My name is Jack Moffett
. I am an Interaction Designer with over ten years of experience. According to Herb Simon
, that makes me an expert, so I must have something worth sharing. I have started this venture as an exercise to spur critical thinking about my chosen profession. I hope that others may find it thought provoking as well.
DesignAday will present a brief thought about Design every weekday.
Since very early in the history of user interface design, an object that is “grayed out” has been understood to be disabled. Clicking on it won’t do anything. “Grayed out” means that the object is a lighter or less saturated color. This may be accomplished by making the object translucent, allowing the background to show through. Contrast is reduced.
This is a screenshot from Pinterest, specifically from my “Following” page. Compare the Edit Profile button to the Unfollow button. The Unfollow button certainly appears to be grayed out. Hovering over it changes the cursor to a pointer, but the button doesn’t change state. Aside from the cursor change, everything about this button says, “I’m disabled. You can’t click me.”
I signed up for a Pinterest account the other day. There’s a reason for that, but it will be a subject for a future post. Luke Wroblewski explains the concept of gradual engagement thusly:
Gradual engagement is an alternative to the all too common sign-up form. I’m sure you’ve encountered your fair share. You come across a new Web service and the first thing you need to do is fill out a registration form. As a new customer experience, that sucks.
Through gradual engagement, we can communicate what Web services do and why people should care by allowing them to actually interact with the application in gradual ways. Have a Web application? Let me start using it before I need to fill in a registration form. Allow me to learn why it’s great before I commit to being a customer.
Pinterest is the antithesis of this approach. When you go to pinterest.com, you are presented with two options: Login, or Join Pinterest. There is a tiny About Pinterest button, which is given the same weight as Terms and Privacy, that does open a page demonstrating what the service is for and providing access to content, but it is not obvious. When you press the Join Pinterest button, you are given the option to connect with Facebook, Twitter, or sign up with an email address. After that, you are forced to select five Pinterest boards to follow. That’s right, it isn’t an option. You have to select five boards before the button enables to allow you to proceed. And it’s only a limited set of boards that are offered to choose from. After this onerous step, you are forced to create a board of your own. I did that and was finally presented with the full UI. I immediately unsubscribed from all five boards and deleted the one I had just created.
If it weren’t for the very specific purpose I have in signing up, that process would have been enough to make me turn around and close my account.
In Jeroen van Geel’s article for Core77, Jack of All Trades, Master of None: Danger for Interaction Design, he expresses his concern that Interaction Designers are overreaching their bounds, trying to assimilate too many other areas of expertise.
There is a growing understanding of human behavior, but currently our weakness (and chances) lie in developing more knowledge around the business side. And that is where it becomes slippery, because in our enthusiasm we want to pull business strategy into the field of interaction design. Some of us even talk about UX strategy, which is in my mind putting things out of perspective. Let’s stay curious and connect with other fields, but be aware that in our youthful enthousiasm we don’t try to assimilate everything.
I see things differently. Realize, first, that Interaction Design is one facet of a much larger landscape. Design has a history of branching out, applying itself to new fields, diversifying, and specializing. That is how the field of Interaction Design came to be. So too with Service Design. There is currently a lot of debate about “Design Thinking” and where (or whether) it fits, but I think everyone will agree that “business people” see value in what designers do and want to apply it to “business problems”. The founders of Airbnb may not call themselves interaction designers, as Jeroen claims, but the fact remains that they are designers (Graphic and Industrial), graduates of RISD. They are part of a growing group of designer founders.
Putting a fence around any area of design and saying, “Stop. Grow no further. You have reached your limit.” is an unrealistic, untenable stance. Design is as relevant today as it is because it continues to redefine itself.
Another of my favorite sessions from Interaction 13 was Trip ODell’s If UX Can Kill it Probably Will: Designing for the 70 MPH Interface. And what interface might that be? I had the fortune of making Trip’s acquaintance a couple days before his talk and learned that he has worked for both Microsoft and Adobe, but he wasn’t speaking of work he did at either company. He is currently at Audible, a company that I have a lot of respect for. He convinced the company that, even though their customers had a very high satisfaction rating with the existing Audible app for mobile phones, it had to be redesigned. That, in and of itself, is impressive, and the fact that the company put the time and money into the effort shows that they really do care about their customers.
What was so bad about the Audible app that it had to be redesigned?
This is what the old app looked like with all of the controls exposed. All the icons and the progress bar at the top could be shown and hidden with a tap on the screen. The volume slider and the row of buttons above it could be displayed or put away by dragging the ribbed tab. But let’s think about the use of audiobooks. As Trip pointed out, you almost always listen to them start to finish. You don’t skip parts, and you certainly don’t jump back to re-listen to a previous chapter. That entire row of rewind/forward controls, while useful when listening to music, are not only useless for audiobooks, but a source of extreme frustration. If someone is driving, or even walking, and they attempt to pause the book, but accidentally jump back to the beginning of the chapter, there is no good way to recover from the mistake.
Trip’s focus was use while driving, and he said that they determined that the play/pause button was the most important, followed by the 30-second rewind and bookmark buttons. Everything else could be minimized for non-driving use. The new design, which released this week, is a brilliant example of simplification done right.
There are a number of other laudable improvements to the app, and it’s getting rave reviews. I want to congratulate Trip and his team on some outstanding work. They should submit it to the IxDA Interaction Awards next year.
I was on Priceline.com today, searching for flights for my next submarine crew training event. I had already determined that, while I would be flying into Hartford, there weren’t any good return flights from there. I wanted to see if I would have better options in Providence. After I entered the from and to cities and the departing date and time range, I was looking for some way to indicate that I only wanted a one-way flight.
It took me longer than it should have, but I finally noticed the tabs above the form. One-way flights have to be specified on a completely different tab, the majority of which is exactly the same as the round-trip tab. Of course, when I switched tabs, I had to fill in all of the information again.
It would have been much simpler to include a toggle with the returning date that would hide it. This would require significantly less code, and it would make for a better user experience. The funny thing is, that’s exactly what they did on the homepage.
2012 saw the Smithsonian Art Museum curate The Art of Video Games exhibition, which was a fantastic undertaking, but it pales in significance compared to the latest news from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, first appeared on my radar when she gave a keynote presentation at Interaction 10, the same year in which the museum acquired the @ symbol. This struck me as a profound change in the role of a museum. Antonelli described it thusly:
“(The acquisition) relies on the assumption that physical possession of an object as a requirement for an acquisition is no longer necessary, and therefore it sets curators free to tag the world and acknowledge things that “cannot be had”—because they are too big (buildings, Boeing 747’s, satellites), or because they are in the air and belong to everybody and to no one, like the @—as art objects befitting MoMA’s collection.”
On the 29th, she announced the acquisition of fourteen video games, the first set in a wish list of about forty they intend to collect in the near future. Unlike the Smithsonian’s exhibit, however, the games were not selected for their artistic merits, but as “outstanding examples of interaction design”. To that end, they are selecting games based on traits such as behavior, aesthetics, space, and time. But even that is not the most significant aspect of this acquisition.
I have been concerned for several years now about the documentation and preservation of the history of interaction design. With technology progressing at such a rapid rate, even the UI prototypes I produced a few years ago will not run properly on my current operating system. My student work would pretty much require reimplementation to display properly. This same issue doubly applies to video games as I wrote about a year ago. As a part of this new acquisition, the MoMA has had to develop a protocol for preserving the games.
“Working with MoMA’s digital conservation team on a protocol, we have determined that the first step is to obtain copies of the games’ original software format (e.g. cartridges or discs) and hardware (e.g. consoles or computers) whenever possible. In order to be able to preserve the games, we should always try to acquire the source code in the language in which it was written, so as to be able to translate it in the future, should the original technology become obsolete. This is not an easy feat, though many companies may already have emulations or other digital assets for both display and archival purposes, which we should also acquire. In addition, we request any corroborating technical documentation, and possibly an annotated report of the code by the original designer or programmer. Writing code is a creative and personal process. Interviewing the designers at the time of acquisition and asking for comments and notes on their work makes preservation and future emulation easier, and also helps with exhibition content and future research in this field.”
I applaud the forward thinking of Paola and her staff, and I look forward to the application of this protocol to other interactive works, from websites to desktop and mobile applications, and even operating systems. Our digital heritage should be preserved for future generations of designers to learn from, and this is exactly the approach that must be taken to do so.
Most website sign-in forms I encounter these days have the “Remember Me” checkbox. This, of course, uses a cookie so that the site can recognize you the next time you visit. However, I’d say about half of them don’t set the checkbox to checked on a return visit. So, when I arrive at a page and see this:
what should I expect to happen? If I log in without checking the box, will it no longer remember me? If I don’t want it to remember me anymore, do I have to check the box and then uncheck it?
If the box was checked, the cookie should cause the checkbox to default to checked the next time I visit the site.
Apple released a new version of iTunes, and while I haven’t spent an enormous amount of time with it yet, there is one bit of polish that I’m probably overly impressed with. In the new album view, clicking an album results in a detail view directly below, much like a group of apps opens in iOS.
This is a superior method of presentation that retains context and doesn’t require any fiddly UI bits. Beyond that, it is done so beautifully. They use the album art on the right side, slightly faded, and they pick the predominant color from the left edge of the album art to use as the background, blending the art into it. That is a brilliant piece of visual design, but it becomes apparent just how clever they are being when you select the album Sounds of Earth.
iTunes is actually sampling the colors in the album art to select the colors for the text, creating an entire color scheme for the album display with appropriate contrast for readability. This is visual user interface design at its best. Kudos to the designers and engineers that thought of this and made it work. It’s beautiful.
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.
IxDA Pittsburgh had an outstanding event tonight hosted by Confluence on the North Shore. The topic was UX Within an Organization, and our panel had a lot of wisdom to pass around:
Ryan Cummings, Manager of User Experience at Dick’s Sporting Goods moderated, leading us through discussions of work environment, organizational structure, designer/developer collaboration, in-house challenges, and growth, among others.
Something that struck me right at the beginning, as each of the panelists gave us a little background about their careers and their companies, was that many of us share the same basic story. We were one of a couple, or the only designer, at a relatively small firm, and then we got acquired by a much larger company and had to establish a UX presence within it. It doesn’t make my job any easier, but I rest assured that I’m not alone on this journey.
Of course, the topic of a designer’s ability to code also came up. I really liked Francisco Souki’s comment. He’s a Game Designer working at Schell Games, and he observed that Interaction Designers in industry have a battle to fight that he doesn’t have. In the gaming industry, it’s a foregone conclusion that a designer is needed on a project. Francisco went on to say that a Game Designer is not expected to code, and in fact, the developers would never let a designer touch their code, but they create tools with which the designers can tweak things. A tool may be nothing more than a text file with a bunch of dimensions in it. That sounds an awful lot like a stylesheet. Hmmmm. Don’t forget, I’m running a workshop at Interaction 13. You too can learn how to replace your specification documents with production ready CSS.