This Week in Design

Here’s what has been blipping my radar this week.

Have you seen Estimote’s stickers? What Are “Nearables,” And Why Is Ideo So Excited About Them?

Remember Foldit? It’s still getting gamers to help solve really tough problems for science. Most recently, they’ve been searching for a cure for the Ebola virus. Gamers helping UW in Ebola research

Remember my evaluation of Lean UX? I quite like Jared Spool’s thoughts on artifacts, deliverables… and cake! Design’s Fully-Baked Deliverables and Half-Baked Artifacts

4ourth Mobile takes a page from Jeff Hawkins’s playbook, refines it, and delivers the Sketch Phone.

Microsoft Research presents Hyperlapse.

How do you improve pedestrian safety and traffic flow? Try turning off the traffic lights. Experiment Town in England turns off traffic lights surprising results

Midwest UX 2014 Schedule

Have you seen this program? Sure, my workshop is on it, and I’m honored to be participating, but I’m not trying to toot my own horn. How am I going to choose between Peter Morville’s talk and Jared Spool? I want to hear Jon Kolko and Todd Zaki Warfel. Christian Manzella’s talk on managing a UX team sounds just as useful to me as Simon King’s presentation of IDEO’s prototyping tool. And that’s just Friday morning.

Midwest UX has historically brought in great speakers while maintaining a tight-knit community feeling at a very affordable price. You get a lot of bang for your $350. And where else can you attend awesome workshops for only $100 per half day ($200 full)? That’s crazy!

If you are within a day’s driving distance of Indianapolis, you should very seriously consider attending this conference. I hope you’ll consider my workshop as well, but there’s so much to choose from, I won’t feel slighted if you take advantage of one of the others. That said, there are only six workshops, and some of them may very well sell out. In fact, the conference itself may sell out, so register soon.

Photo Stream? More like Photo Ream

I’ve been using iCloud Photo Stream to share my photos with my family for quite awhile now. It was easy to share to since it is integrated with iPhoto, and my family members have been able to subscribe to it with their iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs. They get notification when I post new photos. I thought it was working well, other than the fact that I couldn’t organize the shared photos by album—it’s just a straight stream.

While I was on vacation a few weeks back, my father mentioned that my photos seemed to be taking up a lot of space on his iPad. I said, “No, surely it isn’t storing all of the photos on there.” We didn’t have an internet connection, so it was easy to check. Sure enough, all of the photos were viewable, and the app said that there were several GBs worth. We hunted through all of the settings, but couldn’t find any way to limit the photos from the stream or delete them. The only option was to unsubscribe from the stream.

After I got home, I did some digging. I learned that to keep my photos from filling up all of my family’s devices, my only option is to manually delete old photos from my feed as I add new ones. This is completely unintuitive, undesirable, and quite frankly, irresponsible. How Apple’s team came up with such a crummy scheme for photo sharing, I couldn’t guess. This is Microsoft-level bad.

Knowing that Apple will be releasing an entirely new photo management app with Yosemite, I’m willing to wait and see what improvements they make to photo sharing. If they don’t significantly improve it, I’m going to find something else.

Curriculum - Part 2

During the two years I spent working on my masters degree at CMU, I had instruction in design theory, user interface design, and kinetic typography. I had a course in Java and one in game design. I learned how to map information spaces and how to build a website. I explored online collaboration tools and techniques. Most importantly, I learned the value of a user-centered design process and broadened my understanding of what design was capable of.

I was exposed to Dick Buchanan’s four orders of design. As summarized by  Uday Gajendar, they are:

  • 1st Order: signs and symbols » graphic design/2-D products
  • 2nd Order: objects » industrial design/3-D products
  • 3rd Order: services and activities » interaction design, service design/4-D (time or motion-based) products
  • 4th Order: systems and environments » architecture, urban planning, organizational design, systems architecture, etc. (N-dimensional, multiple axes of concerns and change including society, government, community, public policy, law, natural ecologies, etc.)

I became aware of the work of designers like Hilary Cottam, director of the UK’s Design Council, and the redesign of the Australian tax system.

The design field was expanding as designers took on bigger problems. People with more varied backgrounds were becoming designers. I was in the minority of graduate students in the program with prior graphic design training. New discipline names were being bandied about, like Experience Design and Service Design. We debated what they meant and whether they would stick.

So you see, one constant of the design field is its expansion. It continues to redefine itself, not so much by academic rhetoric (which is good for understanding and explaining it), but by the activities of its practitioners.

To be continued…

Read Part 1

All Backed Up with No Place to Go

A coworker told me today that anyone can back up, but pros can restore. He was talking about enterprise databases, but the sentiment seems to apply to consumer-grade issues as well. The hard drive in my daughters’ iMac went bad. I got it replaced, and I now want to restore their system to the state it was in prior to the failure. This should be possible, as I’ve been running Time Machine, backing it up to my Time Capsule. The migration assistant connects to the Time Capsule just fine, but it can’t see the backup archive. So, here I sit at midnight, still trying to figure out how to fix it.

Apple rarely lets me down, which makes it all the more aggravating when they do.

Context and Call Buttons

I took this photo in the bathroom of a bed & breakfast in which I stayed during my short visit to Grand Rapids some weeks back. When the proprietor showed me to my room, she made a point of showing me how to turn on the lights over the bathroom sink by pulling their chains. I thought that was a little odd—it was perfectly obvious that you would pull the chains to turn the lights on and off. Why should she make a point of demonstrating that? Then she pointed out this button on the wall just inside the bathroom door.

This is a call button, which apparently activates a bell or buzzer elsewhere in the house. She warned me that many guests accidentally press it when trying to turn on the lights. Sure enough, hours later after my talk and dinner, I returned to my room. I automatically reached my hand around the doorway and fumbled for a light switch. I touched the button, but I don’t believe I actually depressed it before remembering. Either that, or the proprietor ignored it.

Context is so important. The button is exactly where one would expect a typical wall switch to be. The plate around the button is the same size and shape of the plate for a wall switch. It’s no wonder guests are constantly buzzing their hostess, even after careful explanation.

The Coolest Class

Tonight began a new semester. I’m once again teaching game design for 16 seniors in Graphic Design at WVU. I’m happy to say that I am optimistic about this group. They seemed engaged and excited about the topic. Of course, that could have something to do with the fact that we kicked off class by playing games.

My family went on a mini-vacation to see my Aunt and Uncle at Capon Springs as a last hurrah before school starts. We drove home today, but timed it so we could stop in Morgantown for my class. Since I had my family with me anyway, I decided to put them to good use. I broke my class into 4 groups of 4 and assigned each group to one of 4 games: Munchkin, Gloom, Takenoko, and Betrayal at House on the Hill. I selected these games because each one has distinctly different mechanics and gameplay. My wife and daughters each took one of the games and taught my students how to play. After an hour and 15 minutes, two of the games were over, and two were still going, but I had to call time.

Not only was this a really fun way to start the semester, but it gives me examples that I can reference when talking about game mechanics, narrative, experience, themes, etc. throughout the semester. The exercise showed my students what truly great game design can do, broadening their awareness from the shallow pool of Monopoly, Uno, and Taboo.

Because I only have one classroom available to me, I ended up leading Betrayal at House on the Hill in the middle of a hallway. I was interrupted a few times by passersby who were intrigued, and ultimately jealous, that we were actually playing games in class. My students think it’s pretty cool too. I hope they retain their enthusiasm as they find that game design, while all fun and games, is also a lot of work.