What’s so Ethical about Design anyway?

Last year I gave a talk at Designers in Stockholm about where evil comes from and how to avoid it. I called it “What’s so ethical about design anyway?” as a joke about the raging debate on ethics of design.

This debate has only grown since I gave the talk, but I’ve heard very little of substance on the topic. So to contribute I thought I’d update my talk and make it available online.

Here are my thoughts on how evil happens in large organisations, and how to avoid becoming evil.

This talk is 5 to 30 minutes long. Email me if you’d like me to present it for your organisation or meetup.

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? 

Twitter reinvents the web comment

If you’ve read my posts before you’ve probably heard me complain about Twitter before, and I’ve thought about it some more: 

I loved Twitter when it was in its infancy, the distributed social asynchronous communication let me learn from and get into contact with people who shared my interests from all over the world. It was empowering.

But Twitter is changing. It’s no longer designed as a platform for discussion, but as one for publication.

This new Twitter feels way-to familiar. It looks like Twitter have reinvented the web comment. Same format, same bad tone, same bad social grace. Good job Twitter.

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The only real difference between a blog, twitter, and a news site is interface. That’s how powerful design is in informing behaviour.

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”

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

UX trend predictions of 2012 A:

Whenever likeminded creative people try to innovate trends emerge. Ideas give birth to ideas. As ideas keep combining in the heads of creative people everywhere some ideas become more sticky than others. I’ll document some of the trends in user experience design I predict will become the norm in 2012.
An example trend from previous years is the scroll down to refresh design. Created by Loren Brichter for his famous Tweetie iphone app it has since become the standard for refreshing feeds and lists in apps everywhere.

Example from mobile webKit build

Related function Panels

You’ve seen them already. Open your Facebook app and look at the button in the top left corner. Tapping the button or swiping the interface from left to right opens the menu:

Facebook iPhone app

Facebook iPhone app menu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This background panel is always there. Neatly integrated in iOS navigation panel.

The iOS navigation panel? At the top of all iOS apps with many views is a bar that usually has two buttons on it. This bar is called the navigation bar in the iOS SDK and intended to be used like this:

  • the left side button steps you back in the app. Just like the back button in your browser.
  • the right side button steps you forward. Showing the next step or function in the app.
Related function panels will become a trend become complex apps need menus, and no one wants to start the app in a menu. Instead starting the app smack in the middle of activity giving the user an option of accessing the menu by “stepping back”.

Why is this different from a menu

But the reason I call the panels related function and not menu panels is that when a menu is that as soon as we have this paradigm, panels on either side that are “behind” our current view in chronological order. We can show the user all sorts of related information and functions, regardless of the apps functions.
Take for instance Path 2.0, a beautiful example of UI design. It too uses the left side menu, but to the right it shows your friends list. In the Facebook app this right side button opens sorting options and not a panel at all. This doesn’t matter. As long as the paradigm is in place, panels will start showing up with the most important related functions in apps of all sorts.

Is this good or bad

The design works great in the Facebook app, in the Gmail app and in Path 2.0. But if it will work when lots of apps join the trend? We can’t know beforehand.
The design is solid from a perception and usability perspective. It also looks great. So I’m hoping to see some innovative use of it shortly!
Gmail appGmail app

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Path 2.0 appPath 2.0 app