Monday, December 28, 2009

The dirty little secret about simplicity is that it's really hard to do.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

You can try to win a features arms race by offering everything under the sun. Or you can just focus on a couple of things and do ‘em really well and get people who really love those things to love your product. For little guys, that’s a smarter route.

When you choose that path, you get clarity. Everything is simpler. It’s simpler to explain your product. It’s simpler for people to understand. It’s simpler to change it. It’s simpler to maintain it. It’s simpler to start using it. The ingredients are simpler. The packaging is simpler. Supporting it is simpler. The manual is simpler. Figuring out your message is simpler. And most importantly, succeeding is simpler.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Everything that’s potentially worrying about the real-time web

Weezer, plane crashes and everything else that’s worrying about the real-time web by Paul Carr
...what were we all doing? Filming and tweeting and checking in rather than just putting our phones away and enjoying the gig. Why does the world need two thousand photos of the same band on the same stage, all taken from a slightly different angle. That kind of 360 degree imagery might have been useful on the day Kennedy was shot – not least because it would have kept Oliver Stone quiet – but for a Weezer gig?

...And yet this real-time mentality – pictures/tweets or it didn’t happen – continues to seep into every aspect of our lives, both personally and professionally. Whereas once we might attend a conference to watch the speakers and perhaps learn something, today our priority is to live blog it – to ensure our followers know we’re on the inside...
Real-Time is a Collaboration by Kevin Makice
The second key assumption is that the real-time web is an individual activity. It isn’t. Individuals are involved, but the appeal and value of real-time content is in the sheer number of people participating and the wide range of personal experiences they capture.

...With new information comes new skills and opportunity for reflection. We see this happening all the time with the evolving strategies of Twitter use...The value you see today may not be the same value you will see tomorrow. People change.

It would be a mistake to adopt a utopian view and discount Carr’s critique. However, I believe that what will ultimately emerge from real-time web is a Zen awareness in the here and now. The current flaws in this beast can and will be overcome.
And from the comments to the original TechCrunch article:
Too long, please translate into 140 characters. #
It's a Shrodinger's tweet phenomemon. #
I have a two part response to all this, and hopefully it won't take me weeks to compose it, but it will take longer than right now, so for now, I leave these without comment. These will become links to the follow up posts, however:

-- (Everything that’s potentially worrying about) Attention and the real-time web
-- (Everything that’s potentially worrying about) Love and the real-time web

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Left vs Right Infographic

As much as I detest binary analysis of...well, anything, this infographic struck a chord:

This is via the wonderful Information is Beautiful, which comments
This kind of visual approach to mapping concepts really excites me. I like the way it coaxes me to entertain two apparently contradictory value systems at the same time. Or, in other words, I like the way it f**ks with my head.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"It shouldn’t surprise any of us that they stopped caring."

Our industry has collectively taught average people over the last few decades that computers should be feared and are always a single misstep from breaking. We’ve trained them to expect the working state to be fragile and temporary, and experience from previous upgrades has convinced them that they shouldn’t mess with anything if it works. They’ve learned to ignore our pressures to always get the latest versions of everything because our upgrades frequently break their software and workflow. They expect unreliable functionality, shoddy software workmanship, unnecessary complexity, broken promises from software marketers, and degrading hostility from their office’s IT staff.
From the frequently brilliant Marco Arment.

I have original posts brewing around here, promise; they just take a lot longer to finish than the quick quote-and-link hack.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Spammers, Evildoers, and Opportunists

It’s not your job to create content for Google...Your audience is your readers, not Google’s algorithm.
Derek Powazek on SEO

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Spray-On Usability vs Cult of Design

An older but still very applicable post from
It’s not something every programmer can learn. Most programmers don’t have any aptitude for UI design whatsoever. It’s an art, and like any art, it requires innate ability. You can learn to be a better writer. You can learn to be a better illustrator. But most people can’t write and can’t draw, and no amount of practice or education is going to make them good at it. Improved, yes; good, no.

Conversely, some people who are good UI designers aren’t programmers. But the rock stars are the guys who can do both, and they are few and far between.

...Great software developers don’t design for morons. They design for smart, perceptive people — people just like themselves. They have profound respect for their users.
I actually disagree with Mr. Gruber on his last point. I'm not sure the designers of really great user interfaces have a profound respect for their users.

I think a designer's relationship with his or her audience is like that of an honest believer's relationship with God: respect, sure, but mostly punctuated by fear, frustration, doubt and an infuriating love. When one spends hours moving dots on a screen for the pleasure of an invisible other one has entered the realm of religion. I think being able to not only live in that tension but thrive and make good decisions while in it is the aspect of design that makes it more an art (or a priesthood). That we actualize our thoughts and feelings with text (code) that becomes objects is no more relevant to our real calling than if our tools were paints and brushes.

(This rabbit hole brought to you via @stephenanderson.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Should There Be a Unified Set of Styles For Web Interfaces?

I comment on "Should There Be a Unified Set of Styles For Web Interfaces?":
The main issue is that we need more voices for sanity in our web application design. I think our current issues are natural growing pains from making an application framework out of a technology originally created for documents.

I think you should contribute a sane voice...
This is something I've thought about writing about here, so just as good someone else did and started a good conversation about it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The fight for simplicity

I spoke to simplicity before, but lately it has become a bit of a mantra of mine, accosted from all sides, it seems, by complexity. I've made some observations:
  • Complexity is a powerful tool to disguise ignorance; in fact, complexity can transform ignorance into brilliance in the eyes of your foolhardy audience. "If you can't convince them, confuse them." Complexity engenders confusion, and people would rather agree with absurdity than appear confused and thus ignorant. This is closely related to the wisdom of crowds.
  • Similarly, complexity can overwhelm our beauty sensors. Human brains will almost always confuse the novel for the beautiful, so we pile on the novelties in attempts to convey beauty. It's not until we have a steaming pile that we realize that none of those things were beautiful.
  • Alpha geeks and entrepreneurs (often) love complexity. It's the reason they are in the business. Simple solutions bore them. They are going to be drawn towards the more complex solution without consideration of alternatives. (By "complex solution" I don't necessarily mean in regards to technical details.) You want to work with the smartest people possible, of course, and it may not always be as obvious as the famous unwashed Linux administrator who refuses to work with anyone else in the company, but there is a reason there has been a lot of work around new models for successful thinking, pushback on being overly clever, a movement for building less.
These aren't postures we adopt knowingly. It's not like anyone cognitively enjoys complexity or clutter. We're not all striving to be collectors. We inch our way into it, one user interface element or one line of code at a time. And some of those elements and lines cannot be avoided. But when they can be, they should be.

In the almost two months since I started this post, i've been collecting links that relate to simplicity, most within the realm of web design and user interface design, as that is an area I read the most about:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More on Twitter (queue sighing)

I'm quoting myself, in a comment on the brilliant and humane Brain Oberkirch's blog:
I was in total agreement when I first read this post; for some reason I came back around to it (because you've been too quiet--too busy I bet) and now I have an additional thought about all this twitter-handle-as-identity. There is a weird paradox about twitter in that I can learn the most about you, and the least about you, over twitter.

If you are a stranger I can learn that "Oh, I'm really interested in you!" or "Oh, I'm not really that interested in you."

If you are a friend, I can learn "Oh, you like asparagus too?!" or, "You're at the hospital? What can I do to help?"

It comes back to the low threshold of the information, its ambient nature. I can choose to ignore it quickly, or retain it and take action on it equally as fast.

Back to your original point, it is the stranger case. I meet some people at a conference, I follow them on twitter. Within a few hours or days I have an idea if this is going to go anywhere. While going to their site and emailing them or subscribing to their blog's RSS feed might have taken a significant amount of attention and energy, a quick "follow brianoberkirch" sent from my phone is low cost and allows me to quickly start making very small decisions about what the future might hold for this initial, awkward, short social transaction.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Love this graphic

From the amazing iso50. (Don't miss his amazing Layer Tennis match.)

I just used the word amazing twice in a row. Ah! Now three times in a row!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

This has nothing to do with anything except really amazing design

This takes design well into the realm of art: A Wes Anderson Film Festival (hypothetical)


Images stolen straight off of the iso50 post about the conclusion of the project. The project's author, Alex, is an author at the site. More links to posts about the project behind any of the last few links.

Via Dallas' 404 blog.

Wes Anderson Trailer from Alex Cornell on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Zero kerned fonts make illustrations of words

Originally uploaded by dealingwith

Aierbazzi font. See also, Bagarozz:
I designed Bagarozz (this is version 2.0) to study possibilities offered by ordinary fonts to create illustrations in a simple way through combination / processing of some preset shapes (keys).

Monday, May 25, 2009

"There will be a rise of new creative leaders in the world, fueled by rich humanity."

John Maeda: Creative Leaders Get Their Hands Dirty
In the last few decades, technology has encouraged our fascination with perfection — whether it's six sigma manufacturing, the zero-contaminant clean room, or in its simplest form, "2.0." Given the new uncertainty in the world however, I can see that it is time to question this approach — of over-technologized, over-leveraged, over-advanced living. The next big thing? Dirty hands...
(em mine) (via his twitters)

I've noticed this a lot. All you must do is notice the rash of new bike builders that have popped up around the country...the whole maker thing...DIY...gardening...We have definitely moved through authenticity and on to simplicity, and if that is how things are trending, I can't wait to see what the next thing is.

Speaking of bike building, besides fastboy's flickr stream, this video is one of the most aesthetically pleasing documents of the process:

Geekhouse Movie from Geekhouse Bikes on Vimeo.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tracking Moods on Twitter

It's no We Feel Fine, but it's just this kind of internet-to-meatspace with a DIY aesthetic that makes my day. Hope vs. Despair looks at our collective mood on Twitter. It is a simple way of tracking people’s feelings – about the economy, their pork chop sandwich…whatever’s top of mind. The measuring device tracks tweets every 30 seconds, looking at the frequency of smiles and frowns, specifically :) vs. :(

Hope vs. Despair Originally uploaded by Big Spaceship

Saturday, April 11, 2009



...Tweenbots are human-dependent robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians they encounter. Rolling at a constant speed, in a straight line, Tweenbots have a destination displayed on a flag, and rely on people they meet to read this flag and to aim them in the right direction to reach their goal.

Given their extreme vulnerability, the vastness of city space, the dangers posed by traffic, suspicion of terrorism, and the possibility that no one would be interested in helping a lost little robot, I initially conceived the Tweenbots as disposable creatures which were more likely to struggle and die in the city than to reach their destination.

...The results were unexpected. Over the course of the following months, throughout numerous missions, the Tweenbots were successful in rolling from their start point to their far-away destination assisted only by strangers. Every time the robot got caught under a park bench, ground futilely against a curb, or became trapped in a pothole, some passerby would always rescue it and send it toward its goal. Never once was a Tweenbot lost or damaged.

...The Tweenbot's unexpected presence in the city created an unfolding narrative that spoke not simply to the vastness of city space and to the journey of a human-assisted robot, but also to the power of a simple technological object to create a complex network powered by human intelligence and asynchronous interactions.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


WiiSpray Teaser from Martin Lihs on Vimeo.

The foundational basis for the project goes well beyond replacing real graffiti as an art form. Moreover, WiiSpray
is to be seen as an interface to give graffiti a new virtual level surpassing tactile boundaries of the tangible world.

via @erinmiddleton

Thursday, April 02, 2009


I'm typing this in Suggest-o-matic (SOM), the very simplified culmination of many years of thinking about content management, or what I refer to as "creative management", that is, how we store and reference all the content we create over the course of a life.

Right now, SOM is mostly like an automated reference librarian, who looks over your shoulder as you're writing your paper and suggests things out on the interwebs that might have to do with what you're writing about.

This is its very first iteration, what I am calling a 0.1 protoype intentions for the future are:

  • create multiple links for any given query (right now it can only automatically create one link based on what you've clipped from your query)

  • improving on the UI

  • ability to favor any number of site searches (I'm most interested in searching my old content for articles, images, etc. that I might have already created on the subjects)

  • an automatic post-to-my-blog-or-whatever dealio

  • a run-on-any-page, white box + selected text Suggest-o-matic

  • serious natural language chops, so that special syntax is no longer needed to fire off a suggestion

  • serious AI on results, so that SOM can sort and manage the relative links automatically for you
Update: Need I mention that IE is completely unsupported at this point!?

Friday, March 20, 2009


(repost, now with more video)


SXSW inspired a lot of cognitive dissonance. I'm not even sure I can get it all out into words. It's clear in my brain. I don't have a lot of time for really cohesive blogging anymore, but I'll try.

Part of that dissonance might be related to that last thing. There were a lot people at SXSW with plenty of time to blog about a lot of things and have very important thoughts. And by "very important" I mean asinine and pathetic. That combined with a huge emphasis on panels and "core conversations" inspired a lot of hate.

At the same time, I was again really inspired by SXSW this year. If there was one overriding theme to the entire event, it was this: Things suck, but you're awesome. Most presentations (and yes I tried to stick to the proper presentations) ended with some variant of this (and Kathy Sierra's really did).

Saturday I mostly played in the Lego pit and hit up BarCamp, but I did make it to Designing the Future of The New York Times, which I went to, of course, because of the brilliant Khoi Vinh, but found myself far more impressed with his colleague Tom Bodkin (here's his bio w/ pic on the SX site). His years of experience in a much richer design process and culture spoke rather profoundly, I thought, to a room full of mostly design hacks (myself, of course, included).

My first two panels talks on Sunday were excellent. First was Being a UX Team of One by Leah Buley, which was totally humbling and inspiring at the same time. Lots of great stuff that I want to do but am not doing yet in my UX practice. She has a few preso's up already on slideshare, including this same one given last year. The second was Jared Spool's talk. I've seen Jared speak before so I knew it was going to be good. It was. Apparently other people knew it was going to be good too. About two rows in front of me was a who's who of web design.

Somehow I missed this on Sunday, which was dumb of me. After giving the keynote a miss to go visit Mellow Johnny's with Jay I wandering in and out of sessions until stumbling into Gary Vaynerchuk's Q&A in the big room. I was so glad I did. My opinion of him did a 180. Previously, I wasn't a fan (go here to decide for yourself). But seeing him speak live to that audience I realized, he's a motivational speaker, and my kind of motivational speaker at that: a no bullshit one. Plus he could get Eeyore excited about life.

Monday there was some more good stuff going on, but all I really cared about was the Bruce Sterling session. I did go to Presenting Straight to the Brain, which was good, Kathy's stuff particularly. I have strong opinions about that stuff, though, and I can't believe no-one is poo-pooing panels and telling people to emulate rockstars. Mid-day I got to hang out with @thedandee some more which was a good thing. Eating, as well, since I hadn't eaten in about 24 hours. After lunch we both went to the aforementioned and inspiring talk by Kathy. Then, Bruce. He was awesome.

I'll be huffduffing all the talks I went to plus all the ones I wished I'd gone to, for those who want to catch/keep up but want a filter. I'll probably fill in some gabs with quick vid or pic posts here as well.

Update 1: Leah Buley has posted the presentation as well as the design templates she showed off in said presentation.

Update 2:

Update 3: Khoi Vihn's SX recap. And Mike D, from the comments: "Jared Spool? Fantastic. I’d rather watch him talk about peeling carrots for an hour than listen to five social media consultants introduce themselves for a half hour and then open up Q & A."

And finally, the most interesting bit, Carissa's take on the weekend:

Oh and have I failed to mention my new record that you can download for free?

<a href="">This Town by Daniel Miller</a>

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Holographic Ring Interface

Holographic Interface - round interface - Ringo from Ivan Tihienko on Vimeo.

(This had been sitting in drafts since January, probably because I was going to add to it, but I'm just going to publish w/o comment now.)


The web site of Branislav Kropilak now features larger scale images of the beautiful parking garages series, and the stunning billboards series of photographs.

...I am increasingly becoming convinced that there is more truth in these 'found' architectures than any of the works that feature in contemporary architectural magazines...these images invite us to consider the signs themselves as pure structure, signifying nothing but themselves.
I'm always fascinated with anything that can recontextualize objects without actually moving them or adding to them.

Via the links of one of my more brilliant IRL friends, Steve Collins.

Friday, January 30, 2009


These all came across my desk in the last week—something about attention and having attended the Tufte seminar Monday—and I thought I would catalog them here and share…

Video via @stephenanderson

Friday, January 23, 2009

Scott Brown on Why Hollywood Needs a New Model for Storytelling

I have a ton of backlogged stuff to put on this blog, but this one is quick and easy, and if you read this article without irony, it could be the "about" page for this blog.
Brothers and sisters, we are gathered here today to mourn the death of Story. As you may have heard, it's kaput—or, at the very least, terminally ill, wracked by videogames, wikis, recaps, talkbacks, YouTube, ADD, and the rise of a multiplatform, multipolar, mashup-media culture. Hollywood, vendor of Story in its most denatured form, is most at risk: The film industry is slowly but steadily being forced to part with quaint artifacts like the "hero's journey," Joseph Campbell's so-called Monomyth. (Which is just so ... well ... mono.)