Keep Hammering that Responsive Web Design Square Peg into the Round Good Design Hole

Seems like every day I see a new article talking about the challenges of Responsive Web Design. And tellingly, the discussion of the challenges appears to be more in the context of just basic Web sites, that is, more information oriented sites with relatively straightforward page-to-page navigation interactions. From an interaction design perspective, such solutions are comparatively simple, contrasted against your average application, which typically involves significantly more challenging interaction design problems–just for one device class.

I have speculated before that Responsive Web Design is a lie. While that is a bit of hyperbole, the reality is that the fundamental idea behind the RWD technique is flawed from a Design perspective. It is purely a pragmatic concession, and as you can see by the many pragmatic challenges to even rather basic solutions (information Web sites), not to mention the typical huge bloat it causes, one just has to wonder how long the industry will keep trying to pound that square peg into that round hole.

We can make ourselves bigger, stronger hammers. We can use bores to make the “hole” bigger, but at the end of the day, it’s just a flawed technique. You can’t get to a great experience with a one-size-fits all solution, and you can’t reasonably manage many customized experiences with a single code base. Oh, and that’s on top of the Web platform, a platform that is, at its best, still immature from an application platform perspective.

Call me a party pooper, but that’s the reality we are saddled with. I think we’d be better off focusing our energies on just making it easier to design and build awesome solutions for individual device classes at a time, and looking at more manageable ways to share sharable assets between device class solutions. There are tools today that help, but we are far from an ideal solution.  But at least that approach isn’t fundamentally flawed, i.e., it is possible we will get to a good solution. Not so with RWD.

Mac Wi-Fi Scanner in OS X Mavericks

I don’t know why they make it so mysterious to find, but there is a really nifty wi-fi scanner built into Mac since (as I recall) Mountain Lion that will let you easily scan the wifi spectra for what is in your area. This is mostly useful as a way to maximize the perf of your wireless network by getting on channels not used by your neighbors. Personally, I haven’t had great luck using the “auto” setting for that.

Anyways, if you search, you’ll find a lot of articles on how to get to it, saying to open Wireless Diagnostics (Option-Click on the Wi-Fi icon in your menu bar; it’s at the bottom).  Then, the articles say, ignore the wizard and press CMD+N to open the cool scanner tool.  Well, good luck with that on Mavericks. 🙂  And good luck finding anything telling you to do anything different.

That’s why I’m writing this article, because you might otherwise think the Wi-Fi scanner had been removed from Mac, but no, they just changed how you get to it. A little menu spelunking reveals under the Window menu that there is an “Assistant” and a “Utilities” window. If you click Utilities, you will find what you are looking for.

windows-utilities

You can also press CMD+2 to open it.

Voila!

Wi-Fi Scanner for Mac OS X Mavericks

What is even cooler is that after you click Scan Now, it does the analysis for ya and recommends channels for the different bands. Nice.

Anyhoo, I always forget this stuff in between uses, so I wanted to write it down. Maybe others will find it useful, too. No need to buy any special apps–just use the built-in one.  If you can find it!

How to Revert from iPhone 5s to iPhone 5 (iOS 7)

Yes, you read that right. I returned my iPhone 5s. In the past, I have felt that Apple, largely, has been good to me. I’m not a fanboi, however, and if they don’t measure up, they’re out.

I guess for me it is a combination of iOS 7 and iPhone 5s, but I think Apple is really stalling here. I hope they’re stalling to good end, i.e., they have some really great stuff in the wings they just haven’t been able to ship yet, but I am done waiting, for now. 🙂

The three big things with iPhone 5s were:

  • Touch ID/Unlock
  • Updated Camera
  • Faster Perf

My take on them:

  • Touch ID – yeah, it’s okay. I am one who has pretty much always used a passcode (unlike most people), so it is nice. That said, it definitely takes retraining. Not a big problem, but also not that big of a deal for someone who is adept at punching in his code.
  • Camera – I never noticed/had complaints about the iPhone 5 camera. Just a year ago, we were told how awesome it is, right? 🙂 The new flash is a nice idea, but I’ve grown used to just turning flash off except in unusual circumstances, so I don’t care really.
  • Perf – I honestly couldn’t tell, during normal use, that it is any faster than the 5. Usually that means whatever perf was improved was not the bottleneck. The bottleneck is and remains, mostly, network related. Sure, some animations in Safari are not smooth, but it’s mostly a non-issue.

In short, there’s no good reason to upgrade to 5s, as I see it. I thought/hoped the perf and touch ID would be cooler than they turned out. But no. So I returned my iPhone.

How to Revert from iPhone 5s to iPhone 5 (iOS 7)

This post is mainly to document the (minor) pains I went through to get back on my iPhone 5. It was not smooth as pie.

I tried:

  1. Backup iPhone 5s.
  2. Transfer Purchases from 5s.
  3. Plug in 5 and right-click, Restore, picking the backup from #1.

What I ran into:

There are 114 apps that can’t be restored.

I thought maybe it was something to do with the fact of the new one being a 5s, so I tried my last iPhone 5 backup.  Same problem.

(Note this is happening over the period of hours, since none of this is particularly fast.)

Here is what worked for me:

  1. Right-click, Transfer Purchases on the 5s.
  2. Sync 5s.
  3. Right-click and Backup 5s.
  4. (Reset 5 to factory settings using Erase All Content and Settings.)
  5. Start the setup process on the iPhone, until you get to the screen where it asks if you want to set it up as a new iPhone or restore from back up.
  6. Plug in/load iTunes and pick the option on your iPhone 5 to restore from backup/iTunes (or iCloud if that’s where you are backing up to in steps 1-3). At that point, it showed a little USB plug and said waiting or something like that.
  7. Select to restore from the backup created in Step 3 above.

This time it worked and restored everything.  And by the way, you should select Encrypted Backup because as I understand it, it will save your passwords so you don’t have to retype them for everything, which is a major PITA when doing restores without it.

I’m not sure what combination above was the magic. I am guessing it had to do with transferring purchases BEFORE the backup, but it could also be the Sync step.  Anyways, in the future, I will always do Steps 1-3 before moving to a new iDevice.  That is, assuming I don’t switch to Android permanently. 🙂

 

Design Does Not Mean Sitting in a Room

With Q&A, however, Microsoft “started with just a pure design view,” Netz said. That meant the design team sat in a room for weeks and thought about how to make the user experience as simple and addictive as possible. They worked around the clock and on weekends, he said, with the understanding they’d move on only when “everybody in the room feels that what we have is just going to be awesome.”

If you can believe it, this was published under an article talking about a supposedly new “design-first” strategy at Microsoft. Now, I suspect and hope this is just a mistranslation/interpretation by the journalist here, and that those folks at MS don’t think that “design-first” means sitting in a room for weeks and thinking about awesomeness. But it’s a common enough misconception, I thought I had to comment on it. 🙂 

For example, I remember attending UX Week 2009, and one of the speakers was the lead designer from the then-new Palm WebOS. I couldn’t believe my ears as I sat there in a UX/Design conference and heard a keynote speaker saying that his approach to designing a new OS for a business-user-oriented mobile phone was to stay in a room and reimagine what desktops and calendars were.  (I am probably not remembering exactly, but that was the gist.) The fella clearly thought he had stumbled onto something amazing, and I guess I was ignorant enough of who he was to not be overawed by that. Well, we know how that story ended..

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to bash on Microsoft nor WebOS. But we gotta get away from this notion that the way to do great Design is to lock yourself in a room and dream about awesomeness. You may as well just put some sketches up on a whiteboard, number them, and roll some polyhedral dice to select the best, most “awesome” design. 

In fact, hiding in a room should really be considered a Design antipattern. It implies a few bad things:

  • Isolation from Ideas – good designers regularly seek out inspiration all over the place. They become rabid consumers of others’ designs and design ideas. By isolating yourself, you block out those avenues of inspiration.
  • Echo Chamber/Focus Group Effect – you will very quickly suffer the echo chamber effect, that is, you will soon start coalescing in your viewpoints and ideas, which serves both to further isolate and falsely confirm awesomeness. 
  • Loss of Perspective – the more you are “in” the details of a design project, the more you lose the perspective of those who are “out” of it. Concepts that used to be not-so-familiar or obvious become more familiar and, ergo, more “obvious.” 
  • Isolation from Real Users – this is a key element for ongoing awesomeness and serves to counteract most of the  problems above. Without ongoing design evaluation with users (or at least user-like substances), you can think your designs are as awesome as sliced bread, and it won’t matter a bit. Until the rubber meets the road, it’s all just wishful thinking. 

I think I can safely say that sitting in a room and demanding awesomeness has very little to do with great Design. If what Microsoft (and WebOS) came up with was awesome, it would be because the people involved probably had some talent, solid Design experience, some luck, and a relatively good understanding of the target audience and the possible solutions. And more likely than not, they involved actual users in design evaluations sooner rather than later in their process. 

Looking at more of what the author said, you see some indications of that. Those involved were clearly some sort of subject matter experts and have had a good bit of prior experience with the target audience. He says they consulted experts in solution domains to understand solution possibilities, which likely served to expose them to all sorts of new design ideas. No doubt it took more time than six weeks, and it seems unlikely they were just sitting in the room that whole time. 

It seems safe to assume they were employing some Design professionals and/or at least that they did a fair bit of evaluation with users before sharing it with a journalist. And he does highlight one important element–holding off on technology selection/specification until the Design vision was in place. 

It’s early to say if this particular solution will be successful, and success in the market depends on more than just good product design. Certainly, following a good Design-first approach will help. Demanding Design awesomeness is important, especially in the details of the execution on the Design vision. Waiting on technology selection is important. But there’s a lot more to great Design than just that, and certainly more than just sitting in a room and working hard on it.