Jony Ive’s wisdom about design problems

Speaking with the Independent Jony Ive, chief design officer of Apple, gave us this insight into design. I think it’s one of the most wise things I’ve read about design problems in a very long time.

I think that is a huge part, a fundamental part, of my job. When you’re talking about the future, and as a designer that’s where my head is, then it’s extremely rare that I feel that I’m working in response to an articulated problem.

I could count the occasions that I’ve done that in the last 25 years on the fingers of one hand. It’s extremely rare that what we do is a response to somebody articulating a problem. By definition, you didn’t know it was a problem until you were aware of a better way of doing it. The tremendous challenge here is that when you have been solving a problem a certain way for a long time, so many things convince you that, of course, that’s the best way of doing it, not least habit.

When you have been solving a problem a certain way for a long time, the very idea that there could be a better way of doing it, can seem almost sacrilegious. It can seem extremely unlikely, so what you have to do is work by taking a leap of faith. That faith is based on the thought, ‘I’ve been here many times before and many times before we have found a better way of doing this’. And you just have to believe that’s the case and you keep on.

Sometimes, the vast majority of times, we are able to find a better way of solving a problem.

— Jony Ive

It’s extremely rare to solve articulated problems. Because normal users don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what the real problem is, they simply discover annoying details. And most often, the habit of how things are done, is not the best way of doing things.

What’s keeping the Apple TV


iTV.001_samsung_d8000_side1.pngiTV.001_samsung_d8000_side1.png

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.

login screen OS X

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.

Personally, I can’t wait. My Netflix account on my Apple TV is overrun by my partners odd choice of shows to watch.

The next step for Apple

With the launch of the iPhone Apple changed the world of computing forever. Since then Apple has fought a war against Samsung, Google and others over the dominance of the mobile market. But not a lot has really changed.
Android comparison

 

Apple introduced the high pixel density display, Samsung launched larger displays. All the companies have introduced all sorts of bells and whistles to try to catch the interest of the consumer, but to little real effect. The basic model hasn’t changed all that much from the original iPhone.

iphone comparison

Many people are thinking about and desperately trying to predict the next step. Google is launching Glass, a smartphone-like display that sits in the corner of your eye and is controlled by your voice. Most companies are working on watch-like devices based on the rumour that Apple is making one.

That got me thinking, this is an odd assumption. Why should reinventing the market require a new device? The iPhone was certainly not the first phone, nor smartphone. It was just radically smarter then the competition. Instead of launching a new type of device, what if Apple would drastically improve the devices they already have? What could they do?

The next generation: Real Touch

The central feature of the iPhone, and the iPad, is the screen. When Apple added the Retina screen the other companies scoffed and smirked claiming it would only decrease battery life. But after they got their hands on it, the entire market rapidly went with high pixel density displays.

What if Apple would add high density touch displays next? You can still use your finger as a primary pointing device. But also a stylus without lag or stutter. Maybe several people could draw and sketch together on an iPad.

The scoffs and smirks

Very few people will read this and go “wow! What an amazing and novel idea!”. Most will remember the failed styluses of yester-year and think I’ve fallen off the wagon. But what if, just like with the retina screen, there would be no down side to these screens? What if they simple worked as magic paper?

Wacom

Wacom has the technology already. Now it is just a question of price and if Apple believes the market wants this. I say Apple, because even if Samsung and Microsoft could also do this I think their implementation of it would be lacking.

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.

Continue reading “What makes a product good”

Tracking, the flawed belief in statistics

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.
Continue reading “Tracking, the flawed belief in statistics”

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.
Continue reading “How the Apple iTV will work”

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.

The awesome new Google Mobile site – Google Mobile goes Local

When I roam around a city (which rarely happens I promise think) I often find myself wishing there was a good way to search for local services (coffee shops, bars, restaurants).
This unicorn has never appeared though. Local seemed to be impossible with current tech.

Then I was on the subway this morning. And a tweet lead me to Google Mobile, below the search bar I found something odd…

Google Mobile Start page

It said log in. And it asked for my location (sorry about the Swedish btw, I’m in Sweden so Google assumes I prefer the deprecated language over English).

Now I’ve used Google Places before and I was not impressed. There simply isn’t enough aggregated data in Stockholm for it to work. Well that’s what I thought.

I logged in and pressed the icon marked “Cafe’s”. Lo and behold! Google quickly returned Coffee shops close to my location, on a map even!

Google Mobile Local Results

Now this is impressive. But what is a lot more impressive is what happened next. I scroll down the list and instead of just finding aggregated information, which I come to expect from Google, I’m shown an impressive interface of detailed information and functions for each location.

Google Mobile Location results list 1Google Mobile Location results list 2

Not only can I call the location directly from the app, I can also find reviews directly. But this is the most impressive part: the item on top of the list is shown on the map (which stays at the top as you scroll) and an overlay button appears letting me find Directions to the location…

This post is quite probably the worst I’ve ever written, and that is because I’m completely blown away by the UX of this SERP.

Google has really understood what I want out of a local search and given me the tools I need to use the information they present me with. A level of user experience I’ve never seen from Google and would only expect from the very best Apple products.

Google, I salute you. Keep this up!

 

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

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

Why shouldn’t you?

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

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

But why?

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

Scrollbars

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

A Mouse with a Scroll Wheel

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

Except when it is.

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

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

See where the design falls apart?

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

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

In two words: Cognitive load.

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

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

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

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