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 TV executives believe about their audience

A few years back I was involved in redesigning a website for a TV channel in Sweden. What they told me gave me a profound insight into the minds of the networks. To bait your click, you won't believe what they believe. We met in a conference room in the networks main building. He was in charge of communications for several channels that belonged to the network. I was a junior employee at a highly regarded marketing agency.

We sat down, three of us from the firm, and the TV exec, to discuss what we would be doing. We began by offering a series of ideas about how they could communicate their unique brands and shows, but the exec stopped us half way though.

"No, no. You've got it all wrong." he said "this isn't why people watch our channel at all".

We all leaned in. The exec launched into a vague pitch about what made them truly unique, summing it up in a phrase that is forever etched in my mind:

"People stay with our channel, for our programming"

I was confused. I didn't think he meant any coding was going on, but didn't understand the term, thankfully he explained it. In the view of the network, people tuned into to a channel, and stayed with that channel, because of their unique arrangement of shows and commercials. The programming, is their term for the schedule of material broadcast. Each show, each commercial break and even the ads themselves, are scheduled to reflect the overall feel of the TV channel. This is, according to him, why people like one channel over another.

I was stunned by this. Not the information itself, I've always expected every media form to think like this to some degree, but by the thought that these executives actually believed that in the age of the internet.

This was prior to Netflix launch in Sweden, but anyone who had seen any statistics about video usage online, or seen anyone using youtube or torrenting a movie knew that this was completely false. Not just ignorant, but incorrect almost to the point of lunacy. People find and watch specific content because they like that content. They might endure everything else, only if there's no easier way. But they do not choose their content by association.

I walked away from that meeting in a stunned silence.

Recently I think I have realized how this idea took shape. TV usage is measured by putting a box near your TV that records audio cues from the programs and commercials. This recorded data is later collected and aggregated to find statistically interesting patterns.

The problem, like with most statistics, is of course that this collection method cannot measure intent. So if you were to turn on your TV while you do the dishes, and talk on the phone, and then see one program before you go to bed, you will be measured as staying with one channel for quite some time before jumping to a specific show and then turning off.

Even though your intent was background noise while you do something else, the measurement is easily interpreted as you enjoying the channel and sticking to the programming.

For that network, or at least that executive, the numbers were clear. Their unique programming was what kept people glued to the TV screen five hours every night.

This is not a jab at TV, though they are aging rather badly, but a warning to all of us not to get caught forcing what we want users to think onto statistics, just because we believe our work to be important. Let's never become so arrogant we start believing our brand is more important than our product. In the end, every business is about creating value for your customer.

(If anyone has similar insights into the TV industry, I'd LOVE to hear it. Please post in the comments below.)

Massimo Vignelli on focus groups

It is one thing to believe something, and an entirely different animal to put that belief into an articulate argument for that belief. This quote by Vignelli explains the true issues of trusting focus groups and market testing.

"I don’t believe in market research. I don’t believe in marketing the way it’s done in America. The American way of marketing is to answer to the wants of the customer instead of answering to the needs of the customer. The purpose of marketing should be to find needs — not to find wants.

People do not know what they want. They barely know what they need, but they definitely do not know what they want. They’re conditioned by the limited imagination of what is possible. … Most of the time, focus groups are built on the pressure of ignorance." via BrainPickings

Whenever someone asks me to do a focus group, I usually begin with asking that person what they want the focus group to answer. It is usually quite easy to guess the normal responses. Especially if the product or service is entirely new.

It's not that the focus group isn't observant or brilliant, they quite often are. The problem stems from them not having enough time with the product or service to really give us the important information. And sadly we can't observe a tester for weeks.

Don't confused with testing for quality assurance purposes, I've never seen a project without a few rough corners left, and that sort of testing is essential.

Medium's new embed feature

Medium.com is quickly shaping up to a great reading and writing experience. A recent surprise feature is their story/collection/user embeds which let you bring medium with you anywhere. JesperBylund

Odd to see what is basically an iFrame experience from such a design focused company. One can only conclude that they see some great experience behind this. Can't wait to find out what it could be.

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?

ux review of chrome for iOS

Google services have been a long time coming for iOS users. While most people's immediate response to that is to say "of course, they have android" I think it's weird for google to neglect 400 million customers of their services just because they want to promote another mobile platform. Android already has a majority market share after all.

Oddly enough, Chrome became the first really native iOS app by google. Odd because Apple is severely restricting apps that compete with iOS native functionality, and the browser could be said to be more important for iOS than the actual phone app...

Chrome launched with a slew of welcome mobile optimizations for a browser that apple has since copied to their own app, safari. Syncing not only accounts, but history, tabs and even sessions didn't exist on iOS before chrome. But for all it's glory, such as less browser chrome and actually useful tabs, Chrome also has a number of weaknesses.

Tab refresh

When I switch between tabs in chrome, something goes terribly wrong. For all the fast loading and fast tab switching goes straight out the window as I am forced to wait for a page refresh. This might sound like it makes sense as first, most pages need to be refreshed before I can see any new content after all? But I often switch between apps, while reading, looking something up or for any other reason. The several clicks and wait that safari makes me do to access my other tab is bad enough. Forcing me to wait for a full refresh, and especially on a mobile network, just breaks the experience. Why would I keep waiting? F this. I'll be on Facebook.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels the same way, but I haven't gotten any word from google on whether they are working on this or not.

The dark UI

Google has always had a light, cheerful, design aesthetic. It might not fit everyone but its google. With recent android generations they've stepped back from this to offer a darkes, softer, design. Chrome fits perfectly into this. Except of course, that its on iOS where nothing is dark.

Not only does the app look like android rather than google, but it doesn't fit into its environment at all. It's I'd just a plain bad design decision. With the reasons why painfully obvious.

Summery

Just a few days ago Google released new, native, apps for gmail and YouTube on iOS. Both of these apps show a lot of promise, especially for design. So I'm hopeful that google will get around to fixing these issues with chrome soon.

Though I still wonder why google feels its services are worth more to customers on android? Int google all about the services? Why deny iOS users google now? I'm a google ecosystem user since 2007, nothing so far has made me change my mind. I'm also an apple device user since years back. Apple allows me to use google services, why won't google?

Why touch works

The reason touch works is often cited, it's because it's "intuitive". But there is little talk about what makes touch devices more intuitive. We're supposed to just believe that the finger is better. But discussing with my partner Sara this morning, I think I've understood why.

The mouse

As a tech savvy person it's easy to forget all the knowledge we take for granted for using our devices. I uncovered one this I had been taking for granted, short commands. A someone who spends most of his waking time in front of a computer I started memorizing short commands and gestures many years ago. But most people don't. For most people, short commands just don't feel all that necessary. Using the mouse to point and click the bold button is simple enough. To me, it's a huge waste of time.

The touch device

On touch devices however, this problem isn't there. Either you touch the bold icon, or you don't. The only short commands that are available are gestures which, while not always intuitive, always tend to work the same way. There are only about three gestures to learn on iOS for example. This is annoying to me, because my normal power-user habits need to change. But for the market at large, it's the same interaction but finally without a mouse to get in the way.

Intuitive

The touch panel is intuitive because what you see is what you get. But what we, the power users, tend to forget that it's more intuitive than we believe. Because all the hidden extras that we use on older devices just aren't there.

Touch devices are leveling the playing field. And that's why we feel we still need our old devices to get real work done.

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?

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

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 can't my Mac run iPhone apps?

When the iPhone opened the app store to third party developers and basically anyone who could afford the $99 SDK we we're all amazed at the enormous success. Thousands upon thousands of great apps have been launched transforming the mobile marketplace forever as it can now compete with laptops on the go. So, I ask, why the hell can't I run my apps on my mac?! I know that the iPhone OS, while based on OS X technology, isn't the same operating system. But as a consumer I don't care. Sure, most apps are just boiled down versions of larger applications for Mac or the web. But some of them are not, games especially are available only on the iPhone in that form.

Well I want to use some of them on my Mac! And it shouldn't be that hard, the SDK for developing apps can already emulate apps directly in OS X. But I want to run them from iTunes or, better yet, directly from my dock. I already own them and they're already stored on my Mac from constant syncing.

Please Apple, let me run my Apps on my Mac as well.

If you agree with this, retweet as far as you can!