flow.
You can only really think about one thing at a time. If you’re thinking about paying your taxes, you can’t be thinking about your vacation in Tahiti. Indeed, thinking about that vacation in Tahiti will actively prevent you from thinking about your taxes. That’s why when you want to get something done, you want to get everything out of your head except the task at hand.

Quite simply, you need to preserve your train of thought. And that means that the interface you’re using can’t derail it. No talking paper clips bothering you from the sidelines, no fiddling with windows to find your work, no distractions.

6. Good interfaces create good habits.
When you’re first learning how to use even the best of interfaces, preserving your train of thought can be hard because so much of your mind is focused on how to use the interface, rather than on what you need to do. But as you become more proficient at using a good interface, it eventually becomes second nature—it becomes a habit, like walking or breathing. You don’t need to think about what sequence of motions you need to perform an action because it’s like your hands have memorized them as a single continuous gesture, saving you the trouble of having to think about them.

Bad interfaces, on the other hand, prevent habits from forming—but they can also make you form bad habits. Have you ever closed a window and hit “Do Not Save”, only to realize a split second too late that it was exactly what you didn’t want to do? That’s a bad habit from a bad interface.

Good interfaces make forming good habits really easy, and they make forming bad habits nearly impossible.

7. Modes cause misery.
There exists a mortal enemy to your habits and your train of thought: it’s called a mode. If an interface has modes, then the same gesture that you’ve habituated performs completely different actions depending on which mode the system is in. For instance, take your Caps Lock key; have you ever accidentally pressed it unknowingly, only to find that everything you type LOOKS LIKE THIS?

When that happens, all that habituation you’ve built up about how to type on a keyboard gets subverted: it’s like your computer has suddenly turned into a completely different interface with a different set of behaviors. And that derails your train of thought, because you’re suddenly confused about why your habits aren’t producing what you expect them to.

When you think about it, almost everything that frustrates us about interfaces is due to a mode. That’s why good interfaces have as few as possible.

8. It’s easy to learn.
Good interfaces aren’t just effortless to use once you know them—they’re also easy to learn to use. This doesn’t necessarily mean that someone should be able to use it without any instruction, though—it just means that knowing how to use any feature of the interface involves learning and retaining as little information as possible. Keep it simple, and keep it consistent.

9. An interface should be attractive and pleasant in tone.
How messages are phrased is important, how the interface looks is also important. But these are of secondary importance in terms of task completion. It used to be said that the Mac OS X interface looked so good it was lick able.

Source.


Perfectly executing the wrong plan

I’ve always felt that starting from the perspective of solving a personal problem or pain is a great way to start a product idea. But Tomer Sharon suggests otherwise in this video From Google I/O, which makes sense when you are in a position of using someone else’s capital investment. It takes very little time to validate some of your basic assumptions.

App developers ask themselves excellent questions about their users: Do people need my app? Can people use my app? Why do people sign up and then not use my app? However, app developers answer their excellent questions in invalid and unreliable ways. It is shocking to see how much effort app developers put in writing elegantly structured, refactored code, with good unit test coverage in an agile environment, and yet, their apps fail miserably.


App. development is often completely senseless

Craig Mod shares his incite on how apps are made – a process he compares to making pottery. Creating a convincing argument that the how process makes absolutely no sense.

Apps mirror life in their unfairness. Time spent making an app in no way guarantees successes, financial or spiritual. Grizzled developers toil for years and ‘lose’ to the ‘chain-smoking geek’ in Vietnam with the twitchy bird. Guy doesn’t even want the money.

This is so true. How many projects have I started early, or first, or toiled for years on, only to discover someone built a similar idea and brought it to commercial or critical success.

The first pass should be ugly, the ugliest. Any brain cycle spent on pretty is self deception. If pretty is the point then please stop. Do not, I repeat, do not spent three months on the radial menu, impressive as it may be. It will not save your company. There is a time for that. That time is not now. Instead, make grand gestures. General gestures. Most importantly, enumerate the unknowns. Make a list. Making known the unknowns you now know will surface the other unknowns, the important unknowns, the truly devastating unknowns — you can’t scrape our content! you can’t monkey park here! a tiny antennae is not for rent! You want to unearth answers as quickly as possible. Nothing else matters if your question marks irrecoverably break you. Do not procrastinate in their excavation.

How are apps made?


Being early

For our first interview for The Distance, he arrived 20 minutes early to the Starbucks in suburban Chicago where we had arranged to meet. Due to a slight miscommunication, I ended up at a different Starbucks at the same intersection, so he actually waited for 40 minutes before we figured out what was happening.

Jim was gracious, though, and later explained that his penchant for extreme punctuality stemmed from his days as a professional trumpet player. As a freelance musician, he needed to be dependable — competition for gigs was intense, and band leaders didn’t want to deal with players who showed up late or weren’t prepared. Jim arrived at all his gigs early, with enough time to warm up and even grab a cup of coffee before the performance started.

Though I’m sure a friend or colleague could remind me otherwise, I share the same desire for punctuality as Jim, likely as well due to my experience as a musician in my youth. I always arrive early and never seldom arrive late. Which is to say the habit of people arriving late for meetings in Taiwan drives me crazy, because in some circles here the more important you are the later you arrive.

There so many basic skills that are all too often forgotten.

From: The Music Man


Thoughts on navigating the open sea of knowledge

We live in a world awash with information, but we seem to face a growing scarcity of wisdom. And what’s worse, we confuse the two. We believe that having access to more information produces more knowledge, which results in more wisdom. But, if anything, the opposite is true — more and more information without the proper context and interpretation only muddles our understanding of the world rather than enriching it.

Very well done, and I doubt we get expect any less from Maria Popova. I don’t quit agree with her definitions (few people reach the top of the DIKW Hierarchy) and would have rewritten the above to express that we are in a world awash with noise (data), far more noise than signal, information is scarce, and knowledge and wisdom very difficult to come by. We are constantly fed data, not information.

Data, Information, Knowledge, and then Wisdom.

Information is only the beginning of meaning.

“We live in an age of alsos, adapting to alternatives. because we have greater access to information, many of us have become more involved in researching, and making our own decisions, rather than relying on experts. The opportunity is that there is so much information, the catastrophe is that 99% of it isn’t meaningful or understandable. We need to rethink how we present information because the information appetites of people are much more refined. Success in our connected world requires that we isolate the specific information we need and get it to those we work with.” From Richard Saul Wurman’s, “Information Anxiety 2″

“We are being pummeled by a deluge of data and unless we create time and spaces in which to reflect, we will be left with only our reactions. I strongly believe in the power of weblogs to transform both writers and readers from “audience” to “public” and from “consumer” to “creator.” Weblogs are no panacea for the crippling effects of a media-saturated culture, but I believe they are one antidote.” rebecca blood, september 2000

Data is raw and often overabundant. Despite what many may say, it’s not the driving force of our age. It is, for the most part, only the building blocks on which relevance is built. Content / data en mass has limited value in its raw state.

In fact data is useless until it is transformed — in it’s raw state it has no meaning and is of little value which only contributes to the anxiety we feel in our lives.