This demo of Parallex, a plug-in for Freebase, shows multi-faceted searches which you can visualise on a map or a timeline. The narrator snidely comments that you can’t do that on Google, but actually you can with Google Experimental, as well as the Google Visualization API. Nevertheless, it’s still pretty impressive.
My beloved K750 has crapped out on me. It’s not beloved anymore.
To replace it, I almost bought the N95. Then I played around with it. It has a killer feature set, but it’s extremely expensive and it has the absolute worst hardware and software design. It’s pitiful. For half the price I got the iPhone. Thank god for that.
The iPhone is almost certainly, as my friend Wayne put it, the best 1.0 product ever. I’m really dying to know how they pulled it off. How did they manage to design such a refined user experience in a 1.0 – without news of the phone’s details leaking?
I say that even though my version of the iPhone lacks the ability to make or receive phone calls, text messages, or email/web on-the-go via GPRS!! I can NOT wait until they work out the crack.
So what’s to love?
- The drop dead beautiful UI design and hardware. That’s obvious just looking at screenshots, but using it is far more impressive.
- The touch keyboard works extremely well. I often use one hand to type and I’m definitely much faster typing on it than a standard mobile keypad. Admittedly, I was never one of those hyper-thumb freaks.
- The speed of the interface. It’s incredibly responsive and smooth. Just like Macs, putting it to sleep and waking it up is instantaneous.
- The photo quality is very good. I thought the K750 took decent shots, but the iPhoto pix are significantly better (however, I do have some gripes about the camera).
- The apps (calendar, maps, notepad) are stunning. Purely from a UI design perspective it’s beautiful. The interactions are very quick and very smooth, with nicely anticipated shortcuts and navigational details.
- I can’t transfer songs from different machines. WTF?! That’s absolutely fucked. That is just stupid, lame and IMO really cripples the device.
- Camera controls. The thing I used most on my K750 was the camera and the MP3 player. Same goes for the iPhone. The K750 definitely had better hardware controls for both. The iPhone is sorely lacking a hardware camera shutter button. The touch screen shutter is awful. It’s the one time I desperately need tactile feedback and precision. The touch screen sensitivity doesn’t always work and that is maddening when you’re trying to capture a split second moment. It also could really use auto-focus and a macro. Plus, they need to move the lens – my finger always shows up in photos!
- Audio playback controls. The volume buttons are great, but I also need controls for play/stop and next/previous without using the screen. I know the Apple headset has those controls on the mic clip, but I don’t use Apple’s headphones and that controller isn’t so elegant anyway. My K750 would do next/previous by holding down the volume up/down. I wish the iPhone did the same. For play/stop it should use the camera shutter button I want added. Finally, scrolling through long audio files like This American Life episodes is hellish with the scrubber. Here’s a great suggestion from Chris Fahy: an on screen jog dial for scrubbing audio.
It looks like Apple already has that in the works.
- The wifi reception is really weak. And it doesn’t always activate automatically.
- As I mentioned, the touch sensitivity is not always reliable, which can be pretty maddening sometimes.
- The predictive text is terrible and it always messes things up. I wish I could just turn it off.
- I constantly want to use the home button as a back button in the iPod
- Here’s an idea: Wifi syncing. Duh. I’m sure they must be working on this.
What I miss from my K750?
- The LED light. It was ostensibly the camera flash, but I used it mostly as a flashlight and reading light. It came in super handy on many occasions, especially camping.
- The radio. I expect a radio will be available on future iPhones. It’s really nice to listen to the radio sometimes.
- I won’t miss…the flimsy/broken connector jack, the flimsy/broken thumbstick, the flimsy/broken camera shutter button.
The iPhone is definitely giving me Apple love. I’m still not quite compelled to switch to a Mac. I’d really just love to use my iPhone as my primary OS. If I could connect my iPhone via wifi to a big screen and keyboard then BAM…I’ve got my pocket computer that has most my data in the cloud and acts as a Web OS client device.
My 20th high school reunion just happened this past weekend in Philadelphia. I wasn’t about to fly to the other side of the globe to attend. Instead, using Ning, I managed to quickly and easily put together a site for my classmates to post their pictures, bios, videos and messages. Most people were on Classmates.com, but that site is such a miserable rip-off, only an idiot would pay for it, so it’s worse than useless.
It’s been really fun catching up with people, learning what’s happened to people I knew so well in a former life. Things I’ve observed so far:
- Somewhat surprisingly, most people have not moved more than 30 miles away from our high school
- The ladies were really working the desperate housewives look at the reunion
- The guys were all taking the night off from their bingo game at the old folks home
- When I tell people the Sopranos is the closest thing to a reality show on TV they need to believe me
- Seeing the photos of kids of people who I can only remember as kids themselves is very trippy and wonderful
- Fuck, I’m old
On the tech side, I had my doubts about Ning when it launched. It looked interesting and promising, but completely confusing: what was it exactly and who was it targeting? I’m really glad they sorted it out. They’ve done a great job and I’m really grateful for it.
I’ve been a bit remiss for not posting on this sooner (and not posting in a while). I’m so proud of how well Dave and Tim have accomplished getting their startups off the ground. Both their startups recently received some serious global exposure and both were met with outstanding reviews, which they well deserved.
On-demand, social manufacturing – design, share, and buy laser-cut products from a variety of materials
Dave launched Ponoko at the TechCrunch 40 event with big buzz and fantastic reviews like this from Michael Arrington “Ponoko is a cool way for designers to create new physical products and sell them. Users collaborate on design and prototyping all the way through to production.” It was also hilarious that Dave emailed me afterwards and said that the first person who approached him was a VC who started off asking “Do you happen to know an American interaction designer…Philip Fierlinger?”
I was really lucky to have the opportunity to work with Dave for a short while. When we were just forming Xero, Dave consulted for us and worked along side us in the 404 apartment. I got to hear Dave’s early concepts for what would become Ponoko. From the outset I loved it and I was quite impressed that he was so unphased to take on, what seemed to me, such a daunting project. It’s definitely not your usual web startup. And that’s one important reason why it’s such a great idea.
A collaborative planning tool to help start a business and keep it on track
Tim is really active in the NZ web and business community. A little while ago he did a fantastic presentation on getting your startup funded:
The entire set of videos is well worth watching. It’s refreshingly frank and well informed, with great insights and tips, based on priceless experience.
Go New Zealand! Go Wellington. Let’s just not mention the rugby.
After seeing my talk somebody pointed me to this video: “The Science and Art of User Experience at Google”. It’s a presentation by Jen Fitzpatrick, manager of the user experience team at Google, talking about their interaction design process. She shares some really interesting examples of how they collect user feedback, particularly how they track usage patterns and monitor support queries.
A usability note on the actual video file: it contains a caption overlay, which is really useful, but it would be much more useful if that text was available to read/search/copy!
DATE CORRECTION FOR WELLINGTON:
The Xero UPA presentation in Wellington is happening on Tuesday 7 August.
I’ve been invited to speak next month at UPA events in Wellington and later in Auckland.
I’ll be talking about and showing the interaction design process used to create Xero, providing some insights into the different design techniques used to build a complex online application quickly, yet effectively. I will also discuss how those techniques are evolving as the company and the software grows.
- Xero Interaction Design Case Study
(there will also be a presentation on the recent UPA conference held in Austin)
- Tuesday 7th August, 12pm – 1:30pm, 2007
- Statistics NZ House, The Boulevard, Harbour Quays (across from the Railway Station on the waterfront)
- Xero Interaction Design Case Study
- Tuesday 28th August, 6pm – 8pm, 2007
- Bank of New Zealand, 3rd floor, 125 Queen Street, Auckland
Web 2.0 debate
Last month, I participated on a panel debate at Webstock, arguing the merits of Web 2.0. I thought about making my presentation silly, but I couldn’t help myself and ended up creating a genuine analysis of what Web 2.0 is really all about, what makes it so significant, and why it’s important to understand. I think my slides do explain it pretty well.
I have to admit that our opponents did a much better job of making their case, using their rye cynical wit and deft charisma. Their tactics were extremely effective, but ultimately they were fighting a hopeless cause.
You can watch the full antics here.
I have 2 kids (Emory 7.5 and Jasper 3.5) who are both going to our local Montessori school. I have always felt strongly that the standard school system sucks. I’ve always had a desire to help reshape formal education, to create a better experience focused on: inquisitive thinking, creativity, collaboration, discovery, and following your passion.
No worksheets, no tests, no lectures, no classrooms, no homework.
It turns out, Montessori is what I’ve been after.
We went to a parent night where they showed us some of the materials the kids are currently using and learning. It was incredible. I was so jealous. I wanted to take my 7 year old’s class!!! The things he’s learning are concepts that I’ve only just barely discovered myself after re-reading Bill Bryson’s book “A Short History of Nearly Everything”. I went home and talked to Emory about it and I could see how much he’s absorbing: stong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, dark matter, supernovas, on and on. The learning he’s experiencing is not the type that’s only good for passing tests. He gets it, probably not all of it entirely, but he gets the big important ideas. Meanwhile, he’s enjoying it, really loving it, and because of that a lot more is actually sticking and getting processed in a meaningful way.
The following night we watched a video that outlines the major differences between Montessori and traditional schooling. (I’m happy to lend out my copy if you’re interested in watching it)
At first, it comes off like a cheesy corporate training video. But the content blew my mind.
I came to the profound and stark realization that sending your kid to a traditional school is like giving your kid a lobotomy and throwing them in a torture chamber. If they come out fine, it’s in spite of the education they were given. That’s how I felt about school when I was in it. Now I just wish I saw that video about 2 years ago (and I wish my parents saw it 30 years ago). Our older son Emory went to Montessori pre-school. It was awesome. Then when he was 6 we decided that he should go to the local school: it’s a block away, it had a great reputation, we were unsure whether the Montessori primary school would provide enough “grounding”. Ugh. In some ways it was a necessary and important way for us to learn that even at a “good” school in a country with a good reputation for their education system is just the same old bullshit: worksheets, tests, and catering to the lowest common denominator. It’s just as backwards as everywhere else. After eighteen months of standard schooling, we switched Emory back to Montessori and we are ecstatic.
While watching the Montessori video, I realized how directly related the principles are to interaction design, the web, social networking, and open platforms. Fundamentally, Montessori is a well designed platform that uses the same underlying techniques as our best digital platforms:
- object oriented architecture
- peer networking
- multi-sensory inputs and outputs
- parallel processing
- iterative and agile development
- progressive disclosure and perceived affordances
Best of all, the Montessori platform provides so many beautifully simple, highly imaginative, fun materials to help people (kids and adults alike) enjoy the learning process so that it is an extremely powerful and meaningful experience.
This past week I went in and spent a couple hours with Emory’s class. I had a lot of fun making this simple little digital story together with the kids. I can’t wait to do it again!
Found on Reemer:
My friend Jonathan says: “to succeed in a market with no real switching costs (e.g. the consumer internet), when users invest in you, you must use that investment to make it better for them to stay, not to make it harder for them to leave.” Facebook just provided a way for every consumer internet developer on the planet to make money from their site, *and* make Facebook more valuable. There’s risk involved, but I think there’s far more upside.
My favorite bits:
- involve users in your web application’s story
- make growth a social aim for existing users
- talk to your users (bad news > no news) … more likely to tolerate growing pains
- embed your service in others
When I first started working on Xero, I used sticky notes to help me get a sense of what it would take for us to build an online accounting system. After working on those sticky notes for about two weeks, we felt comfortable that we had a good foundation for the product architecture. Two weeks might seem like a long time to spend scribbling on sticky notes. But it was worth it. Those sticky notes are still a point of reference for us to this day â€“ they still reflect the overall product structure and the product roadmap.
From our earliest plans we mapped out two major milestones: having a beta ready by November 2006 and having the product released by April 2007. We had a vague feeling that those two targets were theoretically do-able under ideal circumstances, but we all knew from our past experiences that theory and reality never align, and ideal circumstances only happen in theory.
Thatâ€™s why I am so amazed that we pulled it off â€“ hitting both targets to the day! Besides working with an amazing team of talented people, with all the hard work and some good luck, I think one of the most important factors that enabled us to make those targets has been our commitment to an agile design and development process.
If we would have done â€œproperâ€ software specs for Xero weâ€™d still be bogged down writing and arguing over use cases and flow diagrams to this day. Nothing would have even gotten designed or built yet. Instead, our specs process generally involves an hour at the whiteboard identifying the core requirements for an entire piece of functionality. From there, I go straight into prototyping.
My method for prototyping is doing rough screenflows. These are intentionally rough so that we donâ€™t burn our time on low-level visual details, when we just need to sort out the high-level functional concepts. I quickly mock up screen layouts for each transaction in a typical user scenario, from the start of a task to the end, hitting every transaction along the way. Itâ€™s like storyboards for movies, scene by scene you see the plot unfold. I can build these prototypes very quickly, generating lots of ideas as I iterate through dozens of different designs in a few hours.
The screenflow prototypes are done as black-and-white outlines, similar to traditional wireframes. Except you move through it like a slideshow, seeing how one thing leads to the next, getting a feel for how it all flows. Traditional wireframes and written specs take a lot more time to create, plus they force you to intellectually resolve how it all works together in your head, instead of seeing how it flows on screen. Having to work it out in your head, instead of seeing it in action, leaves too many things open to misinterpretation, causing major confusion and delays.
With the screenflow prototypes we quickly evaluate whatâ€™s right and wrong about a design, whatâ€™s missing and what needs to be ripped out. We put the prototypes in front of users to get their feedback, which quickly gives us a good indication if weâ€™re on the right track or not, and it provides us with some insights on how to make it better. Then we do more iterations.
This passage from an article written by the head of IDEO Tim Brown describes what Iâ€™m talking about really well:
People need to have a visceral understanding — an image in their minds — of why you’ve chosen a certain strategy and what you’re attempting to create with it.
Because it’s pictorial, design describes the world in a way that’s not open to many interpretations. Designers, by making a film, scenario, or prototype, can help people experience the thing that the strategy seeks to describe.
Build to Think
Design thinking is inherently a prototyping process. Once you spot a promising idea, you build it. The prototype is typically a drawing, model, or film that describes a product, system, or service. We build these models very quickly; they’re rough, ready, and not at all elegant, but they work. The goal isn’t to create a close approximation of the finished product or process; the goal is to elicit feedback that helps us work through the problem we’re trying to solve. In a sense, we build to think.
When you rapidly prototype, you’re actually beginning to build the strategy itself. And you’re doing so very early in the innovation cycle. This enables you to unlock one of your organization’s most valuable assets: people’s intuitions. When you sit down with your senior team and show them prototypes of the products and services you want to put out in two years’ time, you get their intuitive feel for whether you’re headed in the right direction. It’s a process of enlightened trial and error: Observe the world, identify patterns of behavior, generate ideas, get feedback, repeat the process, and keep refining until you’re ready to bring the thing to market.
The Prototype Tells a Story
Prototyping is simultaneously an evaluative process — it generates feedback and enables you to make midflight corrections — and a storytelling process. It’s a way of visually and viscerally describing your strategy.