Just before Christmas, I received the annual mailing from our waste collection company that lays out the curb pickup schedule for 2011 and reiterates instructions for recyclables. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they are switching to single stream recycling. This means that, rather than residential customers doing the sorting, all recyclable materials are mixed and sorted at the facility....
Kofi Opoku believes that umbrellas are a nuisance to carry, especially when they are wet. After using your umbrella in the pouring rain, it gets drenched with water. So what do you do? You usually leave it at the doorway for the water to drip off, or if you’re hitching a ride, you’ll have to worry about handling the soggy umbrella in such a way that it does not mess up the neat interior of your...
In the Details: Ping Pong
My company uses Atlassian Confluence for our internal wiki. It’s not bad overall, but attaching multiple files isn’t as smooth a process as it could be. When I click the attachment icon on a page, it loads the attachments page and automatically scrolls to the bottom of the page where the upload widgets are. The most recently attached file is at the top of the page, so the assumption is that the...
We experienced a brief power outage yesterday morning. After the lights came back on, we were eating breakfast, and my daughter noticed that the clock on the microwave needed to be reset. She walked up to it and read the display, “PRESS CLOCK”. Then she reached up and pushed her finger against the LCD. We chuckled, and my wife explained that it meant for her to press the button labeled “Clock”. ...
I just finished grading my students’s final projects and I’d like to share some of the work they did this semester. Forrest Conroy is an avid fisherman, so when I asked the class to make a bug list over a two-week period, fishing issues were forefront in his mind. The problem he decided to tackle was the difficulty of juggling all of his gear while standing in a boat or in a river. As I get...
Design Documentation: Change Sheets
I create very detailed user interface design documents for the software I work on, and for major applications, the documents can be relatively long. During implementation, many unforeseen factors may require changes to the design, be they technical limitations, time constraints, or additional requirements. It would take too much time to update the full design specification every time I had to make...
My Window to Social
TweetDeck has become my new window to social media. I expressly got it for Twitter management, but it has proved useful beyond that. I never paid any attention to Facebook unless it notified me of a message or request via email. I never visited Facebook to check my wall. I had an account, but I wasn’t using Facebook. Thanks to TweetDeck, I’m now keeping peripherally aware of my Facebook traffic....
My students finished their semester last night with presentations of their product innovations. They started by keeping a bug list—an inventory of problems they observed as they went about their lives. They selected three issues to research and narrowed them down to a single problem to explore for the semester. Deeper research followed, leading to conceptualization and prototyping of a new...
Vail Resorts is launching a really interesting service this month, bringing an achievement system to a physical sport. EpicMix puts RFID to creative use for skiers. Your pass contains an RF tag, and scanners are positioned at every lift. In this way, your trips up and down the mountain can be tracked. Mix tracks vertical feet skied and which slopes have been explored. Based on your activity,...
Process is what has allowed designers to apply their experience to such a wide array of problem spaces. To paraphrase David Kelley, I don’t care what the problem is; I have an approach by which I can understand the problem and find a solution. That said, process is only one part of design. I like to think of it as the skeleton upon which I can hang all of the other skills, talents, tools, and...
The Art of * Design
I’m eight chapters into Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design and very much enjoying it. I like his writing style, and I love his anecdotes. I also very much appreciate his approach. His first instruction on how to become a game designer is to say the magic words, “I am a game designer.” Yes, there’s much more to it than that, but this fits well with my own philosophy. What I find most...
Make Up Your Mind
Here’s another obvious case of a designed user interface—likely an expensive one—that doesn’t meet the needs of the users. First I see the bright screen telling me to insert my ticket. Then I see the taped-on sign telling me to hit the prepay button first. This doesn’t make sense to me, because I’m not prepaying—I’ve been parked for a couple hours and I’m ready to leave. Who knows why you have...
I am currently fixing bugs in a browser based app for which, while I directed the design, I did not implement the HTML and CSS. Nor did I review the code during implementation. Woe is me. The junior designer who’s work I am now correcting was overly fond of floating divs. Now, don’t get me wrong; floating divs are extremely useful for a lot of things. However, tabular data is not one of them. I...
In The Details: Insufficient Conditional
As Photoshop is one of my most-used tools, it is one that I am most critical of. For several versions of the application now, it has been possible to select multiple layers within the Layers palette and then act upon them. However, it is not possible to modify the content of multiple layers. So, for instance, you can’t select two layers in the palette, make a selection within the document, and...
Design Pattern: List Sorting
There are many subtleties to the behaviors of tabular lists. Following this checklist will ensure that your lists conform to de facto standards and meet users’ expectations. Specify a sensible default sort based on the content and purpose of the list. A visual indicator should communicate the column by which the list is sorted and the direction of the sort. Make sure that alpha-numeric sorts...
Design is a Cog
As much as we might like to think of design as something special, it is one of a multitude of skill sets that make for a successful product. The cover of Terry Winograd’s book Bringing Design to Software illustrates the concept as a bright red ball tossed into an array of cogs. One of Winograd’s students once told me that Winograd did not like the cover—it looks like the red ball is going to get...