Not Helpful

So, I was driving to a venue I’d never been to before, and I had asked Siri to plot a route for me, which she did very nicely, even though I thought for sure she wouldn’t understand the Italianish name of the restaurant. As I was driving, I was listening to a podcast, as usual. The podcast ended, so I turned on my iPhone to select a new one. Usually, I just play through all the episodes I haven’t listened to and wouldn’t have to select one while driving, but I was behind on Mac OS Ken, so I had specifically selected that podcast. After the iPhone scanned my thumbprint, it looked like this:

To select a different podcast, I needed to tap the Episodes “button” in the top-left corner. Yes, the one that is almost completely covered by the turn-by-turn directions. It was difficult to hit while driving, and tapping the directions takes you to the Maps app, which I did the first time I tried to hit it.

Come on, Apple. I expect better of you.

The Right Skills

The Digital Life is a great podcast created by Jon Follett and Erik Dahl. I dare say it is one of the best podcasts currently being produced about Interaction Design and User Experience. If you haven’t listened to it, I highly recommend giving it a try, and the latest episode, number 56, is an excellent one to taste test. Titled “Design Education and Building Teams with the Right Skills”, it deals with topics near and dear to my own design practice, teaching, and general mindset. Here’s their episode summary:

User experience is an amalgam of information architecture, visual design, interaction design, user research, prototyping, coding, and a host of other skill sets. Combine this complexity with the rapid rate of change in technology and techniques, and it’s no wonder that there’s a gap between the skills required by the industry of UX designers and those taught by design programs in colleges and universities. In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the state of design education and how to build teams with the right skills to ship digital products with Jared Spool, Founding Principal of User Interface Engineering.

The program begins with an insightful overview of the current situation from Dirk Knemeyer. It’s a very relevant, historic perspective. The interview with Jared Spool about his new Unicorn Institute is fantastic. As usual, Jared has the research to back up the approach he and Leslie Jenson Inman are taking, and he paints a picture of design education serving the needs of the companies that will be hiring the graduates. Check it out.

Charging for a Bug

Do you remember my complaints last month about Apple’s Podcasts app chewing through my wife’s data allowance and costing me $15? Well, that’s not the half of it. I’ve been trying to track down the culprit that has been causing my wife and I both to significantly exceed our data plan limits in July and August. At first, based on AT&T’s reports, I thought something was causing enormous cellular data downloads in the middle of the night, even though the phone was on my WiFi network and plugged into power. I finally figured out, however, that AT&T only checks the phone’s data use occasionally, and reports it all in one chunk at the time it checks. So, I was actually seeing an entire day’s worth of data use logged in the middle of the night. Still, I had to figure out why I was burning through as much as 70 MBs in a day.

I tried an application called DataMan, but it only told me how much was being used, not which app was using it. Then, this morning, after learning that I had once again exceeded my quota, I found My Data Manager, which graphs the data user per application. I installed it and got it set up. After my morning commute, I checked it to find that the Podcasts app had used about 20 MBs since I left my house. I had been listening to a podcast all the way to work, but the audio file is on my iPhone. Podcasts knows that it is there, because it isn’t showing the download button beside it.

Apparently, it is ignoring the fact that I have the file locally, and it is streaming it over the cellular network!

That does it. I’m trashing the Podcasts app and going back to listening to my Podcasts in the Music app. This bug has probably cost me around $100 in unnecessary data use.

99% Breaks 200%

Back in April, I discovered Roman Mars’ podcast, 99% Invisible. While I was away on vacation last week, Roman launched a Kickstarter campaign. As he explained in a recent episode, he reached his goal of $42,000 in one day, even before he had a chance to release a podcast announcing it.

If we meet the goal, we will cover all the basic expenses for one-year production of the show (salaries, freelancer fees, podcast hosting, graphic design, equipment, research materials). Plus, we will use funds to hire a producer at least ¼ time to help fund raise, promote and produce the program. Fund raising and outreach will help secure the long-term viability of the project.

A season is 30 episodes, each one released every 10-14 days.

But of course, it doesn’t stop there. As of this writing, the campaign has raised nearly $90,000, over twice the original goal. That’s giving him the opportunity to hire someone, increasing production to 35 episodes per year, and with a few hundred dollars more, he’ll be working with ZeroOne Productions to produce one video episode.

Once again, Kickstarter is providing the means by which talented people with good ideas can really make a go of it. I’ve decided that Kickstarter is going to play a significant role in my class this coming semester. I will be teaching my course on product and service innovation through design process. It will not surprise me in the least if one or more of my students end up launching their own campaigns.

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to lend Roman your support. His radio show is truly exceptional.

I payed $15 for a free app

Please pardon me for spending one more post on Apple’s new Podcasts app. I thought I had given it enough knocks in my initial critique, but today’s events are worth the telling.

I received email from AT&T this morning, warning me that I was nearing my data plan allowance. I’m currently on the cheapest, 200 MB plan, and that is usually just enough. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be anywhere near it this month since I was without service for an entire week. But there it was, sitting in my inbox. So, I went to their website and checked. I was only around the 100 MB mark. It should have occurred to me then to check my wife’s account, but she never uses anywhere near 200 MBs of data, as she is almost always on WiFi when she uses her phone for anything substantial.

This afternoon, I got a second email stating that I had exceeded my limit and would be charged $15 for an additional 200 MBs. That really surprised me, as there was no way I could have used 100 MBs of data just today, so I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to contact their customer support when I got home.

During dinner, I explained this series of events to my wife, and she told me that she had received two text messages stating the same things. I finally had the “Duh!” moment, and realized that it was her data usage that the messages were about. So, I asked her, ”Well, what have you been doing differently this month?” She didn’t know. I don’t remember which one of us brought up the Podcasts app first, but I was eventually able to figure out what had happened.

She had set all of her podcasts to download automatically, not realizing that they would download over her cellular connection. That ate up 200 MBs really quick.

So, anonymous Apple designer, if you’re reading, here’s another enhancement that ought to be made. I should be able to set podcasts to download automatically, but only when I have a WiFi connection.

In the Details: Reel-to-Reel

A couple weeks ago, I critiqued the design of Apple’s new Podcasts app, and I mentioned the representation of a reel-to-reel tape player that is revealed when the cover art is tapped. I spent a little more time playing with it and wanted to point out the very detailed work that went into it.

I did not realize at first that the thickness of the tape on the reels corresponds to the percentage of the podcast that has been played, just as it would with physical tape. That’s a nice touch that arguably has some utility, though it’s made superfluous by the playback indicator/scrubber directly below. Then there’s the completely frivolous animation that occurs whenever playback starts or stops. There is a tape guide on the left side that is spring-loaded. In a real tape player, it would ease the tension on the tape, or take up slack, as the reels started or stopped turning. It’s a beautiful little bit of animation.

Ben Lenarts pointed out that the design pays tribute to Dieter Rams’ TG-60 tape recorder.

IxD Podcasts

I’ve posted lists of books, journals, and blogs for the IxD n00b; it’s about time I do the same for podcasts. It takes a lot more work to publish a regular audio show than it does a blog, so there are a lot fewer of them, and fewer still with professional-level production values. Here is my recommended set, in alphabetical order. There are others, but these are the ones to which I subscribe and know to be of value. Of course, you are always welcome to add your own recommendations in the comments.

Adaptive Path
Adaptive Path’s podcast has 103 episodes spanning from 2006 to 2012. 5 of the episodes are videos. However, all of the episodes more recent than 2008 are other podcasts featuring their people. So, I’m considering this one defunct.

Boxes and Arrows
This is a prolific podcast that has been running regularly for several years. The production values aren’t at a professional level, but the content is excellent, made up mostly of interviews and conference presentations. Their coverage of the IA Summit is thorough, having included all of the presentations in past years.

Design Critique
Tim Keirnan encourages usable products for a better customer experience. He does so by reviewing products that he has purchased and used for significant periods of time. He also conducts interviews with user experience practitioners, authors and educators. With 97 episodes since 2005, there is a lot to listen to.

Design Matters
Debbie Millman’s podcast isn’t specifically about Interaction Design; it’s about all types of design, or rather, all types of designers. Debbie conducts interviews with “industry-leading graphic designers, change agents, artists, writers, and educators.”  It’s certainly my favorite design-related podcast. For an in-depth review, see my earlier post.

Icon-o-Cast
Lunar has been podcasting about product design since 2005. They don’t have a regular schedule, and there can be long gaps between episodes, but they have a good selection of discussions, interviews, and critiques with a smattering of video episodes. 

The Prepared Mind
Chris Gee’s podcast was the first design podcast I subscribed to back in 2005. Unfortunately, it only lasted six months, topping out at 13 episodes. Oh, but what a fine set of podcasts they were. I include them here as a nostalgic tribute.

Radio Johnny
Johnny Holland’s podcast only started in 2010, so it doesn’t have quite as large an archive as most in this list, but you can expect to find interviews with a lot of the names you have become familiar with through IxDA, IAI, and the general UX community. The audio quality isn’t particularly good, but the content is worth it.

UIE Brain Sparks
It should be no surprise that Jared Spool has the most prolific podcast in this list. Only the last 100 episodes are listed in iTunes, but this one has been going in earnest since 2006. There are tons of interviews, discussions, debates, and segments from conference presentations. Continue encouraging their behavior.

UXpod
Gerry Gaffney has been conducting interviews with UX practitioners since 2006. There are 66 episodes as of this writing. The audio quality is typically rather poor, and I find this one to be the least exciting of the podcasts listed here, but there is still enough valuable content that I remain subscribed.

99% Invisible
Both the newest and best produced podcast in the list, Roman Mars’ brief exposés are entrancing. While not specifically an IxD podcast, it is 99% relevant. Check out my review from a couple weeks ago. 

99% Awesome

I don’t understand how it is that I have never heard of 99% Invisible until this morning. I was listening to Debbie Millman’s Design Matters while I was getting ready for work. In the latest episode, she interviewed Roman Mars, producer and host of 99% Invisible, “a tiny radio show about design, architecture and the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world.” As soon as I was dressed, I went to my computer, searched for it in iTunes, and proceeded to download all 55 episodes. I listened to about 30 of them today during my commute to teach my class down in Morgantown.

The show airs weekly on 91.7 KALW in San Francisco with support from Lunar Design. The shows range in length from five to twelve minutes, as Roman regularly adds content to the podcast version. The production value is nothing short of fantastic with special care given to the backing soundscapes—eclectic mixes of music, dialog, noise, and sound effects. Each episode is carefully designed and crafted as a aural experience. The content is, without fail, intensely interesting. The shows I’ve listened to have covered everything from the redesign of the toothbrush, to the architectural significance of the Transamerica building, and the hunt for a sidewalk graffiti artist. Regardless of your area of design specialization, this podcast will be relevant and well worth ten minutes of your week.

Life-Changing Stuff

Nick Gould requested examples of life-changing products and user experiences on the IxDA forum. Realizing the expansiveness of that request, I had to limit my scope to find what I considered to be appropriate answers. For something to be life-changing to me, it would obviously have to be something introduced within my lifetime; cars and televisions don’t make the cut. But for a change to occur, there must first be established, consistent behavior. I therefore decided to rule out anything that was introduced prior to my graduation from graduate school. After all, my life was defined by constant change from childhood throughout my education. It wasn’t until I was both married and working a full-time job that my life settled to a routine that, aside from the addition of children, is basically the same as it is today. That ruled out biggies like the computer, video games, and the internet.

Even narrowing down the scope that severely left quite a lot. The PDA immediately comes to mind. My first Palm Pilot resulted in a significant behavioral change, as did my first mobile phone (a Palm Treo), but probably not as big a change as my second mobile phone: the iPhone. My first iPod also caused a prominent behavioral shift. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that the biggest changes were not attributable to a single thing, but to a system of devices, software, and services. Based on this realization, my thoughts catalyzed around three systems.

  1. iTunes + iPod + Podcasts: Moving to digital music was certainly a significant change, but even more influential was my discovery of podcasts, made possible by their inclusion in the iTunes Store. This is now how I consume the vast majority of my news and a high percentage of my entertainment.
  2. Blogs + RSS + Feed Reader + iPhone: I used to subscribe to magazines, watch the news on TV, and listen to the radio. Podcasts replaced much of that. Blogs killed the rest. I subscribe to the information sources I’m interested in and read them during downtime anywhere I happen to be. I’m better informed about everything I’m interested in. Of course, this also means that I’m pretty much unaware of anything I’m not interested in—for better or for worse.
  3. Digital Video/Camera + iLife Suite + MobileMe + Apple TV: My workflow for sharing my life with friends and family has become incredibly streamlined. Apple has made it a breeze for me to pipe my photos and videos directly to the living rooms of my parents and in-laws. My digital camera allows me to affordably take way more photos than I could with film. iPhoto and iMovie make editing and management of my media effortless, and I can do so much more with it than I could with prints. Integration with MobileMe seamlessly moves everything to the web, and the Apple TVs that I gave as Christmas gifts this year puts it all on the high definition televisions of the people who want to see it most.

Design Matters

Of all the design-related podcasts I listen to, Design Matters with Debbie Millman is my favorite. Debbie’s manner with her guests is warm and inviting—alluring even. She takes a very personable approach to her interviews that makes it seem more like you are listening in on a private conversation. I had been enjoying the show late last year as she spoke with Tim Brown and Stefan Sagmeister, but as 2010 started, iTunes reported no new episodes. Fortunately, Debbie kicked things off again in September with Massimo Vignelli, and there have been three interviews this month, including Bill Moggridge.

The podcast is hosted by Design Observer, one of many august design publications Debbie contributes to.

Debbie Millman is a partner and president of the design division at Sterling Brands, one of the leading brand identity firms in the country. Millman is president of AIGA, and chair of the School of Visual Arts’ master’s program in Branding. She is a contributing editor to Print magazine and host of the podcast “Design Matters.” She is the author of How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer (Allworth Press, 2007), The Essential Principles of Graphic Design (Rotovision, 2008) and Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design (How Books, 2009).

The complete archives, dating back to 2005, are available at Design Observer. You’ll find interviews with such luminaries as Steven Heller, Michael Bierut, Paula Scher, Chip Kidd, Ellen Lupton, Art Chantry, Paola Antonelli, John Maeda, Milton Glaser—over 100 episodes. This is quality content made freely available. They cover the gamut from graphic design and typography to industrial and interaction design. I highly recommend checking it out.