Sunday, October 30, 2011

Design Victory: Type for Dyslectics

Great short article on Fast Company’s Co.Design about a typeface designed for people with dyslexia designed by someone with dyslexia. Talk about user-centered design.

The face is awkward-looking by traditional visual typographic criteria, but using Louis Sullivan’s Form Follows Function criteria, it seems like a masterpiece. The article said it best:
If it works, it works. And according to an independent study by the University of Twente in Boer’s native Netherlands, it does work.

For your next presentation: if, for any given population, approximately 5–10% have some sort of dyslexia and another 7–10% have some sort of color deficiency; that’s potentially 20% of your audience that doesn’t see things the way you do, literally. I’m exaggerating a bit, but try to consider all the ways your audience is different from you and your worldview.

Monday, October 17, 2011

West Coast Attitude

From a Rolling Stone interview with Bono on Steve Jobs (emphasis added):

What's the essence of his legacy? 
This dude, my friend, and I’m proud to say, my colleague – he changed music, he changed film, he changed the personal computer. It’s a wonderful encouragement to people who want to think differently, that’s where artists connect with him. The picture of Einstein with his tongue sticking out, that’s actually the very heart of the brand, and that’s the punk rock piece, the attitude, and the anarchic mind that dreamt up the 21st century. That’s a real encouragement for people who didn’t go to an Ivy League school, who don’t know how to use a knife and fork, who don’t have the right accent. That anarchic West Coast “fuck off” attitude actually rules the 21st century. That’s what's happening on the streets of Cairo, that’s what's happening in North Africa – received wisdom is being balked at. A gnarly, singular point of view, like Steve Jobs, feels like a lighthouse spinning: When you’re in the fog, you just go, “I'll go over there.”
Business leaders take note, I’m not sure it’s only artists who identify with this point of view.

(If you have five minutes, the entire Q&A is a good read.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs. 1955–2011

Like many people who work at the intersection of design, media, and technology, I am very sad to hear of Steve’s death. Though I never met the man, right now I feel like I have lost a mentor and inspirational friend. 

I first started using a Mac in 1986, with some new-fangled programs called PageMaker and Adobe Illustrator. I was a designer and typographer and thought I had no use for a computer – until I used a Macintosh.

And since then, I have seen and participated in almost every communication technology wave (always on the disruptive side – go figure). Most follow a pattern: old-timers pointing out shortcomings in the new technology, established players protecting their turf, up-and-comers trying new tools and techniques, old eventually giving way to new. And through each, I imagine Steve giggling because he saw it coming and loved to create great products that would help enable the new in ways that even he couldn’t imagine.

I am not a religious man, but I hope wherever Steve is now he is at peace, and smiling at the world he has most certainly made a dent in.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Your experience is your brand.

Irony: Wired magazine's iPad app keeps crashing.

Wired is in the magazine business. Or they were. But the second they released an iPad app, they also became a player in the app business, and the user experience business, and the "maintain your brand over more platforms" business.

Back when it worked (like three weeks ago), it was a good magazine app. Different content, optimized layouts, links and videos, etc. Print subscribers could download issues for free. Great.

But... Something happened, and now the Wired app is decidedly not wired. To use their own label, it's quickly approaching tired. It would be one thing if this were Vanity Fair, but this is Wired - aren't they supposed to be hip, cool, and tech savvy?

There's aother lesson here in brand: I'm pretty sure Wired didn't actually code this themselves, after all, they're in the magazine business. But it doesn't matter, it's still their name on the app, and their customers who are frustrated.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Groups of Fear

On Google+, Dave Gray asked about effective ways that humans organize themselves into groups. A combination of that question, the general political environment in the US right now, and some projects at work got me thinking (which can be dangerous).

One particularly effective way I think we humans organize ourselves is around common fears (or at least perceived common fears) – fear of an idea, a group, a person, a practice, etc. This is what political types call blocking coalitions, groups of people that ordinarily have nothing in common except their opposition to something (or someone). Their common fear doesn’t even have to be that well thought out or clearly articulated for such groups to be wildly effective. “Not this” or “not that” is usually sufficient, the enemy-of-my-enemy sort of thing.

As a group, people organized by fear can be a powerful force – though not always one for good.

Seems to me there is a design challenge in there. Because while these sorts of fear- or anger-based groups can be good at stopping things or steering a conversation to their interests, how often do they really address the root issue, rather than the thing that brought them together in the first place? My guess: not often.

This sounds like the sort of big meta-design problem we designers should be able to help reveal.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Microsoft Ribbon, what’s up with that?

Microsoft has created some great tools over the years, but the ribbon isn’t one of them.

Two trends make me wonder if the good people at Microsoft have been paying much attention when it comes to user interface:
  • Over the last ten years, the proliferation of LCD screens that are generally wider than they used to be.
  • HD TV has made the 9:16 aspect ratio much more common for lots of people.
Enter the ribbon. Putting aside the task-centric structure for a moment, the ribbon takes up valuable screen real estate and cannot be moved. On a laptop, the result is a smaller effective work area that is cluttered, visually noisy, very short and very wide. This is not useful for most work.

Other companies, like Adobe, have figured this out. These companies seem to realize that people have work to do, and that those people may want to customize the software interface to more effectively do their work. For these crazy need-to-get-work-done people (aka “users” or “customers”), these companies have built “palettes” into their software, allowing people to move and resize those palettes in a way that makes sense based on their needs.

Heck, Microsoft has done this before. Office Mac 2008 had (wait for it) a “Format Palatte.” It wasn’t perfect, but it was on the side, and you could move it. I guess that camp lost the UI Battle of Redmond. Pity.

The ribbon does reveal additional functions, as it was designed. But it does an equally good job of hiding existing functions from people that regularly use them. I’d argue the net effect is neutral at best (gain some things, loose others).

So now the ribbon infects everything and appears to be here to stay. I wonder how much productivity in business has been and continues to be lost because of the ribbon?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Social media responsibility

Just got about 30 RTs on my Facebook page from a business I like. Well, I did like them until they discovered they can automatically cross-post everything from Twitter to FB. We'll see if they figure out that just because you can do something doesn't always mean you should (the people who have posted variations of "please stop" on the business's wall might be an indication).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Typographic Irony

(Hello again. Yes, it’s been a while.)

I noticed this bit of typographic irony this morning in an ABC World News Tonight promo. The typeface used in this graphic for their series “Made in America” is DIN, short for Deutsches Institut für Normung.

If that sounds not-so-American, you’re right. It’s a German typeface that goes back to the 1920’s, though this particular cut is probably from the 90’s.

Not a big deal. Really. But if one was concerned, there are some strong sans-serif faces whose pedigree is distinctly American. Franklin Gothic, for example. Or Gotham.

Still, a little appreciation of the history and tradition of one’s profession might be useful too, eh?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Social media artifact

Funny things happen when one lives life transparently on Facebook. Earlier today, saw this series of posts:
Way to score Susan! Gooooooaaaaaal!
2 Hours ago via Facebook for iPhone

Headed to the hospital with Susan
1 Hour ago via Facebook for iPhone
Thankfully, Susan (not her real name) will be fine, though her arm may be fractured.

What I didn’t recreate above are the dozen comments that came in almost immediately asking if everything was ok. A bit of a trade-off for people (or organizations) who bravely live more transparently through social media: on one hand you can present a more vulnerable self, but that same authenticity can be rewarded by people (or customers) that care about you.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Of Mice and Hotels

My wife was online the other night and started laughing uncontrollably. I asked what was so funny, and she brought her laptop over and pointed me to a hotel’s homepage, asking if I noticed anything unusual. I looked, and I really couldn’t find anything unusual until she pointed to the dropdown menu list:


It turns out that mice is an acronym (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions). Who knew? Still, with bedbugs in the news, I wouldn’t expect to see mice on the homepage of a hotel.

I guess for people who know what mice means, this is fine. But I wonder how many people who visit this site are not mice-aware? And then there are OCD visitors like me that start investigating the mice section and forget about the rest of the site.

Just an amusing manifestation of the curse of knowledge.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Service excellence (the best presentation?)

We live in neighborhood with narrow streets. Normally this is charming, but when it snows it becomes a bit of a nuisance. And when it snows like it has in the last 24 hours (18 inches on top of a few feet already on the ground) it can be frustrating and dangerous – imagine one-lane streets with four- to six-foot canyon walls on each side.

So I was happily surprised tonight when the township’s contractor was still out at 11:30 pm using a Bobcat to patiently widen each side of the street.

This is laborious and detailed work, and this guy has probably been working the whole dang day or longer already. Still, he was attentively going down each side of each street (about 3 miles altogether), cutting close to the curb, and carefully dumping the snow between the sidewalk and road.

So I’m a raving fan, and I’m going to find out who these guys are and talk them up among my friends. That’s a heck of a presentation.

It is important to present well, but it’s even more important to deliver well.

Monday, January 10, 2011

My Grandfather’s Map

For Christmas, my mother gave me one of the most meaningful gifts I have received for some time. She had framed a map my grandfather drew when he was in his Tertia year at Penn Charter (the 1915-1916 school year, I think). I get weepy when I really think about it.

Though he was only around 15 when he drew it, it shows an attention to detail and craftsmanship that I have always associated with my grandfather, and also reminded me why I think making real things is so important.

Some disclaimers:
  • I loved my grand-pop and have long considered him to be the spiritual source from which both my father and I inherited our respect of and devotion to making well-constructed things. (My wife probably labels this trait as compulsive and occasionally annoying. Sorry Hun.)
  • I love steel pen-and-ink drawings. The line weight variations that are introduced as one changes pressure on the nib are a wonderful artifact that says a human being has made this.
  • I love cartography and maps – the more detailed and well-designed the better. They may be one of the last graphic forms where the combination of good design and good printing yield something that just cannot be duplicated electronically.

You can’t read it on the image, but the title (in carefully lettered capitals) is Historical Map of the British Isles. It documents Heptarchy boundaries (I had to look that up), Roman roads, battles, and treaties. I assume it was done as part of a history study.

This map required homework and some serious thinking to execute – no Google Maps in 1915. For example, look at the latitude lines. If you had to draw a smooth, thin, shallow, 12-inch long arc with pen-and-ink today, how would you do it? (The map is about 12 x 18 inches.) You may not be able to tell, but the latitude lines are very thin and very smooth. And this is a 15-year old kid.

Ok, here’s the point…

This sort of thing matters today too. Everyone has Powerpoint and everyone can draw boxes and arrows and lines. And we know that everyone can add bullets galore. But evidence suggests that not everyone can draw a useful diagram, or construct a meaningful 2x2 model. And giving a presentation with really good typography and well-crafted graphics is a rarity.

Details matter.

I’m not sure if you can test for it, but the really good presentations that are continually referenced (Jobs, MLK, Godin, Gore, etc.) all reflect really good craftsmanship – these people pay attention to lots of details. And you should too, especially if your presentation includes tangible stuff like on-screen slides or paper handouts.

It doesn’t matter if you’re building a deck, carving a turkey, or drawing a map, paying attention to the details matter.