Flatland? No Thanks

“When you launch an app on your mobile device, the device essentially becomes that app.” via Max Rudberg – ✎ Flat UI is not the only way forward

This is a great, keen observation, and it correlates to why having clean, minimalist design makes a lot of sense for the hardware of mobile devices. These are windows onto many worlds. As such, for them to blend away into near invisibility is precisely what they should do–so that you can immerse yourself in any one of those worlds without distractions from the window itself. The more invisible the window, the better.

But for the world experienced through the window, it would be as if you were forced to live in Flatland, if you were limited to flat, minimalist design. Even though it is a deception, it is a beautiful deception for a piece of software to make you truly feel you are a part of the story it is telling, the story it is helping you to become a part of.

No -> Packaged HTML5 Apps: Are we emulating failure?

Packaged HTML5 Apps: Are we emulating failure? | groovecoder.

The simple answer is “no.” But just some nitpicks.

The Problem Is Contrived/Misapprehended 

  1. If you already have a QR scanner in place, you skip half the problem.
  2. Android?
  3. The pizza place could just have their own app, easily searchable or linked (as in the captive wifi situation).
  4. If it’s an FB, they could say, “just search for ‘incredible pizza tulsa’ to get to our FB page” in the app. It worked fine on the iOS FB app search…

Just because one place offers a sub-par way to find them on mobile FB does not mean, “apps suck!”

The Web is a Bigger App Store

Claiming that discoverability is bad on the app stores may be true; however, the Web is essentially just a bigger app store, and discoverability is worse because it’s not just apps, it is all kinds of content, much of which is not pertinent nor optimized for your device.

There are many good reasons to go native or even PhoneGap. They may not be compelling for everyone, but the reasons given in that post simply show the bias of the writer.

Yes, Ditch Traditional Wireframes, But Not for Code

Just Say No To CodeI just ran across Ditch Traditional Wireframes in UX Mag. I agree with the basic premise–that static, especially high fidelity, wireframes should be eschewed, but the conclusion I draw about what to do instead is a bit different.

The author of that article, Sergio Nouvel, propounds the wonders of just jumping right into code by doing HTML-based prototyping after nailing down initial concepts with other low fidelity options. The problem is that Nouvel does not identify the drawbacks from such an approach:

1) Despite the relative ease that frameworks like Bootstrap and Foundation provide, jumping into code has the immediate effect of warping the designer’s mind. I don’t care how disciplined you are, when you start dealing with code, your brain is forced to start thinking from the code perspective. It is not acceptable to switch at the interaction prototyping phase from a human-centric focus to a code-centric focus.

2) Especially in non-WYSIWYG environments, you are forced into imagining what tweaking this bit of markup, CSS, or JavaScript will have, then you do it, and then you verify it. And you often find it’s not quite what you had in mind, and repeat. With that, you end up wasting a little time here, a little time there, a little time everywhere fighting with the technologies just to do the simplest things.

3) It forces the designer to learn to code. That is a double-edged sword, as I discussed not long ago in To Code or Not to Code.

4) To be truly easy to maintain and change takes a LOT of planning up front. Even developers struggle with this, and they’re all about reuse and minimizing effort for changes. To pretend that just using code means things are automatically easy to maintain is just wishful thinking. Sure, maybe changing a font color, but changing shared navigation, layouts, etc.–things that are far more pertinent to rapid design iteration–are not easy changes in code. At all.

5) Interaction prototyping is not the same thing as production coding. To pretend that the code a designer writes in a prototype is going to be good for the real product misses several key considerations:

  • Devs are notorious for being picky, and rightly so, about their code (see the last point about code reuse). The chances they’ll just run with prototype code are quite slim, especially if that code relies on prototyping frameworks.
  • The focus of a good interaction prototype should be the interactions, not to have clean, well-layered/encapsulated/maintainable production code. If you use code for prototyping to have “build the real thing,” you’re missing the point of interaction prototyping.
  • Using HTML prototype code as production code only applies, and only sometimes, for Web apps, and simple ones at that.
  • What about statefulness and data? Are you really going to spend time on that in your prototype?  Anything beyond a basic informational Web site needs this sort of thing.

6) Worrying about responsive design at the interaction prototyping phase is premature. We’re in the higher point of the hype cycle for responsive design. Yes, it is nifty for some design needs. But it is hardly a panacea, and more importantly, it (like code or tech) should not be the big thing you’re worried about when doing interaction prototyping.  Why? Because from a user experience point of view, it’s just not that important.  Many of your users will never know if your site is responsive, and very few will care, as long as they get what they want from you.

7) How are you going to share your prototypes? Using HTML means you’re going to need to secure a hosting place, deploy it, and ensure it is accessible for people. And you have to keep updating that. One more thing you have to learn to jack with just to get some design ideas fleshed out and tested, one more thing in your way when you should be simply focused on exploring and evaluating design concepts from a human perspective.

So what should you do instead of static wireframing? Why interactive prototyping, of course! 🙂 Before you shake your head and say it is too hard or too cumbersome, I suggest you try Indigo Studio. Full disclosure: I had a hand in making it, but the reason we made it is because we think it addresses some real needs, such as:

  • The need for rapid exploration of design ideas from a user-centric perspective.
  • Being able to do rich interactions and animations without worrying about code or learning to code.
  • Integrating stories and human contexts into your digital design.

And guess what, Version 1 is totally free, forever.  There is no obligation, no time bomb.  So yes, definitely, ditch traditional wireframing, but not for code. It is good for some needs, but when you’re doing interaction prototyping and design exploration, that’s not the time to saddle yourself with all those ancillary concerns.

Give Indigo Studio a Try!  I recommend watching the videos–they give a good idea about how Indigo Studio is different and tries to address these needs.

Reclaiming Some Time

Sculpture in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

Over the holidays I took some time off from work, thinking finally I’d have some time to pursue those interests that I keep putting off. But instead, I found myself getting annoyed with how much time I seemed to be wasting on checking Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc. You see, I just can’t stand to see the little badge icons with numbers telling me I have things to do, or the notification banners that so and so said something super clever. I think I have some little bit of an OCD streak in me. Must eliminate the red bebubbled little numbers… must know… must do…

It’s not, for me, so much about feeling like I’m not part of the “real world” (as if that doesn’t extend through the etherweb) or any other Luddite concerns. It is purely a matter of not liking the sense that these nifty ways of connecting with people are taking over my life, that they are in a way controlling me rather than empowering me, that whenever I open my iThing, I am so easily drawn into them and end up losing time that I could be spending reading that great book that has been waiting on me, or learning that language I’ve been wanting to learn, or writing that masterpiece, or any number of other useful, enlightening, and enriching things I could be doing rather than scrolling through statuses and being suckered into debates.

So I decided to move all those attention-demanding apps to a less convenient location on my apps lists (in a folder on the last screen) and to disable notifications. This was working okay, but Google sticks their notifications at the top of nearly all their properties, including search and Gmail.  After some searching, I found a Chrome extension that will hide G+ notifications in the Google bar.  Huzzah for Chrome extensions!

So now I am happy to say that I can move though most of the day without being drawn into idle wastes of time, and I don’t miss it. I just check it once, maybe twice a day (because I do like to stay in touch). I don’t want to cut myself off from my digital friends entirely, but I definitely needed a better balance.

I recommend this approach if you find yourself in the same boat. It’s nice having that time back. We only have so much of it, ya know.

Review: Karvt iPad Mini Wood Skin

Karvt iPad Mini Bamboo SkinI was looking for something nice to complement my dark grey Smart Cover so that the back of my iPad mini would stay protected. I wanted something super light and minimal but classy, and after some searching around, I landed on the Karvt iPad Mini Bamboo wooden skin.

Interestingly enough, even though I ordered just the back, they sent me both. I just can’t dig having the wooden frame on the front though; seems a bit silly to me. To each his own.

It comes well packaged in two layers of strong cardboard, as well it should considering how much they charge for shipping. They brag on their envelope that they pride themselves in being easy to apply. I suppose compared to the full skins that involve pushing out the bubbles and such, it is. That said, it still takes a good eye and steady hand. I think mine isn’t quite aligned perfectly unfortunately. I think they could improve on this by including some sort of frame to put around the iPad that makes it foolproof. Reminds me of the CD stampers that do this for CD labeling.

Anyways, the skin itself is just about what I was going for aesthetically. The bamboo goes nicely with the aluminum and white, and it goes well with the grey Smart Cover I have. If I had a black iPad, I’d probably have gone with walnut, as I think it is classier, but it was too dark for the white, IMO. It feels like real bamboo (surprise!), and the edges are burned, I presume that is how they are cut. It probably serves the dual purpose of cutting and sealing. It looks better than nothing, but I think a thin aluminum border would be better.

I’m pretty happy with it, and time will tell how well it holds up against finger oils and the like. At least the Smart Cover protects some when you have it flipped around as I normally do. It doesn’t quite adhere/stick (with the magnet) as I feared it might, adding extra material between the two magnets, but it never held very well anyway. It holds well enough.

I can recommend it if this is the look you are going for. It is high quality for what it is; you just have to decide if having wood on your fancy device works for you.