The week of April 22nd was light on stuff to talk about, so here’s two weeks at one go. Plus a latte cat.
Pretty diverse week — industrial design, Google Glass, maps, art, reading material, and of course accordions.
- On the way back from getting coffee, Sergei, Yu, and I were behind a guy for several blocks and Sergei became obsessed with his bag. I got close enough to read the label: Côte et Ciel. It was this bag, which is a cool and unique design (but costs €179.00, alas).
- The Periodic Table of Typefaces includes those that are “popular, influential, and notorious.”
- Google Glass UI Guidelines are an interesting read, and the closest most of us will get to actually seeing Google Glass for a good while, I think.
- You probably already saw this when it made the rounds on the design twittersphere, but Forecast.io is pretty slick. Their blog is interesting too.
- LittleIpsum is a lightweight OSX app for generating filler text.
- Some scientists have generated a map of America based on who people hang out with, using data from Where’s George to track how far money, and by extension, people, travel and defining regions based on those movements.
- Artist Michael Schultheis “creates paintings consisting of layers of mathematical notations and drawings that describe the form and motion of three-dimensional geometric shapes.” The end result is beautiful.
- There’s some good reading at Svbtle magazine and Medium.
- Turn your volume up and check out this responsive design.
I recently attended 2013 SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, TX. The conference offered four days of sessions, parties, meetups, keynotes on a variety of themes covering art and inspiration, community and activism, design and development, entrepreneurialism and business. From the events I attended, I picked one that made the most impression on me and thought it would be fun to share in the blog post.
Ironically, for an interactive festival of that caliber, “What can we learn from the Unabomber?” was probably the only session that focused on a critical discussion of technology. In the sea of designers’ enthusiasm about introducing new technology to solve all kinds of world’s “problems” — I thought as session began — we simply are too excited about tech’s potential to think about the implications of our work. The debate-like session consisted of two professors of philosophy, Peter Ludlow and David Skrbina, laying out their views of whether there is something to learn from the presently-incarcerated Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber. Kaczynski mailed a number of home-made bombs as a revolt against modern technology between 1978 and 1995, killing three people and injuring 23.
Dr. Skrbina argued that although he does not support the way the Unabomber carried out his revolt, he does agree with some of the ideas that the Unabomber put forth. Specifically, that industrial technology enslaves people with its dehumanizing mechanical, attention-controlling, and nature-destructive ways. And because people seem to lack control of the technology that is perpetually taking over their lives, causing psychological, physical distress and ecological disasters, we should “kill the system” altogether, and return to more simple ways of existence. That said, he agrees that it would be impossible to just “get rid” of technology, as it penetrates all aspects of our lives and a lot of us just have to use it to maintain a certain social position (Skrbina needs to use email to keep his teaching position). But possible or not, the way to deal with it, in Dr. Skrbina’s and the Unabomber’s opinion, would be to eradicate it.
The other debate participant, Peter Ludlow, instead of defending technology argued that there is nothing to learn from the Unabomber. In his opinion, the Unabomber’s arguments are weak and the only reason we are here (sadly) is because of our popular culture’s fascination with serial killers (Dexter, Hannibal Lecter).
He did, however, agree that our technological system is not benign and that radical measures do need to take place, but we can hardly learn anything from the Unabomber’s fallacious “jump to conclusion” arguments to completely eradicate technology.
Referring to Skrbina’s arguments, Dr. Ludlow pointed out that the increasing numbers of people diagnosed with various attention deficit and autism disorders, along with speculation about the harm of Facebook, should not be directly interpreted as a negative consequences of technology, and surely not enough to conclude that we should eradicate it altogether. He argued that instead treating technology as this mysteriously controlling and dehumanizing power, we should more actively engage with it by better understanding what it is and how it works as opposed to passively using it.
After the session, there was some time allocated for Q&A. The line at the microphone kept growing with worked up technologists lining up to to defend their profession. Most people at the microphone where there to express skepticism and even a bit of irritation on what Dr. Skrbina had to say. He was, after all, suggesting that what these people so lovingly do for living, i.e introducing more technology for the betterment of people’s lives, might have a less noble and romantic side to it. Lined up technophiles questioned his position with something along in the lines of the following:
— What do you mean technology is bad? I am creating authentic digital experiences for people, I am making their lives richer.
—But you use technology yourself, don’t you? How can you argue against it?
—We have been using technology from the time we picked up a stick, so how can we say that we are better off without it?
Aside from emotional reactions to “let’s get rid of technology”, the audience (including myself) was intrigued, but not quite prepared to discuss the flip side of our profession. Inspite of our varying degree of excitement about technology, we can all agree that there is something alarmingly strange about the way it is increasingly a part of the socio-cultural fabric. Yet we still don’t know where the strangeness begins and where it ends—we lack insight and sensitivity to the degree, intricacies, and implications of our interconnectivity with technology.
To many of us, technology is like that funny and confident friend (from way back when we were little kids) who everyone is so excited to be around. It seems that anything that friend says (sometimes the unthinkable!) amuses everyone and we all go along with it. And just because this friendship seems like a harmless adventure and “everyone is doing it”, we rarely stop to think about our friendship’s nuances and what it means to us beyond its immediate utility, convenience, fun, and feeling of “being there” along with the rest of the kids. And to Ludlow’s point, our friendship with technology is not benign—as it does not simply serve us in improving our well-being, but very much shapes who we are as humans. And if we are concerned at all with who we are becoming, I think we have to be more sensitive to the relationships that are shaping us. To me, being more sensitive means being critically reflective, or being able to step back— not from technology itself, as Dr. Skrbina and Unabomber might suggest—but from our immediate interactions with it, and look at the bigger picture of our friendship.
I think for creators of technology it might mean not only engaging in meeting user needs and wants with technological solutions, but also in research that focuses on articulating and helping others understand what is that we are becoming as a result of this relationship with technology. I don’t think that this research should necessarily be practical in nature and could very well be considered art. Nonetheless, it should be present and it should address the otherwise unnoticed—what all of our everyday interactions with technology (and strangeness that comes with it) amount to? This research could be hypothetical design explorations (“what if?” scenarios) or critique of the current technology and design industry trends (cloud computing, context-aware services, device agnosticism, etc).
No matter what shape this critical discourse takes, what is important is that our big picture understanding of our relationship with technology becomes more nuanced and that we could more clearly, and with less strangeness perhaps, see what it is that we are becoming.
Peter Ludlow slides (Scribed)
Slides via debate moderator Jeff Young (Scribed)
As usual I’m behind, so off we go:
- Seven rules for managing creatives seems designed to be controversial, and 700+ comments on the original post indicate that the author succeeded — though the problematic “Pay them poorly” has been edited to say “Don’t overpay them.” But even with that change, I’m not sure how I feel about things like “spoil them and let them fail” — I get the second part, but what does the first part have to do with it?
- Microsoft’s mobile comeback isn’t happening. Ouch. The gist is “at least Microsoft’s mobile numbers aren’t shrinking anymore.”
- Yet another Bootstrap-integrated … thingy: Pixate Bootstrap.
- LukeW discusses some of the surprising decisions made when designing Polar: designing for distraction; removing the sign-up form as a requirement to use the app; non-obscured passwords (this one inspired some discussion in the office — does it only work because Polar doesn’t contain sensitive or important information?); and repeating design patterns and interactions once you’ve established them.
- Death to Bullshit, an enjoyable talk by Brad Frost.
- Bubbling with media queries and LESS. I don’t really know what that means but it sounds cool.
- From the aforementioned Brad Frost talk, I enjoyed It’s This for That, which answers the ever-important question “wait, what does your startup do?” (a real-life example is a friend of Char’s who’s made Moorage Market, which is like AirBnB for boats.)
- Diego got sucked into CodePen and particularly liked this one that reminds me of my beloved childhood spirograph. And then this one is pretty mesmerizing.
- Framer looks like a useful tool to quickly prototype interactions. Have you used it?
- Another tool, Flask, is compared to Django in this Flask vs Django presentation: “TL;DR: Both are great tools. Django is better for fast and Flask is better for flexible.”
- Last but not least, here’s what happens when you put glowsticks in waterfalls.
Mobile UX Camp Seattle 2013 is happening on Saturday, May 18th, 2013 from 9AM – 5PM right here at UW in Mary Gates Hall. Mobile UX Camp Seattle is an unconference bringing together professionals, academics & enthusiasts to share the current state and future direction of mobile technologies. Being an “unconference” anyone can present and share, so if you are at all interested in discussing mobile UX it is the place for you. You can follow the event through twitter @muxsea and #MUXSEA.
You can buy tickets at their website: mobileuxcampseattle.org. Students are just $10 and general admission is $22.
If you are curious at all about the event you can watch several sessions from last year on the event website. Some highlights:
By the numbers Android and iOS are the two leading mobile platforms, together accounting for nearly 98% of mobile traffic on UW web services. With the successful launch of SpaceScout for iOS we felt it was time to start looking into designing for the Android platform.
I wanted to avoid the common pitfall of designing from a previously existing iOS app and simply porting the iOS experience to the Android platform, such as the epicurious app shown above. While Android and iOS share many of the same basic UI elements, gestural controls, and navigation patterns there are differences that must be considered. Most Android users will notice when an app isn’t designed specifically for Android, usually due to the presence of styles and interactions borrowed from other platforms. Based on an analysis and comparison of the Android Design Guide and the iOS Human Interface Guide here is a list of the main differences and unique elements of Android. Hopefully by the end of this post you should be able to spot the errors in the epicurious design.
iOS users are familiar with seeing a distinct back button on the upper left of the navigation bar. It appears when users proceed past the first level hierarchy of the app and serves as a way to get back to the main or previous view. It normally appears as a standard rectangular button, with the left edge shaped into an arrow pointing left.
Android devices have two built in methods for accomplishing this sort of navigation: the “Up” button and the system “back” button. The Up button appears in the upper left of the main action bar where the app icon is located. When a user navigates out of the main view of an app, the Up button appears allowing them to easily go back one level in the app.
The Back button, a system button persistent on all screens, accomplishes a similar but slightly different navigation. The Back button is used to navigate through the history of screens the user has recently navigated through, even outside of the current app. So it may at times take the user to the same screen as the Up button, but is not limited to the app hierarchy. This can be confusing and is explained in great detail in the navigation section of the Android guidelines. This image from the guide illustrates the basic idea:
A spinner is an Android UI element designed to allow an item to be selected from a set. Spinners are a versatile and can be used in many different situations.
One common usage is for data selection in forms, allowing the user to select a single item from a list. This is typically used to label data, such as setting a new contact to either “Home” or “Work” in the standard contacts app. This functionality is closely related to the iOS picker.
Spinners can also allow for action selection from a list. This resembles the iOS action sheet method for selecting an action. A good example of this can be seen in “reply” selection in gmail.
Yet another usage for Spinners is to switch views on a set of data. A spinner being used for this purpose is in the calendar app where a spinner allows for easy switching between day, week, and monthly views. This behavior of spinners is more closely related to segmented control element on iOS.
Tabs in Android are quite similar to the iOS counterpart with the notable difference being placement. It is recommended that they appear at the top of the screen as part of the top bar, rather than the bottom as in iOS. This is mainly to avoid tap conflicts with the system buttons.
A second unique quality of Android tabs is the ability to use scrollable tabs. This modified version of the standard tab bar enables for 4 or more tabs to be comfortably used in an app. iOS guidelines recommend up to 5 tabs, or when 5+ are required 4 plus a “more” tab to see the remaining options. An example of scrollable tabs in action can be seen in the Play store app.
A final area where Android has a significant divergence from iOS is with screen size and resolution. Due to the Android’s open nature, many mobile phone manufacturers have adopted Android as their OS of choice. Android device manufacturers put out dozens of phones to target different needs and niches, resulting in a huge fragmentation of device capability and specifications. There is no standard Android screen size or resolution. The fragmentation of screen size and resolution is discussed in detail in this blog post from Open Signal last year. This is quite different from iOS devices, which are heavily standardized and therefore easy to predict the users screen size and resolution.
This means that extra consideration is needed when laying out app views. You must ensure app layouts are both fluid and flexible enough to work on different devices ranging from 3” screens of older dives to 5”+ inch HD displays of newer devices like the Note II.
Designing for Android is of course no different than designing for any other platform. It has its own unique qualities and quirks, but with a solid understanding of the unique elements and interaction guidelines you can begin to create great experiences. There are always exceptions to the rules, even those listed above, but generally the one guideline to follow is to avoid mimicking other platforms. This is an easy mistake to make, especially when designing with an iOS app already released and in use. Android apps have the potential to provide as great of an experience as any other platform and the key to this is fully utilizing the unique qualities Android has to offer.
If you need further Android inspiration in either UX or visual design here are some great resources:
I was out of the office at An Event Apart through Wednesday, and not really keeping up with the conversations on chat, so this week’s roundup is a good chance for me to see what everyone else was doing!
- Nielsen/Norman Group (Jakob Nielsen and Don Norman) has done a site redesign.
- Quail is a jQuery plugin to quickly check the accessibility of your site. Also it features both a cute quail AND a dog in a raincoat.
- We’re wondering if this Typography in Responsive Web Design virtual seminar from UIE is worth it. Have you attended their virtual seminars before? (I already love them a little for not using the word “webinar.”)
- Skitch is an Evernote app for quickly taking, annotating, and sharing screenshots. Looks like a useful tool.
- A few of us have been using Sublime Text 2 lately, and Jared found this plugin that integrates Sublime Text and Twitter’s Bower tool.
- Though we didn’t find it until April 2nd, I am pretty sure that Jira Jr., the kids version of the Jira bug tracking system, is Atlassian’s April Fool’s Day joke. Possibly one of the few legitimate uses of Comic Sans, though?
- Visit blackberry.com/glimpse on your phone to see a cool interactive walkthrough of the new BlackBerry phone. I kind of forgot BlackBerry existed.
- If the Earth were 100 pixels wide, how far would it be to Mars, in pixels? Cool.
- When Diego saw Portland Cyclocross photography he thought of Char, who’s into bike racing. Nice photos.
- Facebook’s new integrated Android phone is a little scary to me. Also I hate sites where all the content is video. Is that just me?
- We miss Roger Ebert already. In 2011 he won the New Yorker caption contest for the first time. Here’s an article from back then with his winning entry plus some of his others.
This week was extra quiet on chat, as Diego (who normally works remotely from Montana) was actually in Seattle! So we were all able to talk to each other in person for once.
But here’s what we did share online:
- Simple Models for User Context by Andrew Hinton includes “Personal-Behavioral Context,” “Personal-Situational Context,” and “Systems in Context.”
- An interactive data visualization of drone casualties.
- Char has been using Anvil for Mac to manage local Bootstrap sites.
- Excellent spoof of Apple ads/stores in this cider ad.
- Thirsty in Seattle does a Washington Beer March Madness contest!
- A cool article on a collective of font creators in Barcelona: Creative Characters: The faces behind the fonts.
- Google Shopping Express, Google’s foray into the shipping business, is NOT an April Fool’s joke.
What’ve you got this week?
Occasionally when we don’t have topics for our standing Monday R&D meetings, we watch some design-related videos instead. This week we watched two, both TED talks:
Sugata Mitra on new experiments in self-teaching
Ze Frank’s web playroom