Thursday, November 29, 2012

Design Philosophy Shapes a Nation

In his November 29th Per Square Mile piece, Tim De Chant tells us about looking down from a flight between Boston and Chicago to see the ribbon farms in what used to be Nouvelle-France.

The idea is that long, thin farms were established along an existing transportation route, in this case the St. Lawrence River (but the concept applies equally well to roads), this maximized efficiency in getting good from many farms to market (more access to transportation for more farms), and provided other benefits that he describes much better than I can.

The ribbon farms arrayed to share river frontage more compactly were a French tradition, and are uncommon in North America.  Square farms -- parcels plotted out and transportation figured out later -- became the standard.  That led to lots of road building and shaped the landscape we see in the US and Canada today.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Don't Get Struck in Analysis

Michael Allen's Leaving ADDIE for SAM, reviewed at, looks worth a read. The preface is available as a free download from Allen Interactions (yes, they will want your contact info).

The point is that the time-honored ADDIE model (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) used in instructional design is not exactly, shall we say, nimble. It's slow, cumbersome, and does not always lead to a good, finished product. It's too easy to get sucked into endless trips back to the drawing board. 

He says "The foundation of any traditional process is an accurate analysis. You can’t move forward until the analysis is complete and flawless – the problem with that is no analysis can ever be complete and certainly not flawless. So, training departments get stuck in the Analysis Paralysis – and the schedule slips and keeps slipping."

Allen suggests SAM --the Successive Approximation Model -- as a replacement.  Sketch a broad picture of the product you're designing, then go into depth, then iterate/refine -- but only a few times. I've worked on too many project that are in revision as soon as they launch -- I think he's onto something here.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Form and Function

Form has to support and follow function. Pretty things that don't work...don't work.

The image posted below - I still see it as taking an elegant shot at  integrating aesthetics with accessibility -  drew a Facebook comment from Jonathan David Post, and he's right.

And Mr. Post's comment:
"This is a cool solution visually but maybe not the most functional. A few problems: Too steep. Too long. No railing (If you slip what happens? Tumble to your death?). What if there's a crowd of people going up/down? Roll through them?

My mother's been disabled my whole life so I tend to notice poorly designed ramps and doors..."

The original image came from DoSomething's page, the post was on October 4, and you can read more good comments, both supportive and critical, there.

Just goes to show - there's always more to think about.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Flavor of 'Why'

Regarding security issues, user choices, and design decisions: sometimes people do things just because they can.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Apple's Patents

Hmm. Maybe the courts should view this kind of issue more like a copyrighted artwork and less like a patented physical invention. See Information Week's Babcock on Apple's patent win over Samsung.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Design for Mobile First

Think of users working from their phones or tablets. The point is to keep to simple. But I don't think I'd agree with  the title of this piece from Slate. You have to know you'll be scaling to the desktop, too.

Forget the Desktop

"This isn’t a radical proposal. Many Web designers build their sites according to this principle—Jason Kottke and John Gruber’s blogs were designed for desktop browsers, but because they load quickly and aren’t cluttered by extraneous elements, they look like they were built with mobile devices in mind."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Check your baggage

You don't need it, it adds no value, and it takes up space - either measurable real estate or conceptual space. It's there because you thought it was important, or that you might want it or need it later. Those things might be true but, like the suitcase of next week's clothes when you're on a plane, you don't need 'em right now.

So you check it. You can still get it back when you need it, if you need it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


While one of the usability ideas I really believe in is "if you have to explain it, you've failed," sometimes you do have to explain it. Sometimes more than once.

A while back I got a message that availability of the Little Black Book of Design had been suspended in the Kindle store:

We're writing to let you know that at least one of your readers has reported some problems within your book.  To prevent new readers from experiencing these issues, your title has been temporarily removed from sale.

One or more forced page breaks appear in the middle of the body text. You can see this error at the following location(s): Kindle Location: 2, 3, 4, etc.

My response: 

Hello, The book is intentionally formatted so that one statement appears per page. I believe a reader may have simply misunderstood the "one thought per page" format.

Amazon's reply: 

Hello, I am sorry for the trouble you've had while formatting your book for Kindle. From your email, I understand that extra spaces is necessary in your content. However, please note Kindle content is reflowable and if you include extra spaces, it may cause formatting errors and it may affect the display of your book. To avoid these errors and to provide a good reading experience, we recommend you to remove the extra spaces.

I try again: 
Thank you. You don't seem to understand. I have not had trouble formatting the book. The flow of the book requires the specific formatting that was applied. This matches the layout of the print version and the book, as it is a collection of statements - much like a book of poems - will not work laid out another way. This is not simply a matter of "extra spaces." If you look at sample pages you should understand. Please give me contact information for a manager or supervisor if you are not able to reinstate the book.

Amazon responds: 
Thanks for letting us know the title is formatted one statement/page per design. Our quality team will review your comments and get back to you.

The next day the LBBD was again available for purchase. And no, they never got back to me.

My guess is that a reader skipped the description, didn't know what aphorism means, or genuinely could not see a page that was not covered in text without concluding that the book was somehow broken and bringing that to Amazon's attention. There has been feedback from some who didn't like or understand the format. Maybe they expected a nuts-and-bolts how-to for Product X, Version 5.

I don't know. And I will never know. I do know that someone's dislike or discomfort took the book off the market briefly. And the fact that someone felt strongly enough to make that happen is positive in one sense: it means the book make an impression. Somebody noticed.

The villagers wouldn't have come with their torches if they hadn't cared about what Victor Frankenstein was up to.

View opposition as a sign that you're making progress.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Another Good Alertbox

This is good info (as always for Jakob Nielsen). Applicable not just to international sites, but also to national companies that have localized presences within one country.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Keep your options open for too long, you may find they've expired.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I just read Bret Victor's "A Brief Rant On The Future Of Interaction Design" from November '11, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Are touchscreen devices robbing us of the tactile experience of the world, reducing everything to "pictures under glass?" Can you run your life with a finger?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Chinese Rights?

Interesting,. Got an inquiry about Chinese language rights from "Big Apple Agency, Inc." of Taipei. Legit? Don't know. Stay tuned - I'll ask Amazon (I have some kind of exclusivity deal through the Kindle store).

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Positive "Why"

Ask “why” yourself. But you also want your audience, your user, to ask, in a positive way. Not, “why the hell..?” but an interested “why is it this way instead of that way?”

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Design Equivalent of "Aloha"

"Finished" can mean many things.

When you give your client a finished rough draft, they will react as if it were meant to be a complete, polished, ready-for-release product. And they won't want to understand why it's not.

When you give your client a finished product, they will react as if it were time for broad changes and revisions.

And they won't want to understand why it's not.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Not mine?


It's not yours anymore.

Not if it's anything like "art."

Because art doesn't count if nobody else sees it, hears it, experiences it -- and each of these things allows that other person to own it, in a way.

So, if you did it right and made some art - relax a little as the opinions and the ideas come rolling in.