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.

Thought / Learning (interaction) from Las Vegas

I ran into a friend’s post that showed a project on wine bottle finding through RFIDs.

It made me wonder about something else, an ancillary quality of interaction: that of playability: ‘able to be used or played’ (not playfulness: ‘the quality of being light-hearted or full of fun‘).

There has been enough critic about the Mac OS X Dock for so many time, yet everybody acknowledges its strongly marketing-oriented side: that of entertaining and engaging the user (towards securing a sell?). And it succeeds mostly, in my opinion, because it shows that an OS GUI can be ‘fun’ (something every other OS seem to have tried to discredit with all efforts possible). Though it might be a very poor example (the Dock fails in so many other regards), it shows that side effect interaction design has as a possibility.

If you’re a fan of video games, you might not be too surprised. Video games were for a while one of the principal arenas for interface evolution on computer design. Why? Because gamers were avid and picky and relentless when it came to deciding on the ultimate interactive experience. Also because games depended on engagement, and better experiences would create deeper engagement. Response times, accuracy and realness were, and are, defining factors when it comes to choose a video game. If the Celica GT in “Colin McRae Rally” does not steer as it does in the hands of the real Colin McRae, then they’ll probably buy something else.

On the other side, you might have noticed the sudden rise of interactive art. I say it is because of the high entertaining factor these exhibitions have. Sometimes it is like going to the county fair arcade with all those haunted-houses-like attractions and led-light-driven stomach-revolting devices. Even if you don’t care about what’s on the artist mind and what he’s trying to express, you might enjoy the piece: touch the screen and it all lights up, step on the squares and you can create music, move around and the screen will dance with color lines. I’m describing fun-inducing gadgets, you can see the line between interactive art and interactive toys is rather thin. Let alone the one between toys and interaction design research.

Even Google, the epitome of sober web interfaces, puts a humorous logo now and then.

So why not exploiting it? Isn’t that part of the user experience? Isn’t that the user experience as well? We might want our interfaces to work well, be predictable and have a high level of precision, to allow users to accomplish their tasks, to make people’s lives easier and more meaningful. I think it won’t hurt if the user has a great time while using them.

Sometimes I get the impression that being boring is part of being useful, even in computer interfaces where there’s an infinite spectrum of possibilities.

Coming from an architectural background, it is a given for me: spaces have to work, but they ought to be pleasing and accommodating. If not, you might not sell it to the client, since they know they’ll spend a quite large amount of time in it.

There was a wonderful european magazine in the ’90s called PLAY. It surely is a very suggesting title for a magazine that dealt with interaction design. After all, when interaction design is really good, it feels like just playing.

Thought / web 1.0? what? when? where?

The things free browsing brings to the shore just when you less expect them to.

So we’re into this web 2.0 yadda-yadda, and since we never heard of web 1.0 we suppose it is what we had before. Well, want to know the truth? The web was born as 1.0. Tim Berners-Lee decided so when he wrote the first www programme (on a NeXTcube which was the first web server).

I guess people already ‘saying’ web 6.0 might not be that far-fetched, so it seems.

Thought / Software is just the means, not the end

People don’t want to spend hours browsing pages. People don’t want to spend hours uploading files, filling in long forms, or even browsing millions of images. People don’t want to code their way into an application. People don’t want to spend time on their computers.

People want to find information. People want to have their photos on their last vacation trip shared with family and friends. People want their address book to be everywhere they are. People want to know more about the issues they care about. People want to use the application because they want some work done to get their wages and spend their holidays taking pictures of themselves in gorgeous places and then share them with family and friends.

People don’t want to spend time on their computers. People want to do things. Software is just the means, not the end.