thoughts

colorless green ideas sleep furiously

Should everyone learn to code?

The big problem with the case for or against everyone learning to code is the word “everyone”.

“Many of us”, “most of those involved with design”, “an increasing amount of people”, “a growing number of the world population”, perhaps.

Just not “everyone”.

January 7, 2015

On writerbots and machine writing

Machine writing will exist, sooner than we think.

Algorithm-driven writerbots, clumping together predefined phrases (or dissected ones from previous writings) spiced with words that computer-driven testing and big data crunching have found to enhance “catchiness”, headed by titles that extensive testing have proved engaging and “click-worthy”.

(To be honest, current headlining for sites like buzzfeed, huffpost or upworthy already feel created by a bot, almost undiscernible from each other)

June 6, 2014

The distance between phone icons and phones

Recently a friend asked:

“Imagine a phone…. Now tell me why does a phone‬ icon still look like a landline headset?”

I said:

Icons as visual abstractions that refer to a specific concept, come from an old paradigm, that of the mechanical (mail envelope) and electronic (landline phone set) era, where object’s looks and shapes came from their use and function.

Now we’re in the digital paradigm, where objects are impervious to function and don’t need a defined shape or, worse, as pure digital, they don’t even have a shape anymore. So most give images that are more vague and less recognisable that those of their mechanical counterparts.

So symbology has to take from the physical recognisable world, and thus from old shapes derived from old paradigms.

If you think of it, a phone is really no longer a “phone”. “phone” is one of its functions, but my iPhone is more my personal computer (I work and play through it) than my phone (I hate talking on the “phone”).

April 8, 2014

Myspace might unthrone Facebook

I bet you all that in 5 years, give or take, Myspace might unthrone Facebook. Not kidding.

Think about it: teens and tweens are leaving facebook, and they need (could use) a place where to hang out. Myspace is a hangout place about music. music unites people, creates tribes. teens hang out in tribes, not personally but socially. Myspace is the perfect place where to hang out with people “like you”.

I saw it with Fotolog and argentinian flocks of thousands gathering to talk and dance “Electro” online, and then even offline through the connections created in Fotolog. Myspace is perfect for supporting that social behaviour for teens and tweens everywhere.

Teens and tweens (in my experience) tend to be the most forgiving when it comes to uneasy interfaces, so they make great early adopters. They tend not to flock to empty sites, and places where their friends are are much more attractive, but the idea of getting to know new friends is also an enticing for them. Think IMVU with music as an avatar.

I really think there’s room for Myspace, as much as I feel Facebook cannot be the only place, the only online social network place. I feel there’s also plenty of room for other ways of socialising.

My bet is on an era of specified, specialised online social network places, where different people can have different, and several social needs covered more specifically.

Note: I specifically left undefined what “unthroning” means in this context. Let’s for now say that it means for Facebook not to be the only significant online social network service.

September 29, 2012

Unified Conundrum Of Web Design Intention

More and more, I find myself wondering, and lately pondering, about what’s wrong with my job. More and more the feeling points not to the job itself, but at the way it is managed. More and more I find that reassuring, as I know my job, that of a ‘User Experience Designer’, as my work business card says, is, more and more, a necessity within my realm, that of ‘Web Designer’, as my personal business card says.

There’s something that I can still find valid on that User Experience title, and every time it gets closer to what I always felt Architecture was about: creating experiences. (I won’t talk directly about the ‘experience creation’ paradigm validity, as I already explored in a previous article, and I would assume to an extent it is what we web/experience designers, and architects, do).

As anyone that has sat with the dare intention to create a set of rules that try to satisfy a wide possibility for mindsets, the most crucial point is to maintain credibility within the user. Credibility in this case is often conveyed by repeatedly signaling directions in a concise way, for the user to be able to read them as signs, like in motorways and hotels, and be able to decide which paths will stimulate or satisfy their own experience.

In order to create these directions, anyone that is involved in the project needs to be pointing at the same goals, and, moreover, be talking the same language, not amongst each other, but with the user, the persona, the customer, you name it.

Lately I’ve found the biggest potholes in this road to fulfilling a coherent, unified user experience framework to be a lack of agreement from various team members on the project’s main goal.

Our (the company I work at) structure, as many others I’ve seen, is divided into disciplines each tackling a different piece of the project. We have executives, visual designers, media strategists, interaction designers, developers, testers, marketers, account managers, technical producers and project managers.

All of these departments have a different history that trails and defines their approach to the project. Thus, oftentimes, each of these departments have a different personal objective: social media wants people to connect and share value, interaction designers want to make it easy, visual designers want to engage and enjoy, developers want it to work, testers want it to be bulletproof, marketers want it to sell, account managers want it to please the client, and executives want it to stand out and bring more clients towards a company that delivers and satisfies every possible need the best way possible.

After a thorough look, one can realise those agendas don’t necessary collide. A great project might satisfy each and every one of those premises. So then why sometimes (oftentimes) too many do not?

I’m inclined to think there’s lack of an overall vision that unifies them all. Or to put it in geek enough terms, the lack of  “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”<a href=”#quote1″><sup>1</sup></a>.

Oftentimes, what projects lack is an unified, agreed upon main objective. It is here where I see the user experience being brought out and exposed to the user. There has to be a place in the process where a goal, a set of objectives to be met by every proposition have to be defined.

I know by experience in the architectural world, that role is covered by the head architect for the project. This person takes care of the group bringing the project under one solid unified vision (in the best of cases, of course). However, in the architectural world, any head architect is a laureate of architecture that has made his road up through the architectural ladder. I know this head architect is a person that roughly knew how to lay pipes, calculate structure and place standardised windows and doors, define parking lot spaces while deciding column situation, and define how the façade should look like. This person knows the trade enough to assert a continuum of all these disciplines into a unified vision for a project, while being directly advised (and admonished) by a team of experts in each category and industry.

I know by experience that in the nascent conglomerate of what we humbly call web design, all the concurrent disciplines come from different realms and backgrounds, and were circumstantially summoned. Hence the differing agendas.

That explains to me the (scaled) success of small shops and studios in tackling better than anyone else the complexity of the task with a most coherent vision and delivery.

There comes now the point where I’m utterly jaded about this line of thought, as I don’t find myself but in the position to state that what we need is more web designers in an unifying, strategical position. Unfortunately, even by being a fine extrapolation from architecture, it doesn’t seem as the right strategy, as it is retrograde and propelled by hindsight.

If you have an opinion, I’d love to hear it.

<blockquote><a name=”quote1″>1.</a> This quote from <a href=”http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077869/”>The Lord of the Rings</a> is particularly fit as “in the darkness” well exemplifies what user experience design might be about: a shot in the dark at what people will enjoy and use.</blockquote>

October 17, 2010

Designing experiences

Some people (IxD/UX designers) think experiences cannot be designed. Wrong. People experience by navigating flows, and we can define those flows, making them easy(er).

Experience does not equals to perception, though perception informs it. Experience is about doing something (and learning from), which requires a path, which we design, e.g. by creating a scenery path through a forest or canyon, we can optimise flow and goal achievement, thus enhancing the experience.

As gothic cathedrals emphasised a sensation of “smallness”, design can emphasise an intended experience, with a goal in mind. Thus, though experience cannot be determined, perceptions, paths and collection of them, and consequently the creation of a memory for a site (in both meanings as space and web property) can be guided.

If we visit the Sixtine Chapel, in Rome, and we decide to hire a Guide, we’ll end up with much more information, given to us in the proper context, that if we just roam the space by ourselves, depending only on perception and memory to map all the information the space offers. Similarly, we can provide the proper cues, inflections and comments, and even the right turns, in order to inform and enhance comprehension of the vast, complex amount of artwork the chapel offers us.

In web design, there’s also the notion of goal, or what the person intends to achieve, guided by their current desire or need (e.g. “learn about the artwork of Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, and Sandro Botticelli”), and to do, guided by their mental model (e.g. “by visiting the spaces and viewing the real artwork in context I can understand it better”). These goals and processes can be guided and informed by a contextually-aware strategy that maximises contact and absorption of information, thus satisfying the goals better while enhancing the process.

By defining it so, we can thus conclude (I presume) that the experience (the “visit”) has been elevated to a different level, as two persons, one with the guide and another without it, could argue.

Is that what I refer as to “designing the experience”.

September 23, 2010

the (very near) future of online information, part one

we live in an overwhelmingly online world. every new system, service, platform and framework means a new set of data that will be bombarded to us, incessantly.

facebook, twitter, last.fm, the new york times online, google buzz, the guardian, venturebeat, techcrunch, the huffington post, chatroulette, tumblrs, the myriad of blogs we follow, foursquare, gowalla, and even im, email, sms, calls, have become open channels of data, and their model is that of throwing as many bits as they can physically produce. no wonder people still decide to keep themselves to the outskirts of the web.

it be stated that when i say people i mean all people from all the corners of the world, not the sleeve of internet-savvy geeks or the information-thirsty folks that don’t have a problem being attached to a monitor for hours, perusing screen words and photos posted by others like them.

the web is an overwhelming world of stuff thrown to our faces, and everyone and their mothers are trying to make a living on creating more, or as they’ll say, better content to be hosed to you, every minute of every hour of the live of the servers that will pump the data blood all around the open arteries of the internet.

i’d risk to say that the huge success of facebook was (and might not be anymore in a short while) that of giving a concentrated, aggregated way of consuming that huge amount of information, but even facebook, can becomean unsurmountable amount of other people’s lives.

even with the success of some services like twitter and foursquare can be calibrated against our incapacity to digest more data: the former making that data so ephemeral and transient it does not transcend but the glimpse of casual browsing on a lost, idle moment for one too many a user; the latter promising a physical encounter in the best of cases, or channeling it through the idea of it related to our movement through cities and spaces, thus describing something less ethereal than just a thought.

if that was not enough, recently facebook announced a scheme where it’ll support the totally indiscriminate sharing of everything online. it has received many critics, and most of them of a very high level of harshness. i personally see it as an eye opener: the one fact that will show us one factor, one side, one missing perspective about the web: we own the internet, but it is not of much depth, and sometimes even use for us, as like a tsunami of diluvian proportions it might, it will wash us away from all we could grasp, get, understand and process, and will substitute it with just more status, more quizzes, more lines of shared articles and photos and rubbish and pics of what i’m eating right now; just more information.

i say there has come the time for one thing i’ve been thinking, envisioning for a while, one thought i’m sure i’m not alone in fostering and hatching, one thought that has to make sense for once and for all: the internet of mediation, or much better: the mediation of the internet.

May 4, 2010

the cigarette, the rabbit story, the experience, the land of opportunity

so i came home, started a movie on netflix called “vodka tonic”, and served me a vodka tonic.

then 45 minutes later, i had the need of a cigarette. i did not have any, so i felt like going out, for one. so i did get out  in search for one. i had to walk 5 blocks since it was past midnight. so i did.

while i was walking towards the convenience store, i thought of convenience. why not, it was a matter of convenience. i thought of the fact that i did not get cigarettes before, and i could have, but i did not feel like. a bad experience.

then i got to the store, got me a nice mozzarella, to go with the convenient vodka i had. and the cigarettes, sure.

on the way back, i thought of a story of a rabbit in a fence that felt alone, and for being alone, without friends, he felt lonely. he decided to have fun by himself. and he did. and suddenly he had some other rabbits jumping outside the fence, asking him to let them in to play. by being alone and playing with himself he attracted all the fellow rabbits, which became friends soon.

the united states are the land of opportunity, sure. but for anyone that has lived here, coming from abroad, and mostly from europe, canada, australia, it is not because opportunity happens. it is because opportunity can happen.

after living in europe, i found myself restrained, constrained, suffocated while being here. recently i discovered it was because my quality of life was inferior to my expectations. how can that be if i was doing the same as before, as when in europe? it happened that when i was in milano, wien, london, i used to do exactly what i do now. it also happened that once out of the door, life would happen to me. any corner hold the fact of a new wonderful experience. no matter what. life in the outside was guaranteed as good, as vivid, as adapted and great.

here in new york city, life is not guaranteed. your pocket is the measure, and your imagination, and search capabilities, the thermometre. life is what you make from it here, in the united states. the land of opportunity is so as long as you make those opportunities happen, every day, every minute, every second. nothing is for granted, and nothing is for free.

i then thought about the whole story, the diatribes i just told you. they made sense on my mind, but once written, it was just pieces, like a giant puzzle in the table, with lovely, colourful pieces around, untied together.

i couldn’t make sense of all those thoughts.

once my father told me the quality of a garment is not only on the fabric, but mostly on the sewing, on the seams. it is the seams that make the garment stand well for years, stand against wind and rain, stand against the weather, what a garment is for.

like garments, stories are not only the pieces we all find in life that by themselves make sense and are beautiful. a story is not the happenings, the diatribes of mundane life, the assessments  of now and then on a busy day, no matter how interesting, incidental and colourful they are. a story builds from the seams sewn together among those pieces, those bits of fantasy and quotidian, the chunks of information, of happenings to come and to go.

a story is not the pieces, but also, and foremost, the way those bits are sewn together, patched into a story that transmits the integrity of it, a perception of life, an idea, a moment, a human condition.

a story is not only what happened, but how it happened, and the difference is in the unions. it might be in the details where god is, but it is in the threads where the story of god comes alive, for us.

January 27, 2010

5 ways to improve your design and user experience skills

  1. Work harder
  2. Work harder
  3. Work harder
  4. Learn from the masters
  5. Stop reading “5 ways to…” articles

December 22, 2009

The Future Of Digital Reading (according to me)

The future of digital reading will be marked by the convenience of having books when and where you need them. These three scenarios might help you get an idea of it:

——

Paul wakes up early in the morning, given that his commuting trip to Manhattan is rather long, about an hour and twenty minutes. Groomed and dressed, he goes for a quick stop at the corner cafe, where he gets his usual cappuccino and the book he’s reading currently: On The Road by Jack Kerouac.

The book is a simple digit-ink book from the DBook service, pages made of that plastic resine that feels like papyrus in your hand. Cover is monotone with the book title delicately composed, giving it that dignifying air of an old book On The Road deserves after all these years. Coffe and book in hand, he waits for the train, and while en route, enjoys chapter 12 and the smooth java cup.

After one chapter and a half, two changes and finally the arrival at his subway station, he crosses and locates the DBook vending machine, where he deposits it, so as not to have to carry it around in the day. Later in the evening he’ll pick up another copy of the same book to entertain him on his trip back home, leaving it at the supermarket DBook box just in time for getting some exquisite pret-a-porter gourmet lamb chops for a simple and succulent dinner.

Paul is subscribed to DBooks by the month, allowing him to exchange as many DBooks as he wants and keeping up to six of them per month for his library.

——

Since his operation, Björn spends large amounts of time at his home in the outskirts of Reykjavyk, mostly alone with Perro, his black labrador. Thankfully he’s an avid reader, so he gives his mail subscription to DBook all the use he can. Reading a book in three or four days and mailing it back to receive the next one in his online list has become his favourite pastime.

He has long thought of buying the DBook Typesetter, that little device which will allow him to connect any DBook and download new book’s content to it (which adapts to the number of pages by modifying the layout, spacing and font while keeping the style of the book’s design), thus reducing the waiting time to a minimum, but Björn is so affectionate to receiving the short but passionately waited book in the mail, he is subscribed to 2 books at a time, and just can’t wait to check his mailbox every morning a book should be arriving!

He also enjoys the casual exchange of a book with the regular friend and odd faculty colleague that comes now and then to check on him and see how well he’s doing. Knowing he does not have to read the whole book, or even read it gives him an openness to try literature casually, a behaviour that has opened him many unknown doors to pieces and authors he wouldn’t have wondered into before. Now he feels he finally can try all the books in the world, “as long as they’re the good ones, of course!” he says, wittily.

——

Akio lives a fast paced life since he was relocated to his company’s Paris office. In order to catch up with the local culture and manners, he has subscribed to the pay-per-keep version of the DBook service. Now he can order any book he wants, have it ready the next minute downstairs in his favourite café and pick it up just after that stroll around Saint Germaine he longs to do every Saturday morning.

Just after arriving home, and with a hurried feeling, he settles in his comfortable sofa and attacks vehemently his new ‘possible’ acquisition; after a couple of chapters (even paragraphs in some cases) he knows if the book’s a keeper, but being anew to french literature and French language itself, those two chapters/paragraphs can take the best hours of that bucolic Saturday afternoon, so he has become very selective with the books he finish, and keeps, as his father taught him how to carefully groom a decent and beloved personal library. The ones that capture his fancy he’ll read, finish and archive in his bookshelves, letting the DBook service to know he’s keeping by sweeping the book in the buying scanner that is attached to the shelf, after what his account is deducted of the book’s price.

Knowing he can return any book he does not want to keep makes the all discovering experience the most pleasing, just like when he used to take out books form his local Public Library in Tokio. After all, French and his french tenure are no small task for him, but DBook helps in making it a joyous, relaxed experience.

——

As you can see, I envision the future of digital reading as a simple, flexible, social, ubiquitous service that will allow books to become more and more part of our lives, no matter at what pace we stroll or bolt around it, while letting the reading to adapt to our lives, conveniently and convincingly, bringing the joy of discovering new worlds in the books we read into anyone’s life.

October 14, 2009