Product mechanics

In Games there’s a focus of design called Game Mechanics. It works like this: Mario jumps, that’s a mechanic. The player is pushing buttons, but that’s just how they interact with the game mechanics. In this word where Mario jumps there enemies, enemies move and have behaviors, all of these things are not game mechanics. Mario can jump on enemies, that’s a game mechanic.

Game mechanics could be said to be mental models for how your activity works.

There isn’t really anything like it for the tech industry. There’s no product mechanic for a Todo list. Just an interface, and some actions.  

We design UI. Not activity. UX is trying to change this, but often lacks the understanding and even the language to do that. Maybe we should take a page out of the game design playbook and start designing Product Mechanics.  

Let's add some ethics to design

Why? Because we can.

A playful answer, but more often true than not. If something works, why not keep doing it? Marketing and sales are areas where this attitude is so entrenched that some people never question it. "Always be closing", "sell sell sell". Why are we pushing this grandmother to buy an android device she'll never use? Because we can.

We put all the responsibility in the hands of the recipient, the buyer, or the clicker of ads. Often rightfully so, in my opinion. As good balance to douchy sales tactics is that if people simply don't buy, the salesmen will quickly stop and try something else instead. Other fields are not so clear cut though.

As designer we believe it is our mission to delight users. To make the product easier to use, more entertaining, and always more sticky. Last week my favorite gamification researcher, Sebastian Deterding, posted a keynote where he questioned this idea; Why is it our job to make things more sticky? I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly. No matter if work with web or apps, you are providing either tools or entertainment. There really is nothing else. Entertainment should of course be entertaining, and I wont rant about game design in this post. But should tools be fun? Should they be sticky?

Steve Jobs once described the computer as a "bicycle for the mind". A tool to reach farther and faster than a human could without it. But are computers living up to this promise? I would argue no, and it's because of us. As designers, we've perverted the idea of tools. Creating hammers people really like to use instead of ones that gets the job done. We're not looking for the best way to solve a problem any more, we're debating how to make our users engage more with the product. Again something which is fine, if it's entertainment. But if it's a tool, this is a douchy sales tactic.

I think we need to stop talking about delighting our users and get back to trying to build the best tools for the purpose. No matter how good we dazzle our clients, eventually the sales pitch will end and the users are left holding chocolate hammers.

How to plan UX, the right way

The most common gripe I hear from UX designers is that they're not invited into the process early enough. This is absolutely a problem. If you get on board when the code is done and time is running out, there's only so much you can do. But there's another common problem, rarely talked about. Getting on board too early. Subtle project fail

Many companies I talk to today want to plan their UX in advance. Basically they want sketches of how the end user will interact with the finished project. Several things can go wrong with this approach:

  • You get locked into what the project was supposed to be and you can no longer change it for the better.
  • The sketches might not be technically sound. Small details can often be the largest technical hurdles.
  • There might not be enough time to realize the planned UX, but it's just so tasty that your iterative process becomes a linear project doomed to miss the deadline.
  • The designer(s) fall in love with an ideal, and are less open to change.

All of these issues, and all the ones I did not list, can be summed up in this sentence:

Premature UX is like masturbating before sex

No one is satisfied, it doesn't help you with the actual project and worst of all: The people involved in the pre-production process feel they've done some real work. Worst case they might feel that their job is already done. Just as the real work starts.

When and how to plan UX

Instead of trying to plan out a theoretical product of a project, find the parameters:

  • Define a problem that the project is trying to solve, without actually proposing the solution.
  • LIst the key issues and responsibilities the project must adhere to.
  • Set measurable targets for the project, then divide by half.

This way the problem solving is a part of the project, and the project may run more smoothly. It also forces UX to be a part of the project process instead of just something to check off before the project starts.

As always, the key to great UX and design is iteration. Having UX as a part of the development process, without the limitations of a set goal, makes a vast difference.

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?

How the Apple iTV will work

Most journalists now believe Apple will be releasing a TV this year. Speculating over Apple's plans is close to impossible, but if we look closely at what Apple have been releasing over the last few years I think we can predict what an Apple iTV would be like. There are a lot of problems. All of which would be solved by taking the problems out of the TV set and instead making it a much more connected device.

Go to market problem

When asked what he thought about set top boxes a few years ago Steve Jobs famously replied that there was no good go to market strategy.

The TV market is very different from Apple's usual markets in that consumers tend to buy new TVs close to 10 years apart. While Apple prefers to update their products every year.

"What is remarkable is how Apple can use iOS devices as wireless set top boxes for the Apple iTV."

The Apple iTV though, won't need to be updated every year. I believe Apple will release basically a huge monitor with some inputs and a decoding chip. The chip will easily be able to push 1080p or maybe even higher quality video in crisp quality. But in itself that is not remarkable. What is remarkable is how Apple can use iOS devices as wireless set top boxes for the Apple iTV.

User interface

Apple has always been famous for their interfaces. From the mouse to the click-wheel to the touch screen, Apple has always tried to create intuitive and immersive user interfaces. For the Apple iTV they have just released a UI that seems perfect for a TV set. Siri.

Using natural language to control your TV could be spectacular. Of course they'll probably throw in an Apple remote just to make everyone comfortable. But I will bet we will all be telling our TVs to turn on and off in the near future. And all iOS devices would also control the iTV, of course.

Content

Think of all your content from your Mac, your iOS device and your iTunes account seamlessly streamed through iCloud. The Apple iTV hardly even needs any local storage.

Some exclusive deals with production companies are sure to come. But if we look in the Apple media library they already have a really good offering. What they lack is real time programming. Most real time broadcasting is already available for iOS devices however. Which brings us to apps.

Apps

The Apple iTV doesn't need apps. Don't get me wrong, I want apps. But here's the magic sauce in my prediction. Apple won't make the iTV a stand alone device. The market doesn't update their TVs often enough for that. Instead the iTV will be an insanely great screen on which to project your content. From iOS devices. From iCloud. From Mac. Where you find AirPlay, you'll be able to push content to your iTV.

Real Racing2 Party Play

Want to play a game? Use your iPad or iPhone for controls and they'll sync the games graphics onto your iTV screen.

Want to see a movie? Start it on any device and just click AirPlay to show it on your iTV.

Want to listen to music? You get the point.

This might sound underwhelming. Apple's announcements often seem so at first glance. But then you realize what a profound change in the way you use technology it offers. Think about having a monitor at home that can play all your digital content. No matter what it is. Playing a game on your Mac? Watching a movie on your iPad? How about doing both side by side. Since the devices steam it to the iTV, it can handle anything you throw at it. Why not let your kids play games while you watch the news? Someone walks in with some photos to show? Put them up there with everything else.

"The best thing about it is that it doesn't need updates."

The best thing about it is that it doesn't need updates. Siri will get smarter through iCloud. More and more content will be available through iTunes. And every time you buy a new phone or tablet the iTV get's a major bump in features and power.

All wireless. All simple. A perfect Apple strategy. Or is it?

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

Quora - win or fail? A User Experience study

I recently was asked to check out Quora again. This time from a UX standpoint. I found a lot of strange design decisions and an almost crazy implementation of "Gamification" so I thought I had to share it: Quora logo

First Impression

What does this do? Quora is a mess of questions. That's a good thing. But it's also a mess of features. There is no real overview to how the service is supposed to be used nor how the features fit together to create a whole. It feel like a mess of somewhat related features that have been randomly added to a wiki.

User feedback loops

All services and products intended to be used more than once work because their is a loop in user interaction. After we've done what we came for we're back at the start and can do it again.

Feedback loops is a way to look at how feedback is introduced in the loop to keep users going forward and using the product. Quora does this really strangely.

There are two ways to understand what happens in a loop, one is to look at emotional impact or internal steps in the process from the point of view of the user. This is called the intrinsic loop. The other is to look at the service's constructed steps from the point of the user. This is called the extrinsic loop.

Intrinsic

The value in looking at both of these is to see where they meet and reinforce each other. So how does the intrinsic loop look?

answer questions -> gain social proof in form of replies, votes and followers -> answer ranks higher on lists of answers -> return

This loop works well. Interacting with the site gives you a sense of communicating with other users. Though notifications are bad and it's hard to really understand what is happening, there is a definite sense of activity spawned from other users interacting with your content.

Extrinsic

So how does the extrinsic feedback loop look?

Add information (unidentified) -> earn points -> use points to request answers -> no return

Basically it adds points but not to obvious steps in the loop. In fact, Quora only seems to add points for adding information. But Quora doesn't tell us why, how much or for what we earn these points.

This is an extrinsic loop set up to give users rewards for interacting that doesn't reward user for interacting. What went wrong here? Quora is giving out points for interacting with Quora, but not with other users.

The problem is humans don't think of services as independent entities and don't expect to interact with services, humans expect to interact through services. Another problem is that these rewards aren't reinforcing the intrinsic loop but instead starts rewarding an entirely different behavior. And last but not least, there is no clear end or way to start again from when you receive rewards. Rewards are doled out in the middle of the intrinsic feedback loop.

Gamification or What Bumblebees feel about Bicycles

Points. Just add points and it's a game. Just add points and the weird statistical exercise has miraculously turned into "fun"! Right? No. That's not how it works, you can read all about how to add the fun here. But Quora doesn't care about that, you get points for adding content but aren't told when or how much. There doesn't seem to be a differentiation between how you add content, you simply receive an arbitrary amount of points.

There's only one way to use points. You can pay others to answer questions. That's it. You can't even compare your points to another users.

Quora app icon

Summing up

Quora is awesome. What makes it awesome is the high level of interest from other users. The problem is, Quora does little of anything to enhance this. More often it gets in the way.

The service quickly became famous for supplying answers from high level CEOs and business savvy high performers. Sadly though, it took me hours to find any such answer. It took me hours just to find some interesting questions.

The random points thrown in just increases perception of randomness. Quora is a great idea, close to a good product. Over designed and under thought. It's confusing as hell and weird to use. But if you're lucky you can at least get some answers. Just don't expect the question to be the same one you had in mind from the start...

Facebook Messenger for iPhone and poor user experience

facebook messenger logoSome time ago Facebook launched it's cross platform messaging app: Facebook Messenger; the mobile stand alone app that fully integrates Facebook messaging with your cell phone. Sounds awesome right? Sadly, it's badly broken. I recently tweeted a designer at Facebook to ask why the UX of the app is so bad, in turn he asked me to describe what's wrong so they can fix it. So are you listening Facebook? Great. Here's what's wrong with the iOS version:

Starting the app Takes time. A lot of time. Why? There is no large graphics in use. Why does it start slower than some third party messaging or twitter apps? Short messaging on mobile devices is supposed to be fast. Loading the app for over a full second is bad user experience.

If I'd have to guess what's wrong I'd say Facebook Messenger is loading the entire message database at startup when all the user really needs is something like the last 5 messages.

Loading and responsiveness So the app is now loaded. Let's start messaging! No? Unresponsive?! But why? Why is there a second load time?

This second load becomes even weirder when I start the app from a notification. The app should be loading the message I was notified about but instead it seems to load for several full seconds. Even on WiFi.

If I'd have to guess what's wrong I'd say you're syncing ALL the messaging data with the server...

Don't, do, that. Ever.

Always smart load, download only the essential information to start using the app. Then download the rest in the background while the user is happily messaging away. This is critical on mobile devices.

Feedback If even Apple, that clearly doesn't get social at all, get's the importance of user feedback in short messaging. And the Facebook web interface clearly shows when the other party is writing something to you... Why do you not show this information in the Messenger app? If someone starts typing, send that information. Show an indication of this in the app.

And please, don't make my phone vibrate with every new messages when the thread is open on the screen.

Notifications  Notifications on iOS  are a bit strange. They don't sync between iPhone and iPad and the app can't receive any data from the notification. So some odd behavior is simply inescapable. However, most of the odd behavior with notifications from Facebook's Messenger app have nothing to do with that.

The main problem is that notifications aren't consistent between mobile app and web. As a matter of fact I haven't even been able to understand what triggers mobile notifications. In my tests some messenges have triggered notifications on both web and mobile while other, identical tests, have triggered only one of them. Once I even received a mobile notification while typing a response in that very thread on the web.

Notifications are hard. Really hard. But a few simple basics should at least get you of out this mess:

  • If the thread open on web and the page is active (focused some time the last minute or so) - don't send a notification at all.
  • If the thread not open and the page is not active - send a notification.
  • If the thread minimized in the web browser but the page is active - send only a web notification.

Facebook Messenger

Do I realize that these features are more complex than I have described them here? Yes. But they're not very complex for a product team such as the one behind Facebook.

Do I realize that Facebook usually releases features and then iterates on them to improve the user experience? Yes. But this is a web strategy. A mobile app is often, like in this case, just a good interface on top of a web service. If the interface is bad, the service is bad. Iterate all you want on the service. But "release early, release often"  is not a viable strategy for a mobile interface.

So why am I taking time to complain write all this? Because Facebook Messages, and Facebook Messenger, is a great product. It will help me organize my communication even better and have faster communications with my friends. No longer will discussions be spread through WhatsApp, iMessages, SMS, Email etc etc.

And the reason I can't do that today is the Facebook Messenger interface. With god damn enourmous amounts of some luck this post might help Facebook create a really good Messenger app faster. Fingers crossed. Also, I'm available for hire.

Thanks to @MagnusEngdal and Sara Öhman for helping me with the testing.

Update: Ben from the Facebook Messenger team replies with some information about the upcoming version 1.5 of the app. Early the next morning I had it and started using it. And I must say it's a big improvement. I'll write a follow up shortly about this new version.

The Gamification of SIME

Orginially posted on the official SIME blog SIME is a Swedish Conference on web, tech and startups. Where great speakers entertain for two days and investors and entrepreneurs mingle over coffee and champagne.

SIME 2011 was a flurry of great speaker on a wide area of subjects. While the set theme for SIME was "Passion Wins" another theme running through the conference was going mobile. Gamification was subtly introduced to the SIME audience in a panel on Gamification and marketing. Possibly to set the stage for a larger presence next year.

But what exactly is Gamification and how does it tie in with SIME 2011? Gamification is the process of using game mechanics in non-game products and services. I am not talking about  3D characters or scoring points here however. Games have matured in relative obscurity thought the years to become one of the worlds largest entertainment forms, aimed mostly at adults. The foundations ofwhat makes a good game are similar and equally complex as what makes a great brand. The psychology or rewards have been used in training and products over the years, but only games have really delved deep and explored the territory. Pacing and storytelling in a product where there is no story is also only really explored in the games industry. Science and design based on concepts like these are migrating from games into "normal" products.

This is Gamification. And oddly, ties in excellently to SIMEs central theme.

The Passion of Gamification Passion Wins. That theme was presented by Ola in his welcoming speech and it was central to almost all the talks at SIME. From presentations from promising startups, among them iZettle - the mobile payment solution, to using brain scans for better marketing there was not a presenter on stage that lacked passion. But how do we reach passion in our users or customers? While every panel spoke of the importance to engage users and inspire passion there was only one that talked about how thats done.

Panel on Gamificiation A panel consisting of Elísabet GrétarsdóttirEve OnlineJohan Sjöberg, founder Starstable, and Robin TeiglandStockholm School of Economics, joined Ola on stage to discuss the most popular buzzword of the day.

The panel wasn't that impressed with the term Gamification for starters. Elisabet described it as working with motivation in marketing to engage the audience, hopefully getting them to participate. Johan joined in saying that the term might be a misnomer, that the term Playification might be more appropriate. Since the focus is on engagement but not at all games.

"we are playful creatures" - Elísabet Grétarsdóttir, SIME 2011

The panel was in agreement that playfulness was important for humans, adding fun to anything should be possible. The panel highlighted experiments with gamification in education and Elisabet even made a pitch to add creative interaction in the fashion industry.

If we are playful creatures, play should be a great way to engage our users. Right?

Going mobile with gamification As I mentioned earlier another trend runnings through the entire conference was going mobile. Google spoke of being a mobile first company, Ericsson spoke about communicating in a world where every device is interconnected. But what does this have to do with gamification?

Throughout SIME we heard speakers talk about new paradigms and the web/app divide. Essentially mobile web is taking over and has a different set or boundaries than the desktop web. So how to we make sure our mobile interfaces are good enough and engaging users? You know where I'm going with this aren't you?

Mobile interfaces is a perfect place to start adding the fun.

Summing up gamification at SIME 2011 The passion at SIME was amazing. The energy was great. The game we played at the conference, bad. Basically we're all looking into how to engage and interact with people through digital mediums. The only industry that has really done it is the games industry. Moving their knowledge to the rest of the web is gamification. Elisabet doesn't think it's through external motivation. Ola thinks it might have something to do with horses.

The only thing we know is: however it's done, it's going mobile.

 

Jesper Bylund is a Game Designer / Interaction Designer who blogs about Gamification on Adding the Fun.com

UPDATE: Added a short explanation of what SIME is, thanks to @kenneth_aa for making me realize it was needed.

Path 2.0 UX review

Path was a weird app when it launched about a year ago. It was a photo sharing app with checkins, directly competing with Instagram and Foursquare but without the simplicity. It also had the really weird USP that you could "only share with 50 of your closest friends!"... Now, most people don't have more close friends than that. Hell, most people don't come close to that. But the early adopter crowd that usually takes these new apps for a spin were appalled. But Path was beautiful.

Path 1.0

It didn't work.

But Path is back! Path 2.0 is better, faster, turbo, everything you could possibly want. But is it good enough?

Path first impressions

Path is incredibly beautiful. No other mobile experience comes close. Seriously, it's not just pretty graphics, all the animations and interactions, the structure of information, the loading bars and even the damned typing experience is just plain better than in other apps. It's amazing.

Path 2.0

So what is Path?

Path is a digital diary for your life. Everyone on Path has a feed. And at any time you can add stuff to your own: where you are, a piture, who you're with, music you're listening to or when you go to sleep.

Using Path

Is lonely. Sure it launched today but that's not the main issue. Path is clearly going for the same feature set as Facebook Timeline (which is tied up in court and has yet to launch) but there's no way you'll get all your friends to come over. I'm an early adopter. I talk to a lot of other early adopters. And I'm still lonely on Path.

Still, it's an amazing experience. Enough to make me want to use it. Maybe that's enought? I'll update in a few days and let you know.

Twitter is the Twitter-killer

Twitter, the micro blogging service, has taken the world by storm. While there are only a few hundred million users compared to Facebook's massive near Billion, the service has become the place to share real time updates and is often used to gauge peoples reactions by news and analytic firms because the platform is open. But Twitter is about to face it's doom While Google struggle to reproduce the viral effect of micro blogging services Facebook's grab for the real time feed was hampered by the need to privacy. Twitter has already gained wide acceptance and was never intended for private information in the first place. But a series of ominous events are slowly hollowing out the foundations of Twitter.

Twitter is being killed by... Twitter has never been the most stable of tech startups. The service used to be plagued by downtime which became so frequent the Fail Whale error page became as famous as the service. The company itself is also changing management again, and again. Not a great trend this early in a one product company. The lack of leadership is clear to see.

Twitter UX Twitter (the company) is constantly changing and evolving it's product. Which is a great way to organically fit the needs of their users. But Twitter (the company) is doing this in a somewhat odd way. It started when Retweeting (passing on another users tweet as a sign of encouragement while marking it with their name and RT) was made a part of the product, after it's wide adoption by users, Twitter (the company) decided to implement it differently than the usual Retweets. This lead to better statistics, but also a fractured UX as apps now had to implement both ways to RT because users didn't like the new one. Eventually Twitter (the company) incorporated the old style Retweets but called the function Quote Tweet instead. And the problems were just getting started.

Twitter app insanity Twitter apps were almost a category on their own in the beginning of the Appstore. Twitter has become so important to mobile phone manufacturers they always showcase a twitter app with their new flagship phones. But Twitter wanted to control the experience, like Apple. Maybe a good idea. But really bad execution. They bought Atebits, the developers behind the most popular Twitter apps for iOS and Mac. Have you ever pulled down a list to refresh? Atebits invented that. So why was this a problem? Sounds great, right?

Tweetie and Twitter

After being purchased by Twitter (the company), the newly renamed Twitter for Mac and Twitter for iPhone started being updated less frequently... Let me make that clear, having the developer of the apps work closer with the Twitter development team made them update the apps less often.

Then shit really hit the fan. Twitter (the company) redesigned all their interfaces to be similar across platforms. Starting with a roll out on iPad, then web then the rest, Twitter (the company) streamlined their interface development.. in theory. What really happened? The interfaces now looked the same, but they didn't work the same. In fact, certain features only exist on certain platforms even though the interfaces look the same. Which makes it really hard as a user to remember what you can do where.

Later on the developers behind Atebits have left Twitter (the company), possibly in raging despair. And Twitter (the service) is fracturing into a mess. Not just between interfaces but functions as well. For example with the roll out of the activity tab you can follow some of the things people are doing through Twitter, following, unfollowing, making lists and so on. These features, which btw totally contradict the extreme simplicity of the core product, are weirdly integrated into the web interface as the afterthought they are. And it's only available on the web.

Summery Twitter (the company) is destroying Twitter (the services) with some sort of odd design-by-committee culture.  No matter if you like or dislike these new features, the case is clear that teams behind Twitter (the service) definitely aren't working towards the same goal.

This is sad. Because I love Twitter (the service). And I don't like that it's being killed by Twitter (the company). Please RT this if you agree.

Update:

Apparently the sentiment is echoed by people leaving Twitter (the company).

Update 2:

In December 2011 Twitter updated their entire line of interfaces. The design changes were clearly aimed at making Twitter a lot more interesting for new users.

Twitter divided itself into different parts, seemingly with different uses:

Twitter areas of interest

Sounds great right? What could possibly be the problem!

Twitter didn't actually change. And Twitter (the service) does not actually have these different areas of interest. So any user checking them out will quickly get confounded. What is the difference between "Home" and "Me"? I have no idea. But to make this obvious, Twitter (the company) has removed Me and Tweet from the web interface which basically means they have these left: Home (My feed), Connect (replies, RTs and follows) and Discover (search damnit, it's just search!).

To make things better worse, the UI is even more fragmented. Twitter no longer has updated clients for iPad and Mac. Apparently the job previously done by one single guy is just to much for an organization of 300 or so.

But it get's even better worse. The UI of the web and iPhone version, while both being updated simultaneously for this new paradigm, still do not follow the same UI standards and are structured differently. Don't ask about Android. Twitter (the company) must really, really, hate Android.

Anyone want to build a Twitter killer, possibly built upon the API of Twitter to simplify the transfer of users? I'm available right now.

What to use the iPad for

When the iPad was announced a lot of people wondered what it was for. Why carry a giant iPod touch with you instead of a small laptop? When Apple later unveiled the updated MacBook Air a lot of people asked the same thing. But the iPad is still flying off the shelves and people love the machine.

But if you're still wondering why the iPad is good I did some snooping. Actually I've asked non-leading, weird, questions to every iPad user near me for close to two years just to understand the behavior. And I think I've solved it.

Why the iPad feels wrong for real work Some people will tell you the iPad does multitasking and that it works great. That's just not true. It does uni-tasking and great app switching.

The difference is it really forces you to focus on one thing at a time. I have no problem switching between apps to get stuff I need to send or reply to that email with facts from simplenote etc. But you can't have all that on the screen at the same time like you are used to.

This makes people believe it's hard to use for work. Simply because they have to relearn their entire workflow. The desktop experience simply doesn't translate to the tablet and it makes people feel less efficient.

using iPad for work

Why the iPad is awesomee The iPad actually makes you more effective. Not efficient. You won't be doing things at the same speed as you do on a desktop, and that might frustrate you. But it'll also force you to think about what is most important. Usually, in both my experience and my sneaky interviews, making the end result better.

The iPad really does almost everything a desktop computer does. So far I've found two things it doesn't do as well as a desktop:

  • Create graphics, the iPad simply cannot compete with Adobe Photoshop and a mouse.
  • Formatting text. Yes I'm serious. You can do it. But it takes forever.

The second thing the iPad doesn't to really do highlights the efficiency vs effectiveness problem. It doesn't format text well. But is that really what you should be doing? Yes a well formated document looks a lot more professional than a poorly formatted one. But the content is really the important thing, right? And seriously, you could've made a template for those visual documents years ago.

Don't worry though, there's probably an app for that.

 

The ending was intended as sarcasm and not rampant fanboyism. Though I probably am a rampant fanboy of Apple's take on design.

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.

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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?

Samsung Galaxy Tab preview

Before I start, I haven't touched the Galaxy tab myself yet. But from the video's available from IFA and other preview hands ons I have a question that might break the product: It looks great. It sounds great. The specs are great. It runs the speedy Android 2.2 Froyo.

So why does it lag? Why isn't scrolling silky smooth? Why does the interface have load times without transitions?

Boiled down to one question: Since the device seems to be more than a match for Apple's iPad, why does it lag up the user experience?

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In defence of Millers number in design

The great design site UXmyths recently wrote an article claiming to debunk the use of Millers number in design. The article is a great read and really well researched, I recommend reading it to anyone who hasn't studied Miller in psychology or cognition class. But the article missed the mark. It debunks how people use Millers number, but not the importance of Millers number nor it's application in design. Basically, I think somewhere along the way someone misinterpreted the theory. Let me explain why.

Millers number The renowned psychologist George Miller is most famous for discovering a certain limit to the human short term memory. This limit has to do with the number of information bits that a person can remember at any one time, he called it the Magic number 7 +- 2. This in itself has absolutely nothing to do with design, just as the article on UXmyths has detailed.

Short term memory and decision making To think about something we need to hold the different thoughts or parts of thoughts in our minds. This is especially important in decision making where it is not to your conscious advantage to forget parts of the decision. Since this is limited to 7+-2 we can never remember more parts of any choice. But what about ideas? What about bits of information that are really just the sums of huge amounts of other information? To handle things like this we use chunking.

Chunking? Chunking is the process where we categorize information that fit together, for any satisfactory reason, into one bit of information. For example a car is seen as a car not "a metal body with chair in that sits on four wheel rotated by an engine". For the best explanation of chunking vie seen to date check out visual chunking and the law of Prägnanz. LINK

Why does this support Millers number in design? Millers number sets a upper limit to chunks before they become noise. So while it is quite useful to have a menu with more than 7+-2 choices it would be really frustrating and hard to remember if there were more areas of interest or chunks of information on any one page.

So millers number is excellent in design, UXmyths is dealing with the simplified use of Millers number which leads to results that are just plain wrong.

In a sentence: Make sure you understand complicated psychological theories before you apply them to design.

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.