Thought / In the end, it has to work

I have not been around for a while. I’ve been busy organising my move to London. It’s not complicated, but it requires my head to be in the details.

I’ve been also working on some interesting projects. Now I can say it, since when I was given the briefs, they did not look so interesting.

I thought they looked poorly designed. They were, somehow. Not designed from the user’s point of view. To me, that’s a big drawback, as it might cause the failure of the project.

However, I was focusing on one aspect of the whole product that did not work as it might, or as it should.

There are many aspects of a project that have to been taken care of: interface design, system development, production, deployment, information management, business plan, and more. In a small company, it comes down to few people managing most of them. I was lucky enough to be involved in the production side as well. That poorly-designed interface design also came with some interesting production issues. The front-end designer wanted to give the client a catchy, engaging interface, and she did. The client approved. Then it came the time to make it work, and it did not work quite. But it had to work.

I, then, realised ‘it working’ is as important as ‘it being designed well’. Because even ugly, poorly designed, dodgy cars do take people from point A to point B, and that might not makes them great cars, but they’re transport nonetheless.

Thought / best new year’s resolutions

first (and only) runner-up

talking about new year’s resolutions:

n) i decided to write a post a day. but then substance got in the way, and i decided to change it to at least a post a week, and to find more inspiration, or just time to get on paper ideas i have every day and then write them down at night. at least one every week stuck.

n) i decided to create an online service. i have the space, i have the bandwidth, i have some programming skills (rusty but steady) and i have the urge. i don’t have the time, bummer. i just want to see if being able is a major motivator, or if you just need a genuine and utter genial idea to start something everybody’s starting these days. conditions: it has to be simple, it has to be limited to ‘three’ pages per person (whether it is navigation, real estate or just reach), it has to be able to go live two weeks after starting developing it (max. a month). and i hope i won’t do it by myself (so i need a girlfriend-programmer).

n) i decided i wanted to do more stuff. so i wouldn’t take that much care of what i do, i wouldn’t be perfectionist about my results and projects, i just want to do more. i’d care to get away with the minimum indispensable not to be fired, or to ruin my reputation (i think i might have a reputation somewhere). the idea is to do more, period.

n) i want to direct/edit/produce a video. a short video, no matter the subject. i guess i’d act on it. i want to explore other narrative environments, that’s all. to see what’s to tell a story in a different format. to expose myself to art or whatever the outcome is.

n) i decided to write a novel. a short novel. a short story. a poem. something. i won’t keep this one, i know.

n) i decided to travel more, and to make my first trip alone, by myself. i still get the impression i’d get bored, but i won’t: it is my brain honking on its fears.

n) i decided i’ll continue smoking. this is such a bad moment to quit. but then, to feel a little better (in fron tof my family at least) i decided to excercise more. no. to excercise.

n) i decided to get me a new computer. i needed one resolution that i could easily accomplish!

n) i decided i want to start studying a career change. i thought i’d love to become a part-time hairdresser, part-time bookstore clerk. or perhaps an MPhil. or maybe to become my own boss. i’d be glad enough not to become ‘like’ my boss.

n) i decided to do something that helps people. something of a humanitarian level. whatever it is, i just have to do something.

and you?

i’m not numbering the resolutions just in case i decide to add more (or, more probable, to take some out!)

Thought / diatribes on application design

i have a pet project that i started almost a year ago. it is an online php/js gallery powered by the buzzy, hype ajax.

and it has brought me happines loads of times. yesterday it brought me my first (and second) donation: $2 and $18 by the same person. i wanted to jump all day long. i felt someone finally got it besides me, and that really made me joyful.

why?

my gallery is a disastrous mix of php and javascript given that i’m not a programmer, so the code looks so amateur sometimes i get lost in it. disastrous is an understatement. changing one thing can break it all completely, that’s the code’s state.

but it extremely simple to use. it is, believe me. if not now, then once i have all the bugs covered. you just have to upload the php files, throw some images in some folders in the directory, change some settings in a config file (no more than 12) and voilà!, you’re browsing your last trip to Thailand!

your galleries are named after your gallery’s folder name, same as your photos. add a date and a dash to the gallery’s name and they’ll order by date. images open in a preview pane on top of it all (à la Lightbox) with thumbnail navigation. there’s a simple slideshow. define number of pictures by row and number of rows in the settings and images are resized automatically to the right width and height. you can set thumbnails to be squared or to maintain aspect ratio. it all adapts to your likings on-the-fly (including image caching) so you don’t have to do the maths.

you might say all galleries do that and more. yes i know. but i’m a lousy programmer, so i’m proud of my achievements.

but there’s a huge error i made from the start: i expected people to notice how wonderful it was not dealing with settings, and to admire the simplicity of it. and some people has admired it. but the majority just does not. they just see the errors, the bugs, the issues. and they tell me so, complain and even argue. did i tell you i give it for free?

but they’re right. it is not about it being simple enough. people want that *and* for it to work, period. and they’re right. it should work, period.

the main problem is that i’m pointing to a very demanding audience: the non-programmers, the code-unsavvy, the fallen angels of the programming world. they cannot see al the work that gallery takes (imagine dealing with platform-dependent directory encoding both in php, javascript and cross-data communication!).

they want it simple and working.

i know i feel very high for the designers and programmers of projects like JQuery, prototype, php, box.net, cpaint, flickr. i can see the beauty of their programmes and frameworks. i can see all the work and hours they have put into those projects. and i can praise them accordingly. but my users cannot see it in my gallery.

and that is a challenge, cause as designers and programmers it is so easy (and stimulating) to design for other fellow programmers and designers. but it is so astoundingly complicated, difficult, extenuating and demoralising to design for the common folk that does not want to handle code and complex issues and processes.

but those are the lot, those are the masses, and those are the ones that need it the most. other programmers can come up with their own library or framework or methods or APIs. but what about the non-programmers? the grandfathers and grandmothers that could use a computer to video-chat with their grandsons and granddaughters that are 3000 kilometres away? the student that has his mother’s computer jammed cross-state and cannot solve it by simply connecting to it for troubleshooting? what about syncing your contacts online? a simple and robust way for a web-illiterate Marketing Manager or an NGO worker to update the company’s site? (sometimes even i cannot find solutions that are simple on those regards[1]).

that’s a huge marketplace, target and whatever you can call it: it is huge. and someone should address it, cause i see a goldmine there. i mean it. just come up with a simple webmail service and you’d got my father’s money, i guarantee it! he’s 60, a medical doctor and don’t like computers that much but needs email to communicate. and he has good money, and is willing to spend it where programmes are to simplify his life. now multiply that by a big number, a very big one.

a goldmine i say!

fn1. there are very good services that solve some of these situations in an elegant way. but i think there could be more. i take the opportunity to praise projects like Apple .Mac, Fog Creek Copilot, Bosco’s Screen Share, Plaxo, Squarespace and others which are, according to me, pointing towards making informatic lives a lot easier.

Thought / sustainably designing

i have always had argues with my bosses for the fact that i can be extremely fast, but sometimes i’m extremely slow.

those argues have always come down to the same response: times are i just can’t find the right way to do it. most of the arguing never settles to a common conclusion, but the trust in my ability renders it sparse and bearable, i guess.

the problem arises from two different perceptions of what the right way means. and my interpretation of it is quite strict, since i don’t like to code twice the same function once the settings (often predictably) change. so i code for error, for parameter change and for portability. but i’m a poor coder, i just learn fast enough to keep myself afloat.

i’m a lousy coder. my code looks like a child learning to walk. it walks the walk, but the inner bowels look oftentimes creepy, sometimes just amateur. but my code usually can be reused in other projects after major surgery… but not complete rewriting. and that is what i think is sustainable of my process.

so how to concile my interpretation of “the right way” with my boss’ vision? that’s where real sustainable design/code comes handy. i’m supposing i might change it, i must, since my boss’ understanding of it goes more into what is sustainable for the company’s business (luckily i still trust my bosses in that regard).

there’s time, goodness and efficiency to take into account. sure there are a million other variables, but those do for me right now. so what is the formula that keeps it all tight into the company’s sustainability model?

i don’t have a formula, though it will help. formulas are an excellent way to discover your view model is wrong, and where, let alone decipher your view model as total crap once in a while. people think (i love this phrase, “people think”) formulas are decanted bits of truth, but theyre not. they’re the state-of-things of any model, and they’ll be refuted in a short while, all of them (define “short” in a wide sense and i’ll be always right, by Heisemberg’s Uncertainty Principle).

let’s just say i’m in search of the sustainably designing grial for now. once i get my hands on such a precious deal, i’ll worry about sustainable design. for now.

Thought / the new finder in the jungle safari

lately i’ve been having problems with safari, but i bet it would be the same with any other browser.

mostly it has to do with it crashing. thought i better add most of the times i have had at least 10-12 windows open, some with several tabs. i have also been having problems with my bookmarks, which happen to be one too many for any bookmarking system besides delicious, which unfortunately turns to be quite slow for fast-bookmark retrieval.

then i started to think that lately i have been using my browser almost as much as i use the finder (or the explorer in wondows). daily i check my bank accounts, upload/download from my sites and clients’ sites through web ftp, check my mail online, read some blogs, some news, write some others, and every day there’s one more thing i’m doing in my browser.

but even though it has become the most used application i have in my dock, it still is just a browser. same tabs, same bookmarking drawer, that’s all. even the finder has evolved into a filing-searching machine, and for the really exigent there are things like path finder. but the browser, the most used application i have, still hogs loads of memory, has all links as lists and closes silently when i (willingly or not) press the close button (or the dreaded command-q that was supposed to be a command-w), perhaps leaving behind some web application with a text field full of posts-to-be, or a logged-in service.

on a side note: i have come with bookmark drawers trying to improve looking for bookmarks (and saving them quickly), here’s a shot of what my bookmarks bar looks like:

safari bookmark drawers

i think there is time for browsers to act like the digital hub they have becomed. sure, firefox has the extensions, and that just tells they know their software is the center of many things (including file sharing with all peers, the latest i’ve seen and a fantastic one). but the bare version of firefox is still a browser, and it behaves like a browser. no content intelligence (my browser knows what i’m browsing, can’t he decide when it is a bad moment to be closed inadvertently?), no smart bookmarking, let alone bookmark searching (thank god for quicksilver, but that in itself is another long post), no modal interface, no context-aware contextual menus (let’s call them just right-click menus for now).

i know there’s something else that has to come to take the browser’s place (the cellphone? but what? a mobile browser?), and if there’s not, it will, since navigators are stalled in the “window” mode of showing a view of the online world. and i think if i was into making browsers there are a million things i would like to add. but then, the biggest problem is that browsers are free, so no one gets much back for those huge changes that have to be done; everybody and mozilla are busy improving on a second-hand product that helps sell computers, perhaps. in the meanwhile, more applications are embedding browsers to make help files available, to show personal secure content, to be flexible and ubiquitous as browsers + html can be. and in the meanwhile, my browser’s major breaktrough has been improved type rendering (and not just better than anyone else, but dead good and miles away from the competition) and sogudi-powered search (which has turned my browser into my second command line interface).

i want a finder-browser, i want the next step, i want a smart application that knows more about the web than the rest of software i have installed. but i can conform with a browser that helps me do all my online stuff smartly[1].

there’s a challenge… ’cause, like it or not, the web is gonna stay here for a while (until web 4.5 or something like that).

[1] and better garbage-collection, please.