ID Lock-in

I remember, years ago, having arguments with developers over the use of user-facing names as unique IDs. The issue was that once the name, be it for a person, category, or document, was associated with the thing in the database, it couldn’t be changed. Eventually, I won that battle. Any name that a user gives to something should be changeable. The unique ID can be something hidden behind the curtain.  I never need to have that argument these days.

Apple, unfortunately, has somehow painted themselves into a corner with their move from .Mac to MobileMe and now to iCloud. I have an @mac email address that I currently use as my main, personal address. With the advent of MobileMe, Apple kept the @mac addresses, but tied them to the new @me addresses, so at that point, I had two email addresses that both pointed to the same account. Then, they did the same thing with the introduction of iCloud. Now I have three email addresses that are all considered to be exactly the same.

But let’s go back a little farther. When I started working for my company, I only had the email address they provided me. I used that email address for everything: every account, every purchase. It has been my primary email address for 13 years. Due to company policies resulting from our merger, I’m no longer able to access that email address outside of my office, so I’m going through the pain of converting 13 years worth of internet use over to my Apple account.

With that background in place, I can now come to my point. There are a lot of websites and services that use your email address as your ID. When you sign in, you don’t use a name—you use your email address. This works well for them because the email address has to be unique and can be easily verified. This isn’t a problem as long as you can change your ID.

Apple has a problem, and I just ran up against it. My Apple ID has been, until yesterday, my business email address. All of my iTunes and App Store purchases have been made with it. At some point in the whole MobileMe transition, I ended up with a second Apple ID using my .Mac/MobileMe/iCloud account. I wanted to switch my Apple ID from my business address to my @mac address, but it can’t be done. First, I can’t change it to that address because an account already exists on that address. Second, I can’t change the account on the @mac address, because they won’t let me. According to the support representative I talked to, whatever they did to combine all of those accounts made it impossible to change my Apple ID/primary email address. That is a severely short-sighted implementation. My only option was to switch my Apple ID on the first account to a third email address that I haven’t used for anything else in the past.

This is a rule: Any piece of information that a user enters for account identification or for an account profile should be editable at any time by that user.


What should a designer be thankful for? This year, and this month in particular, we should all be thankful for Christina Wodtke and the volunteers behind Boxes and Arrows. In case you haven’t heard, this long-time journal of design (graphic, interaction, information, etc.) was on a bit of a hiatus. Founded in 2001, the site contains over 400 articles, but the volunteers who had been keeping it going became busy with life, and there were several months without any new content.

Then, on November 13th, like a phoenix from the ashes, Boxes and Arrows relaunched on a new platform with a slew of new articles. Christina made her appeal to the readership, asking for new volunteers to step forward.

And so, facing retirement or resurrection, we’d like to ask you, reader, what should be the fate of Boxes and Arrows? Is there a new generation of designers out there who wants to take the power of this magazine’s reach and use it to talk about the next generation of user experience design? Will you define it? Will you defend it? Will you debunk it?

And the community is responding. A mailing list and Google Group have been started for those interested. Thanks to everyone that made Boxes and Arrows possible in the past, and thanks to those of you stepping up to see it into the future.

United We Stand?

The latest project in my information visualization class was directly tied to the Designing for the Divide conference. The chair, Eve Faulkes, wanted a number of large-format posters that addressed the divides that would be discussed during the conference. Lindsey Estep chose to focus on the economy. She selected four pairs of competing stances, each pair composed of a liberal and conservative view. Each pair also addressed economics from a different level of granularity: global, national, community, and personal. The poster is divided into four columns dealing with those levels. After presenting the argument, the “Meanwhile…” section presents several bullet points illustrating what has been happening while our representatives argue. For example, the U.S. has dropped to 5th in global economic competitiveness while we debate how to decrease our debt. This is then followed by data visualizations presenting evidence of the claims. Finally, at the bottom of each column is a section labeled “But I’m only one person… What can I do?” where readers can learn how they can help by doing their homework, lending a hand, and sharing their voice.

Lindsey really knocked this one out of the park. The overall concept is solid. The details of the individual graphs are exquisitely crafted. The overall aesthetic is perfect for the subject matter. I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.

Information Visualization

This semester, I will be teaching my information visualization course for fourth time. It has been two years since I taught the course, and in that time, three noteworthy books have been published on the subject.

Manuel Lima’s Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information is an absolutely gorgeous collection of network visualizations. I have yet to read the book, but from flipping through it, I could see that the first three chapters and the last two contain the majority of the written content. The juicy middle two chapters are a gallery of beautiful and complex visualizations with very short descriptions. Consider the book to be visualization porn; if you are into data visualizations, this book will definitely turn you on.

Then there is Beautiful Visualization: Looking at Data Through the Eyes of Experts, a collection of essays edited by Julie Steele and Noah Iliinsky. I’ve read the first chapter of this one, so I can’t give it a review yet, but with contributors ranging from artists and designers to scientists and statisticians, I expect it to be well worth reading. There is less eye candy, and they are generally smaller, than in Lima’s book, but most spreads have supporting examples.

Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics by Nathan Yau is the book I’ve decided to use this semester as a companion to The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte. Yau’s book is not one to pick up for pretty pictures. It is a practical guide, giving the reader an overview of where to find data, how to acquire it, how to transform it into a useful format, and how to render it using a variety of technologies and tools available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. This is exactly the type of instruction that I’ve known was missing from my course, and I’m anxious to work it into my assignments.

I’m looking forward to sharing my students’ work with you. Stay tuned.

Design Issues

There’s one week left in the masters-level class I’ve been teaching. It is mainly a seminar-style course with a few complimentary projects. The semester was organized into seven units. These are the readings that my students were required to write responses to and then discuss in class. This is a good survey of the current state of design theory.

Defining Design
Beautiful Diversion - NextD Journal
Are Designers The Enemy Of Design? - BusinessWeek
In which design is subjected to Lakovian analysis -
Defining Design -

Design Leadership
Design Vision
Managing is Designing? Exploring the Reinvention of Management - NextD
Design Vs. Design Thinking. - BusinessWeek
Leadership Is THE Strategic Issue - AIGA

The Design Landscape
What is graphic design? - AIGA
What is Industrial Design? - IDSA
What is IA? - IAI
Definition of IxD - IxDA
Designing for Interaction - Dan Saffer (pages 2-8 and 20-22)
Ladder of Fire: Unpacking Advocacies - NextD
IA Summit 09 - Plenary - Jesse James Garrett
What is Design? (Yes, all 10 definitions!) - Demystifying Usability
Why Does Interaction Design Matter? Let’s Look At The Evolving Subway Experience - FastCompany
10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design - Mashable
What is service design? - Design Council
Engine Service Design
Richard Buchanan Keynote – Emergence 2007 « Design for Service
An Evolving Map of Design Practice and Design Research - Dubberly

Design Methods
The students researched specific methods individually and presented them to the class, rather than having assigned readings, but I did provide the following resources as starting points.
Stories - Boxes and Arrows
NASA - Process: User Centered Design Methods
Use our methods - Stanford 
Design methods - Design Council

Design & Business
AIGA Center for Practice Management - Trademark Basics for Graphic Designers
AIGA | Aquent Survey of Design Salaries
Intellectual Property: What does “Work for Hire” mean for designers? - AIGA
Why Does My Firm Own Everything I Do? Intellectual Property & You - Core77
The State of our Contracts - AIGA
American Firms Now Embrace Design, But They’re Aging Fast. What’s Next? - Co. Design
The Cost of Frustration - UIE
No Accounting For Design? - Fast Company
Dos and Don’ts for Designers Dealing with Business - Core77
On Being T-Shaped - Core77
Ten Ways to Measure Design’s Success - BusinessWeek

Social & Organizational Change
Hourschool: Learn from your network, one hour at a time. - AC4D
AIGA | Design for Good
Redesigning America’s Future
Introduction: Design and Organizational Change - Richard Buchanan
Marc Rettig - How to Change Complicated Stuff - IxDA Library
RED Paper 02: Transformation Design
The Designers Accord
Navigating a Sea Change - Lauralee Alben

Design Ethics
AIGA | Ethics and Social Responsibility 
AIGA | Logo Warehouses, Crowdsourcing, and a Lack of Understanding 
AIGA | What’s the harm in crowdsourcing? 
AIGA | AIGA position on spec work 
AIGA | Design Business and Ethics 
AIGA | AIGA urges the Obama 2012 campaign to reconsider its jobs poster contest 
What is AIGA’s position on spec work? And how are ethical standards determined?
AIGA Standards of professional practice
Ethics in the Design Field - Webdesigner Depot
The Politics of Desire and Looting - Design Observer
"This is what I have learned" by Milton Glaser
First Things First 2000
First Things First 1964
In Search of Ethics in Graphic Design — AIGA

Design Education
Design Research and Education: A Failure of Imagination? - Core77 
Why Design Education Must Change - Core77 
Teaching Social Innovation - Austin Center for Design
What this Country Needs is a Good Five-Year Design Program - AIGA

Design Vocabulary: Discoverability

Unlike the word findability, which I covered last week, discoverability can be found in the dictionary as “The quality of being discoverable.” Also unlike findability, it doesn’t have its own Wikipedia entry, but instead is included as a section under usability. This section doesn’t really explain discoverability, asking questions that are more about learnability, which I’ll address another day. 

So if Wikipedia is no help, and the dictionary only states the obvious, where can we find a relevant definition of the word? I found a deck on SlideShare posted three years ago called Designing for Discoverability by Steve Mulder and Joanne McLernon of Molecular. Just as my discussion that touched off this series on design vocabulary, they define it in contrast to findability.

Findability = the quality of a known item to be locatable on a web site

Discoverability = the quality of a known or unknown item to be noticeable on a web page

They are drawing a distinct line here between the two. Findability is about searching for something within the scope of an entire site (or other body of content, like the entire web), while discoverability is about noticing something within the scope of a single page (or screen). They go on to list the components of discoverability:

  • Position
  • Context
  • User Expectations & Conventions
  • Design
  • Text & Labeling

Design is further broken down into:

  • Real Estate & Size
  • Visual Miscommunication
  • Color & Imagery
  • Typography
  • Animation

That all makes sense to me, but if we’re going to accept this dichotomy, we need more evidence of its general acceptance within the UX community. Scott Berkun, author and speaker, wrote an essay in August of 2003 titled The myth of discoverability, in which he begins by stating that “Discoverability is often defined as the ability for a user of a design to locate something that they need, in order to complete a certain task.” After dispelling the myth that a good user interface makes everything extremely discoverable, Scott goes on to explain how you decide what to make discoverable, the difference between discoverable and discovered, and how you make something discoverable. He has his own, quite similar list:

  • Real Estate
  • Order
  • Expectation & Flow
  • Consistency

More recently, in March of 2011, Suzanne Ginsburg, consultant and author, published an article in UX Magazine titled The Evolution of Discoverability. Her definition is near identical to Scott’s: “the ability for users to locate something they need to complete a certain task.” Suzanne takes an inventory of strategies for improving discoverability as found in iPad apps.

Given the evidence, I think Dan Saffer’s postulate is correct. Findability is regarding content, while discoverability is regarding functionality. 

Design Vocabulary: Findability

Findability is not a word you will find in a standard dictionary. It does, however, have a Wikipedia entry, where it is defined as “a term for the ease with which information contained on a website can be found, both from outside the website and by users already on the website.” Wikipedia gives credit for coining the term to Alkis Papadopoullos in his article, Findability: The Key to Enterprise Search, published in April of 2005. I don’t believe that is correct; read on.

Wikipedia goes on to say that the term was popularized by Peter Morville, who defined it as “the ability of users to identify an appropriate Web site and navigate the pages of the site to discover and retrieve relevant information resources.” In fact, a few months after Alkis’ article, Morville published the book Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become. One would presume he had been writing the book for longer than five months. Peter maintains his own blog on the topic at, where he says, “Findability refers to the quality of being locatable or navigable. At the item level, we can evaluate to what degree a particular object is easy to discover or locate. At the system level, we can analyze how well a physical or digital environment supports navigation and retrieval.” It is also on his blog that I found a prominent link to his article, The Age of Findability, which is dated April 29th of 2002. In this article, Peter states that, “Findability isn’t limited to content. Nor is it limited to the Web. Findability is about designing systems that help people find what they need.”

What I’ve found in my research is that the common use of the word is in relation to searching for content. It is used heavily in discussions about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), writing for the web, and various content-searching user interface approaches. This is how Jakob Nielsen uses it in his article Use Old Words When Writing for Findability, and there are many related articles to be found on Boxes and Arrows. However, it is also used in reference to functionality of user interfaces that provide access to content, as is the case in the article Findability, Orphan of the Web Design Industry by Aarron Walter, available on A List Apart.

Design Vocabulary

I had a brief discussion over Twitter today with Dave Malouf triggered by a question tweeted by Dan Saffer:

“Is it safe to say FINDABILITY is regarding content, while DISCOVERABILITY is regarding functionality?”

I agreed with him, as long as visual design was being included as part of “functionality.” Dave, however, thought we were making an arbitrary distinction. The disagreement, as it turned out, was based on a contextual understanding of the use of these terms within Interaction Design and Information Architecture literature. I, and I assume Dan as well, based on his postulate, generally understand findability to be dependent on attributes of content, such as its structure, vocabulary, and metadata. These attributes make it easier or harder to find specific, desired information within a larger body. The term is most often used in relation to search and filtering of content. Discoverability, on the other hand, is more often used in reference to the discovery of functionality within a user interface. Dave did not have the same associated meanings with the terms, which rather surprised me, as I expect we have a fair amount of overlap in the design knowledge we’ve been exposed to.

This got me thinking about design vocabulary, especially in the context of the IxDn00b series I’ve started. There are a lot of terms, like findability, that didn’t used to be words, but were invented to allow us to more clearly discuss our domain. I’m going to begin a series here on DesignAday that will explore design vocabulary, from today’s technical jargon to our terminology from the origins of our trade. I think I’ll have fun doing the research, and I hope you will enjoy the fruit, and perhaps learn something.

Orbitz vs. Southwest

I booked my flight today for Interaction 11. I searched for flights using both Orbitz and Southwest and was struck by the difference in the display of their results. Orbitz pairs departing and return flights, repeating them in every possible configuration. This results in a long list that is hard to digest. Comparisons are difficult, because each result takes up so much screen space, you can’t fit more than two on screen at once. This is one search result in a list of 45:

Southwest, on the other hand, assumes that you are going to compare departing flights and pick one, then compare and pick a return flight. So, in not much more space than Orbitz takes for a single result, Southwest presents six for easy comparison.

Southwest’s design allows me to make a decision much more quickly and with more confidence that I’m getting the best flight for my needs.