Etching patterns into your mind

Playboy: Why is the computer field dominated people so young? The average age of Apple employees is 29.

Jobs: It’s often the same with any new, revolutionary thing. People get stuck as they get older. Our minds are sort of electrochemical computers. Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them. It’s a rare person who etches grooves that are other than a specific way of looking at things, a specific way of questioning things. It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing. Of course, there are some people who are innately curious, forever little kids in their awe of life, but they’re rare.

We have to actively work on etching effective patterns. And we can never stop.

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.


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.

Engineers not smart enough to make decisions at Nokia

Directly quoted from Daring Fireball: Adam Greenfield on his tenure at Nokia:

As it happens, the value-engineering mindset that’s so crucial to profitability as a commodity trader is fatal as a purveyor of experiences. Of course you still want to produce your offering for the lowest achievable cost — but that cost is bound up in intangible, nondeterministic dimensions of design, in ways that are only partially-at-best quantifiable. It’s just not particularly wise to allow engineers to make decisions about things like product and service nomenclature, interface typography and the graphic design of icons: they’re, I daresay, not even neurocognitively equipped to do so. And yet this is what happened when I was at Nokia and, I would imagine, is happening still.

This is really interesting, not neurocognitively equipped? This is of course a bold and non-scientific statement but basically this would mean that engineers aren't biologically capable of understanding a users experience.

That would explain a lot. ;)

Fearing hubris or fame

Every once in a while you get an idea that you feel will change the world because the idea is so great. Now, this might have worked in the time of ancient Greece or in early Rome. But today such an idea must be approached carefully.

Are you sure the idea really is that great? Have you tested it, through prototyping or discussion, against nay-sayers and won anyone over?

If not; shut up. The idea might not be that great...

If you have; That's great, now comes the real work.

Try to poke holes in your idea or theory until either: a-you succeed and the idea had some flaws, or b-you can't find any flaws and it really might change the world.
Just remember that most ideas that have changed the world (facebook, capitalism etc) have flaws, and many ideas that haven't changed the world don't have any real flaws.

The reason I'm getting into this is because I had an idea on the bus last week. An idea about what fun really is. A cognitive explanation to how fun works that is simple enough for designers to use as a road map in games development.

Now you understand my fear of hubris eh?

Over the next two weeks I will be fleshing out the idea and posting about it here, please, please, try to kill it. If we can't kill the idea together I'll just have to write a book about it.