The Filter (week of March 24) 37signals 24 Mar 2006

Some interesting comments posted this week at Signal vs. Noise:

On Less Phone: The Moto PEBL

Grant Hutchins 19 Mar 06
I think that the competitive success of a good phone UI would be a watershed moment for interaction design. I feel like the general public would finally understand the idea that having lots of features is not what they want. I’m still shocked that none of the phone companies has stepped up and been bold enough to do it.

Matt Davies 21 Mar 06
This is a great discussion and highlights the fact that ‘the perfect’ mobile UI has not yet been designed. I work in designing mobile UI for a major wireless company. We use a completely user-centred process, talking to customers on an almost weekly basis, using innovative prototyping of new concepts and testing them with users. The mobile industry has been slow to understand what users really need and want, but it’s getting there. The problem has been that everything is tech-centred, and tech-led - rather than customer-centred from the outset.

On Embrace Obscurity

Jens Alfke 20 Mar 06
I can’t state this too strongly: If you are employed by a company for which you perform creative work, read your employment papers carefully before starting any independent project in that same line of business.

Aaron Blohowiak 20 Mar 06
Obscurity is bliss!
The sage avoids fame like the thief avoids capture -Lao Tzu

David O. 21 Mar 06
I think it is human nature to over engineer everything. The rule of the ego is to be able to say: “I did that!” So everyone has to have their pet feature. It’s not quite as fun to say: “Look at my product — I was instrumental in removing 37 features from it!”

dmr 20 Mar 06
Some failures, and lessons learned:
- do small editions, but not too small! printing editions of 5 vs 40 wallets isn’t that much more effort, still keeps editions low and lets us get more use out of a design before retiring it
- we originally started with a home-brew php/mysql shopping cart, but I’m not a programmer, so we scrapped this in favor of paypal. this let us focus on making designs and creating the products, not wasting it on reinventing the shopping cart wheel. although we sure wish paypal had an coupon codes!
- being small is great; we can write personal email receipts and give personal thanks to every customer. always send some free pins and stickers with every order; people like tiny and free stuff, especially when it’s good!
- iterate! we’re on our 3rd redesign of the site, adding features as we need them. my php skills are so-so and this is a great way to work within my own limitations as well as not overdoing it. spending extra effort on the web site when needed, but leaving the “that might be nice down the road” stuff for another day (or another programmer.) iterating is also fun with design; Josh and I are working to improve a few designs even tho they’re already printed; version 2.0 of a tshirt i guess…

On Screens Around Town: Blogger, DropSend, etc.

dusoft 22 Mar 06
Various upload progress meters:
Ruby with AJAX: sean.treadway.info/demo/upload/
PHP with meta refresh: www.raditha.com/php/progress.php
Perl with AJAX: encodable.com/filechucker/

On Sunspots: The cattle prod edition

nate 21 Mar 06
The fact is, a major part of the learning curve of just about any industry is the jargon, and techies like me are the worst offenders. If we could all simplify/cut down on industry-specific jargon, we could all make the world a better place.

Ted 22 Mar 06
If you enjoyed my UI showdown: Yahoo Mail vs. Gmail article, please check out my article about the existing start pages (like Netvibes), why I think they don’t have it quite right, and what start pages of tomorrow ought to look like. I’ve mocked up an image to explain my thinking.

Nathaniel Bibler 23 Mar 06
For an almost enjoyable to read Terms page, check out the “Last.fm” Terms and Conditions popup on their signup page…We will not email you crap or pass on your email address to anyone, not even Lars Ulrich at gunpoint.

On Forbes: The 20 Most Important Tools

Jonathan M 22 Mar 06
“The Universe is difficult to understand because it is obvious” - Albert Einstein…I guess that’s the reason ‘simple’ solutions are always HARD to come by. I can remember that there was (still selling I guess) a product that simply sewn together a glove and an icescraper for scraping ice off on your car’s windows during winter. So obvious and so silly but it sold millions.

On Andrew Hunt: “Leave room for emergence” [a Getting Real excerpt]

Mark Gallagher 22 Mar 06
Real world example of this:
We created an internal phonebook for our big bank (over 100,000 employees) with quick and easy access to “related people”…We found employees using this data in ways we never expected or planned. Examples: building security used it when guests would visit a building, call centers used it to escalate customer problems, HR used in merger planning activities, etc. By exposing the relationship data, we allowed the natural creativity of employees to use it in new and innovative ways.

On Screencast: One-minute mockup with Photoshop

RS 22 Mar 06
What comes first, creating the HTML or creating the CSS?
Repeat small cycles of HTML then CSS. Without markup, the styles have no reference. But too much markup without styles isn’t Real. So do some markup, style it, add some more, style it, and continue like that…Your markup affects what you can do in your CSS. At the same time, your CSS affects what you can do in your markup…If you do all the HTML first, you will have made decisions about the CSS without testing them. By styling as you go, you always get feedback…In other words, if you do all the markup first, then you have worked totally off your imagination and not real feedback. Some people like that because it makes them feel clever. For me, I prefer constant feedback.

On Fly on the wall: “if the scientists ever cross a rat and an octopus, we’re screwed”

Lars 24 Mar 06
Pooh and Aristotles has in many ways the same aproach to get people reflect - the put themselfes in the place of the stupid, and ask people/animals to answer questions they themselfes (obviously) got the/an answer to…My favorite quote: “You can’t help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn’t spell it right; but spelling isn’t everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn’t count.”

On Quark logo, take 2

Jonas Feiring // Fatguy 24 Mar 06
It does take guts to admit you messed up with a redesign, and then redo it just months later. Big brands are often stuck with bad design decisions for years. How they ended up with that first miserable attempt, is of-course an interesting question. So much rebranding is done by “throwing the baby out with the bath water”. Hopeless rebranding efforts that alienate the users / customers. You see the same thing in web-development. If you can’t keep your site constantly evolving and adapting, you’ll end up with big, costly projects of mediocre quality every fourth year.

On Morningstar.com: The best designed information-heavy site on the web

Josh Poulson 24 Mar 06
One cannot talk about Morningstar’s style without also looking at their simple but useful index chart as well:
http://www.morningstar.com/Cover/Indexes.html
There’s a lot more useful information in that one simple grid that gives you a feel for where the market is moving, far better than a single number does with the Dow Jones Industrial Average or Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, and yet it reads as quickly as the single number does.

On Beautiful code, test-first

Robert Hanson 24 Mar 06
With test-driven development you are just writing the tests first instead of last (evn if testing means running the app in the browser). The side-effect of testing first, which has been proven over and over, is that your code becomes cleaner, is easier to maintain, and has less defects. This last side effect is where you save all of your time.