I wonder if engagement killed social media?

There’s no way to miss the frustration about social media all around us. Algorithmic feeds, allegations of Facebook manipulating the media. It never seems to end.

in the middle of this storm Andy Baio, the former CTO at Kickstarter, put up a link that shows you what your twitter feed was like ten years ago. It went viral.

Today were bombarded by snide comments and jokes at everyone’s expense, but ten years ago people mostly observed and shared things. 

I wonder why?

What happened that made the social landscape change this drastically? Was is the influx of new people that swamped the established culture? Possible, but I believe in humanity way more than that. was is the hardening social climate all around us? Doubtful, the only place it seems to get rougher is in the the media.

I think there’s a piece of evidence right there in what social posts look like today.

It’s a megaphone.

All these posts are broadcasts. They’re mostly snide, satirical or cynical posts at someone’s expense. 

There’s  another sort of content that’s experiencing the same development in parallel. News is growing worse and more snide by the minute in the race for faster and cheaper clickbait. 

Can it be that social media turned bad because we all strive for short term engagement? We know that measuring engagement shortsightedly has left Facebook with the massive undertaking to redesign their feed. So it’s not a big leap of the imagination to think that perhaps social media was killed by the like button. And twitter by the heart icon.

An entire form of media. Possibly killed because of a bad design choice. 

...or am I reading to much into this? 

What makes a product good

Sit up straight, I'm about to explain the secret sauce behind exceptional products. There is a difference between products that perform poorly and products that perform well that is hard to put your finger on. Designers have been struggling to tell you about it for years. But it turns out it's not the answer that is the problem, it's the question. The question is: Is it enjoyable? It's the difference between functional and great.

For a long time now the tech industry has been struggling with paradigms. Is your product technology driven or design driven? Are your most important people engineers or designers? The pendulum swings every five years or so.

Google is a company driven by engineers, they solve problems. Apple is a company driven by designers, they make experiences. Which company makes the better product? Android or iPhone? For years, journalists and salesmen have been asking the wrong questions, and coming to all the wrong conclusions.

Customers buy products for their features. But they keep them for the experience.

No one doubts that features are important. Every retail box is crammed with specs and every review seems to compare products on feature lists. But features are not what makes customers buy. When you buy a kitchen knife, you probably just grab a cheap one to get the job done, right? But the next time you buy one, you'll be more likely to invest in quality because it feels better to use, the old one became dull quickly or chipped. Your enjoyment of the product starts to make an impact in your purchase.

What is that enjoyment worth? If your first knife cost $5, would you buy a better one for $50?

Android phones were crappy when Android was first released. Mostly because Android was crap. Google spent millions making sure Android had every feature that the iPhone had. Every function was matched. Every look that could be copied was copied. Samsung even went so far as to make extremely similar phones and UI-skins. But oddly, the consumers were not using Android phones like they did iPhones. App sales were low, internet usage was non-existant.

Only then did the engineers at Google realize that the secret sauce in the iPhone wasn't so much features, but the experience. Still they couldn't put their finger on what they lacked. They had to hire a new manager, a designer, to tell them what to do. Now Android is becoming enjoyable to use, app sales are skyrocketing and internet usage is on the rise. People are using their Android phones for the first times.

Enjoyment is hard to bottle. It can't be checked off on a scrum board or a todo list. It's the sum of all the parts. And even worse, it costs money. You can't just finish a feature, you have to iterate on all the parts until they fit together. (To read more about enjoyment or fun, visit my blog on Gamification: Adding the Fun.)

The sooner we start asking the right question the better. What if startups focused on making their features enjoyable instead of just functional? It'd cost more, but their churn would be less and they would get more interest.

Right now the market is focusing on design. Designers are in high regard and design is the measuring stick of the tech industry. But because most companies and organisations still don't understand this crucial piece of secret sauce, designers will become another checklist on the project management chart. Is it designed? Yes. Tick the box.

If the question had been: is it enjoyable? The answer would have been different. The product would end up different and the market reaction would as well. Next time you read a review, don't look at the feature list or the score. Find the sentence where the author says if he/she liked it or not.

It's time to make sure we start asking the right questions and stop looking at features or design as checkboxes.

This list of questions can help you start:

  1. Does the feature work?
  2. Does it work every time and in every circumstance?
  3. Is it enjoyable?
  4. Is it enjoyable even when you're in a hurry?

If the answer to any of the questions is no, you need to start over.

Like Steve Jobs so eloquently put it "Design is how it works". Sadly, he didn't stick around to explain how anyone could check for that emotion.

Ask the question: Is it enjoyable?

A UX review of Clear, todo list manager of the future

Meet Clear, the todolist manager that does everything right.

Clear for iPhone from Realmac Software on Vimeo.

Intuitive interface

Clear has no interface. It just uses swipes pinches and touches in a list the same as you would on an image. While there is no such thing as intuitive, this is as close as I've ever seen.

But the best part about clear is it's use of color and sounds.

Use of color for information

Colors are used in the lists to show priority. The more saturated the color, the more important the task. Now the tasks are already in a list, so one could argue that adding colors to it is redundant. But this is not true. Any human scanning a list will see each item as equally important. Most of us tend to try and put the most important thing at the top of the list but every time we look at the list we still browse more than one item.

Making the list colored gives a subtle hint that you don't need to look at other tasks. This is the one.

It also gives the user a reason to order the list properly. While the app never tell the user they have to, just creating a rule that says the top is higher priority will make users want to use the rule. Think of it like a hidden keyboard shortcut. Once you learn it, if it's a valuable shortcut, you stick with it.

Sounds that make it fun

Audio feedback has been used to great effect in games for decades. Which is why I've always found it odd that it's had such little attention in software tool design. Until now.

Clear has a sound effect for every function.

New item? Pop.

Clear app: adding tasks

Finished item? Ping!

Clear app: completing tasks

Delete item? Swoosh

Clear app: deleting tasks

But I really mean sound effect. These aren't just midi notes annoyingly stacked to make an awful racket.  These are effects that sound great by themselves and stack neatly. What do I mean by stack? If you complete several tasks in a row, you don't just get an annoying amount of pings. You'd hate that. Instead you get a rising scale of pings that together seem to form a rising crescendo. Which incidentally is exactly like the normal sound design to gaining point in video games (remember picking up coins in Mario?)

UPDATE: The awesome sound design was done by Josh Mobley.

Getting out of the way

The reason the design of Clear is so impressive is that, while the UI reinforces the users positive emotions of using a todo list, it get's out of the way to let the users focus on thinking about tasks.

There's simply nothing else to think about. And you won't get those soothing sounds of completion if you don't complete some tasks.

Summary, or: is it awesome?

Clear is the best interface for getting things done I've seen so far. On any platform. It's also responsive like few apps on iOS.

It does gamification right by letting the user learn it's features intuitively and reinforcing the actual use of the product instead of showering them in useless badges.

Sadly however, it also really doesn't have a use. At least not for a todo-list power user such as myself. Enter a 100 tasks into Clear and you'll be looking at an infinite list with no overview. There's no search, there are no smart lists. But these features would not improve the product. In fact, I think including more features could destroy the product.

If you use lists often but don't have 1000 tasks in them. This app will make you smile on your way.

If you use really long lists, this app will be nice to play with but not useable.

Should you buy it? YES. If only to support good design.

 

 

As usual, the Verge has the best video first look:

An example of interactive UI design, the future of web design

HTML5 is a name we give the next level of web technology, it's just simpler to remember. All the web is built using HTML, CSS and Javascript and with HTML5 new and better ways of using these languages are being made available everywhere.

The revolution started with the iPhone.

With the launch of their breakthrough device they didn't intend for developers to be making Apps. Apple instead believed that developers would make web apps using HTML5 and save the web app as an icon of their phone. Surprisingly open by Apple's standards the strategy soon changed to native apps because web apps simply didn't feel quick enough.

Web technology is getting better

However, as HTML5 becomes a standard on PCs everywhere web apps are approaching the same sophistication as native applications. The hardest step now is for developers to take the plunge and create these great new interfaces and not get stuck in the old way of thinking and just pushing out another blog.

One of my favorite designers, Dustin Curtis, is leading the way with this new UI element on his site; the Kudos button.

It looks great. It's fun to use and it's a really simple way to add some life to a site. It doesn't work on touch interfaces for obvious reasons. Sadly Dustin hasn't made the code available yet, but most programmers could probably copy the concept. It's that easy. We just have to make sure we starting thinking less about static web and more about user interaction.

UX trend predictions of 2012 B:

Whenever likeminded creative people try to innovate trends emerge. Ideas give birth to ideas. As ideas keep combining in the heads of creative people everywhere some ideas become more sticky than others. I’ll document some of the trends in user experience design I predict will become the norm in 2012. You can find my first post on the subject here. Another example from a 2011 app is the amazing full screen representation in Wren.

Wren app for Mac

 

White space apps

When I first saw Wren I was amazed. It was focused and minimalist. Therefore I was shocked to see the full-screen button in the top right corner of the app, "Wouldn't that completely wreck the experience" was my knee-jerk reaction. Then I tried it and another trend was obvious, apps that scale without bloating their feature sets, or White space apps.

Why are White space apps different? Mobile.

The mobile revolution has some interaction and UI designers scratching their heads or pulling their hair trying to fit all the usual information. The current computing paradigm has relied on massive amounts of text and information tags for a long long time. Even programs that have really tried to rid themselves of rarely used functions or unnecessary amounts of help information have sometimes been stuck in contextual help hell due to the modus operandi of desktop interface design.

No more. Mobile has rid us of all these things. And some designers are provocative enough to realize that less really is more and simply scale their apps without adding more information or complexity.

Is this good or bad?

Only time will tell. But the dominance of mobile design today tells us a lot about what people like. I think it is less about the iPhone being a must-have product and a lot more about really smart and beautiful apps that are just complex piles of engineering on other platforms.

Simple is better. And using white space to focus the users attention on a sparingly chosen set of functions beautifully designed makes this clear. I believe these minimal products will in the future continue to trump the feature behemoths of yesteryear.

Due for iPad

UX trend predictions of 2012 A:

Whenever likeminded creative people try to innovate trends emerge. Ideas give birth to ideas. As ideas keep combining in the heads of creative people everywhere some ideas become more sticky than others. I'll document some of the trends in user experience design I predict will become the norm in 2012. An example trend from previous years is the scroll down to refresh design. Created by Loren Brichter for his famous Tweetie iphone app it has since become the standard for refreshing feeds and lists in apps everywhere.

Example from mobile webKit build

Related function Panels

You've seen them already. Open your Facebook app and look at the button in the top left corner. Tapping the button or swiping the interface from left to right opens the menu:

Facebook iPhone app

Facebook iPhone app menu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This background panel is always there. Neatly integrated in iOS navigation panel.

The iOS navigation panel? At the top of all iOS apps with many views is a bar that usually has two buttons on it. This bar is called the navigation bar in the iOS SDK and intended to be used like this:

  • the left side button steps you back in the app. Just like the back button in your browser.
  • the right side button steps you forward. Showing the next step or function in the app.
Related function panels will become a trend become complex apps need menus, and no one wants to start the app in a menu. Instead starting the app smack in the middle of activity giving the user an option of accessing the menu by "stepping back".

Why is this different from a menu

But the reason I call the panels related function and not menu panels is that when a menu is that as soon as we have this paradigm, panels on either side that are "behind" our current view in chronological order. We can show the user all sorts of related information and functions, regardless of the apps functions.
Take for instance Path 2.0, a beautiful example of UI design. It too uses the left side menu, but to the right it shows your friends list. In the Facebook app this right side button opens sorting options and not a panel at all. This doesn't matter. As long as the paradigm is in place, panels will start showing up with the most important related functions in apps of all sorts.

Is this good or bad

The design works great in the Facebook app, in the Gmail app and in Path 2.0. But if it will work when lots of apps join the trend? We can't know beforehand.
The design is solid from a perception and usability perspective. It also looks great. So I'm hoping to see some innovative use of it shortly!
Gmail appGmail app

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Path 2.0 appPath 2.0 app

Google+ review: Why Google+ will fail

Google+ is the new social network launched by Google. Despite having a track record of broken dreams and train wrecks in the social space, Google has actually managed to put together a quite compelling product. A lot of the tech industry is claiming it really is a Facebook killer.

Here's why it's not

Google+ is basically a clone of Facebook. So much of the service is nearly identical that it would be silly to claim otherwise. Now this might be because Google is lazy, or it might be that Facebook has found a good way to view social information. I'm more inclined to the latter.

But similarity won't get new users, they'll understand Google+ easier (an important argument) but they won't stay for that. So what stands out?

Circles, Sparks, Huddles and Hangouts

Circles are central to the Google+ experience. To share or follow anyone you have to assign them to a circle or group. The idea is that if all your friends are in groups from the start, having more control of what you share to whom is a lot simpler.

Google Plus Circles

That's a great idea. Sadly it's really annoying and adds work for the users. Every time you post something you have to choose which circles to share with. The ones you shared with last are offered as a default. I'll bet that most people will add most if not all their circles and then never change. The reason for this is that we don't share if sharing is to much work. That's why social networking took off in the first place, they made it easier to share stuff we liked. Google+ is making it harder than on Facebook. Not a compelling argument for most people.

Sparks

Sparks are topics of interest that you can follow and get all the new information on right inside Google+. This is a great idea. Having content in the social network, ready to be shared.

Google+ Sparks

There is a problem. It's basically just a Google search. So there's very little filtration of content and hardly ever anything new. Google+ is still a beta so this could evolve to a killer feature. But for Google to invent a new type of search just for content in Google+... I don't think that'll happen.

Huddles

Huddles are group messaging. Yeah. Another one... And for some reason it only works on mobile devices, they don't show up in the web interface. So basically a bit less useable than Facebook chat.

Google+ Huddle

Hangout

Hangouts are amazing. Hangouts are video chatroom that you can start at any time and than jump in and out of and just talk to people. Amazing tech.

Google+ Hangout

But a stupid idea. Why? I don't understand why companies keep dragging the video-calling, video-chatting ideas out every time they get more tech. The trend in general is moving from voice to text because it is less intrusive.

Intrusive is basically the definition of having friends looking at you while you work.

"But chat roulette was a hit!?"  I hear you desperately cry. Yes it was. Because it's for fun it was quick to just spend a half hour jumping in and out of conversations or charades with dicks random people. But do you want to do that with just your friends? Probably not.

It is however an even simpler way to have video conferencing, which inside Google must seem like the thing everyone wants to do. I've never met someone who would like that. But I'm sure those people will be thrilled. I'll use it to have drinking nights with my buddies in the UK no doubt.

Summing up

So far Google+ looks like a great, clean, new social network. With absolutely nothing to make it more useable than Facebook.

The only reason people loves this product is because it says Google right there on the logo.

But we should give it the benefit of a doubt, it's still just a beta, it might be missing features or showing us features that are far from finished.

Don't get me wrong, I'll still be on it. It's just that I don't use it at all.

How to change scrolling direction in Lion; and why you shouldn't

Trackpad Settings from Lion To change back from Lion's default natural scrolling open Settings -> Trackpad -> Scroll & Zoom and uncheck the natural scrolling checkbox. All done.

Why shouldn't you?

It's annoying right? Why should you have to relearn how scrolling works?

Because it makes no sense in Lion, and I'll bet you anything it'll make less and less sense going forward. This is the new paradigm, learn it now or later.

But why?

In the beginning of Graphic User Interfaces scrolling was done by clicking the scrollbars on the side of an application window.

Scrollbars

Since this wasn't a very efficient way to do it many weird solutions for simpler scrolling popped up here and there. It soon became standard for Mice to have scroll wheels on them. Making the entire representation of scroll bars a bit redundant. They take up a lot of screen real estate just to show you where in a window you are looking at any one time. It's not like you didn't scroll there in the first place right?

A Mouse with a Scroll Wheel

When touch pads started becoming standard, this design thought was transplanted over from mice and scroll bars. Nothing wrong with that, reinventing the wheel isn't always a good thing.

Except when it is.

In this case it made no sense. The mouse and it's scroll wheel use two different controls to achieve two different things. You move the mouse to point. And you scroll the wheel to.. eh.. scroll.

But on a touch pad you use the same control. Your poking the touchpad to move the pointer and then poking the touchpad in the opposite direction to scroll. The only reason this feels "natural" is because we, as the ingrained PC users we are, are so used to scrollbars. We know that what we're scrolling isn't the content but the scrollbar. Which in turn scrolls the content...

See where the design falls apart?

The metaphor is broken. The scrollbar no longer makes sense when you scroll using the pointing device to move the content, instead of the scrollbar.

Alright. That makes sense, but why relearn? Why fix what ain't broken?

In two words: Cognitive load.

Lion's natural scrolling (directly scrolling the content instead of the scroll bar) will become the standard, like it or not, because the average PC user doesn't change default settings and certainly don't understand why scrolling should be inverse to the screen. The cognitive load of thinking about how to scroll will simply become to much as more computers are delivered with touch pads and more of our PCs become touch based (as tablets become more widely spread).

To clarify; on a mouse the scrolling direction won't change. Because the scroll wheel isn't directly linked to the content anyway. But a touch pad is directly linked. Update: For some reason, Apple has changed the scrolling direction on the mouse wheel for non-apple mice. This is weird. Thanks to Dan in the comments for reporting!

It takes a little time to get used to, though less than you might think, but it will be worth it. And you won't have to relearn later on which will get increasingly frustrating.

Not convinced? Check out MG Siegler's excellent pre-lion post The iPad Has Broken My Brain; OS X Lion Will Help Fix It.

A new iOS notification design

Something I don't get about most current design is that designers adding features always add layers of complexity. Never add things unnecessarily.

This is my design for a new Notification system. The notification counter on top will ping in color and sound/vibration when new notifications drop in. The user can set which service does what in settings.

The entire notification list is under the spotlight window. If you use spotlight, it'll disappear until you remove your search.

 

UPDATE:

iOS5 has been unveiled and while I'm not shocked to find I wasn't spot on, I am a bit shocked by their adding another menu just for notifications. If you have no idea what I'm talking about check em out here.

New iOS notification system

Notifications on the iPhone and the iPad are broken. They distract us and get us away from our work flow or Angry Birds and if you, like me, get a lot of them they stack most annoyingly. Push notification on an iPhone

So why haven't Apple already solved this? We can't know that for sure, secretive as Apple is. But I'll bet it has something to do with the new iteration of OS X.

Lion In Lion Apple is bringing iOS features back to the Mac. Specifically, for notifications, applications are now encouraged to be full screen. Full screen apps can't use badges or jumping icons in the dock to notify users of what's going on.

Lion has to redesign notifications. And Lion has to make notifications work with full screen apps, exactly the same problem that Apple faces on the iPhone and iPad.

Unified notification system I believe the new notification system will be the same, or very similar, across all Apple platforms. It just makes to much sense not to, all their devices need new notifications and they face the same constraints... Except input. iOS handles touch,  OS X has a mouse/keyboard. Both of them handle gestures however.

Universal Gestures? In the new beta of iOS, 4.3, Apple has released a set of gestures to do multitasking making the feature a lot more powerful and easy to use.

[youtube wvxSSGUtTYA]

These gestures don't translate all that well to the iPhone (five fingers on a 3" screen?) but I dare say Apple can solve that. But I also notice there's one gesture missing: down. Right and left swipes change app, swipe up to show active apps, why not swipe down to show a notification app/menu?

Notification app/menu/dock Gathers all notifications, only needs to make a sound or visual cue for new notifications and users can come back to it at will. It would work on all Apple devices and could be accessed by gesture or from the icon.

Sounds pretty Apple-y to me. What are your thoughts?

The future of UX is play

In case you didn't know; UX week is a conference in San Fransisco that, if your into UX, you wish you were at. It has great speakers on great subjects and sounds like heaven for all us UX designers spread across the planet. Nicole Lazzaro has a presentation scheduled on the future of UX where she argues that design focusing on increasing positive emotions rather than minimizing negative experience is the future of UX development. A field where game design is leading the way.

I for one am really happy someone is bringing this up at a large conference. I studied game design for this very reason and I'm still having a hard time selling the idea to my colleagues, the notion that games are basically toys is still deeply ingrained in western culture and it's now starting to hold us back from creating better experiences.

For anyone interested in learning from game design I recommend you start with legendary designer Raph Koster's excellent book A Theory of Fun.

What design is

"Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works. The design of the Mac wasn't what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it's all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don't take the time to do that." - Steve Jobs 1996

Most people I've talked to seem to have this conception that design is somehow visual only. Preferably graphical for the game & web business. This is a preconception we really need to change if we're ever to get mandate to properly design.

And yes, this is the last Jobs quote in a while I promise.

The definition of Bad Design

Stupid sign hides stupid design I took this picture of a door in my office. It has two handles. The top large green one is for emergencies only, and people have apparently been using it. To solve the problem, a large sign has been taped to the handle bearing the legend:

"Do not use this door handle unless it's emergency situation"

Problem solved. Anyone can see that there's something wrong here. But let's boil it down:

The handle problem

If the handle is not to be used, placing it above the normal handle, making it larger and green is probably a bad idea. In fact, it's the exact opposite of what you're supposed to do according to various studies on cognitive processes, visual recognition and psychology. Of course, this design is made for emergencies only and for such is pretty good.

The normal handle below the emergancy handle requires the user to touch a button on the wall first in order to open the door. The additional step of course makes it less useable, but the really interesting design choice here is WHY THE F why in the world one of the handles require a button on the wall and the other does not... The result is the same so there is no difference to the user. Couldn't the second handle also be used by just, you know, pushing it? And while we're at it, why not just have one handle from the start? It would be much more cost effective.

The sign problem

The sign is another great feat of design. First of all it obscures the handle. Rendering it useless in an emergency situation. But since the sign is well fastened and laminated with hard plastic you wouldn't be able to use it even if you knew where it was.

Smart people were involved in every step of this process. But noone looked at the overall intended function, nor the users intended use. Not one. This is why you need designers.

New iTunes Redesign

iTunes is long overdue an overhaul. The old program has become so bogged down with features one can't help but wonder when Apple will update it. They might follow their mobile strategy and split into several parts or go for the completely cloud based streaming version a la Spotify.And they might announce it this Monday at WWDC. This is why I thought I'd redesign it while it is still a huge challenge.

My design is based on a rethinking of what iTunes manages, namely media. But lot's of different forms of media. In this design of iTunes every media item is considered to be a media bit no matter if it's a song, an album, an app or a book.

As you can see this design is radically different from the current version of iTunes. I've followed Apples recent reductionist standard in design and tried to eliminate everything unnecessary while retaining the purpose of the program.

There are three main areas of interest in this design:

  • The top navigation bar which holds filters, search and player controls. Allowing users to easily find what they're looking for.
  • The media view which allows users to browse through media, partly for fun and partly for aimless just looking. It also gives a great overview of what types of media and with modal boxes for more information can give users details if they want.
  • The bottom devices dock. This is where media is divided to the available devices as well as start and stop the currently playing list. I'll explain a bit more about devices below.

The start screen shows you the available devices as well as your favorite and most recently used media bits, this way the user instantly has an overview of where they left off last time.

I've considered devices to be anything that has media in it. From left to right:

  • The currently playing list displaying the artwork for the currently playing media with a simple play/paus control for the queue. Users access the queue by clicking this icon or just drag and drop media to it to add it to the queue.
  • The computer library. WIth home sharing different computers can share with all devices over a home network, I've just eliminated the extra fuss by reducing it as far as I've been able.
  • Peripherals, in this case my iPhone. Used in the same way as computers, playlists and the queue. Drag and drop or click to view contents.
  • Playlists, drag and drop media to and from and click to view.

A lot of people use playlists as a way to traverse their media libraries. I have actively made this harder as playlists are a lot more harder to search through as media libraries grow. Instead I've focused on search and filtering to allow easy browsing of the library. I have however thought this to be a perfect place for Apples famous horizontal scrollbars should the number of devices increase.

Filters are used to group media bits making it easier to find what you're looking for in a large library, seach is however crucial since most people tend to grow really large media libraries. Click a filter and all media is displayed as stacks or bits, click one suck stack or bit to see it's contents and either filter further or search the stack.

The currently playing queue acts as both a queue for media and as the main media player. It's a simple principle to learn and as all devices work in the same way the user needs never get confused or irritated at features appearing and disappearing depending on context.

Media bits can be freely moved between devices, making sharing and syncing simple and easy to understand.

Each media bit has detailed information available only if the user wants so know more.

The player controls have been moved aside leaving only the large play and pause button on the icon for the currently playing list/device. I'd love to get some more work done on this project in the future but I think Apple might beat me to it. And I'm excited by the thought of comparing my work with that of Jonathan Ive's team!

There are a few weak points in this design so far, namely the lack of the iTunes store and the lack of a way to arrange Apps on devices. While I've thought about solutions for these and believe that this design can accomodate them I haven't had the time to sketch it out yet.

Hope you like my work, and if you're reading this Mr Jobs; yes, I'd love to come work for you. ;)

See higher quality versions of this design at Flickr

Why Apple is loosing money on making crappy headsets

Design is all about focus. What to focus on, what to disregard. There is limited time and no designer has the time to make anything perfect. Apple is sublime in making the 90% mostly used parts of the user experience near perfect. Except one thing.

You have an iPod, what do you listen with? You have an iPhone, what do you listen and make calls from? Apple's headset and/or head phones.

In the 2002 article Mind your language,  by Game Developer Ben Cousins, Cousins explains what to focus on to make a successful product. In short: whatever the user spends most time with. Apple is usually great at this but seem to be missing the headsets.

It's not that the headsets / head phones are bad per se. They just aren't really good. And the quality is awful, I'm on my 6th pair this year and mad as a hat when the sound goes in one ear.

Apple should really look into making a better headset, ensuring that customers are using headsets with the intended functions.

Terms for Interaction Design

To work effectively with other people we need terms that define abstract things so we don't get stuck on them, such as Grok and User Interface. Let's define two more: Object and Model.

Any interaction consists of a one or more systems of thought. In cognitive psychology such systems (or representational models of the real world) are called cognitive models.

When we interact with something we use a lot of these models. But the term isn't fleshed out enough for daily use in interaction design.

An Interaction Object is the entire interaction process with a thing or a process. Using a pair of scissors (holding them correctly, using them to cut and understanding in what way they cut) consists of many cognitive models but only one Interaction Object. But every process or new function is a new object. A Swiss army knife has as many objects as it has tools.

A Interaction Model is one set of possible interaction methods. Much like the cognitive model a Interaction Model consists of only a single thought process about something. A pair of scissors can be held by the handles, one model. A pair of scissors has cutting surfaces that are sharp, another model. Etc etc.

Using these terms we can discuss interaction design for abstract products such as games and web apps with much greater efficiency.

Example 1: A menu on a web page is an Interaction Object. And if it has more than one or two Interaction Models you're making it to complicated.

Example 2: A game avatar has several Interaction Objects. To be able to understand them they must have very few Interaction Models.

Example 3: Facebook has a lot of Interaction Objects, but most Objects only has a single Interaction Model. Does this make Facebook easy to use or harder to Grok?

Can you use these terms or are they still to complicated or undefined? Let me know what you think.

What is a user interface?

A lot of people I talk to are confused about design. Not least when they hear about abstract design such as web design, UX design, game design etc. I can't blame them. As designers we really tag ourselves with the word most appropriate for the task at hand. Even though our main work is always to solve problems by design. But let's make things easier For most designers working with abstract design the term user interface is crucial. But exactly what is a UI? Sure, it's the thing the user interacts with. But where does it start and where does it end?

User Interface Interface is a proxy layer between a human being and a function.

But what does that mean? For a pair of scissors, the scissors themselves are the user interface between a human hand and the function of cutting.

A computer has two layers of user interfaces between the human and most functions. The keyboard/mouse or physical UI, and the graphical or text based abstract UI.

But what if the user interface is a part of the function? The iPhone for instance doesn't really have a physical UI. There is nothing physical to interact with (excepting the home button, volume and mute controls but lets not digress from the example). But it does have a graphical abstract UI.

Why is this definition important? Because now we can all say user interface and know what we're referring to. No more wordplay to guess what the other person is talking about.

UI is important, learn to know what good or bad

UI is the second most important part of any application or service.The service or function is more important, but it's not important at all if users can't use it.

How to know whats good or bad? Thankfully, our old friend Cognitive Psychology provides us with the key. Just record a user using your UI (or use it yourself and make notes).

  • Every time they try to do something that requires testing or a moments thought counts as negative.
  • Every time they do something that doesn't require thought and was intended counts as a positive.

Every negative counts twice, that's how humans perceive negative impact.

The higher the score, the better it is.

Of course, this is only generally true, performing 200 actions to change a song on your MP3 player is not a good UI. Even if every step was intuitive.