Friday, December 30, 2011

Borrowing drives buying

Amazon offers Kindle store ebooks through the Kindle Owners Lending Library ( . The hitch, if there is one, is that you agree to make your ebook exclusive to Kindle for 90 days. You also get a share of a royalty fund (I'm not at all clear on how that part works).

So I signed the LBBD up. I had only offered the book through the Kindle store, anyhow, and I thought it was reasonable to let people borrow the book.

And they have. And sales have almost doubled.

Hmmm.  Stands to reason that trying something -- like a book by an author you've never heard of (like me) -- provides a risk-free way to see if you like it. And some people will (and some people did) and then some of them will decide to buy one. 

Which is how public libraries support the publishing (and music, and move) industry. So hopefully this kind of thing  -- Library Ebook Lending Under Attack -- doesn't happen.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Now available in paperback...

The Little Black Book of Design, my collection of design-related quotes, has been doing well in the Kindle store. Now you can get it on paper.

Ten bucks, and it does look pretty spiffy, and you can riffle through the pages to get a random thought when you need one.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


The parallax scrolling effect can be beautiful if used subtly - I like

Ther are other example (some good, some not so good) here at webdesignledger.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Visualizating data

Examples of making information more usable. I like Tableau a lot.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


If something is always better than nothing, then less is only more up to a point.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Mozilla's Open Badges offers a way to certify the kind of skills we all gather outside of formal environments. Maybe you've picked up a skill, but can't honestly say you used it as part of your job -- or maybe you have, but it's not strictly in your job description. This isn't a liability in a small company, but if you work for a large organization you might find it difficult to claim that skill when you look for your next position.

Enter the badge: Earn a badge, and you can show certification of your skill. "Level up at work" - I like that phrase.

More on this here: hackeducation.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ambitious promises

Your ambitions outstripping your abilities is not necessarily a bad situation. It offers you an incentive to stretch.

When your promises outstrip your abilities.... that's not so good. You don't want to disappoint people.

So be careful.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Who Do You Think You're Talking To?

It's an important thing to know.

Not only in terms of your style, but in terms of your UI choices.

Let's say you're expecting users to access your content with a phone.

If your target audience includes people over 40, small print (like the login agreement you see when you use free wifi at Starbucks) will create a minor roadblock.

Let's say a fair percentage of your audience may be over 60. If they're logging in with an iPhone, the finger-spread gesture to expand the login so they can read it and tap the button may present a greater roadblock.

Present enough roadblocks, and they'll go somewhere else.

Try walking in their shoes, sure. But also try seeing through their eyes and multitouching with their fingers.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Losing Interest in Social Media..."

There is no there there.
Interesting take on growing tired, impatient, disaffected, with social media. From Elearnspace. A lot of value in the comments.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Casual-like Learning

The web is a brief and casual medium. Users want to get what they want and move on. In their own time and in their own way - not locked into someone else's idea of the "right" way to do .... well, to do whatever it is.

And then we see elearning or training thrown up on the web that requires the user to invest hours and hours in a formal progression. This is not using the medium properly. It would be like running a classroom session by reading a textbook -- people do it, but it's the wrong approach.

Yes, this is done for tracking purposes - but if the goal is to make sure the user has learned something, why not just record their scores on an assessment? If you've thought through your curriculum - and if you have some idea of what you're doing - you ought to be able to come up with a valid assessment to measure whether or not you've been successful. And that is the only thing that needs to be tracked - because that's the only thing that matters.

And if the web is a brief and casual environment, mobile is much, much moreso.

More on that soon.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Language Lag

While reading NYT's How to Train a Teacher, I noticed that the fifth slide shows a digital video recorder (Flip Mino) and the caption says the class is being videotaped. Now, that kind of camera uses either an SD card or internal flash memory, so there is no tape involved - but "videotaped" is how the process of recording is described.

This reminded me of how - fifteen years or so ago, when I was a freelance video shooter (using tape, yes) - the clients and even some people in the business would say what we did was "filming." You couldn't call it "recording" because then there would be a question as to whether we were recording audio only, and "filming" was easier to say than "videotaping" -- less than half the syllables. I think "film" sounded more professional and more high-class, too. People knew what you meant, even if the terms were not technically correct.

But now we say "videotape." Most people these days have little familiarity with film of any kind, so they say "videotape" instead of "video recording." It doesn't sound more professional or high-class &emdash; fewer syllables seems to be the goal. But videotape is hardly common, either. It's maybe only a little more common in everyday life than movie film was way back in the 90s. But everybody knows what videotape is (just like everybody then and now knows what a home movie is, even if they've never seen a Super 8 camera).

Maybe it's the same kind of safety-thinking that leads many of us to wait a while before getting a new version of Windows or Photoshop or whatever you happen to use daily. In the case of technology, you want to make sure it's going to work reliably, even if it means you'll stick with something that is arguably outdated; and in the case of language describing a technologically-driven process, you want to be sure your meaning is reliably understood, even if the words describing the process are no longer accurate.

The end goal is what's important - just as your computer needs to work without crashing, the concept of the act of recording video needs to be conveyed. Being easily understood is the point -- and that's a usability issue.

So... in fifteen years, when our videos all go straight to the cloud, will we be saying "I'll card your class today" or "I'm going to flash you when you give your presentation?"

That's going to be interesting.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Do you need a use case or a target audience?

Do you need a use case or a target audience?

A use case means considering how your product will be used by a hypothetical individual who represents a part of your user base - for example, a tech-savvy 35-year-old project manager who is eager to do all her administrative reports in a shared web-based environment instead of working in Microsoft Word and sending the reports as email attachments (note that the use case may be more or less specific). If you're building a product to serve this person, you've got some specifics to work with regarding probable expectations, the amount of guidance and hand-holding needed, and so on. By developing additional use cases describing other probable users (and these are developed by talking with the client - you may even have access to the users themselves) you will have done the groundwork for making a design that suits the users. A target audience is more of a passive recipient, not a true user. "Anyone working in acquisitions" for example. Without a real understanding of the users, the product will be generic and bland. You'll be doing the least you can - putting the product out there in another gray blob among thousands of gray blobs that meet the requirements but are ultimately forgettable. Understanding the difference between a user and an audience is important - are you showing them something or are they doing something?

This distinction is not unique to the web - a hands-on constructivist learning product based on paper or in the classroom can just as easily be dulled into a passive presentation, but web- based products provide constant opportunities to make the choice whether to lecture or to engage. Can the user get in there and really use it -whatever it is - without being told at length what it is, what to do, and how to do it? Less telling the user about the product and more of the user using the product is the goal.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Collaboration - synergy or too many cooks:

Every stakeholder has an opinion. So they should. But if every stakeholder is pushing and pulling the design of a product in a different direction - even if every stakeholder has some knowledge of design, and every stakeholder won't - the result will function poorly and please no one. Like users, stakeholders will tell you what they think they want with little idea of what is actually needed. If you can make them understand that their knowledge of engineering or sales or contracts does not qualify them as art directors or graphic designers - and the good ones will know this already - then you will be able to proceed more efficiently. Beyond the subject matter experts, your colleagues - managers, artists, programmers - will likely have views that they will feel should be accepted gratefully and integrated into the design. Compromising here - to keep the peace in the office or out of friendship - will compromise the design.

Management will often announce an initiative to promote collaboration. Sometimes they'll rearrange the workspace to serve this goal, without realizing the effect an "open" or "collaborative" workspace can have on getting the actual work done - distractions and interruptions can become the rule rather than the exception. In that case you'll find yourself looking for ways to get the work done despite all the collaboration. Don't take this to mean that good ideas cannot come from anyone, anywhere. But you have to retain the power to pick and choose. If you're designing the product, be sure you make the decisions. Individuals decide. Groups decide to meet again.

Friday, June 3, 2011


The importance of honesty in design:

Beyond the obvious concerns of conflict of interest or complying with nondisclosure agreements, you have to be honest about your capabilities and your expectations - first with yourself, and then with clients and colleagues. The consequences of deceiving yourself or your partners in the effort, whatever that effort may be, can be quite serious. The professional, financial, legal, and personal costs are worth taking some care to avoid. Be able to assure yourself that every decision you make was made because it was the right thing to do - it's too easy to talk yourself into spending time (yours and the user's) and the client's money on an unnecessary feature that you personally liked or wanted experience with. Did you do it because it was right for this product at this time, or did you do it just because you could?

Perception, rightly or wrongly, is also a factor under this topic. Does your work seem honest? Designs that are unnecessarily complex give the impression that the designer is trying to conceal something - incompetence, perhaps. Conversely, a clean, simple approach is reassuring to both the user and the client - as well as being more effective. They should never wonder if what they're seeing is really what they're getting. Your work and your approach to the work should be simple and straightforward.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pitfalls of Organizational Thinking

Foreseeing the pitfalls created by organizational thinking:

Any large organization will eventually pollute any good idea. It's true - we've all seen it time and again. And it's not because of malice or malevolence. We like to think organizations operate on a strategic scale - the big picture. The truth is, organizations are operating in response to a multitude of little pictures - one for every member. That amount of compromise, of splitting the difference, of horse-trading to get anything moving forward leads to an end product that rarely bears a resemblance to the original concept. If you think about how government seems to work, or the military, or corporate management, you'll see what I mean. So how does anything get accomplished? Working groups, tiger teams - environments protected from the larger organization just to get things done, to get projects off the ground. This is a good approach, and it's followed by organizations large and small. But there's a built-in danger. The organization will often view the special team, and their work, with suspicion and resistance.


Organizations are entities - corporations, for example, are treated in many ways like people from a legal standpoint. Like a person, self-preservation and by extension maintenance of the status quo are basic reactions to any change in the environment an organization exists in. Innovation can easily be perceived as a threat - because it's a change to the status quo. If you suggest a change to workflow, standards, or processes, the organization will often push back. You will likely find yourself pushing back when a change comes toward your own working routine - quite naturally. And change is not always good, and it isn't always (or usually) easy to tell. The trick is to keep yourself from expecting an organization to readily embrace whatever change you may be trying to bring - that expectation will frustrate you and quite possibly sour you on both the task and the organization itself. With that, it's also necessary to ask yourself whether your initial (and natural) resistance to a change coming toward you is really a gut instinct that you see a disaster looming.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Reality? Check.

Every now and then, step back and ask: am I living in the real world?"

Are you sure?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

From The Center for Internet and Society at Stanford University Law School. Fair(y) Use Tale.

It takes a little patience at first, but it's well worth it for a good lesson on copyright principles.... using Disney characters.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Box

The most important part of thinking outside the box... is the box. So, go get yourself a box, and get very familiar with it. Now you can let your mind step outside.

What do you see there?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Results are in

The new book will be blue.

Monday, March 21, 2011

many ways

There's more than one way to skin a cat. And most of them work on dogs, too.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Stories and games

Kaplan has a great piece about bringing games and narrative elements to elearning.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Shadows Matter

Make sure your shadows match your light.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Approval and validation need to start from within. But (one way or another) you're always going to be biased, aren't you?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Quick and the Good

Doing it right is better than doing it fast.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Graceful Degradation

Graceful degradation - the ability of your product to function reasonably well when presented under less than optimal conditions - should be on your mind with everything you design.

Try to avoid it in marketing efforts, job interviews, and internal staff evaluations.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Too Much or Not Enough

Most of the time, we are either told too much -- so we have to clear away the fluff to get at the real information -- or not enough, so that we have to connect the dots. Either way, we're not getting a true picture of the issue.

We have to train ourselves to peer through the fluff that covers the real thing, and to perceive the shape of the matter at hand based on the unconnected dots. And we have to do it fast -- so the client / partner / whatever is still right there, the discussion still hot on their tongues, and we can say, "wait a sec -- "

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Axis of Incompetence

When your client doesn't understand the product they've hired you to design - yet still wants to micromanage - and your management is too lazy or too frightened to set and enforce rational boundaries -- you are dealing with an axis of incompetence. Exit with as much dignity as you can.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


For some of us, the body language, tone of voice, and social dynamics of a traditional meeting provide context to the discussion. For others, these things are noise and distractions. Which describes you?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Back and Forth

Sometimes you have to back up to move forward.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Required Reading

Read Strunk and White -- the points made regarding the reader are equally valid for the user. It's always about communication, and always about reaching for common ground with the person who you wish to communicate with.

Read Marshall McLuhan -- he foresaw the issues and challenges of everything we are trying to do on the web, though he didn't know what the web would be. All media is media, and as designers we mediate it for the users.

Read William Goldman -- it's always about telling a story and nobody knows story better than Goldman. He'll teach while telling stories about stories, and he'll warn you about the people (usually in a position to act as gatekeeper) who will try their best to turn every story into something else.

Read before you write.


The world won't change without you.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Downtime is a break. Breaks are opportunities. Opportunities lead to things. Where are you headed?

Monday, January 24, 2011


Requirements are meant to be signposts. Guides. Help along the way. Never roadblocks.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


It's always about telling a story.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Yin and Yang... and Yin

Education and experience are each worth a great deal less without the other.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Fence

Operate within the neatly fenced boundaries of the reasonable and the practical. But every now and then, move the fence.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

'Til It Fits

You should never have to "paint it 'til it matches, pound it 'til it fits." But sometimes you do.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Best Time

It's always the best time to get started.