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?