Interesting interview by Om Malik:

Om: If you were to give advice to younger designers, web developers, web app makers, what would you tell them?

Erik: Learn as much about our culture as you possibly can, by reading, by traveling, by involving yourself in things that go on. But don’t become an artist. Don’t think, “I’ll do it intuitively.” You have to learn if not to code at least to appreciate code, to understand code. Because code is what nuts and bolts were a hundred years ago.

If you don’t know anything about mechanics, you can’t survive in this world. If you don’t know anything about how a computer works or code works, as a communicator, which is what a designer is — the interface between machines and man, that’s what we are. We are the interface, we interpret what the machine says into visible language. If you don’t understand how the machine works, you’re going to be laughed out of the room by the engineering guys, because you can’t communicate with them.
Find the full text here


Inconsistency causes confusion, because things don’t work the way the user expects them to. Forcing users to memorize exceptions to the rules increases the cognitive burden and causes resentment. Attention to consistency is important for instilling confidence in the product, because it gives the impression that there is a logical, rational, trustworthy designer behind the scenes.

For desktop and mobile applications, you should aim to understand and conform to the user interface guidelines for your operating system or platform. Consistency with these standard conventions reduces the number of new things a user needs to learn. Donald Norman


I walk around the campus where I work and see a vibrant mix of races and cultures. Every one of those people has a different voice … a different perspective … a different story to tell. All of that makes our company an exciting and special place to be, and allows us to do great things together. We are urgently working to become much more diverse, because it’s so important to our future success. I firmly believe that whether you’re building a company or leading a country, a diverse mix of voices and backgrounds and experiences leads to better discussions, better decisions, and better outcomes for everyone.
Sundar Pichai talking about a far more serious topic, Let’s not let fear defeat our values

This is how I feel about teams and who would we should have in them. The conflicts and differences between us bring about greater ideas and ultimately better work. unfortunately it’s not an idea often shared by many companies in Taiwan.


Comparing Taiwan and Prince Edward Island

After living for 17 years in Taiwan it’s interesting to come home to Prince Edward Island, see the changes (or lack of), and do some comparisons between the 2 places. Some of the differences I’ve noticed during this visit home.

  • I’ve always enjoyed a good cup of coffee but with great Cafés like Ink in Hsinchu, and great small roasters seemingly everywhere, drinking and brewing cofee has taken on an obesession for me. Not a morning goes by where I try to perfect my pour over method. Hsinchu, of all places, has a rich coffee culture. Coffee culture in Prince Edward Island unfortunately consists of Tim Hortins and Keurig machines.
  • Running is all the craze in Taiwan at the moment, and with the Taiwanese penchent for looking the part, there are lots of places to gear up. I’ve yet to see another runner, yes it’s winter, and the sports stores I have been to have little in the way of gear – with the exception being underarmour. I’ve never seen some much of that brand in my life.
  • Groceries here are generally expensive and it’s difficult to find cheaper options, like cheaper cuts of meat. It’s winter so all vegetables are imported. But just like in Taiwan, it would appear that most people fill their shopping carts with crap processed food.
  • No PM 2.5 air quality warnings here. Often times being outside in Asia is a hazard to your health, not so here. You haven’t seen clear skies or breathed fresh air until you’ve been here, at any time of the year.
  • Clothes are ridiculously cheap here. Or at certain times of the year and if you are willing to be behind a season, ridiculously discounted. Levis jeans can be a quarter of what they are in Taiwan. Even Taiwan/Hong Kong brand names aren’t as inexpensive. I’ve been told that young ladies wear is cheap in Taiwan but I’ve no experience.
  • Going to the hospital here is a pain in the ass, unbelievable waits, but at least in my recent experience the care when you finally get it stands in stark contrast to Taiwan. Lots of questions, smiles and empathy abound. I love Taiwan’s easy access but it’s a factory model and the feeling is they either don’t have time to care for you as a person or just don’t care. While I would like to have a relationship with a family doctor, at this point in my life I prefer Taiwans easy quick access.
  • People in Prince Edward Island greet each other and are friendly to strangers. Taiwan is often characterised as an extremely friendly place, and I have met some the nicest people there imaginable, but I could go months there without a single person saying hello or sharing a smile. And it’s no due to my scary face, people in Prince Edward Island are constantly striking up conversations with me wherever I go. Imagine as a Chinese language learner how much easier it would be if you didn’t have to make herculan efforts to get someone to speak to you in Taiwan.
  • People talk to each other on the job, laugh even. They also work regular hours and sometimes take breaks. I’m sure there are problems here in the workplace but the feeling is it is far different from workers being treated like cattle in Taiwan. (I’m treated well and have been treated excetionally well, but I’m the exception and I still put in 47+ hrs week as a minimum with no holidays except cny.)
  • People give you an enormous amount of space when driving by pedestrians vs. not seeing/caring or lets see if we can hit that guy behaviour in Taiwan.
  • I’m walking far less, driving far more. It would depend I guess on your location but I’m walking very little here. The distances are too great. In Taiwan I tried to walk everywhere and due to the horrible driving conditions took transit to and from work. I could see living outside the city in Prince Edward Island would force me to set aside time for walking, in addition to my regular runs. Easy to see how easy it is to be sedentary here.
  • I’ve been conditioned from years of living in Taiwan to ask for a discount or a special price. It’s possible in PEI but people seem to get embarrased.
  • Thus far I have noticed that people take lines far more seriously here. I made the mistake in Toronto of accidently standing in front of someone in a line when I was told in no uncertain terms that they were ahead of me. Even seniors need to wait. Lining up in Taiwan is much more ordered affair that years past but people tend to be far more gentle in their reminders.

Dialog boxes

Perhaps due to the influence of Windows based software poor UI design, I often come across the common mistakes superfluous and poorly thought out dialog boxes. In addition to the maxim below, I believe we should avoid creating error dialogs when an undo will do. Unfortunately the essential undo function is still often forgotten.

Dialog boxes should be action-oriented; they should help guide users towards what their next step is likely to be and it should provide them with the information that they need in order to be able to accomplish that next step.


Discoverable UI

WordToolbars

Discoverability is one of the distinct advantages of the GUI, and lately I’ve found it to be an often fought for concept. There is a trend in the UI I see lately to either hide all functions in places most users would not easily find, or obscure them behind difficult to recognise icons. But this wonderful discoverability of the GUI has a dark side when you bring all of the possibilities to the forefront, which is often the strategy with Windows UI, you run the risk of leaving no work space for the user or turning your productivity app into nothing but a large piece of chrome.

In the exaggerated example above, is this interface discoverable? Certainly! All of the functionality is right there. But you pay a cost in terms of screen real estate.


My design and user experience reading list

For years I kept a running list of work related reads to share with colleagues and friends. It gradually got replaced with various online services and then predictably forgotten. Years ago I used to be an avid reader of everything related to working within a design team, most of my initial UX/design knowledge was largely from these books, though many of those books might be dated today I have started to keep a new list in my “books” page linked above. I think it’s a good reading list for interaction designers, information architects, usability professionals, product managers and designers. They are listed in no particular order (and unfortunately broken in mobile).

Design and user experience reading list


Doing a Project in Your Spare Time

“The Problem With Doing a Project in Your Spare Time is That There isn’t Any”

I shared this on twitter earlier but the 140 character limit doesn’t allow for much commenting. I think it was Matt Owens of Volumeone (one of the original flash based “ezines”) who served as my inspiration 17 years ago for doing personal projects. It was at that time a very fundamental part of what I did, and about the only opportunity for trying new things that ultimately increased my skill set or alleviated the boredom of corporate design work. Many of these projects went on to be sources of income in themselves. When asking young designers today if they doing any work outside of the office they almost universally say no. Which is a shame because much of what gets done at work is full of constraints and as such it can be hard to grow or simply have fun.

But the choice quote above from Jim Coudal above does ring true. None of us get off at 5, and though I leave earlier than most, the mental energy to start a side project is nearly impossible to muster. It should be apart of our week, but unfortunately in all of the past 17 years in Taiwan, I’ve only met 2 bosses who believed in giving teams time to learn new skills. As a result I sacrifice my lunch hours, Friday nights, some early mornings, and Saturday afternoons practicing skills that make me a better designer.


It’s amazing the difference experience makes

A recent school meeting where we get introduced to all our kids teachers, and hear about the coming year amongst a myriad of other things, was a refreshing change. All but one of the teachers were mid career or older and had an air of confidence and experience that was palpable. They spoke from their success and failures, and with many stories to illustrate their point. The results of our kids studies at this school are far from being evident but despite having an unfavourable impression of the school as a whole, I left feeling at ease and confident that our children’s educational needs would be taken care of.

In my life I don’t often run into people with experience, Taiwan employers favor youth over experience, and so it was interesting to be talking to people whose abilities were as much defined by what they have done as what they have read. There is a struggle to gaining knowledge over time and this comes through with their delivery. Which reminds me of a quote from Limitless:

And you would even think that, would only show me how unprepared you are to be on your own. I mean you do know you’re a freak? Your deductive powers are a gift from God or chance or a straight shot of sperm or whatever or whoever wrote your life-script. A gift, not earned. You do not know what I know because you have not earned those powers. You’re careless with those powers, you flaunt them and you throw them around like a brat with his trust-fund. You haven’t had to climb up all the greasy little rungs. You haven’t been bored blind at the fundraisers. You haven’t done the time and that first marriage to the girl with the right father. You think you can leap over all in a single bound. You haven’t had to bribe or charm or threat your way to a seat at that table. You don’t know how to assess your competition because you haven’t competed.

Companies in Taiwan over-reliance on inexperienced workers in their teams may be misguided (more time spent does not equal to quality output) but that not to say that younger people have no value, many of the people who I have worked with are far more skilled in some areas, but that one should have balance. The best design team I worked with had people of all ages and backgrounds.

Also: At 90, She’s Designing Tech For Aging Boomers and Former Apple artist Susan Kare joins Pinterest as a lead product designer.


Saturday afternoons

A great working partner

A great working partner

This is getting to be a bad habit. I enjoy working in coffee shops, the few I frequent in Hsinchu are some of the best you will find anywhere. Great coffee, free wifi, and great environment. Saturdays are less enjoyable as it’s standing room only and the noise level rises above the usual background din.

For the past month or so while my son is at soccer I have been spending most of Saturday afternoon with my daughter at our local favourite Ink Café. I study, or catch up on odds and ends, or work on projects that can’t be accomlished through-out the week. Catriona finishes homework and then dives into a book.

It’s not a total waste but I can’t help think that this would be better done during normal (western) working hours. I would rather be hiking, or watching my son practice, or simply helping my daughter with homework over coffee and then going off exploring. But there is so much I hope to do.

Maybe if in the future my employment situation is more stable, I can relax and not be concerned with these small tasks.