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?
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.)
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.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.
A fully fledged Television or a very updated Apple TV box, the rumors about Apples entry into the living room has been growing steadily since the introduction of the iPad. I recently saw a concept for a user interface of the Apple TV, and to me it clearly showed just why Apple is not in this market yet. Apple is missing a core piece of technology.
The missing piece
Apple clearly puts a lot of thought into their User Interfaces. The iPod, the iPhone and the iPad all changed how we interact with these types of devices. The same has been true for OS X, their PC operating system. But in classic Apple fashion, one of the hardest problems to solve has been delegated to the future by working around it. User Management on all of Apples devices is still pretty poor.
On the Mac it works fine, log out of your account and log into another. But sharing apps and files across accounts is a nightmare. Accounts work almost as completely separate repositories. Which might be good from a security perspective, but is crazy for usability.
On iOS accounts simply are not available. The machines are made to be so personal you can't really hand around an iPad for fear of people messing up your settings.
A lot of families work around this issue by simply sharing an account. But this makes iMessages and many other Apple features difficult or impossible to use. Clearly there's something missing here.
On the concept at the top of this post the Apple TV is shown receiving a notification. Who for? The person that set up the Apple TV probably. But that would cause no end of problems for most users. A TV simply is not a single user device.
Apple won't chance an entire new market without some solution to this problem. But this means their entire infrastructure needs to be upgraded to support group accounts.
Think about the problem of making a family login for iTunes. How will the rights be managed for a shared account? How will movie execs be sure we're not all sharing a single iTunes accounts?
Today, rentals are locked to the device they are rented on. This might be a short time solution, but with AirPlay and the increasing amount of TVs in a single home it becomes restrictive and hard to manage.
Apple needs an entirely new way to manage users and material rights. And they need it in place before they can launch a full living room device.
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.
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.
A week ago Mark Zuckerberg was on stage talking about the future of Facebook and unveiling Facebook Graph Search. Since then thousands upon thousands of articles have been written on the subject, so why write another one? Every single piece I've read, seem to either misunderstand, or not care about what makes Graph Search different. So here I go, trying to explain what Graph Search really is.
What it isn't
The first thing Graph Search is not, is finished. The beta available to people know is basically a really smart search for content you can already find on Facebook. Not very different from the old search, though it looks a lot nicer and is easier to use. No need to update your settings or anything. People might find older pictures of you more easily, but it's already very easy.
In the future though, Graph Search will expand to with more information. Every Like outside from sites other than Facebook as well as the pictures and comments from Instagram. This is the real treasure of Graph Search, and we've yet to see it.
The second, perhaps more important thing, that Graph Search is not, is web search. This has confused a lot of people. Possibly because of the name, Graph Search. Sounds a lot like Google Search. So what is the difference?
Let's say I make a search for "cats that look like hitler", as one does. On Google, which is a keyword search designed to give you an answer, I'll get tons and tons of hits. Cat's with moustaches everywhere. But on Facebook Graph Search, I'll find nothing. Nothing.
In fact, Graph Search will realize that this is not a search it was designed for and bring up Bing instead. Which returns whatever Microsoft thinks is right. Which has nothing to do with Graph Search. So why did Graph Search disregard my question about Cats?
What it is
Facebook Graph Search is designed to return related things. Think of it like a Thesaurus to Google Dictionary. You can search for what your friends have done, thought, took pictures of etc. But it has to be in relation to something else to matter:
Friends near Berlin with cats that look like hitler
Might actually return a few pictures. Facebook is building a search for really massive amounts of data. So massive, that we only remember them as sort of related stuff: "Remember that place we where at about a year ago? With the monkey? What song was playing?"
Facebook will return an answer to that while Google is still figuring out whether you meant an Orangutan or a Gorilla. So why are so many people confused?
When you do a Graph Search today most of the information it can bring up is photos and if people are friends or have worked together. In a word, it's limited. Which has made a lot of reporters and bloggers believe that it is just another keyword search.
The reason it's so limited is that Facebook is still adding the Open Graph and Instagram to its search. Instagram you know, is a photo sharing service, no different from Facebook photos except that most photos have location data. Open Graph is more exciting, Open Graph is all those Like buttons you've clicked on sites other than Facebook. When the information is in, you'll probably be able to make searches like:
Article I got from Sara that I liked
And actually get the answer you're looking for. This is very different from what Google is doing. In fact, it's very different from anything else on the market.
When is it coming and Who's this for?
I have no idea when these features will be added in. It seems like Facebook is a long way out before Graph Search finally done. Maybe it will never be done, like Google products, it might stay in beta for years while Facebook engineers keep tuning it. It doesn't really matter though, as Facebook evolves, so will Graph Search.
An interesting point to make is that this beta really is for everyone. It's not a technical beta. It's more of a social one. If Facebook had released all this information through search the tech journalists would have all went crazy for privacy. Even in its limited form today, most articles I've seen are about how scary Facebook search is. No mention of the fact that nothing has changed, it's just the pictures you're already sharing showing up.
I believe this beta is here to make people comfortable with the idea of having a powerful search tool on Facebook before they open the floodgates of the Open Graph. Because that is where the new information is. Information that people might have forgotten about or buried in a slew of updates over the years.
Friends that liked articles about George W Bush winning the election? ...oops...
What Facebook Graph Search really is, is the Siri for information on Facebook. It won't compete with Google directly. But it will serve you information about people that you can't find anywhere else. If anyone is still confused, think about is like this: Graph Search is a Thesaurus, Google is a Dictionary.
Rules are ever present in our daily lives. We follow social rules, company rules, and laws. We create organizations by making sets of rules, we create deals and contracts all defined by rules. But very few people learn how to create rules. Most rules, don't work. As a former game designer, I've studied rules academically and tried and tested rules by the thousands. This is what I've learnt so far about creating rules that work.
Rules always create side effects
All rules are limitations on an individuals actions (a rule says you can't design text a certain way). But since people are surprisingly intelligent, they always find ways around rules (the rule creates a counter culture and suddenly hipster typographical posters abound!). We smile at this behaviour in kids, always looking for ways to get around bedtimes, but we fail to see that every human does this. It's so ingrained in the human condition it even has a name in both game design and economics: emergent behaviour.
Emergent behaviour means the behaviour that arrives as an unforeseen consequence to a situation. Cheating at games is an emergent behaviour. Rebellion is an extreme emergent behaviour.
Rules always - without exception - create these unforeseen behaviours because rules are *fractal*. Meaning that rules can never cover every single situation or twist in the language. There will always be new situations the rule should apply to.
- Did you brush your teeth? - Yes. - Did you brush them with the toothbrush? - Yes. - Did you put toothpaste on the toothbrush? - Yes. - Before you brushed your teeth? - No...
When I create rules I try to take emergent behaviour into account, where and how is it likely to happen?, How will the rule affect situations that are slightly different from the normal situation? How often does your management or project manager take emergent behaviour into account when creating rules? If the answer is never, the rules are probably not working.
The softest touch works, while hard rules fail
Surprisingly, the rules that do work aren't the simple and direct ones. In fact the simpler and more direct the rule is, the more emergent behaviour it creates.
Let me explain how by giving an example. If you set a rule for yourself that you must turn left at every intersection you'll soon find yourself in conflict with the rule. You might quite quickly arrive at the workaround that the rule doesn't say how many times to turn left, and from then on you'll be turning left several times to turn right. I bet you're thinking of other rules you're breaking in this way?
But if the rule says you can only turn left at intersections it is much more open to interpretation, and oddly individuals are more inclined to follow it. Maybe I'll turn right somewhere that's not an intersection? Or maybe taking a route around the block will be interesting? The more open version of the rule makes the rule more interesting and less annoying.
What's happening is that activating individuals minds, asking people to judge for themselves, is making them more inclined to work with the system instead of around it. Asking individuals to just follow a rule is more likely to make them bored, frustrated, and opposed to the rule. No matter how normal and simple the rule might seem.
This is why companies like to talk about corporate culture. A culture is simple a set of rules that are not defined, instead the individuals in a culture make it up or pass it along as they go. Culture is a very soft set of social rules, and a great way to lead a group of people in the same direction. It is also very hard to create, because it is soft and made up by the individuals in the culture. And as soon as someone puts pen to paper, the culture is dead. The air of cooperation will be replaced by bored people following the rules.
(Creating cultures is also a part of designing games, and deconstructing culture is essential to economics, so I'll probably revisit culture in a later post.)
Rules limit what people think
The absolutely worst part of a rule is when it's followed. Beware of people following hard rules, it never amounts to any good.
If a hard rule is enforced, or socially frowned upon to break, it swiftly becomes a dogma. A rule that is set so hard in individuals minds that they can not break it. Not only are they unable to break the rule, they might even be unable to think about breaking the rule.
We see this happening at all times, all around us. Ever wonder why senior citizens are more often against change? It's because they have lived with an unquestioned rule for so long, it has become impossible for them to see a world without the rule. The same thing happen with middle managers, unable to alter a rule themselves, and unable to see the effects of them, they stay with rules long after the intended purpose has become irrelevant.
The really worrying part comes from cognitive psychology. Studies seem to indicate that living with the same thoughts for to long actually create rigid structures in your physical brain. Yes, I'm serious. The brain is a huge network of neurons, always making new connections. But living with the same connections, thoughts, for long enough might physically inhibit new connections being made. That's right, hard rules might actually be shutting down small parts of our brains!
No wonder change comes so slowly right? (For more on the subject, google "Neuro plasticity")
Creating rules that work
From my years in games and economics I've learned a lot of ways not to make rules. But at times we need them, no matter how hard they may be to create. If we're aware of the pitfalls and careful, we can create rules that work.
Here's a list of rules that I follow when creating rules (rule-ception?):
- Communicate the outcome of your rule, not the limitations (the rule itself).
- Think up situations that might warp the rules, and take it to extremes.
- Think about how the rule will affect things when it's purpose is no longer relevant.
- Remember that rules are used by at least two groups of people: individuals, and groups.
- Never punish rule breaking. If you must punish, punish for outcomes.
- Try to be vague. Trust people to interpret rules intelligently.
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:
- Does the feature work?
- Does it work every time and in every circumstance?
- Is it enjoyable?
- 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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Tracking is the basis for everything online these days. We track what content gets the most clicks to make sure we create better content. We track the ads we run to make sure our ads are targeted to the right people and that they convert well. We use tracking in all aspects of our lives to make better decisions and take the right action. But it's not working, is it. No matter how long you stare at those numbers they don't give you a golden bullet. So what's wrong with this theory? Everything.
While tracking makes our decisions gradually better, tracking does not make any new connections. Do you think RedBull is tracking any direct ROI on sponsoring Felix Baumgartner's record breaking sky dive from the edge of space? No. But I think few people would argue that they didn't get more than their share of media coverage. Very few marketing schemes get that kind of eye-ball-action, but the important thing is that tracking would never lead you to invest in such a venture.
Neither would tracking lead you to think that a generous return policy could generate profits. Yet every single report tell us that it does.
In the 50's a young designer made a nondescript electronics company a house hold name by creating memorable and user friendly designs for their products. The company was Braun, and the designer was Dieter Rams. Rams, who've since been credited as an inspiration for designers behind cars and even Apple, didn't do it by tracking.
There is nothing wrong with tracking. In fact, without tracking it's extremely hard to reach a goal, once it's set. But tracking is quite probably holding you back. If tracking is the basis for your strategy, you're probably not seeing the full market. That light at the end of the tunnel might turn out to be a train.
Strategy is taking the broad view of a business and aiming your organization. Tactics are how we get there. Tactics make great use of tracking and statistics. Strategy does not. Depending on strategy will keep you constantly running to catch up with the world, because the numbers can only really show you what used to happen. And only in a very specific situation at that. It's harder to argue without numbers. Which is why most people eventually stop trying. Next time you are in a meeting and someone offers a contrary view of a situation you might want to think about it a few minutes. Don't throw out your innovation because of the result of a skewed question asked by bored data miners.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Meet Clear, the todolist manager that does everything right.
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.
Finished item? Ping!
Delete item? Swoosh
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:
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.
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.
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.
From time to time I see big brands betting heavily on a phrase or a named function. The Windows Start button, the Facebook Like button etc. But time and time again I see these same big brands translating the phrase... Somewhere, some person at these companies missed a fundamental part of branding: don't change names all the time!
It doesn't matter if these phrases are verbs such as in the "Like" button. It's a part of your brand. If you translate your brand, you're starting a new brand.
(image via Techcrunch)
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:
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.
Why is this different from a menu
Is this good or bad