67 Thoughts About Design

Tom Peters does a brain dump of the main ideas he’s discussed about design in the past 15 years. In his list, he drops some thoughts that simply reflect the era of the present and past 15 years, and in others he provides nuggets of wisdom. Here’s a sampling.

  • Everybody’s doin’ it
  • Small things are often (usually?) more important than big things.
    “It” is about the way every individual conducts himself or herself. (E.g., the hotel housekeeper, restaurant busboy.)
  • Aesthetics and usability are equally important—with perhaps a slight edge to usability. (“‘It won a prize’ is the ultimate criticism.“—Don Norman
  • “It” must be on every (literally) agenda; in project reviews of every type “it” must hold its own with, say, the budget discussion.

I only wish “it” was formatted in HTML bullets (unordered links) so it was more readable. :)


Find Freelance Developers With oDesk

Designers come up with great ideas, but we aren’t always the right people to pull off the technical implementation. If you’re like me, you might be itching to get some of those ideas out into the world. oDesk is a resource for finding and tracking freelance developers to work on your project.

If you want to get your sketches into the hands of someone who will make it real, this might be a useful resource. I haven’t used this service or any others like it in the past, so I’d be interested in hearing if others have an opinion of oDesk or know of other freelance development sourcing sites.


Graphpaper Press Themes for WordPress

Graphpaper Press is Thad Allender’s repository of minimal themes for WordPress that are built on the Blueprint CSS framework. Allender is creating 1 new skin every month in 2008. The first in the series are the Gridline themes, a pared down, minimal design that comes in three flavors: lite, news, and magazine. Any of these should provide a barebones framework for a small business looking to use WordPress to get their site up and running quickly. From the base stylesheet you can tweak CSS to suit your brand.

Of course, the danger in using themes like this out of the box is that your site ends up looking like scores of others. Most of these look like Subtraction with subtle variations and added content modules, so take the time to customize the theme.

You can find more info about Graphpaper Press themes here.


Designing from the Inside Out

Laura Richardson writes in interactions magazine, May/June 2008 (subscription required for full text) about a philosophy of industrial design whose goal is to “get to the heart of the matter—meaningful interactions at the core of great product design.” In a sense, I can boil this down to needs. People have needs, explicit and unexpressed, that have to be described in relation to your product. The successful products are those where the flow between need and fulfillment are fluid and natural.

This design philosophy is based on the idea that the experience with the product necessarily connects the user’s desire or impetus for use with the manifestation and interaction with the product. Designing towards these goals is not simply a matter of form following function, but, more importantly, relating to desire and emotion. “Form … is designed to interact, reflect, and engage with the interior as well as the external audience.”

Inside-Out design considers interior issues such as purpose/function, desire, and emotion on one hand. On the other hand, it thinks about the exterior elements of form, interfaces, physical use, possibilities and limitations of the medium. The resulting experience—the outcome of I-O design—reflects the process of designing the product to reflect elements of the interior. Richardson goes on to describe the process used for doing I-O design of a smarter driving glove that produces better feedback, and a medical ID that considers the emotional needs of those who need them.

All projects must start with understanding the fundamental goals and desires driving the reason for the product’s existence. What Richardson is exposing in the examples is the process that led to solutions. It’s really like the unfolding of a story. It starts with an expression of fundamental desires, talks about how the desires need to touch the product, continues with designers aware of these internal needs making sure they are met, and ends with people using the product to meet their needs. Oh, and somewhere afterward, someone makes money off the process. :)

Designers of web sites and applications who invest any time in user research, and factor this information into the design process, are already engaged in this type of activity. We have good examples of how rich applications have innovated the web with AJAX, for example. One example that comes to mind are interfaces that use AJAX to focus on efficiency when the primary need is to get things done. Or controls that anticipate what your next step will be, depending on the context of your actions. The innovation comes in the form of re-thinking what could conventionally be done, or what could be created to feel cool, and instead focussing what can be made to get to the heart of what user’s desire, and what their emotional needs are.

The thrust of the article is that some industrial design has, in recent years, fetishized the package to the detriment of the experience. Designers can avoid that trap by re-focusing on interior needs.


Facebook Streamlining Application Authorization

Facebook have announced to developers that they are going to remove the installation requirement screen and allow users to try an application before installing it. What this means is that users won’t see the intimidating list of checkboxes to try an application out, and will get to install the application afterwards. This was meant as a preventative measure against spammy methods used by some applications.

The developer announcement described the migration to the new requirements.

When a user goes to an application for the first time and is prompted to log in, she will see a simpler screen, like in the screen shot here. Once a user authorizes your application, you can utilize all the API methods that access information about the user, publish stories to News Feed and Mini-Feed, and send the user notifications.

Above all, I like that this puts control in the hands of Facebook users. TechCrunch criticized Facebook for not taking stronger measures when dealing with app developers who use spammy methods, and argued that the method by which Facebook modifies the platform rules so drastically should concern the developer community. I agree on the point of making developers more accountable when they decide to play the evil game of deceiving users.

This seems like interesting news to me. Facebook are the Apple of social networking. That is to say, people watch very closely for the disruptive innovation they introduce and tend to react to that innovation, and we see it repeated in other social networking sites. I am thankful when the evolution moves in a direction that benefits user control and protection. Hopefully this means I’ll see a huge reduction in the number of unwanted invitations to install crappy Facebook apps.


Marissa Mayer Talks at Google IO

Marissa Mayer, VP of search products and user experience at Google, discusses simplicity, the importance of testing and looking at statistics and data, the desire to look into the future and think about the long term, to solve impossible and everyday problems, and of course playing at what interests you. The event is blogged by Eloy Zuniger, Jr. and covered by Information Week.

Seems like a few old topics are discussed that I've read in past articles. In some cases, more pieces of some puzzles fell into place. I found one piece of the talk provided some interesting feedback on the impact of the minimal search page.

Mayer discussed the history of simplicity on the search page. In truth, simplicity as a principle was not what determined the spare design. Google didn't have a webmaster at the time and Sergey didn't do HTML. Mayer reported that the absence of a lot of content on the page had an odd side effect with users, which they observed in early testing.

InfoWeek reports Mayer saying, "[S]earchers would load the Google home page and wait for upwards of a minute in some cases. Asked why, the testers, accustomed to pages chock full of content, said they were waiting for the rest of the page to load. That's why Google.com has a copyright notice at the end of its home page, said Mayer, to indicate that the page has loaded and that searching can begin."

Is also interesting to read about the attitude different teams have taken to difficult problems, and how they try to improve the experience with everyday problems. Google Health, GOOG 411, and Ride Finder are great examples of that.

I find the Google approach to problem solving fascinating at a high level, because, they're looking at fundamental problems and are engineering solutions that affect every day life profoundly. When you think about it, this is the key thing, in my opinion that makes Google interesting&8212;the ability to look at problems we experience in the world, and think about how technology can be used beat a path to solutions, no matter how difficult the problem appears on the surface.


Measuring the Usability of Everyday Products

David Travis reports for UserFocus on "ISO 2082, Ease of Operation of Every Day Products." While web-focussed interaction designers and information architects may not be involved in the design of everyday products, we should probably be interested at a high level, in the processes discussed. As Travis points out, clients are increasingly concerned with objective measurements of usability, and standards such as this "...will help ensure that we have robust and reliable test methods for all interactive designs, whether these are products, software or web sites."

ISO2082 is a new standard for the measurement of usability in everyday products. The document provides requirements and recommendations for the design of easy-to-operate everyday products. Its intended audience includes usability specialists, ergonomists, product designers, interaction designers, product manufacturers, and others involved in the design and development of everyday products.

The document is organized into 4 parts:

  1. Design requirements for context of use and user characteristics.
  2. Test method for walk-up-and-use products.
  3. Test method for consumer products.
  4. Test method for the installation of consumer products.

As a designer of web products who only gets involved in discount usability testing, this standard is a curiosity to me more than anything. As Travis notes, testing consumer products is primarily concerned with determining if the product helps users achieve the most frequent and/or important user goal that the product is intended to support. So we're talking about tests of large groups over small sets of tasks in short periods of time. This is the kind of thing that is best handled by a dedicated usability team or consultant.

I think we designers, at minimimum need only be aware of the process proposed here, and the relevance this may have with regard to having a standardized process to reference with clients or usability consultants.


Yahoo! BrowserPlus

Yahoo! BrowserPlus is software that extends the capabilities of web browsers to make rich web experiences possible. Websites can use the software to support behaviors like drag and drop from the desktop, easier file uploads, acquisition of feeds and information, and native desktop notifications.

The site is showing very cool demos right now including dragging and dropping photos from the desktop to a web browser, live image manipulation, and live refreshing IRC chatrooms in the browser. One of the nice things about how this is implemented is that when you’ve arrived at a site requiring BrowserPlus, the software is installed in your browser and does not require a restart.