Learning Swift with TeamTreehouse

There are times when this has to be the most frustrating courseware I have ever experienced for learning anything.

Instead of continuing to invest in codebase’s, or making a large investment in engineering talent, for the simple and not so simple apps. we are developing, I thought I might take a few months to deep dive into a course on Swift. Learning new skills and acquiring new knowledge is a pretty essential part of life and I thought there might be some ancillary benefits from having some programming ability. Designers should code. The benefit where I might change from senior designer to junior iOS dev. seems more like a pipe dream at this point.

Generally speaking TeamTreehouse’s production values are pretty high and you are more likely guaranteed a level of quality that you might not be assured of on other platforms like Udemy (though I have found a couple great design courses there).

Here are some of the problems I had, am having:

  • Learning programming concepts is an absolute bore. This has as much to do with my own interests and abilities as any courseware ’s approach. The actual creating part of programming is fun, I still remember the first C programs I wrote. Their must be ways to make learning more interesting. Some courseware I have used speeds you through the material, gets you creating “apps” as soon as possible, then adds complexity later – TeamTreehouse doesn’t take this approach.
  • I’m not convinced that using video alone or how they deliver the material via video is effective. There is at times a tremendous amount to unpack within a video. Often its very difficult to parse meaning, or to capture all that the instructor is saying. Rewatching videos over and over again is extremely inefficient. Not all the platforms I have experienced have this difficulty.
  • I could in no way rely upon the course material alone. In fact, I used 3 other textbooks to teach myself the topics introduced in the videos. I realize that constantly searching for answers is a required part of programming but at this level I would prefer a more complete course.
  • Answers to questions are slow to come. Often they do eventually come, and the community is great, but I prefer to be able to ask questions in something approaching real time. Often times what the instructor is teaching is unclear or he makes a giant leap in logic, with no one to answer questions, you need to pause your learning until someone is available to help.
  • Basic concepts are taught using more advanced, often complex, examples. The upside to this is that you are immediately given more realistic coding challenges. The downside is that if you don’t understand the concept being introduced before using in a more realistic situation you tend to get frustrated. I think it interferes with learning, and I prefer the more graduated approach I have seen in books from Big Nerd Raunch. First learn the skill, then gradually add more realistic usage through practice.

What has made me stick with the platform to this point is the desire to actually finish the course I started. I hate in-completes. I might also be a victim of the sunk cost fallacy.


George Heilmeier’s Method for Solving Research Challenges

Or for solving all kinds of problems. From George Heilmeier’s method for solving research challenges:

  • What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.
  • How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
  • What is new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  • Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • What are the mid-term and final “exams” to check for success?

via John Maeda


Creating great teams

I first heard Kim Scott on a podcast, I’ve forgotten which one, where she talked about radical candor and how to inspire teams to create great work. It made great sense to me, especially labelling members as Rockstars and Superstars – it’s a categorization I have tried to articulate in the past.


Start small, start now
This is much better than, “start big, start later.”

One advantage is that you don’t have to start perfect.

You can merely start.
Seth Godin

You have to do your research, you have to do some due diligence, read some books but analysis can lead to paralysis, too much planning may mean you never launch. Best to launch small and iterate, that way you can mitigate risk and learn from doing. We have stumbled, already made mistakes, but that’s one of the philosophy’s behind the development of our small company.


A recent interview

I did an interview back in November(?) for a Taiwan government sponsored online magazine called Design Perspectives. Design Perspectives claims to be: “the world’s first bilingual resource that provides insights into design created for and within huaren (Chinese-speaking) communities”. I met with Daniel Cunningham the current editor and we had a short chat over coffee at Good Choo’s Bagel Cafe in Taipei. We pretty much deviated from the prepared script and had a long discussion about life and work here in Taiwan and China, from an outsiders perspective. Other than meeting someone interesting I came away with the feeling that I’m pretty difficult to interview and talk too much.

The result is fine – I’m picky and would have loved to be clearer on some points.

I used to be called upon for interviews quite regularly years ago, as I was an outlier, a foreign professional involved in at that time a nascent discipline. This time I was again an outlier but for a different reason; most of my work over the past number of years has been in support of others, a typical staff designer and freelancer, a team player, which seemed to put more at odds with the other interviewees who have a bit more ‘star qualities’ (Rock Stars vs. Super Stars).

Apps are wonderful tools, but you shouldn’t use them too much


A start to the new year

Years past, New Years Day meant nursing hangovers or preparing for another day of too much food, now I find no better way to start off the new year than with a race, especially when it is with my favorite running partners (I think the kids are a bit more interested in the snacks than the challenge of the race). Last year it was the Xiamen marathon, this year was a 10k run at a comfortable pace, but pain free. I’m committed this year to getting myself stronger so that I cannot only continue running, but hopefully over the long term be a better runner.


Old school social platform

Phone, newspapers and local advertising

There is certainly a lot to unpack in this photograph. It’s the way we used to communicate, keep informed and be pitched to all in one location; like the iPhone or Facebook. You could also imagine seeing missing pet signs or offers for various personal services.


Disruptions and distractions prompt us to get creative

I heard this story during in an NPR podcast yesterday during my morning run. Beginning with my time at ITRI where the teams were made of people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities I’ve believed that change, disruption, conflict, friction and chaos can help foster great work. It at least spurs ideas and makes for an engaging and fun workplace.

In 1975, jazz pianist Keith Jarrett played a concert that would go down in history. For this performance in Cologne, he used an old, virtually unplayable Bösendorfer piano – the only one available at the venue.Jarrett couldn’t play the ancient piano like he would a new one. It was out of tune, too quiet, the pedals were sticky and the high notes had a tinny ring to them. So instead, he improvised.To cope with the poor resonance, he played rumbling bass riffs. To boost the volume, he played while standing, pushing the keys harder and thereby giving the piece a new intensity. It was by playing in this unorthodox manner that he created a unique work of art.This is not unusual: disruptions force us to find new, creative approaches. After all, as long as our habits and routines are functional, there’s no need to alter them. Novel, potentially far-superior practices are usually discovered in periods of disruption.
Blinkist

From Tim Harford’s Messy, which is all about order and tidiness, or rather, why they’re overrated. In his Ted Talk he gives a further example which anyone involved with design might relate to:

We’ve actually known for a while that certain kinds of difficulty, certain kinds of obstacle, can actually improve our performance. For example, the psychologist Daniel Oppenheimer, a few years ago, teamed up with high school teachers. And he asked them to reformat the handouts that they were giving to some of their classes. So the regular handout would be formatted in something straightforward, such as Helvetica or Times New Roman. But half these classes were getting handouts that were formatted in something sort of intense, like Haettenschweiler, or something with a zesty bounce, like Comic Sans italicized. Now, these are really ugly fonts, and they’re difficult fonts to read. But at the end of the semester, students were given exams, and the students who’d been asked to read the more difficult fonts, had actually done better on their exams, in a variety of subjects. And the reason is, the difficult font had slowed them down, forced them to work a bit harder, to think a bit more about what they were reading, to interpret it … and so they learned more.

We need to deal with the awkward strangers, we need to try to read the ugly fonts, we need to embrace difficult situations, and we need to place ourselves willingly in these environments. It helps us. It helps us solve problems and be more creative.


Camren’s Mark Wiens Impression

The kids have gotten me into the habit of watching Youtube clips during my downtime. We have never had cable or watched much in the way of TV (outside of our occasional Netflix habit) but somehow the kids have found a way to circumvent our no TV habit via Youtube. It’s their gateway to all kinds of good and bad entertainment and culture. One of my favorites recently is blogger Mark Wiens and his Youtube channel on food. He does great work but what we like the most is the reveal, that moment when he takes that first bite. The kids think it’s great. So for fun I recorded Camren, during a recent trip to The Diner on Guanxin Rd. in Hsinchu, trying his first Mark Wiens impression. We might make this a habit in the future.


IA: 撰寫文件的目的

撰寫系統功能或資料的架構的過程是一種創意—也就是我們在設計系統的同時也要設計一份可以說明系統的文件的這種創意。

透過文件的撰寫,我們會更了解整個系統設計的概念。當我們依照所撰寫的系統文件而開發出一個比較明確的系統版本時,我們也會發現如何來改善它。

由於IA本質上是一件相當抽象的工作,透過產出的東西才能讓它明確。撰寫文件是促進了解、進而教育以及推銷這個設計工作的關鍵。因此,我們所產出的東西就很重要了。

在現實的業務角度上,抽象代表:

  • 沒有用
  • 不能應用
  • 難以理解
  • 不能出售

How to ask better questions

Some simple good advice which can be applicable to user interviews as well. From the video:

#1 Can it be answered quickly?
#2 Build up from easy questions
#3 Give examples
#4 Don’t ask questions you could ask Google
#5 Don’t ask broad questions


Christmas weekend Star Wars

Big City lights up for Christmas so people can take pretty selfies.

Though I make a habit of photographing as a means of remembering even the most minor of events, I have nothing to show for yesterday’s Christmas celebration. Just ugly shots of what was a delicious meal. Taiwan is only international when it comes to government sponsored propaganda so celebrating Christmas here can sometimes be a challenge but we manage each year to have a great time.

The above photo was taken on the 23rd after we had seen the latest Star Wars which left me with a distinct feeling of deja vu. Dinner was at a mall joint – expensive and not all that satisfying. Catriona introduces here dish here and Camren here.


Cannot connect to world

Common minecraft error message

This was pretty much a central theme during my time working in China. When you are conditioned to always be connected to the hive mind suddenly losing access made for some adjustment. Ready access to information is central to experience design work today.


Modern laziness
The original kind of lazy avoids hard physical work. Too lazy to dig a ditch, organize a warehouse or clean the garage.

Modern lazy avoids emotional labor. This is the laziness of not raising your hand to ask the key question, not caring about those in need or not digging in to ship something that might not work. Lazy is having an argument instead of a thoughtful conversation. Lazy is waiting until the last minute. And lazy is avoiding what we fear.

Lazy feels okay in the short run, but eats at us over time.

Laziness is often an option, and it’s worth labelling it for what it is.
Seth’s Blog


Friction in experience

Escalators at Big City in Hsinchu, Taiwan

Many years ago I did a design study of the shopping experience at the then new IKEA store in Taipei. Their guided approach to shopping was novel to me at the time and in stark contrast to the undesigned experiences I experienced elsewhere.

Most shopping centers follow a similar strategy when dealing with moving customers through-out their space. The escalators force you to walk through the aisles at each floor, or expose you to different stores, thereby exposing you to more product, and there are few short-cuts or direct routes (for fire safety reasons IKEA has somewhat hidden routes that bypass their experience).

This is fine if you come to spend the day inside and you enjoy browsing through the shops in a mall, Taiwanese shopping behavior is often like this, especially on a hot day.

But this design does not accommodate goal directed behavior. When I visit a shopping center it’s for a very specific reason – go to the book store, or sports shops, or see a movie. I might browse within these areas but customers like myself prefer direct paths and don’t appreciate the friction that many shopping centers purposely design for. A great design would accommodate both behaviors, but would it result in increased sales?

Big City in Hsinchu has direct access to the theatre via a long escalator, but to leave requires you to use the stairs. Many instead walk through the jam packed food area.

I haven’t seen any data, but I would guess that this sub-optimal design does result in increased sales. An example of an in optimal experience being best for business.

Escalators at Thai He in Fuzhou, China


Communication, like conversation, isn’t something that we should be optimizing. Communication, whether it’s from a newspaper, a social media platform, or a search engine, is information that we should be able to explore, interrogate, and spend time with. Something that’s sadly missing today.
Did we do something wrong?

Sometimes adding friction allows for a more thoughtful and useful product.


Anytime is TV time

Waiting for an order at a Starbucks in Fuzhou.

Watching a Chinese soap opera while waiting in line for coffee at a Starbucks in China. With all too common use case, even in my household, you miss out on so much of what is happening around you. It’s also creating a generation of patients for physiotherapists. In an age of this kind of media portability I am an extreme edge case. I can stand in line for extended periods of time and simply think and observe.


Imagination is the source of our creativity

Romero Britto designed pig mascot at Fuzhou, Fujian.

Creativity takes imagination one step further and puts it to work – creativity is imagination applied.

Being creative means coming up with original ideas that have value and doing something with those ideas. This is not limited to the arts, but can be in math, engineering, writing or business.

There are two steps to the creative process. The first is generating new ideas and the second is evaluating those idea in order to evaluate, elaborate, refine and maybe ultimately reject them.

Having ideas alone is not enough, these ideas must be applied and evaluated. Of course not all ideas are immediately accepted or celebrated, many will face ridicule or scorn.


Outlier

Standing in line waiting for the clinic to open near GuanXin Rd. in Hsinchu

1 out of 12 seems about a correct ratio for people who would not continuously look at their phone while standing in line here in Hsinchu. I suspect he forgot his.