March 2006  
Review: Designing Interfaces

Jennifer Tidwell's Designing Interfaces is probably the best book I've ever read on designing visual, digital interfaces, easily blowing away aging classics like Designing Visual Interfaces.

The book has a really great mix of the theoretical (gestalt theory!) and the tactical (stacking graphs!). In fact, if there is a flaw with the book, it's that it tries to cover too much--data visualization, information architecture, visual design--and does so in a lot of depth. It makes really important nuggets hard to find.

I would have also liked to seen some overview of the UI patterns presented. I've never been able to formally put the UI patterns into practice in my own design process. An overview diagram (big overall patterns down to tiny discrete ones) would be really helpful in that regard.

Puzzling to me is why, although it appears to be selling well, this book hasn't gotten the wider reading (or at least discussion) it deserves among the interaction design community. I didn't hear about it until months after it was published (November 2005).

Side note: I'm also stunned at the amount of examples Tidwell is able to show. I'm in the middle of tracking down permissions for my own book, and it is a nightmare getting people to get back to you. I'm not sure how she got such a vast array of examples: big names like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google.

In any case, a strong recommendation. A book I expect to reference for a long time.

Originally posted on Friday, March 31, 2006 | Link | Comments (2) | Trackback (0)


Live 105: Kill the Tagline

Warning: SF Bay Area local rant post.

San Francisco's Live 105 is a radio station that has the tagline, "Fighting to Keep Alternative Music Alive in the Bay Area." This irks me to no end.

In the first place, positioning yourself as an scrappy little alternative radio station when you are owned by CBS Radio aka Infinity Broadcasting is a little disingenuous. Secondly, making this your slogan makes the station seem like a loser, like it is on the fast track to becoming a jazz radio station. Wouldn't a more positive or even a neutral tagline such as "San Francisco's Only Alternative Music Station" position it better? By making yourself seem like a loser, you drive away listeners and advertisers. How about "The Bay Area's Best Music?"

Thirdly, even if Live 105 went under (which seems unlikely since it's been around since 1986 when I was a teenager (RIP KQAK The Quake)), alternative music would hardly vanish from the Bay Area, in the same way it hasn't vanished from New York City, where there is no alternative station. Alternative music lives on the edges, on college radio stations, live shows, podcasts, and whathaveyou. There's lots of places to find it now. It doesn't depend on a single radio station, not even LA's influential KROQ.

Look, I like Live 105. I'm glad we still have an alternative radio station here in San Francisco. I listen just about every time I'm in a car. But enough with the martyrdom.

Originally posted on Tuesday, March 21, 2006 | Link | Comments (4) | Trackback (0)


Musical Notation and Documenting Applications

I've been learning how to play the cello for a while now, and one thing anyone who makes music will tell you is that playing the notes as written isn't enough. It won't be music. Not only does the musician have to make phrases and color the music with their personality, but there are other indicators aside from notes that show you how the music is supposed to be played: marks to indicate volume, emphasis, and even when the artist can improvise.

I was thinking about this in regard to the documentation of applications. For desktop and internet applications, my colleague Ryan Freitas and I have been talking about using storyboards as part of the documentation process alongside wireframes and lo-fi animations. Storyboards, however, have a fatal flaw in that they don't show timing or feeling very well. They are the notes on the staff, devoid of indicators as to how they fit together to make music. What storyboards--and really interaction design documentation in general--are missing are these indicators of tone and mood. Does a menu drop down abruptly, or is it a slow slide? Is this an important command with a lot of emphasis, or is it a minor piece that should be subtle?

I certainly don't have a system in place for this yet, but as our interactions get more sophisticated, it's probably going to be something designers will have to address.

Originally posted on Monday, March 20, 2006 | Link | Comments (1) | Trackback (0)


SXSW 2006: A Personal Reflection

Spring Break for geeks indeed.

This was my first SXSW and, I'm guessing, not my last. As I was forewarned, the panels aren't really where the action is: the interesting stuff happens in the hallways, at lunches and dinners, and at the evening parties. That's where the real "work" of the conference gets done. Its raison d'etre. The panels just provide easy ways to start conversation ("So what panels did you go to today?"). Lone Star beer does the rest.

That being said, I did attend a number of panels, mostly about ubiquitous computing. (Bloggers talking about blogging bores me to tears.) I obviously need to add in a section in the book about designing for ubi comp, even if we don't really know how to do that just yet.

Austin was hot hot hot. Simply standing still made you sweat. The heat made an exhausting schedule even more tiring, but the heat did make cold beer and the mexican vanilla ice cream all the more satisfying.

I met a few great people, reconnected with old friends, and even shook hands with the web famous.

As is typical when I'm in Austin, I ate too much (BBQ and Tex Mex, natch), drank too much (the aforementioned Lone Star beer and the occasional bourbon), and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

A final shout-out to my comrades in arms at Adaptive Path and Mule Design, whom I wisely followed from event to event. It wouldn't have been the same without you. Kudos to you.

Originally posted on Tuesday, March 14, 2006 | Link | Comments (1) | Trackback (0)


Interview Excerpt: Hugh Dubberly

Yet another interview excerpt from the book! This time, with Hugh Dubberly, former vice president for design at AOL/Netscape and creative director at Apple Computer, Inc. Hugh is talking about systems design, one of the four approaches to interaction design I cover in Chapter 2 of the book. By the way, you can now pre-order the book from Amazon!

Originally posted on Wednesday, March 8, 2006 | Link | Comments (0) | Trackback (0)


Headed to SXSW 2006

I'm headed back to one of my favorite cities, Austin, for SXSW 2006. If you're there and you know of me but I don't know you, introduce yourself. I'll be doing the same to people I know by name/reputation only, when I'm not simply following Lane around from event to event.

Originally posted on Monday, March 6, 2006 | Link | Comments (0) | Trackback (0)


Patently Absurd

Check out these assholes, who have somehow gotten some idiot at the patent office to agree to their claim that they invented internet applications. What hubris!

Now, what I know about intellectual property law is pretty limited, but I do know that whatever is patentable needs to useful, novel, and non-obvious. Now, ask yourself, is this unusual and no one else ever thought of it:

A host computer, containing processes for creating rich-media applications, is accessed from a remote user computer system via an Internet connection. User account information and rich-media component specifications are uploaded over the Internet for a specific user account. Rich-media applications are created, deleted, or modified in a user account, with rich-media components added to, modified in, or deleted from the rich-media application based on information contained in a user request. After creation, the rich-media application is viewed or saved on the host computer system, or downloaded to the user computer system over the Internet.

That's half the internet right there.

His justification for doing this (is this guy 12 or something?): ""My mom saw me struggling, and one day said, 'Why don't you figure out a way to bottle up that Balthaser magic and let people purchase the bottle and do it themselves?" Note that he was using Flash 3 at the time this happened. So obviously some of the tools and processes for internet applications were already in place. And as we at Adaptive Path have been made acutely aware of, Microsoft had already laid the groundwork for Ajax back in 1998.

I can't wait to see who (Google, Yahoo, Adobe, Microsoft) will try to challenge this in court first. And when the hacking community gets wind of this and takes a hungry look at Balthaser Online. Then we'll see what Balthaser magic really amounts to.

Originally posted on Friday, March 3, 2006 | Link | Comments (1) | Trackback (0)



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