Toy Interface

Here is a good model for a successful interface, please excuse the poor quality photograph. I took my daughter out yesterday to try on some hats and naturally no trip to the childrens clothing section is complete with out her going and playing with the toys on the same floor. Catriona found this simple looking “bike” and within 30 seconds was zooming around kniping at the heels of the other store patrons. I was struck by the ease in which she was able to use this toy and despite my belief that she is near genius I have to believe that the construction of the toy itself had quite allot to do with her ease in using the bike’s “interface”.
The bike moves around without pedals by a simple rocking of the handle bars. This action creates momentum, allowing you to acquire speed, after which you are able to glide. For an old man like myself it’s pretty ingenious.
This device succeeds in ways that can be applied to other more “traditional” interfaces.

  • All the complexity is hidden (there is a gear and extra wheel underneath).
  • The interface that controls the motion is attached to an object that allows for natural interaction. Catriona expects to move the wheel, it’s her mental model of this device, so she naturally wants to play with the steering wheel. This allows her to discover how the interface works and because she has done it many times before the time to learn this device is greatly reduced.

Pretty cool. An additional feature that I didn’t try out was the “bikes” ability to scale. The sales lady said that it accommodate even people of my weight and size. She motioned with a smile for me to hop on. I declined the opportunity.

Easy fix to a Poor Application Process UI

I have been working on a site lately that is trying to gain some revenue through referrals; it’s a pretty common tactic I have come to learn and I am anxious to see the results (if any). Naturally applying for an account with any of these companies requires the filling out of an online application form. One of these companies Commission Junction has a pretty simple but lengthy process which seems fine at first but they make an annoying mistake for non-US publishers. It’s an easy fix too.
In this screen shot you see that they require a tax id. But there is no instructional text provided as to what exactly I should put there (I don’t have a tax id). I put “Not Applicable”.
I then got an email with a rather confusing set of text telling that they only accept “those applicants that provide a valid tax identification number in the “Tax ID” field of their application”. Then they tell me that if I am not subject to US taxes, please leave the “Tax ID” field blank, and resubmit the application. The tone of the email sounds like it was written by a lawyer, instead of a human being concerned about doing business.
Instead of telling me of my error via email and forcing me to reapply how about designing the application process and form in such a way as to help mitigate errors. Here is a possible example.
A rough example - not to scale

IA 2.0 at UXMatters

“The typical information architect thinks about structure – how one item in a group relates to all the other items in the group and how that group relates to all other groups. In the early days of information architecture (IA), groups and their related items tended to be well defined. For example, in the heyday of e-commerce, an information architect translated a product catalog into a storefront on the Web. Today, these problems seem old hat.”
“Beyond the technology, however, Web 2.0 brings with it a shift in mind-set. Today, people trust online content that individuals publish more than they did in the early days of the Web. Many people now willingly share information—like photographs or favorite Web sites or wish lists—freely on the Web and see sharing this information as beneficial.”

I dislike the whole web 2.0 labeling and hype and his use of IA 2.0 seems unnecessary but this article does bring to light the fact that there is allot to think about in how IA responds to new mindsets and technologies. I wonder how long it will take for the concepts and practices introduced via sites like Flickr to percolate down through to those who control budgets and initiate projects in Taiwan. Somehow I think we haven’t hit IA 0.5 yet.
This article is from UXMatters, a new publication for user experience professionals.
Read: Information Architecture 2.0

Information Architecture Out of Fashion?

Before I took an all too brief detour into sound and tangible interfaces I was really quite interested in information architecture – I spoke allot about the topic here in the hinterlands of Taiwan and tried to put into practice all the theory I learned. At that time their was a tremendous amount of discussion surrounding IA and a vast library of literature. Lately having regained my interest and with some work coming I have set out to absorb any or all the latest thinking on the subject. But browsing all my old IA haunts have brought up little in the way of discussion, at least when compared to a few years ago. All I found were news announcements for various IA summits. Has the online discussion stopped? Have information architects all been forced to become business development managers or gone back to being librarians? Have sites that popularized social tagging made the information architect obsolete?
I’ll keep wading through all the bs hype about web 2.0 and ajax in the hope that I find something new to read.

Coffee WiFi and Hsinchu

Hsinchu may have per capita more coffee/tea shops than most Canadian and American cities but generally they are missing one of the most important features of such establishments – WiFi (and good coffee). That is until I learned that a new neighbourhood shop the Burano, and a farther afield spot called Havana Coffee Shop, appear to have this most necessary of “sticky” services.
I’ve noticed the Havana Coffee Shop a number of times in my travels around the neighbourhood adjacent to FE’21. It’s pretty hard to miss it; it’s painted blue which makes it a rarity among the gray and orange elsewhere. So since I was out in the area yesterday I though I would drop in, say hello, check it out, and ask if they have WiFi. The staff seemed grateful for the English lesson – translating wireless internet – and told me that though the shop doesn’t have it the shop above does and it leaks down to the 1st floor. Cheeky.
The Burano has the look of a shop that will only be around for 6 months to a year. Thats not to say that it sucks but just that the market is so saturated that competition is rather fierce. Restaurants and coffee shops are the most common business idea here it seems and they come and go with the wind. I hope they stick around as the fruit is ok and well they have WiFi.
Despite living here for over 7 years I still don’t know the side street names but you can’t miss the Havana. It’s on a unpopulated sidestreet opposite the side entrance to Fe’21. The Burano is on the canal around, close to Windance, across from that overpriced Teriyaki restaurant, and within throwing distance of the corner park.
More detailed pictures here.

Multitasking Myth

tasking.jpgGraphic and thread courtesy of Tim Morgan
“Although there have been plenty of studies to show otherwise, the belief that multitasking will let us get more done continues. Our brains can’t do even two independent things that require conscious thought, especially if those two things involve different goals.
If you want to get more done, be mindful.
If you want to have more time, be mindful.
Mindful means one thing at a time.”
Read more at Creating Passionate Users: Your brain on multitasking and listen to more at 43F Podcast: The Myth of Multi-tasking.

123 Restaurant, Hsinchu

Ravaged Fish
This poor fish was my dinner recently at one of my favourite restaurants in Hsinchu called simply 1,2,3. It’s a Hsinchu institution, having been in the same location for perhaps 20 years or more (as I have been told). I count about 3 generations working there. It serves standard local food – nothing too special and is perhaps comparable to your favourite “greasy spoon” in most cities and towns everywhere. It’s a pretty popular spot for foreigners including a large number of beer drinking chain smoking Japanese. The menu is on the wall except for us linguistically challenged where they produce an English menu – luckily a couple of the girls there speak English and I believe Japanese. I usually call ahead and order the steamed fish (pictured) but otherwise I usually stick to the same food you find everywhere – Kung Pao Chicken, Garlic Pork, Shrimp Balls, and Green Vegetables.
No visit or stay is complete without sampling the menu at this restaurant. It’s quite close to the Sol Hotel and is located on what is sometimes called the “Canal Around” which traverses the area between Lin-Sen Rd and Chung-Yang Rd.
There are a few more pictures on Flickr.

My Stream of Consciousness

While I am certainly my own worst critic it sometimes takes the criticism of others to spur me into action. My last podcast met some fairly accurate and blunt comments which have resulted in me pulling the original file and rerecording the topic.
I’m not sure that it will address the criticism that I lack enthusiasm as I tend to be fairly laid back with a rather lazy sounding voice. My slowness in speaking is a practiced trait as I often need to talk to people who speak English as a second language. They hate when I get excited and start speaking quickly. They also make up a portion of my audience here. If that offends then it’s perhaps best to not listen.
Also, I am quite aware of the display problems that occur when viewing this site in IE on a PC. My last minor changes to this site seem to wreak havoc. I should have tested it again to save myself the embarrassment when I view the site with someone late last week. It’s not the point but I don’t know how anyone can view text online for any great length of time with a PC. The text on this site, I am using Georgia as my serif, looks like absolute garbage even with the lame aliasing option turned on (which is buried deep in the Windows OS). No wonder I still see so many offices continuing to print out “readables” even though they have high resolution displays. I’m working on cleaning up this and a number of other issues on the site.


Thanks to Gary on Forumosa for this Mac OS X tip. Pressing the key combo “control-option-command-8” inverts the screen. It is cool in it’s own right (windows look like portals to heaven) but might also be useful for those staring at text all day.

Good Morning to you

A bit early for this isn't it?
Last week this was one morning’s early entertainment. Prior to hearing my alarm which was set for 6am I was awoken to the sweet serenade of 3 marching bands and assorted other local drums and noise makers. When I die I want a marching band and parade to announce my passing. A New Orleans style would be more to my liking though. Taiwanese death rites regularly feature processions of elaborate floats displaying folklore figures in vividly colorful costumes, bands of drummers and trumpet players and even strippers and scantily clad singing women. But why before 6 am?
A few more pictures on this flickr stream.

3 Strikes

Yes that is my hairy leg with a bandage on it. Young children and total strangers like to pull on the hair whenever they get the chance. I’m not sure but apparently Chinese men tend to have less hair than we barbarians so it’s a strange kind of novelty (I tend to look more at the ladies legs than the guys). This was confirmed by the giggles of the nurse who applied this bandage but 4 hours ago.
I’m having a bad run of late. Yesterday afternoon a lady does the usual “cut in front of me at the last minute maneuver” so prevalent here. A spilt second earlier and she likely would have been flat on her back – I’m big. It’s a rude maneuver but I’m used to it.
Last night it was a taxi driver who tried to cut my knees off by performing the same move with his car. He later slowed down, smiled, and said sorry. Ok my friend no problem I said while grinding my teeth.
Today it was a young dude talking on his cellphone. He was smart to pull over asap so he could talk to his mummy on the phone but not so smart to realize that I was driving my scooter behind him. His prudence caused me to have to stop quickly narrowly escaping a serious pile up. Scooters are very difficult to control in a skid and this is the second injury I have suffered from basically the same maneuver. I was pissed and had to give the young man the benefit of my dirty Chinese language. How do you reprimand a young man smiling like he didn’t know a world existed outside his head? Luckily he wasn’t someone high on betel nut with a lead pipe under his seat or I might be writing this from heaven (or some might say hell).

Design thinking as illustrated at a Taiwan hair salon

Updated to address my own and others criticisms. It’s shorter, lighter, and hopefully improved. I am learning here so I do appreciate the comments – even the tough ones.
In this podcast I babble on about “Friendy’s” restaurant and how design thinking is not so apparent among designers in Taiwan. To illustrate my point about designers I talk about getting my haircut at a “high end hair salon” near where I live.
Podcasting seems to bring out the worst in people – babbling on and babbling on. I need to work on that. Listening to my podcast (I thought there might be some weird editing errors) I kept yelling – hurry up and get to the point.
Listen to: Problems with Design thinking as illustrated at a Taiwan hair salon – Podcast 3 (16min, 15 meg 10min, 7 meg.)
My Odeo Channel (odeo/647d0a301a218729)