Designer Duds: Losing Our Seat at the Table, Mills Baker
It’s now 2014, and I doubt seriously whether I’m alone in feeling a sense of anxiety about how “design” is using its seat at the table. From the failure of “design-oriented” Path to the recent news that Square is seeking a buyer to the fact that Medium is paying people to use it, there’s evidence that the luminaries of our community have been unable to use design to achieve market success. More troubling, much of the work for which we express the most enthusiasm seems superficial, narrow in its conception of design, shallow in its ambitions, or just ineffective.
The Squalid Grace of Flappy Bird, Ian Bogost
The games we find ourselves ever more devoted to are often also the ones that care very little for our experience of them. This is the devotion of material indifference. To understand Flappy Bird, we must accept the premise that games are squalid, rusty machinery we operate in spite of themselves. What we appreciate about Flappy Bird is not the details of its design, but the fact that it embodies them with such unflappable nonchalance. The best games cease to be for us (or for anyone) and instead strive to be what they are as much as possible. From this indifference emanates a strange squalor that we can appreciate as beauty.
Where Inspiration Should Sit at the Table of Design, Tanner Christensen
We seek inspiration when we don’t fully understand the problem or task at-hand.
That is: inspiration can be helpful, but more often than not we confuse the pursuit of inspiration with doing legitimate work towards creating an effective solution. The truth is that spending time seeking inspiration is typical of dilly-dallying and not real progress towards a solution.
The Nightmare on Connected Home Street, Mat Honan
I wake up at four to some old-timey dubstep spewing from my pillows. The lights are flashing. My alarm clock is blasting Skrillex or Deadmau5 or something, I don’t know. I never listened to dubstep, and in fact the entire genre is on my banned list. You see, my house has a virus again.
Technically it’s malware. But there’s no patch yet, and pretty much everyone’s got it. Homes up and down the block are lit up, even at this early hour. Thankfully this one is fairly benign. It sets off the alarm with music I blacklisted decades ago on Pandora. It takes a picture of me as I get out of the shower every morning and uploads it to Facebook. No big deal.
The Ubiquitous Button, Lars-Erik Janlert
But the operation of modern buttons is not as uniform as that of traditional buttons: The basic mode of operation is stretched in various dimensions to get additional control, mainly with regard to the amount of pressure, the duration of the press, and combinations and patterns of presses. The usual motive for this is that there would be too few buttons of the ordinary kind in the artifact to achieve the intended level of user control, either due to lack of space or because the designer wants a clean, nice-looking design and maybe hides away some rarely used functions or settings. In a modern camera, pressing lightly on the shutter button usually activates focusing and light metering; pressing harder takes the picture. Digital kitchen timers may suddenly increase the speed of counting up the minutes (for instance, from intervals of a minute to intervals of 10) when you keep holding the button. Wristwatches and mobile phones often have buttons that perform different functions if you press them for a longer time; also, hard-to-remember combinations of simultaneously pressed buttons take on special meanings. We are not very surprised anymore if a double-click achieves something different from a single click.
Home Automation is an EasyHard problem, Scott Jensen
As a UX designer, I know how quixotic and down right goofy humans can be. The simple rule-based “if this then that” style scenarios trotted out are doomed to fail. Well, maybe fail is too strong of a word. They won’t fail as in a “face plant into burning lava” fail. In fact, I’ll admit that they might even work 90% of the time. To many people that may seem fine, but just try using a voice recognition system with a 10% failure rate. It’s the small mistakes that will drive you crazy.
Tips for Designing a Connected Home That Isn’t Chaos, John Kiechel and Louisa Heinrich
Today, consumers buy kitchen appliances, and then take them home and do whatever they want with them. But if that product is “connected,” chances are it’s been pre-loaded with someone else’s idea of what a person should be doing with it. And no matter how well meaning that someone else is, when the objects we own contradict us, that’s going to be a frustrating experience.
Macrointeractions, Mike Kruzeniski
If I want the products I work on to be great, I need to think of the spaces adjacent to the product as being a design problem as important as the product itself. Though a lot of the Design canon is focused on the quality of craft — the details make the product after all — a lack of attention to the problems around the product may mean very few people ever experience all your attention to detail.
I’ve started to find it helpful to think of the problem space around the product as a Macrointeraction — an interaction design space at the other end of the spectrum from a Microinteraction. Any friction that might prevent your product (with all its wonderful details) from being made or connecting with your customers is a design problem worth spending time on.
Amazon’s Fire Phone May Be Too Magical for Its Own Good, Sean Madden
The biggest challenge of modern UI design is knowing when to stop. We have the ability to make every single moment sparkle and dance, so the new task is learning to restrain ourselves, and it’s hard. Most of a good user experience is forgotten, because well-designed often means forgettable: you can’t remember 100 delightful interactions a day, nor would you want to.
Perennial Design, Wilson Miner
If all we celebrate is what is visible on the surface—the fragile plant and not the durable root system—we limit the scope of our ambition to the shortest possible horizon. Are we making layers of sediment for future generations to build a mountain, or are we planting each year’s crop of new products and watching them wash away once their short-term value is harvested and consumed?
Can a robot be too nice?, Leon Neyfakh
The idea of programming a robot to have a specific personality might sound like science fiction; in a world where true artificial intelligence has yet to be achieved, a personality—an individual’s distinct mixture of emotional response, attitude, and motivation—seems even more subtle and complex. But for computer scientists interested in social robotics, it has become a surprisingly immediate goal. As machines become more sophisticated, and integrated in new ways into human society, researchers have begun to realize that their effectiveness depends on how easily we relate to them.
Rejoice: Tomorrow’s Tech Will Probably Stop Nagging Us, Kelsey O’Callaghan
As technology enters our homes we expect it to feel more personalized, evolving its role from a standalone product into a service mentality. This not only manifests through the customer-facing touch points but also drastically affects an organization and its strategic considerations. Take the connected home for example; an increasing number of automated solutions are available, yet many are destined to become obsolete (eventually residing in the drawer next to last year’s wearable wristband) due to a narrow product lens. The few living up to the hype, such as Nest, create value by modernizing a household while providing services that reinvent our relationship with temperature control. A strategic objective of their thermostat is to actually play a less noticeable role in our lives. While the intelligence baked in the app and hardware is busy gathering insights and predictively responding to emergent needs, it’s regarded as more useful the less we need to adjust it. Conserving energy and saving a few bucks each month are pleasant byproducts, but the service doesn’t inherently burden us with these incentives and instead silently controls temperature. Less really is more when it comes to invisible technology.
Conversations with the past: hermeneutics for designers, Sjors Timmer
When we look back it’s easy to see the past as a collection of outdated technologies and failed business models, to quietly reminisce on how far we’ve come. This however only works if we look at the past through the limited frame of technological and economical progress. If we expand our vision, follow Ive and add history and culture to our framing we can see the past as a rich landscape of ideas, artefacts and people all telling us something about what it means to be human. For us this means that we have to find out about the designers, the writers, typographers, toolmakers and architects that came before us and wonder how we can re-interpret their work and make it relevant for yet another generation.
Why Her Will Dominate UI Design Even More Than Minority Report, Kyle VanHemert
t’s not just that Her, the movie, is focused on people. It also shows us a future where technology is more people-centric. The world Her shows us is one where the technology has receded, or one where we’ve let it recede. It’s a world where the pendulum has swung back the other direction, where a new generation of designers and consumers have accepted that technology isn’t an end in itself–that it’s the real world we’re supposed to be connecting to.
Constraints are Hard, Julie Zhuo
Constraints are hard because they represent the bar, and the bar is high on existing, successful products. Designers who persevere to ship something beyond this bar have achieved something remarkable, but they’re often unsung heroes because what they accomplish doesn’t come across as big or splashy. It’s often the quiet hum of a product getting better and better through the years—a common action made a little easier, a confusing interaction made simpler, a habitual gesture made more delightful. Maybe the average person never notices, but the product continues its upward trajectory. It grows more popular. It has more impact in the world.
Related: My Favorite Design Articles from 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.