Pittsburgh’s new Consol Center, home of the Penguins, has been open for a couple months. I attended a Chris Tomlin concert there tonight. It’s a very nice building, and I quite enjoyed the concert. However, I don’t consider it to be a particularly good venue for a concert. Even though the ice was covered, they have to keep the temperature pretty cool so that it doesn’t melt. I had cold air blowing...
In the Details: Fail
412. That’s the number of error messages we have in one of the applications I’m working on. I know, because I spent the majority of my day rewriting them. I’ll be working on them again tomorrow. It’s an onerous task, but one that I know needs to be done. I’m making sure that every message is written in language that will be understandable by the user. Every message will include instructions as to...
Four Approaches to Innovative Solutions
I’m teaching a course this semester on innovation through design process. My students have identified “bugs” in their lives that deserve better solutions. They have done research, learning about existing solutions and observing how people deal (or don’t) with the problems. Now they are beginning to conceptualize possible solutions of their own. It occurs to me as we proceed through this exercise...
It’s like nothing I want to see again.
Bose is a company that is known for quality both in the technical aspects of their products and the industrial design. In my experience, they also have very good customer service. I’m even more disappointed than usual, then, that their typography is so bad. This email advertisement is nothing but type. There is no excuse for the designer’s sloppiness. I’m seeing “dumb” quotes and apostrophes...
A Failure of Service
I got a flat driving home from work yesterday. I drove over something that disagreed with my left, rear tire. I’ve had my Cube for 16 months, and this was the first time I’ve had to replace a tire. So, I pulled the owner’s manual out of the glove compartment (Have you ever actually kept gloves in there?) and looked up “spare tire” in the index. I found two references, one of which gave the specs...
Eric Raymond’s Rule of Repair states “Repair what you can—but when you must fail, fail noisily and as soon as possible.” There are several key points to take away from this one. Repair what you can. To the extent possible, design software that will cope with unexpected conditions and self-correct. In the ideal case, a “failure” will be handled by the system without any need to notify the user. Of...
Tales from the Field: Flexibility
When designing software, it is natural to try to prevent mistakes by validating input and enforcing rules. We might disallow a user from performing a particular task or using a specific function based on access privileges. Or we may not let them save data without filling in some required fields. My company spent a lot of time proclaiming the benefits of moving from paper to digital, with...
In the preface to the 2002 edition of The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman waxes philosophically about his legacy. He’s known for bad doors. Well, here’s another one. Doors like this one are found around WVU’s campus. The group that resides behind this one got tired of people not being able to figure out how to open the door, so they made a sign.
Tales from the Field: Hotkeys
As I’ve mentioned before, I do quite a bit of work with the military. The Panasonic Toughbook is the standard for deployed systems. There are a lot of different models with different screen sizes. Some allow stylus input, and some have true touch screens. One thing you can bet on, however, is that they won’t have a mouse. If they can’t use a stylus or finger, they’re stuck with the tiny trackpad...
Tales from the Field: Stylus & Finger
The input method used with a mobile device should be a major influence on the design of an application’s UI. Interacting with an application through the use of a stylus is completely different from using a dial, and both are significantly dissimilar from a mouse. Using a stylus or finger is arguably the most natural way to interact with a UI, being a natural extension of the body and the way...
But what does it mean?
Of course it has a red light. It’s an iron. All irons have a red light so that you know when they are hot enough. The trouble is, it’s a binary readout. It’s on or it’s off, and there’s no way to tell if it comes on or goes off when it’s ready. When I’m in a hotel room with a strange iron, I never think to check what it does when I first plug it in. I usually realize a minute or two later when I’m...
Reclaiming the Homepage
Google just broke the search sound barrier with Google Instant, and it’s giving people a reason to return to Google.com. Once upon a time, when you wanted to search the web, you actually navigated your browser to Google’s homepage and typed your query into their search field. But Google’s great success resulted in Google search fields embedded in every browser. Since that time, the only visits...
I’ve participated in many feedback sessions for new software applications. They typically start with a demo of the application to familiarize the sample user group with its functionality and UI. This is followed by hands-on trials, sometimes structured in the form of real-world scenarios. In some cases, I’ve participated as one of the presenters. Other times, I’ve merely been an observer. These...
Cleaner? I’d say sterile.
Along with their new line of iPods, Apple released iTunes 10 last week. Steve claimed that it is simpler and cleaner. Well, if it’s cleaner, I think they must have bleached it. There is very little color in the UI. Understand that I am a designer that believes in restraint when including color in a user interface. I apply color very purposefully, using it to communicate functionality and...
Eric Raymond’s Rule of Representation doesn’t translate directly to a rule for interaction design, but allows a corollary. Fold knowledge into data, so program logic can be stupid and robust. The point is that fairly complex data structures are more easily modeled and understood than procedural logic. Since that is the case, it makes sense to move complexity from the code to the data. The...
Last week, I profiled Quirky, a company that harnesses crowd-sourcing for product development. IDEO has started a new initiative applying a very similar model to social change. OpenIDEO works with organizations that want to address problems for the social good. At the moment, they have two open challenges: How might we increase the availability of affordable learning tools and services for...