My Favorite Design Articles 2015

Giving Customers What They Want, The Book of Life

Taste is a variable factor. We’re very good at appreciating moves of taste in retrospect – but in advance we are so much less alive to the inevitable repetition of the phenomenon. Therefore, businesses routinely end up assuming that their customers don’t care about anything they are not currently getting; and get bogged down in the worry that if they introduced something they feel is better – but rather different from current offerings – they will be punished. Such timidity tends to doom them.

Spacial Interfaces, Pasquale D’Silva, Medium

I believe the best software is an extension of the human brain. It lets us think naturally, and conforms to us, not the other way around. Translation of information should be the computer’s job, not ours. It’s what we built these digital slaves for. A great Spatial Interface meets our expectations of a physical model. Designed for human beings, it supports a mind, living in the dimensions of space and time. They are Interfaces that are sensible about where things lay. Like a well designed building, they’re easy to traverse through. One space flows into the other, without surprise.

What It Means To Be Great, Horace Dediu

Improvements which are not asked for but which change behavior suggest that the product is valued because it changes the buyer. I believe this is what causes us to pause and appreciate them. We feel we have been improved by the thing we bought though we did not ask to be made better by it. Collectively, multiplying by millions, the improvement we feel compels us to anoint the product as great.

Close at Hand, Diana Kimball, Medium

In a very real way, what people tuck into their pockets signals what they care about. Ötzi the Iceman carried fungus to make fire. Japanese men in the Endo period carried medicine and seals. Queen Elizabeth I carried a miniature jewel-encrusted devotional book. European women in the 18th century carried money, jewelry, personal grooming implements, and even food. Here in 2015, we carry cellphones — never letting them out of our sight.

Futures of Text, Jonathan Libov, Whoops

In contrast to a GUI that defines rules for each interaction—rules which, frustratingly, change from app to app—text-based, conversational interactions are liberating in their familiarity. There’s only really only one way to skin this cat: The text I type is displayed on the right, the text someone else typed is on the left, and there’s an input field on bottom for me to compose a message.

Tastemaker: How Spotify’s Discover Weekly cracked human curation at internet scale, Ben Popper, The Verge

Generating a human-curated playlist for each of Spotify’s users would be a challenge of mammoth proportion. “We probably can’t hire enough editors to do that,” says Ogle. So Spotify uses each of its users as one cog in a company-wide curatorial machine. “The answer was staring us in the face: playlists, since the beginning, have been more or less the basic currency of Spotify. Users have made more than 2 billion of them.” In effect, Discover Weekly sidesteps the man versus machine debate and delivers the holy grail of music recommendation: human curation at scale.

Inside the Design Labs Where the iPhone’s Coolest New Feature Was Built, Josh Tyrangiel, Bloomberg

The designers concede they were far down a rabbit hole until they remembered, as Federighi says, that while the hardware was measuring force, the software needed to measure intent. To make what is counterintuitive feel normal, each on-screen “peek” and “pop” is accompanied by a 10-millisecond or 15-millisecond haptic tap, little vibrations that say “good job” to your fingers when an action is complete. (The precise timing of those taps is a cosmology all its own.)

Tom Vanderbilt Explains Why We Could Predict Self-Driving Cars, But Not Women in the Workplace, Tom Vanderbilt, Nautilus

“Futurology is almost always wrong,” the historian Judith Flanders suggested to me, “because it rarely takes into account behavioral changes.” And, she says, we look at the wrong things: “Transport to work, rather than the shape of work; technology itself, rather than how our behavior is changed by the very changes that technology brings.” It turns out that predicting who we will be is harder than predicting what we will be able to do.

Dropdowns Should Be The UI of Last Resort, Luke Wroblewski

All too often mobile forms make use of dropdown menus for input when simpler or more appropriate controls would work better. Here’s several alternatives to dropdowns to consider in your designs and why.

Articles I Wrote in 2015