(Jon to Dawn)
I'm bringing back designdare. I have a new idea.
I'll explain in more detail soon, but the summary is that I'm going to send crazy design ideas to friends in email ... then post the correspondence online.
So: is that cool with you? For example I'd post this email and your response.
And for the majority of emails, it won't matter if you never respond. Responses are a nice twist but the idea works even if it's me sending my famous email brainstorms without responses.
Hope you're having a great week,
(Jon to Dawn)
Two topics, one short and the other long.
Re SF trip: up in the air based on if I go to North Carolina. Will keep you posted.
New website idea, which follows.
I had this conversation the other day with Bill:
"Hey Bill, I'm not looking to start a business right now, but let's say we started a business together. What would it be?"
"It turns out as part of my graduate degree, I'm taking a business class right now and I have an idea."
This was awesome for two reasons. One, we'd have something to talk about at the work holiday party I was dragging him to. Two, the idea was actually pretty cool. He said "I want to think of how to do a Japanese tub in the style of Nest, the thermostat folks".
So we chatted about it that night, and then I sent a few follow-up emails with a ton of ideas, some sketches, etc. And it was a lot of fun. I wasn't worrying about the industrial design or the visual design, or if anything I was proposing was feasible, it was a pure "what if" exercise. Design play. Fun.
That was a little while ago, and when I read the emails I found them inspiring all over again. So I tried another. What if I were to redesign a fridge? I had some ideas, I shared them with Charlotte, she came back the next day with a ton of new ideas, which spun off some emails ...
And then I had two. And then I realized this was writing I would love to read somewhere online. But no one's doing it!
There are a billion Pinterest-ish sites. "Here are some beautiful things. Enjoy." Whether it's portfolio sites or blogs or inspiration collages or dribbble or whatever, it's a grid of stuff that's already done. Stuff like "here's a 3D render how the iPhone 6 could look."
So that's all well and good, but it's been done. A lot.
But no one is doing the interaction design angle. Sure, people write "Downloaded [x app]. So good!" or "I love how in [y app] a side-swipe loads a radial menu" or whatever. But in terms of sitting down and really thinking about the experience and analyzing the interactions and flows ... I just don't see enough of that. It'd be cool to see a laser focus on a bunch of interaction design tradeoffs.
But my site wouldn't even be that, exactly. Because I don't have final products or even visuals. I just want to post a site where designers are excitedly talking to each other about how they'd re-invent things. Anything. Anything that's not an app. Because it's 2013, and discussion around apps are super-fucking-yawn now.
Even this email, right now, where I'm defining how I want the site to work and feel, has me wearing the same hat. I don't want it to be a blog. I do want it to be full of enthusiasm and ideas. Etc. It's all experience design.
So that's the new idea.
It's not a blog. It's not a gallery. It's freeform correspondence about blue sky design.
Hope you have a wonderful day,
(Dawn to Jon)
I think it's pretty awesome you've brought back designdare.
Oh. And. Good morning!
(Jon to Dawn)
I keep avoiding using a traditional CMS like wordpress because it forces a certain layout.
For example, I wrote a bunch of designdare stuff. Great. So now I have a bunch of new content - some new, some follow-ups to previous threads. Now what?
Well, traditional CMS would say that designdare.com would just show everything in a long list. One blog post after another. But that wouldn't work in my chosen format. It wouldn't make sense to put an update to a thread (like this email) back-to-back with messages I'm writing about other topics. They need to stay in their own order.
I think I'll add a way to flag "new this week" content. So the various areas live on their own (like this thread) but when I do updates over the weekend, I just add the content and point people to stuff that's new. Or something.
Hope you're having a wonderful day,
(Jon to Bill)
I know next to nothing about the space but now I'm daydreaming.
(Bill to Jon)
Might be best to start with a blank slate anyway!
(Jon to Bill)
When I think of Japanese tubs, I think of wood. When I think of Japanese innovation in the bathroom, I think of non-wood toilets with lots of buttons. So reinventing the tub would include technology ... but that doesn't mean it can't still be wood. It just sort of implies it wouldn't be wood.
Another interesting area where the past and present could collide - Japan is no stranger to electronics, but also many residential homes have a sparse aesthetic compared to, say, my house. Interesting to consider. It's hard to match electronics the way you can match furniture.
The business plan
People don't buy tubs often. So one approach is to be so freaking amazing you throw out your old tub to get your hands on this new one. Or be on the radar when someone's tub shopping. Another option is to write amazing software and work on selling it to the tub makers that already exist today. B2B instead of B2C.
Software versus hardware
Selling hardware and software together gains you a lot. But it also brings headaches, notably the "no one buys tubs" point above. Whereas software only, in a way that could be licensed ... not as tightly integrated as Nest but interesting to consider.
Is there an appetite for "Nest-style" improvements?
I've had this discussion a million times. Every time an American designer reads up on Swiss design and then tries to comprehend why so many Asian cities, electronics, graphic designs, software programs, etc feel cluttered and busy, their heads blow up a bit.
So I wonder if this is a Steve Jobs "they don't know what they want if they haven't seen it yet" situation, where a better tub immediately makes people say "yes, finally." ... or if it's more of a "you just don't understand the culture/market" situation where a "better" tub isn't actually seen as better because it doesn't have enough bells and whistles.
Put another way, I think the removal of features is often "better" in consumer electronics. But not everyone feels that way, and different cultures can color this overall perception.
Design of tub - where do the controls go
One of my first insights was that it'd be really wonderful for the controls to be accessible from anywhere, notably from within the tub itself, while you're soaking. Imagine a wall of the tub accepting touch input. Drag over here, the porcelain glows, and you just set the temperature. No sweat. Or sweat. Depends on how high you set the temperature.
People have phones
Ok, so you have this amazing tub, and you can amazingly do things with it. Do you want your phone involved? Some? A lot? Nothing at all? I could see clicking it into a waterproof cradle/area in order to help drive music, or show SMS alerts, etc. A consideration.
I wrote "apps?" even though I have no appetite for tub-oriented apps. Seems like a question to ask, but probably a dumb one.
What in the world does a tub need to do?
Water level and temperature seem primary. Bubbles, jets, timers, etc are all options. But as long as I can get the water where I want it, and at the temp I want, I'm pretty happy. Feels like the 80% case.
Homes usually store more than a single human, and those humans often have bathroom rituals/patterns. How easily and quickly can I inform the tub that it's me and I'm looking forward to doing my routine? Imagine a web form that auto-fills after the first input box. Similarly, I could tab the tub with my own little knock-knock pattern and it could "auto-fill" a bunch of assumptions about me, how I want to use the tub, etc.
That's the first page from my sketchbook.
I love thinking in new areas. Even if everything here is the worst and missing the point, it's getting my mind racing in a new direction. Fun :)
(Jon to Bill)
The tub cannot require configuration. But obviously it'd be nice if it could accept configuration... as long as it was super easy. I imagine a "I'm staying at a hotel over the weekend" level of ROI:
It brings up the question of how far the customization should be allowed to go. Mac levels, Windows levels, or Linux levels?
You can argue that anything should be able to add more complexity as long as it doesn't distract from the zero config route. But every new feature saps resources, opens up bugs, etc. I'd argue this tub would purposely not let you do everything it's technically capable of.
Multi-user versus multi-mood
If you have to enter your name into the side of the tub, that feels like a mistake. First, it's getting in the way of a relaxing experience because you're doing data entry. Second, just because I'm Jon doesn't mean I always want the exact same experience.
I should be able to walk in, drag my finger in a line to where I want the water level to be. Like a form auto-filling, it should try to recognize things like "last time I had a swipe like that, I was set to 95 degrees".
So the water should begin tumbling out with the intent that it will hit that finger traced level and stop. And the temp will be perfect because a) it's attempting to match your previous favorite temp b) it's easy to see the temp and change it.
Sometimes hot water runs out. We should be able to factor that in. It's always been a problem for me. Solve that and woo!
(Jon to Bill)
I did this a few weeks ago when we were talking about tubs.
(Bill to Jon)
I love you a million for this
(Jon to Charlotte)
Great to chat with you yesterday about the site and the fridge. I could talk like that forever :)
(Charlotte to Jon)
Yes!! Idea share is the best.
(Jon to Charlotte)
Ok, we talked in person about fridges and it was awesome. This is where I try to recap what was said and throw out some early thinking for how we'd make the best fridge ever.
By the way, I'm listening to Nine Inch Nails' Ghosts I-IV as I write. I never really paid much attention to it, but I'm liking it tonight.
The last time I bought a fridge
Sarah and I went to a showroom. It was well lit and had a lot of options, but it was a bit hard to see how each were different. This one was a little taller, this one had a bigger crisper drawer, this one was black, this one had ice on the door, etc. We found one that seemed ok and we bought it. Then we brought it home and realized it didn't really fit our groceries very elegantly.
A proposal for an online shopping experience
As long as the price was reasonable and I knew it'd fit into my home, I'd want a way to understand how well the fridge would deal with the groceries that my family buys.
Imagine going to a fridge website that let you easily visualize it with the groceries you buy. Milk (gallons!), eggs (more than a dozen!), wine (only one needed at a time, and we prefer red anyway), yogurt (we get 20 at a time), and so on.
Once you get a pretty good idea of what and how often you buy different items, the site could help you be smart about how you organize the fridge. Some families need far more freezer space. Some need to be able to fit large platters of food more often than others. Others have allergy issues that might affect space.
That's the first step - a fridge designed around how I'm going to use it. But what about adjusting shelves on the fly? I'd love a feature where if I'm trying to fit an item and it's a few inches too short, the shelf would lift up and out of the way. (obviously with sensors to make sure it's not squishing food above it)
I also like the idea that there are vertical dividers on some shelves (for example, for storing three bottles of wine side-by-side) that can drop away easily when you need them to. (for example, sliding in two medium-sized pizzas you grabbed on sale)
And of course shelves would be able to be manually installed and modified the old-fashioned way. But they should click in like legos. It should be easy and awesome.
The body of the fridge
You mentioned some hardware ideas that I'm probably going to get wrong. One was the idea that the material could easily change from fully see-through to a sort of smoked glass halfway see-through effect, to perhaps fully opaque.
You mentioned being able to send photos onto your fridge easily. I like the idea that you could just email your fridge a photo and it'd show up. It'd be sort of an ambient slideshow/bulletin board rather than requiring a lot of effort.
When I was a kid I was at a museum that would shoot light against the wall every minute, and "hold" your shadow there. It was a cool effect. I like the idea that each time you close the fridge door, it shoots a beam of light so the shadows cast by the items inside would be a little different every time.
Ok, that's a good start for now. Hope you had a good weekend!
Hope your day improved after we talked. It's hard to be inspired when everything's breaking and being lame. :(
Here's my promised design email:
I've been thinking about different and more effective ways of storytelling. Especially as sharable content online. In a line: how would you best communicate ideas in the shared link era?
So there's writing a song, but the main goal there is to be catchy, not necessarily to express an idea. There's writing a poem, but they're really precious. Even when they're not, they still have to fight with the baggage of being poetry.
Then there's "spoken word", which can mean so many different things. Then there's the YouTube webcam confessional thing, where you just look into the camera and talk. From that evolved the "lots of cuts for punchlines" YouTube video. You take out all the bad parts, squish them together, and it makes a pretty compelling little blast of content.
Then there are actual lectures/pitches/talks, recorded from conferences/classrooms/etc. But they're kind of a pain because they tend to be super long and most people aren't really compelling in a 30 minute talk.
Is there a way to mash together the superfast Ze Frank crack with the more measured lecture format? I think so. I think a person could screencapture slides as they talked over them. Make it 3-5 minutes. All one take. No trickery.
I think the result could be like a mini-TED talk. No audience, no edits, but also perhaps more meaningful because it's one long take.
I think I'd publish a lot with this format. You don't need to be accepted to a conference, or wait for the day of the conference to arrive. Something to say? Make a deck. Talk over it while recording. Post it.
It's also a great way to prepare for real talks, with actual people watching.
So that's how I'd put a new spin on the YouTube video. It's not that different from a Ze Frank episode, but I do like the distinction. I like that it's done in a single take, so it's still a person talking to you as if you were in a room together.
If I did a bunch of them on different topics, it'd be like a little mini-conference with just one person.
Which is another crazy idea. What if someone did a 60 minute talk as 12 5 minute talks, all completely different but somehow shared enough bits to be cohesive together?
Hm, I like that idea a lot. It's like the stunt bike version of a normal talk. Or a Girl Talk song in lecture form :)
Continuing the thought on the storytelling thing:
Every time I do a presentation, people ask for the file. It happened again on Friday, after I did my "Why most presentations suck" one. But the thing is, the slides are only about 25% of the content. If reading the slides is just as good as seeing the presentation in person, you should have just written a blog post.
For example, I have a slide of Steve Jobs. If you're reading through the deck, you'd see that slide and think "ok, he's saying Steve was great, blah blah blah." But the actual narration of that slide was "Everyone thinks Steve was a natural storyteller. But it's a myth. He practiced for months before his major launches. He set aside a ton of rehearsal time, which is why he looked so good on stage. Storytelling is a skill, like anything else, and thinking 'Oh, Steve was just gifted' is a cop-out."
So yeah. None of that was on the slide. None of that was in the speaker notes. And while I could have just written an essay to say the same thing, there's something special about a speech with well synchronized slides. Posting a deck is like posting someone's profile pic and body measurements. It approximates the experience, but it can't be as wonderful as the real thing. Not even close.
After I wrote last time, I was thinking about how the "narrate over slides" thing wasn't really that interesting of a thought. It's not exactly novel. Plenty of people have done it. For example, Bill did it for one of his talks a few years back.
But I think something interesting emerges if you plan a narrated video of slides. So rather than planning the presentation for a big crowd of people, then reprising it later on in a room with your laptop's crappy microphone, what if you actually started designing a presentation with the express goal of posting it as a single-take video? Again, it'd be like Ze Frank, with zero edits.
Slightly different but related topic:
I recently had a new idea for a talk. Or a blog post. Or a narrated slide thing. Or an animation. I'm not sure what vessel I'll use to bring it into the world. Hell, maybe I'll just make it a subtle theme in a short story. But the point is, I came up with a thing I wanted to say. I storyboarded it all out. Well, about half of it, so far.
But as I was looking at the storyboard, I could imagine each of the panels being a slide. I could imagine speaking over it with an impassioned delivery. (it's about connections, a little like my "next time" piece a while back)
But Next Time was designed to be tapped through.
Which is different than ZeFrank, designed as rapid cuts in video.
Which is different than Dave Grohl's SxSW keynote, a traditional speech.
Which is different than a comic, designed to be read.
Which is sort of different from what I'm envisioning. Maybe only 10% different but I wonder if there's something in that 10%.
You could make a comic out of Dave's speech. You could ZeFrank up my Next Time tappable essay. You could act out Bone or some other graphic novel. And of course we're constantly converting books into movies. It's fun seeing how they blend and change in different mediums.
The one thing about conferences is they're expecting a certain thing. Like, you wouldn't do stand-up at IXDA. You wouldn't draw a comic live for a tech conference. That's what's cool about being able to produce anything - I can go make my new storyboard into a narrated slideshow video, knowing that I can self-publish even though it'd be a little non-traditional, and not having to worry about making it something that will be accepted into a conference.
So maybe I will :)
(Ann to Jon)
Building Steam With a Grain of Salt just came on the radio and I thought of you.
I got all your design convo emails but have been crazy busy the past few days so I haven't yet had a chance to sit down to read them but I will let you know when I do.
(Jon to Ann)
Kay, but please don't feel compelled to answer. Something I have become aware of is that this avalanche format is fun for me to write but is causing anxiety in some of my friends. Hm.
Hope you're well amongst the busy. I'm in an odd hurry up and wait period. Tomorrow's my last day before the new job!
(Ann to Jon)
Okay I will keep that in mind. I can see how people could feel that way.
Hope your last day goes well!
(Ann to Jon)
"Or a Girl Talk song in lecture form :)"
Yes. Love the description.
(Jon to Mike)
So what would you do if you had about 200 people that had paid you for a book? Nothing against Twitter and Facebook followers, but there's something bonus about someone who's given you money to support your project. Which brings me to my first point.
The Spam Thing
Lukas and I did three books of For 100 Of Our Closest Friends. The people who signed up got their books (well, volume three isn't done yet, but the backers of volumes one and two did) and that's that. Right?
Some sites will be like "you signed up for x a year ago and now we're spamming you to tell you about y". I hate that. I don't want these approximately 200 people to feel that way if I were to kick off some new thing. So that's challenge number one.
Getting to 1000
I'm inspired by the idea that if you can get up to 1000 people who will support you, a lot of cool things open up. For a band, knowing that at least 1000 people will buy your $5 CD can help you branch out more than if you can only count on your three friends and your mom.
I wonder if I could get to 1000. And not just people who clicked a follow button, people willing to pay money.
But I wonder how important the money really is. I have a full time job, and I don't see any of my side projects growing into something that can support my family. So maybe I just want the 1000 people to cover costs, and nothing else.
At which point, who cares about 1000? 10 is still fine, if I'm just covering costs.
The Dropbox Idea
Regardless of the number, or the rationale, or if anyone's even interested, I've been kicking around some ideas. One is an invite to a Dropbox folder. I could publish stuff there, people could publish stuff back. Interesting. Like a handmade distributed forum.
The No Share Site Idea
I had an idea for a while that I'd post absolutely everything, like a digital version of my sketchbook for the 200+ supporters, but with one caveat. If the site ever got linked to, the site would go away.
It opens up an interesting dynamic in the world of super-sharing. Let's say I was writing really great stuff, or posting really great drawings, or whatever. The natural inclination would be to share it. But knowing the share would kill the site would be a deterrent.
It's a fun experiment to consider.
I also realized that I don't really want the next project with a big group of people to be about listening to me. So it'd be cool if there was some dynamic of "you have to post an essay to join this group", and I'd just be one more.
At that point I'd just be "the guy who set this up" rather than "the guy doing all the publishing". After all, the people who supported our books are pretty impressive people. It'd be awesome to inspire them to create stuff. I'd love the site to be about everyone contributing. On a site like that, I'd love not contributing at all, just listening.
It's crazy, but it'd be fun to run a little conference. Anyone who contributed to the book gets to come and we have a fantastically intimate conference. Travel makes it hard. But I love the idea.
Something New, Something Meaningful
I don't want to run a blog with comments. I don't want to try to be a successful voice on Twitter. I don't want to set up some generic forum software. But I feel like I've got these cool people, and wouldn't it be cool to try to delight them, bring them together, do something meaningful with our shared experience.
Though the normal thing to do would be to say "Thanks for your $15, here's your book, goodbye". But I don't want to. I want to take the group and make my next project out of it, out of them, somehow.
(Jon to Mike)
There's also the thing. I am tremendously impressed with them. Sign up, write a little code, and boom. You're accepting payments on your website. It's so freaking easy.
Sometimes when you discover a new idea, or technology, or design, or whatever, you can't wait to use it somewhere. I felt the same about Stripe. I was like "I can accept payments now. Awesome. What am I selling? Go go go!"
I can't help but think there's some sort of tie-in with the community I'm talking about building. Someone who throws in $2 to show they're committed to backing my projects is someone who has committed. $2 isn't much money, but it's $2 more than how this normally works.
Early access/board of advisors
What about this - I set up a mailing list as a way to stay up to date with whatever the hell I'm doing. That'll get a small handful of people. Great.
But maybe if you throw in $2, you're not just saying you want to be kept up-to-date, you also want something else. Some sort of ownership. Like buying stock in my brain. Maybe I use this board of advisors to vote on my next project (I love that sort of creative improv angle) or we all collaborate together or something.
An antidote to Mardi Gras beads
The invite system to closed betas makes total sense - servers need to prove they can handle the load before something gets featured and a jillion people show up.
But in practice, it just leads to a dumb "first!" mentality, where people are proud of themselves for being invited early, then never return to the site. We're more interesting in collecting Mardi Gras beads than actually committing to anyone. I don't want one night stands, I look to creatively fall in love.
I guess that's what I'm really scouting for. If I had one solid collaborator, someone inspiring, someone to trade ideas with, a person who could stoke my competitive instinct, where I rush home daydreaming about my next project ... that'd be great. And I guess I'm dreaming about having more than one.
But no one follows through. We're all too damn busy. We all would like to collaborate, meet up for drinks, catch up after a long time away, do that thing we said we would, etc, etc ... but the fact is almost everything falls through the cracks. There's just too much. And the very first thing to fall through? Creative projects with other people. But for me it feels as important as food and water. And when project fall through (and they almost always fall through) it stings. Bad.
Side note: when Dawn and I kicked off driftdeck, I said "ok, but as long as we ship." It was a great experience but not shipping felt like a breakup. It sucked.
Put your money where your mouth is
I think that's why I'm compelled towards the private sites, the secret communities, the $2 fan clubs, the non-traditional ways of connecting. Because I want some commitment. Without commitment we're just sifting through an endless stream of one liners, and I have bigger plans than that.
(I am writing these and sending without re-reading. Hope they make some semblance of sense.)
(Also, those pics from your run looked amazing. The Bay Area is tough financially, traffic-wise, real estate-wise, etc ... but goddamn I miss that scenery. The Bay Area makes me feel like I can do anything as long as I can make rent.)
(Mike to Jon)
I don't think I've ever received an email(s) that I felt more compelled and terrified to reply to at the same time.
Wow, where to start.
Couple things...stripe is awesome. For all the really stupid boring as all fuck and really just stupid idea startups out there, there are some people doing very very nice things very very well. One of those simple ideas that is beautifully done and feels meaningful. Like, it improves the world. I aspire to that.
A few things that you mentioned reminded me of other things. I'm sure you have something different in mind for The Dropbox Idea, but it reminded me of this: For the conference idea, yeah, totally. The conference scene has gotten weird. There's so many of them, they all overlap content-wise, and most are mediocre at best. I haven't paid to go to attend conference (and I don't even mean with my own money) since, ummm, shit...one of the IxDA conferences maybe. I pretty much stopped applying to speak at conferences since SxSW that one year, and now I only accept invites if it pays well and/or is in an interesting location. I like to think that "interesting conference" is part of that criteria, but that's the problem, I don't know which one(s) are interesting. And there's too many spend time figuring that out (I have some hope for Gel, Build and Webstock). The last conference that I think I really got a serious charge out of was Foo Camp, which was unconference style and everybody there was at least 10x smarter than me (I'm not being modest). I think you'd easily find people willing to travel for something small, intimate, with good people. Design Engaged was basically that. Combine the actually good part of conferences (talking with people you like about interesting stuff) and make that the point, and that's an enjoyable experience. Look at this list of people: You'll probably recognize them. They are all friends, doing well, supporting each other, engaged in constant interesting conversations and benefitting from each others success. (that last bit isn't the point, but is a nice byproduct). There's also the Clearleft Hack Farm (). Get together with smart people you know/like and build a thing in a week.
The no share site...yeah, definitely an interesting experiment.
As for investing in your brain, yeah, totally. I mean, I like to think that I have been already, and you to my mine. I'm happy to keep investing in your projects. I like the idea of having a personal board of advisors. (takes life coaching to a whole new level..) Voting on your projects would be fun. But you should get something out of it other than advice...at the very least, personal connections that might help projects, and then people from "the board" actually stepping in and working on some of the projects.
Which gets to side collaborators, yes. I think a lot of us want that. But its hard to know when / who to ask. And what to work on? We all have different interests for side projects, but in terms of what to work on, where to take it, what to do with it. Yeah, we're all busy, but lots of us do things on the side anyway, and I think working with others is motivating. There is the ebbs and flows of personal life that will get in the way, but I think that can be accounted for. The main thing is getting to a shared goal, and mutual passion. The thing I always struggle with, and maybe shouldn't, is I feel my very limited building skills don't make me an interesting collaborator for most things. My strength is working with teams, process, vision...hand wavy stuff
Drift Deck. Oh man, Drift Deck. Yeah.
Marin and SF are amazing. We're really enjoying it here. It is expensive...money is a regular conversation. But, you get a lot for it. I feel like I'm seeing the tech world from an angle that I never had before in all my years, and really wish I had. Anything does feel possible here. There's a lot of stupid shit too, but there's an amazing energy.
Sooo....Im not sure how to bring this email to a proper close. I think the point of your email was about collaboration. Or about ideas. Maybe both. I'm not sure if you're asking me specifically about collaborating, or about ideas for how to go about that. Either way, I'm happy to bounce ideas back and forth. Maybe we need to send each other an ideas open kimono mail where we both just list out all the things we have in our heads that might otherwise never make their way in to this world without support and a nudge.
(Jon to Mike)
I never get insomnia, but last night was absolutely awful. I sent pathetic emails to friends, and wrote a long and sad poem to myself to clear my head. It was like how I fell apart at SxSW on the escalator a few years back. Sexy.
As for what my email was aiming at - I think there's the product and the process. Right now I'm looking at the factory, thinking "I bet I could make a better factory. And with that factory, I bet amazing things would emerge." Versus "I have this product I want to make. Guess I gotta build a factory".
I want to figure out how to connect creative people in a better way. None of the existing things I've seen have really touched on it in the way I'm envisioning. And if they were connected better, amazing things would emerge, and maybe I wouldn't have stupid nights like I did last night.
Liked your email a lot. I'll write more later.
(Mike to Jon)
woah, dude, everything alright?
I like the "build a better factory" thinking. Heads up: I will be stealing that metaphor.
(Jon to Mike)
Not ok but thanks for asking. No idea what to say. I'll feel better soon.
Enjoy my metaphor. I'm a metaphor factory.
(Mike to Jon)
Let me know if you want to talk. Or not. Either way, hope you're feeling better soon
(Jon to Mike)
So here's an interesting litmus test. Do I post this email thread?
(this is assuming you're ok with your half being posted, of course)
We started with two emails of a ton of design thinking (designdare fodder!) and then I hit a rough spot. My gut says, for a lot of reasons, that I should post the whole thread, not just the first parts. Here's why:
I was talking to Charlotte and the phrase I used earlier is feeling more and more fitting. I want to creatively fall in love. (and not for the first or last time, either)
That really encapsulates it. The original question of community, why I was bummed out, why I should post this email. No one snaps their fingers and falls in love, of course. But you can put yourself in situations where connections are more or less likely. You can hang out at the club, or your can go somewhere quiet and have a heart to heart.
Right now the web is like a club meets a tabloid meets a flamewar. The intimacy feels leeched from most sites. I want a real connection, with real people, about real things. And being real is scary, because it means you're sharing everything, not just the perfectly posed shot of the perfect meal you had at the perfect night with your most photogenic friends.
We can publish anything, but we're choosing the most sanitized stuff.
So that's my design challenge for building a community, the kind I'd care to be a part of. How can I design a place where people can (creatively) fall in love? Not just for me (which is part of why I was bummed out) but for anyone who's looking for the same thing.
I read a series of design manifestos, the most famous and groundbreaking ones, in a book a few years ago. Gosh it was boring.
Here's basically how it went: "Our forefathers have gotten lazy. Their designs are x and we must now do y with all our might." Then the next design manifesto would say "There was a time when Y was relevant. That time has passed. We must drive forward with X for the good of all of mankind."
Back and forth. Back and forth. Sometimes a Z managed to squeeze in, but overall it's just a bunch of kids laying claim to their generation's vision while calling the previous generations lame. It's been like this for years.
So I've been thinking about the skeumorphism versus Metro spectrum. Or I guess now we call it flat. I personally think it's a no-brainer that cowboy leather in Find My Friends is gratiutious. Not that it affects usability, but it doesn't help it either. It's just sort of dumb.
I also believe that interfaces benefit from things like buttons looking like buttons. Hover states. Mousedown (or keydown) states. Chrome being separated from the content, blah blah blah. I don't believe (nor does anyone) that interfaces should just be text on a page with no hierarchy. And it's clear that a strong Metro design fights with one hand behind its back because now you have to make things clear (like what is tappable) without the obvious cues of other systems.
But I want to talk about something slightly off this flat vs skeu spectrum. The evolution of what we used to call "grunge" design. With a bit of emergent design. Here's what I've been thinking:
Leather versus flat both lead us to everything looking the same. Either everyone has leatherBG.png or everyone has #000 in a rect. But it's the same, same, same. And even if grunge design was popular again, it'd still just be weatheredBG.png. Same, same, same. It's all placing graphics around content areas. I wonder if there's a way to make everyone's software experience a little different, like handmade goods.
About seven years ago I tried an experiement with transparent gifs and text. The gifs were little scrapes and specks that, when placed over text, made the text look weathered. So that's something.
About ten years ago, there was a BBC website where the navigation was done with blocks of color, sort of like the Windows Phone start screen. What was neat was that the shades of color actually changed the more you clicked the links.
So let's say one said gardening, another said politics, and a third said business. If you're a big gardener, that tile would subtly get darker over time, because of all the times you clicked it. And maybe you clicked into business a handful of times, but not many. Whereas you never looked at business. Those tiles would be represented by three different colors.
Which is such an incredible idea. Not just because it's different, but because it's leading your eye back to the things you find the most value in.
Also, I'm sort of tired of the grid. Just like web designers used to measure their manhood by how few tables they had (while ignoring the fact that they were still in tag soup with divs 80 levels deep), I feel like now everyone grabs a custom font, throws it on a grid, and calls it a day. It's fantastic at showing how mass produced your pages are. On the other hand, it makes you look mass produced. Which isn't always best.
I've been experimenting with how you make a CMS make each page look handmade. And maybe that means slightly falling off the grid. Not in a sloppy way, in a "this wasn't mass produced by robots" way.
Hopefully in a way that feels authentic and artisan. Not just as a cheesy visual layer, but something that feels truly built for you in that moment. Less leather.png, more handcrafted as a design goal.
It's fun to think about.
(Jon to Bill and Lukas)
is a way to upload a Word document and have Amazon turn it into an actual book. And of course Kindle's an option too.
I think I'm going to combine Fuck Jetpacks and For 100 Of Our Closest Friends into a single book. A year of design essays.
Lukas, then you can be a published author!
(Lukas to Jon)
I think I'm going to combine Fuck Jetpacks and For 100 Of Our Closest Friends into a single book. A year of design essays.
Lukas, then you can be a published author!
Well, that was the last entry on my bucket list. I'm done!
(Bill to Jon and Lukas)
My big idea if Momo Pax ever ships a video game is to offer it for free, but make a fan book for collectors and sell that. That idea is getting more and more feasible.
You read a lot of comics, and have your favorites, and buy physical comic books, and so on and so forth. So compared to you, my knowledge of comics (especially online comics) is basically nil.
I go to Penny Arcade about once a month to see what they're up to, I had my own comic for a decade, updated on average every 3 months. Or probably even less. Though I'm considering bringing it back. Maybe.
But I'd like to talk about how basically every comic site is broken to me. I'm getting into Amy's comics from Strip Search [ed. the Penny Arcade reality show for aspiring cartoonists] and it's reminding me how broken I think they are. I have ideas for fixing them. We may have talked about this before, but here we go again :)
It should be so incredibly easy to go forward and backward. Not cutsy little graphic links below the fold, I'm talking "mash your finger anywhere on this side of the screen and you go forward, anywhere on the other side and you go back. Always".
Responsive is waaaaaay overhyped in my opinion. Should sites know what device you're on? Yes. Is it better to target three stylesheets rather than three different pages? Of course. Is it better to target three screen types rather than letting everything be super liquid and hard to read? No question.
But dang, it's like it's turned into a new religion. For many sites, it really doesn't matter that much. It's nice to apsire to, but it's not like you're a bad human if you don't support it.
That said ... comic sites should be first in line on the responsive bandwagon. Reading online comics on a phone (still, even in 2013) is such a pain. Why? Because they're mostly targeted to big screens. So your flow goes like this:
1) Page loads (more on this in a moment) 2) Pinch and zoom into comic, maybe pan 3) Ok, comic read. Now find the forward button 4) Found the forward button! Zoom more to make sure it's big enough, then tap it. 5) Next page loads at 100%, no zoom. Repeat from #2.
Laaaaame. Comic sites need to be responsive. In almost every case.
One of the biggest leaps forward in HTML5 is one of the most ignored - local databases. When I'm on comic #1, comic #2 and #3 should load in the background. When I hit the forward button, comic #2 should magically appear and #4 should get cached.
Imagine if comics loaded as quickly as you could read them. Mmmm, heavenly. But I haven't seen anyone pull this off, certainly not on mobile.
The collage effect
People overuse the word "brand". Everything's branding, blah blah blah. But I gotta say - when I hit a site with a comic and there are baubles and gadgets and third party commenting engines and craziness scattered all around it like an awkward collage, I notice.
I'd love to see a beautiful comic where every pixel is considered. Where the whole effect is beautiful. It'd make me like the comic more.
(Jon to Mark and Brady)
Designers' Salaries Across The U.S. http://zite.to/YtLKMK
Check this out:
"In the median and 75th percentiles, those with a high school diploma earned more than those with Bachelor’s degrees."
As someone with a shit degree but outpacing most of my friends, here's my theory: because schools lag behind industry developments, it's people that treat UX as a trade that are doing better than people who are simply book smart.
If you're designing and learning on the side, you'll beat someone who's been spoonfed old techniques by profs that don't have industry jobs. Regardless of degree.
(this will change when interaction design degrees get better)
(Mark to Jon and Brady)
The full report from Coroflot is interesting (albeit skewed towards the freelance folks by the nature of their audience, in my opinion) and lends to the fact that “resumes” for designers (in the traditional sense) are useless – portfolios are king.
(Jon to Mark and Brady)
I'd take it a step further - I know portfolios are the best we think we have these days, but they lie.
They're dumb static images in a fluid world. They don't explain how well you work with others, or how the project would have been different without you. They're not sensitive to how a shitty shipped graphic can overshadow how amazing your contribution was if only the client hadn't micromanaged at the last minute.
A blurb doesn't do justice to how a talk will work, and a series of static images can't come close to the actual package the designer has to offer. It's like a picture of food.
The resume, it goes without saying, is even worse.
(Brady to Mark and Jon)
Funny. This conversation is something I've thought for a long time. Resumes are nothing but convoluted piles of buzz words. Honestly, you know whether a portfolio is good within the first 10 seconds. You know if you like a person you're interviewing within the first 5 minutes.
Jon, what you said about having a shitty degree is funny. I've always said that a lot of my good friends are all super talented and making way more money than a lot of high-end grads. My friends used to be the ones not studying and out having beers multiple times a week. They ended up going into sales and what not, and they are loaded now. They weren't book smart, but they were amazing at socializing with other people. That is what propelled them forward in life.
(Jon to Mark and Brady)
A sexy portfolio is like a sexy person. You just see it. I agree with that. And it's hard to make the argument that looks don't matter, and that all you care about is someone's personality. Even if you really mean it, you sound like you're trying too hard to seem above sex appeal. And who wants to be above sex appeal?
So yes, some portfolios are hot. And that's not a small thing. BUT.
If we had infinite time to interview people, I think we'd find that the alignment between "hot portfolio" and "I want to work with this person" isn't as strong as we'd hope. I've known plenty of people who can rock a decent portfolio but their design thinking just sucks. Sometimes it's fashion over design. And frankly, a lot of people are visual only and suck at actual interactions in software.
I've also seen clumsy portfolios that wouldn't make it to a phone screen, but if you talked with them, or whiteboarded with them, they'd blow your mind. They'd also buck this design monoculture where everyone can bust out a pretty screen but it's uncommon to see true interaction design leaps forward. I think it's because those don't come from Photoshop ninja skills, they come from a tinkerer/inventor/prototyper's way of thinking. Which often comes from devs. Who don't even have portfolios.
(And this is all without even talking about culture fit, which is a whole other thing.)
I think those first 10 seconds only shows sex appeal, whereas the actual collaboration shows you if you'd want to spend 40 hours a week with this person. And I think our funnels optimize for sex appeal by having us skip over 90% of portfolios without even a phone screen, let alone the chance to get in a room with the person and see how it is to really work with them.
Example: there's no way I'd be hired in the Windows Phone design studio on the sex appeal of my portfolio. I got in because I knew people. And that's sad, because there are more with my potential that even get on our radar. Don't you want more Jon Bells? :)
I think I've figured out my next project! And it's a big one. Basically it's the Unified Theory of Everything with regards to my side projects. It's taken a long time, but I had a bit of an epiphany.
Remember when I drew up all the different projects and storylines on the whiteboard with you and Jared a few years ago? Or the sharedstory project, where I was trying to make a wiki describing all the stories and characters and how they overlapped? I Count Smiles? That "Next Time" piece I did about friends? The "Better" newsletter, the Scott, Rea, and others stuff? Dmitri and the Scientist that was vaguely similar to Being John Malcovich?
(not to mention the secret site I told you about, my old "Everything is Connected" database, my long-running but hidden comics, For 100 of Our Closest Friends, Fuckjetpacks, my dozen Twitter accounts, bouquet, the old version of designdare, etc etc etc. You haven't seen a lot of these, but you do know I make a lot of content. It's all still out there somewhere.)
I've always wanted to combine every side thing into one big thing, one unified story, but I couldn't ever figure out how. I remember at the company meeting you asked me questions about different characters in I Count Smile, and you told me who you liked and who you didn't. And I remember thinking "yes, yes yes. She cares enough to think about the characters and have a favorite. This is amazing. How can I do more of this?"
So then Bill showed me this five minute video last week: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLK7RI_HW-E
The video refers to a concept of "effort justification". If you work hard at something, you appreciate it that much more when you're done. A challenging book, a hard to understand movie that you watch a few times, etc. It's more meaningful because it had depth. And I love that idea. I want to inspire the same thing in others. (while still being accessible of course)
Watching you think through the characters in I Count Smiles and ask questions and want to know more was awesome. It felt great to me as the guy who made it, and you liked it too. Win-win. I want to inspire that in others. More.
So I've been thinking a lot this weekend (and what amazing weather we're having - it's been so nice!) about how I'd pull this off. I've written some code, done some writing, sketched out some plans, and I've got it. I think I finally know how I'm going to combine everything together. New content, recycled content from 15+ years of doing this, borrowed content from other sources, everything.
I think it's going to be a ton of fun to build, and maybe I'll even get some people reading it. And if I'm really lucky, maybe they'll end up loving it. I think I'm going to call it Connection.
(oh, and before you ask: no, this is not the secret project, or designdare. It's a third new project. But they'll all relate together. I like to stay busy :)
Hope you're having a great weekend! Looking forward to lunch on Friday.
(Jon to Charlotte)
So. We talked about travel. You described how walking through a foreign country with a stack of books is cumbersome but trying to do it all via Google isn't great either. Here are some thoughts on that.
You can't really rely on cellular data in another country. Even an American traveling to Canada isn't going to be a big fan of how much it costs.
And so, in my experience, you lean on Wifi hotspots. Which isn't the end of the world, but it's definitely a workaround for a real problem: phones can't rely on network connections.
And of course phones run out of battery. You can't design a solution that assumes you always have power in another country. That's a given.
The stages of travel
Another thing to consider is the stages of travel. I put in some freelance hours helping a travel startup, and we realized there's at least three sections: the prep, the trip itself, and after the trip you want an artifact of it.
I think we could design something that makes all three sections better. Or at least the first two. Let Facebook handle the "afterward" part.
No one just goes to a faraway land without researching first. But just as true, no one does all their research on one site. You've got that email from a friend with recommendations, you've got a dozen different websites representing everything from the tourism board of the country to expedia to wikipedia to a blog post about someone else'e experiences, etc etc etc.
Keeping track of all of it is ridiculous. But it's really necessary for a lot of people to feel like they're going prepared.
Then you get there and you have the aforementioned cellular and battery issues. So. What can we do?
My proposal: the travel shoebox
You should be able to take any webpage, any snippet, any photo, anything at all and send it to one site. Think pinterest but its whole goal in life is to help you travel.
Meaning it's not just posting a beautiful photo. It needs to be pulling out important data, summarizing, double-checking, etc. Imagine this:
You go to a webpage with some important info for your trip. You press a button and whooosh it is saved for you. (again, like pinterest) You repeat this for several days/weeks with all kinds of data. Just go to a site, whoosh, it's saved for you.
Now. When you visit the page storing all this information, it can do all sorts of stuff for you. First and foremost, it can strip away all the crap!
Wouldn't that be nice?
Imagine a totally beautiful dashboard designed for readability and awesomeness where it's taken all these crazy sites from all these different sources, normalized the design into something amazing, and displayed it in a non-crazy way. There could be a map involved. It would be gorgeous.
Now, of course, you'd want the ability to add your own notes, or see the original source, or correct the system in case it didn't capture the right data or whatever.
But the key is that it's organizing everything in one place for you, in a beautiful way. Awesome.
Not everything needs a social aspect, of course. But in this case I think there's something to it. See, you've set up the places you want to go, the things you're interested in, etc etc. But other people will have gone to the same location and maybe they had flagged the same things you wanted to see. So there's an opportunity there to see what they "pinned", for lack of a better word.
Ads? No. Hell no.
When I'm in another country, I don't have time for a crappy mobile experience, and I super duper do not have time for ads all over my experience. This should be a website with zero ads, ever, no matter what, period. Ads aren't just a slight annoyance, in a travel scenario they're a huge drawback.
So no ads. Meaning the service would make you pay. And it would be worth it.
(I am amazed at how many people forget to put a price tag on their services. The world isn't free. Things are worth things. Charge money. You don't want freeloaders anyway, they're shitty customers, because by definition they're not customers at all.)
Total Offline Mode
Very few people know this, but HTML5 lets you download data so when you're not online everything still works.
Imagine going to gmail.com, even with no internet access, and having it work! Obviously you wouldn't be able to send or receive email, but you'd be able to go through past mail, compose new messages, etc.
So. Now aim that technology at this. You'd stuff everything away in your travel-oriented Pinterest board, and then even in another country, with no internet access, you'd point your browser at the site AND IT WOULD STILL LOAD ALL YOUR STUFF.
WHAAAAAA? Yeah, it's possible. And no one seems to realize it. It's a revolutionary technology and we're all running around geeking out about putting Segway-esque tech on our face. (Google Glass, I'm looking at you)
The last step in the plan is the ability to print high quality and beautiful iteneraries. So everything available on your phone can also be printed out into easily foldable, easily annotatable, easily accessible (even when you're away from a power source) paper.
You'd be able to download yourself, or maybe order higher quality versions through the website. Maybe printed on waterproof thin sheets of plasticy paper or something?
So. That's my thinking around that.
Hope your day went well! And have a great time this weekend! Sounds like it'll be a lot of fun :)
(Jon to Ann)
Hello! Hope you had a good week :) I have an idea.
If you designed two little sensors to beep when they came close to each other, and you came to recognize the beeps as comforting, some interesting things open up.
Let's say you put a little sticker on your wallet, so when you walk out your front door it beeps. (or chimes, or clicks, or whatever sound is comforting rather than annoying) Then you become acclimated to the idea that "I walk out the door and if I'm good to go, I hear a comforting sound".
Then some lovely things open up - it doesn't just have to be one thing. What if you put the little sticker on your wallet, keys, and phone? Now the beep only happens if all three are on your person at the same time. Ah ha!
Now, it's a lot more obvious to do the sound if something is wrong rather than something being right. But a beep only when you're missing your wallet means you need a sensor on your body that can compare against your inventory. Too hard. So you go the other way and go with the Comforting Beep. (tm)
You could also make it time sensitive. When you arrive at the foot of your bed after a long day, you get a Comforting Beep(tm) as long as you've visited the back door (presumably you locked it) in the last 30 minutes. Or maybe back door + bathroom, so you only get the beep if you brushed your teeth.
There are two big design challenges I can think of: one, it can't ever make you break stride. I'm not going to stop at my door and fiddle with the system to get the beep. It's gotta be automatic.
Two, as I mentioned before, the sound can't be lame. If it's annoying, you'll turn it off. Maybe it chimes your smart phone? Buzzes it? Maybe it lights up a little LED light you've affixed on the doorframe?
So that's the idea. Better living through Comforting Confirmation Beeps/Buzzes/Lights/whatever. I think there are a lot of uses for them.
I'm in a little company shuttle right now, and I heard them talk over the radio about me:
"Shuttle 789, are you going to pick up at Studio H?" "Just did, now en route"
It got me thinking about visualizing this data. Obviously at a high level, the dispatcher should have a map that shows everyone's current location. She should never have to ask where anyone is. That's the easy part.
But I then I was thinking more about how the design would look. The obvious design is basically Google Maps with dots on it for each shuttle, and they'd be moving around campus. You'd click on one to see more information about the shuttle. And that would be fine. But.
What if we show more information all at once? What if you could put starting point, destination, and current location together? What if you could overlay how late a shuttle is?
Well, the starting and ending points could be dots. And the line between the two points could be 1/5th the size of the road. (and btw, the map should be a vectorized abstraction, not a cluttery satellite image) This means up to five shuttles en route to the same location can all be seen discreet from each other.
Ok, so you have these start/end dots all around campus and the connecting lines between them. Great. Now, how can we show lateness? A few ways:
And maybe this only happens when you mouse over or tap on them. Although on a tablet you can't mouse over so you'd need some good touch targets somewhere. Hm.
So we should remember what we're trying to solve here. A dispatcher doesn't care that something is late. Not that much anyway.
In fact, she may not even care where the cars are on the campus. What's the primary thing she wants to know? How far away from a pickup, and how slow the drop-off is happening.
If the pick-up is slow, or stalled, or whatever, she can dispatch someone new. And I guess she doesn't care how slow the drop-off is happening ... she just wants to know when she can use shuttle 789 again.
So it's really down to two things, then:
So I guess location does matter. But not physical location, just distance from target. She wants to know how many cars are within a 3 minute radius from where she needs one. That's it. The rest are just details that are less important.
So imagine this as a design:
She is shown two colors, one for "currently available" and one for "currently busy". When she sees she needs someone to pick up at Studio H, she's shown a simple list. The list should mix available and busy shuttles with an estimate how long it will take to arrive.
Obviously an estimate of 8 minutes from a busy shuttle isn't as trustworthy as an estimate of 8 minutes from a free shuttle. But that's a value judgement she can make herself. The visualization should just give her the data.
Which makes me think she does want a map. So she can say "oh, that route is bad this time of day, I don't trust that estimate" or whatever.
There's a long email about considering the design of Just In Time Shuttle Delivery.
(Mark to Jon)
It bills itself as "an invite-only publishing network focusing on design". For some reason I found this particularly frustrating. *
Then I realized there's a whole spectrum of these sorts of sites (Medium, Branch, Svbtle, Dribbble, etc – not to mention the countless attempts that have come/gone.). On the one hand you have the pursuit of quality content, on the other you have exclusivity. Now the interesting bit is why/how design discussions happen successfully (albeit tersely) on Twitter. Twitter isn't trying to be a destination to "Host great conversations." –Branch or a place to "Share ideas and experiences [that] move humanity forward." –Medium. Twitter is simply a platform for communication (or rather a way to "Find out what's happening… with [what] you care about" – Twitter).**
Are these networks sabotaging themselves by limiting exclusivity? No, probably not, there will always be a niche audience for any community. But can truly great design discussions happen in a bubble? (or as The Guild flagrantly puts it, "Design. Reimagined."). Is this a product the design world truly lacks? Were the great designers of our past yearning for a secret society of design? I'm guessing not. J
* It might have been, in part, because I came to it through one of the young designers of the site, who wrote a fairly troll-some blog post on design trends: http://amont.me/post/44658036710/why-flat-design-will-never-rule-the-internet
** I'm quite happy with the quality content on sites like Medium, there's some great storytelling on there. But what's more impressive is its ability to level the playing field – a simple, limited design template, where the content is king (sounds familiar…).
(Jon to Mark)
Interesting, you've combined two things that I have somewhat contradictory opinions on.
On one hand, we're all designers. Everyone can cook. The high priests of design care more about feeling special than great design, or they'd be more willing to share, to teach, and get off their high horse. There's no "design gene". And it's not as based on talent as we think, it's based on hard work, which can be taught. Designers need to calm down a little. It's not a black art or special mystery. It's just some knowledge and hard work, like being a plumber. Period.
On the other hand, people ruin crowds. You and I talking? Great. You, me, and Jared? Great. But somewhere between that and a Facebook news feed, something is lost. And not just "something", everything.
Intimacy, by design, doesn't scale. So whether it was me sitting up before bedtime last night savoring the silence in my bedroom, or the chat I had with my wife before that, or the small team meeting a few hours before that ... none would have been made better with MOAR. It goes without saying, but it bears repeating when we think of internet businesses ... they're all made worse. Significantly so.
So I don't like "invite only" if the motivation is "you're dumb". But I love "invite only" if the motivation is "let's keep this special". And I think that' been the case with all the sites you've mentioned.
Though I'm sure there's some genius out there right now that thinks Medium is blowing up because of exclusivity rather than strong writing. And, of course, they are wrong.
(Mark to Jon)
Agreed. And I thought this was especially thought-provoking:
"... Somewhere between that and a Facebook news feed, something is lost. And not just "something", everything."
Twitter has the ability to serve both 1-to-1 and 1-to-many conversations (debatably well). It's old school internet, a massive internet chat room -- broadcast your thoughts and filter out "what matters." Sites like Medium are equally old school but in a more non-immediate way, like message boards and newsletters. Both serve their purpose but the chat room, as the lowest common denominator/experience, tends to be the communication catch-all (which makes Twitter such a fascinating case...)
Is it possible to blend the two? Sure, sorta. But as you've pointed out, you'll be hard pressed to find a situation where that blend would enhance your experience. These long-form publishing networks have a purpose, the ones that will withstand these early phases are (as you've said) the ones that understand their audience's desire for quality content.
Yet, if a platform (be it a whiteboard or Twitter) can strike the right signal/noise ratio, great things will happen. And I think it's especially true when anyone (willing to put in the effort) is able to contribute.
(Jon to Mark)
Yeah, I agree with that. Personally, I think Medium is basically perfect and Twitter is basically perfect. One is essays, the other is chat.
And something I'm seeing in a big way is that demand for content has never been this high. Make something in 1995 and want to get publicity? Hope that the mainstream media covers you. Make something in 2013 and want to get publicity? Be as awesome as possible and the virtuous cycle of retweeting might kick in.
It's not easy, per se ... but getting 100,000 people talking about your work is probably a thousand times easier today than 15 years ago. Twitter and things like Medium are in a wonderful symbiotic relationship.
(and even if your goal is 100 readers a day, a goal I set for myself in 1998, even that was really hard back then! Today that's one "Top Ten Reasons Why Facebook Apple Google Controversy Linkbait" tweet away.)
(Jon to Bill, Mike, and Lukas)
Ok! So Bill is in, Lukas is in, and Mike hasn't responded yet. Yesterday I went on a long walk at sunset to Greenlake and had a bunch of ideas. Here are some.
Sarah wants to do all the logistics. She loves this sort of thing. She's currently dreaming up how this would work best from a details standpoint.
Mass Produced versus Handmade
Most conferences are pretty straight-forward. You get famous speakers to act as the draw, then you publicize it, put a price tag on it, and hope to come out profitable. There's nothing wrong with this approach - you're trying to sell out the event, so you target your demographic so they'll come.
But what if you didn't have to worry about that angle as much? What if there weren't any speakers in the traditional sense? What if it wasn't "throw a big thing for everyone" but more of a "let's hang out" angle? What if it was handmade? What would that look like?
It's not quite an unconference, where a bunch of people show up and we build the conference from there. It's not quite a retreat, where everyone writes poetry in a yurt and then shares in a communal space. It's not quite sitting around a dinner table talking.
It's sort of a blend of all three. You know how they say the best part of a conference is the hallway conversation between talks/panels? What about three days of that? What if the group was small enough that you knew everyone really well by the end of it?
As you get out of school and get older, it becomes harder to have Significant Life Events with regards to new friends, new experiences, learning, and being inspired about your career. I think this event, done correctly, could touch on that missing piece.
For 20 Of Our Closest Friends
What if it was 16 people plus us, for 20 total? What if instead of taking the first 16 people's money, we had people apply and we chatted with them over Skype beforehand? We wouldn't be doing it to be exclusive, we'd be doing it sort of the way you do seating charts at a wedding. "Oh, this guy would be great to have in the group because he'd have a unique perspective on x" or "Oh, I bet these two would really get along", etc.
I'm not set on this name, though it does touch on what I'd like to do. Other things I thought about that hint at what I'm trying to do are Fuck Jetpacks 2014, Hallway Chat Conf, Seattle Design Retreat, and so on.
You can't whiteboard for 8 hours straight, nor should you. I like the idea that our group of 20 has a design-oriented agenda, but with plenty of downtime. Like we all do design play for the morning ... and then we go have brunch. And then we go on a ferry and take a hike, but over the hike there's some design/creative/whatever activity that we're discussing.
I like having Seattle be the 21st friend. Because most conferences are airport->taxi->hotel->drinks->event->lunch->event->dinner/drinks->taxi->airport. What if there was a conference that wanted to show off its own city more than "there's a great taco truck down the street"? What if it was part of the event?
Because, again, you can't just design all day. Conference burnout is real. And having fun and relaxing is a huge boost to creativity, inspiration, bonding, etc.
Who is this for?
I don't know about the right group to target. Is this for students? Experienced professionals? Somewhere in between? Anything as long as you're not a jerk? I dunno. One thing I'm pretty sure of is I want people who would go out to drinks and still be talking about design/creativity. Nothing against people who have a life outside their jobs, but I want passionate people. I want people who want to learn and grow. I want capital D designers even if they're not famous.
What will they get?
A traditional conference is easy to explain. "There are some great speakers and I will learn about the topic". This is a bit more vague right now. I have faith in the idea that if you get a small number of passionate individuals together and provide some structure for bonding, amazing things can happen. Not just professionally and inspirationally. But maybe even something more.
I like the idea that in 2015 we do it again and the same group of people are invited. Some percentage won't make it, so we open new seats. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but I think that's a beautiful long term vision.
Depth, Not Breadth
They say that friendships, real ones, take a lot of components that just don't exist in modern life for people mid-career. The main one is time. Grabbing a drink every 3 months with someone just isn't the same thing as how you bonded with people in school. They're just two different things, with different results.
You know how sometimes you need to stop talking about a problem in meetings long enough to actually put on your headphones and produce the design? Ideally in one big block of time, with no distractions?
I think there's a similar thing with inspiration, creativity, learning new things, and finding new friends that you know on a deeper level than "I follow him on Twitter". So that's what I want to try to cook up.
So those are my early thoughts.
(Jon to Bill, Mike, and Lukas)
It doesn't have to be for mid-career designers. It could also be a boot camp for developers that want to understand design a bit more, but are tired of the arty design-waving. Much of design can be formalized into morsels for dev-types. I mean, come on. The grid? Visual hierarchy? This is not about your muse, it's about knowing the rules. Devs are great at rules if someone teaches them right.
It could also be for kids (8? 15? I dunno) plus their parents to learn about interaction design. Because today, all anyone knows is "people make games for a living" and "I know this guy really good at Photoshop". There is a severe lack of understanding in the mainstream about the kind of design that means "build stuff" not "render stuff".
I think the key is that with some tweaks to the traditional format, it doesn't have to be "yet another conference". It can be something more meaningful than "we all watched some people in a room together". Much more.
(and if we did the kid model, that's not even a retreat anymore. That's IXD Camp, which is a whole other idea altogether.)
One of my earlier internet heroes is Greg Knauss. Look at how he describes XOXOfest:
Of course, Kottke:
And Anil Dash liveblogged the whole damn thing:
And later on they posted every video:
There's something magical going on there that's inspiring, but I don't want to do exactly the same thing. For one, 400 people is too many for a variety of reasons. But the warm and fuzzies that it was able to inspire are a great bar to aim for. And when you reduce the number of people down to 100, 50, 20, I think finding meaning becomes easier than a big room of people with their noses buried in their phones, as most other conferences are.
I kind of like the idea of going 50/50 men and women. Maybe also 50/50 designer/developer? Either way, in a "we pick the attendees" model, some interesting things become possible that aren't in a traditional "anyone who pays gets to come, meaning people who can afford blowing money on something no one's ever heard of" model.
Continuing that thought: the more obscure the conference (and the faster it sells out) the worse the problem gets, and the less serindipitous the audience becomes. It'd be cool to Kickstart some sponsorship money, so this thing could maybe get some diversity in terms of finances, location, experience in the field, etc.
I was half-jokingly batting around the word "Clique" when I was thinking about how if you get a bunch of passionate people together in an experience where they bond, they're sort of a clique. In a good way!
But passion isn't the same as "we're all the same". In a perfect world, we'd bring together enough of a range to be interesting, but enough overlap to be interesting. Common enough to relate, different enough for everyone to learn something. Steve Jobs referred to the creative process as a rock tumbler - you put ordinary rocks into a machine and run a process and beautiful things emerge out the other side. But it requires everything bumping up against everything else for a while.
So it shouldn't be "we're fighting each other" different. But it also shouldn't be "we're all quoting the same Medium posts at each other" similar either.
It's an overreaction to say phones have no place in a gathering like this. Of course they do. But I like the idea that there are whole chunks of time where dinking on the internet isn't an option. Like while we're working on something, everyone's phones are in a basket. Then there's a quick break where you confirm that nothing's falling apart online. But then back again.
I like the idea that there is an expectation that we're all there, in the room, having fun. Smartphone tinkering is fun, but for something like this it can also be a distraction. For example, when I used to run frogThinks at frog, one of the key points was that no one had their laptops open. There were big chunks of time that were for collaboration, not passive listening while catching up on email. I think that's an important component.
(Jon to Bill, Mike, and Lukas)
designplayseattle.com. Available. Thoughts?
[Note: these conversations have continued and spun off some interesting thinking that I'm not ready to share yet. Stay tuned.]
(Jon to Bill, Ben, Mike, and Lukas)
I haven't written on design dare in a while because I couldn't figure out the best way to combine our "design play" threads and bring in the other ideas it's spawning. So let's talk about something that's not that! And I'm adding Ben.
I want to talk about focused computing.
I've been carrying around a dumb $20 phone. It can't do anything. It can text and call. It technically gets on the internet but I can't even go to URLs of my choosing. It has no email. No camera. It's just a dumb little text/call device.
And I love it.
Yes, it is inconvenient when I want to do more with it. But it's inconvenient the way an addict "needs" a cigarette. It's not like it's affecting my life for the worse, it's just like, "well I guess now I'll have to sit out this entire elevator ride without checking Twitter. Darn."
Which, you know what? I'm ok with that.
Sitting in a restaurant, I've got nothing. I just sit there. I've been carrying around a sketchbook. Well, plus I have my iPad if I'm truly going to sit down and read a book or something. But all those little "snacking" parts of the day? I got nothing.
I've found myself people watching, or reading the backs of menus, or just standing there. And it's interesting, my brain is slowing down. I sometimes zone out and there's literally nothing there. Nothing spinning me in a new direction. Just ... nothing. Or maybe I'm thinking about a project or a meeting, but those are my thoughts, not one inspired by data consumption.
On my laptop, I use "Concentrate" to block everything out. My iPad is great at blocking, though it is way too easy to read a paragraph in a book then be like "I WONDER WHAT'S HAPPENING ON THE INTERNET".
So here's what I want. I want a jailbroken phone that only lets me text, call and web. But the web maybe has a per-day time limit on it. Maybe I'd allow myself 3 apps of my choosing. Maybe they'd have time limits.
The point is that we're so used to saying "I want this device to do everything". That's the default state, and certainly the most marketable. But I want a phone that I have purposely focused down. I want to opt-in to not having any options. Because when I can't use my phone, I feel my brain change, and I like it.
(I'm also more productive in the ways that make me happy. It's not just change for change's sake. It's an improvement on every single metric except the annoyance of not being able to be addicted.)
That's my phone.
I want my computer to default to blocking things. I do this already with /etc/hosts. I want it to go further. I want the computer to make it hard to multi-task too hard. If I get past 8 tabs, too bad, one drops off. Again, you'd never make that default. But I sure as hell am ready to opt in.
"But what if there's something important in that tab?"
"Aren't you afraid you-"
No. My biggest fear is being this addicted to constant tech.
It's like someone who packs for everything. They've got a big ass bag. Personally, I travel really light. Like one backpack for a few days light. Need something? I'll buy it when I land. Or I'll go without. I feel best when I need to really need something, not just making everything as comfortable as possible.
So I want a phone that could technically do "everything" but I focus it down. I want it to feel as useless (and therefore freeing) as my current $20 crap phone.
I want a computer that works the same way. I don't want it to be a blank canvas where everything is possible. I want it to be focused.
And my iPad is pretty great because of the "one screen at a time" thing. But I think I need a way to say "iBooks time is free, but everything else you only get 90 minutes a day" or something.
Focused computing. No one's going to make money off it because it runs counter to capitalism and people's belief that they want everything. But I want it for myself.
(Jon to Lukas)
I've sort of played at this idea before, and thought of it in vague terms. It's been on the tip of my tongue for a while, but I never really wrote it down until now. Until I read this post: https://medium.com/better-humans/d637e74a8378
When you and I wrote For 100 Of Our Closest Friends together, Dropbox was invaluable. I could use it from any OS with equal fidelity, it didn't require tinkering with things on the web, I could see when updates were made, and I didn't have to think about it. I just used a folder, and so did you, and things were good.
It sort of sucked when that directory got erased, but thanks to archiving and rollback, everything was fine.
I don't want to do a typical designdare post where I write about all the ins and outs. I'd rather this one be more of a mystery. But in broad brush strokes, here's what I'm thinking:
I create a Dropbox folder
I share it with whoever is interested
Rules and culture appear organically
... and something interesting happens. I'm gonna do it.
Update: Surprise box is live.
I was in a meeting that wasn't going well and I had sort of an out-of-body experience. The ways the meeting could be improved are exactly the things I can do. But I found myself not taking action.
Later, I wrote an email and kicked off some ideas and now everything's rolling forward again. I'm back in the saddle, the person I usually am when working. But it was that slight gap that gave me pause. I thought "this isn't me!" ... but also "let's see how this pans out".
I was concerned it meant I was losing my interest in my job or my career but I don't think that's it. It's not how it felt. It's that I'm done fighting. I just don't care. In many cases, fighting just isn't worth it.
I've been off Facebook and frequent Twitter for about a year now. I've been using a feature phone for a few months. A few years ago I stopped reading the news. Almost completely. I miss major news stories all the time now. Sure, things still get in. And I still take a look here and there. I used to be the most politically active person I know, and while I'll always vote, I'm really enjoying not getting into every new debate.
I'm done fighting and it feels great.
iOS 7 came out and I missed it. I wasn't on Twitter. I haven't used RSS in years. I'm not on IRC. I belong to these other private sites I haven't been on in years. It's just me. So I had the luxury of seeing iOS 7 my own way. I liked it. I thought there could be some tweaks to the visuals, but it's easily the best mobile OS I've seen.
And then I had to be exposed to the hatred on the internet. Apparently if you like iOS 7 you're a shitty designer. Kay. Whatever dude. I know what I can do.
I've stopped fighting about useless shit. I put my head down. I create. And I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I try to avoid the roving band of retweeters up in arms about the latest outrage. It's all just boring to me now.
I rewired my brain. I used to love debate. And trust me, I still rant and rave like I used to.
But I'm done fighting. If I log onto IRC and someone's being super negative, poof, I'm out. Don't care enough. I don't have time. I have shit to do. I've never been more isolated, happy, out of sync with everyone, and productive.
(Bill to Jon)
I am gradually getting there. I rediscovered the unfollow feature. Guys that I felt obligated to follow because they were popular and important, but who are also abrasive or obnoxious or just jaded, they are gone from my attention. Guys who put all their energy into criticizing and complaining about iOS 7, I look at them and wonder how they can have the time for it. I guess there is always a place for critics, but I don’t feel the need to be one or to follow any. I want to make stuff. I’d rather critique and discuss with you, level-headedly, in person.
The disconnection you’ve made is probably not in my future, but more and more often I prefer to reach for a book or my notebook rather than Twitter.
For a lot of my life I have had a fear of missing out on things. That there was a secret club I wasn’t in on. Maybe there is, but it is a stupid club and it is not worth trying to keep up with. I could put all my effort into trying to be as recognized and followed as one of those jaded guys, but for what reward? I still think back to the time you told me to tweet like myself, rather than trying to build up some kind of public image. So I do, to this day. For people who follow me hoping for elitist design snobbery within 1 minute of the newest topic hitting the web, well, sorry. You’ll hear about Homestuck and Clammbon and how much I like nice people. I’d rather be liked and respected by 100 people who know me personally than by 264,802 Twitter followers.
I also think back to that first time I went to Kinokuniya and didn’t feel longing, but instead felt peaceful. I thought, there is some neat stuff here. Some of it I might discover and get involved in. Most is probably dumb. Some might be cool but I don’t happen across it. That is fine. I’d met Gacharic Spin and 1000say.
I’m gonna see Clammbon in that little room. How can I care about the stupid parts of the internet while knowing that?
There’s your word-heap for today.
(Jon to Bill)
I haven't even read this yet, but can I post this online?
Please don't feel pressure, just curious.
(Bill to Jon)
Also, I just thought of another thought exercise. If I ever need to remind myself of how useless caring about the opinions smeared across the internet, I just think of last.fm pages for music I love. There are always people who struggle to convince the world that a certain band, song, or album is better or worse than another. To me that scene is the ultimate tableau of missing the point and wasting your precious time. BACK TO MAKING THINGS OK
(Jon to Bill)
And I just read your part. So good! Thanks Bill :)
Maybe the internet swung too far the other way.
Early on, it was easy to be anonymous. Everyone made the same joke that the 21 year old woman you thought you were talking to was actually a 60 year old dude. Har har.
But that joke implied that knowing who we're dealing with online is super important, like it would be during a sexual encounter. But I think we discovered that there were places where trust was important and places where it didn't matter as much.
On Ebay, I want to know who you are. On Facebook too. But there are a ton of places where knowing who you are isn't important - I just want you to be respectful.
So you've got the wild mess that is 4chan and youbemom.com on one side, and you've got sites that put your personality and everything you've ever done with that account on wide display, like Google+. Twitter is an interesting middle ground because you don't need to use your real name.
You saw sites like youtube swing from one side to the other. Youtube comments have been awful for years, but now they're tied more to people's real accounts, reducing the amount of bad behavior somewhat. I think this is a success story.
If you took the "it's on dropbox!" novelty away from surprisebox, what would you be left with?
->A site where you sign in with an account, but your account information isn't ever shown.<-
Think about the implications there. By running a site that's still tied to Facebook/Twitter, you have the ability to block trolls and griefers. But if the pages were basically anonymous, you still get some of the same magic.
I've also played around with the idea that sites emulate World of Warcraft servers a bit. Instead of the whole site being a single instance, which causes scaling problems, you could carve groups out into little sections of 100 each. Or 50.
So you'd log in and see the same 100 people you always do, even if the site has 10,000 users. Because some things get better the more people you add, but the other 95% of experiences can get much worse.
You'd also assume that people would check out the site and never return. Happens to everyone. So of your 100 person allotment, you'd have some percentage actively contributing, some percentage actively lurking, and people who didn't log in after a set amount of time would be "recycled" out of the group. They'd still be able to return, they just wouldn't be in the same group anymore.
We've taken for granted that the "greater internet dickwad theory" is true. We've all seen anonymity make people into jerks. But you also lose something when every little thing you do is stuffed into a database with your picture, info, and entire history on the site linked to it.
Neocities is trying to bring back the old web-style expression. Maybe someone needs to bring back the old style of communication too, with enough of a modern twist to reduce the number of dickwads this time around.
(Jon to Bill and Ann)
I remember reading that if you're finding success in meditation, don't talk about it. Which sort of blew my mind.
He continued, saying "you might find yourself getting more and more excited about the changes you're experiencing. Take that excitement and turn it towards yourself." He actively encouraged not spreading the good word.
And speaking of the good word, my dad is religious and taught me Matthew 6:5-6:
"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men....when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret...."
Conservatives aren't a fan of the literal reading of this, because it means that praying in a group is somehow bad. They say he just meant not to show off while praying, just do it. And that's more where I land. I don't think Jesus meant "don't pray" as much as "focus on yourself". You can do that as part of a group, for sure. You can also show off as part of a group.
But that's what I love about introspection. You're there, no one else is, and you lose the ability (and so also the desire) to show off. To do it for the wrong reasons. Meditate or don't. Pray or don't. No one's keeping track but you.
I don't know if it's a book, an essay, a Tweet, a website, a series of posts on Design Dare, or what. But I've realized that I have a whole bunch of tricks for turning down the volume on life, honed after time. Things that work for me.
And I find that the only reason I don't want to share them is because most people that do sort of come off like they want to build a self help empire. HOW I LEARNED TO BE MORE PRODUCTIVE BY BLAH BLAH BLAH AND YOU CAN TOO.
There's also the "different strokes" angle. Just because I did X, Y, and Z doesn't mean it'll work for anyone else. So I don't want to come off like I've figured it all out. I just want to say "hey this worked for me."
And then leave it there. I want to possibly help someone somewhere maybe, with no strings attached. I've figured out a few things about my own brain, and that's all I can claim. But it feels like a nice thing to share in case anyone else could benefit.
But I'm ambivilent. I can just as easily think "take that excitement I have towards finding some measure of quiet in my life ... and re-focus it on myself".
Once someone told me something deep, and I purposely didn't leap to give advice. It was hard for me not to, but it just felt like thin ice, the sort of thing not to push. She asked later if I had an opinion and I told her I was stepping carefully. It's what my intuition told me, so I knew it was right.
She didn't like it. And I hated that I had information that could maybe help her but held back. I hated that she stopped talking to me about that topic. But somewhere deep down I think I was getting better. I don't have to say everything I've learned about everything to everyone.
It's ok, here and there, to just know something, or feel something, or experience something, and hold it entirely to myself. Take that excitement I have about having something to say ... and just listening to the silence instead.
(Jon to the Surprisebox Community)
Some things seem so obvious in hindsight, but they require killing off a sacred cow or two. Apple does this constantly. They killed the floppy disk from the iMac which people confidently declared was a mistake. Same with the Macbook Air and CD-Rom. Same with iPod shuffle that had no screen. On and on. They continue to find fertile new ground creativity because they frankly don't care what came before it.
With iPhone, someone said to Steve "aren't you afraid you're cannibalizing iPod?" and he said "we'd rather cannibalize ourselves than let a competitor do it". It makes so much sense when you put it that way, but almost no companies think that way. They're scared.
Everyone's scared. And I think what you do when you're scared, unsure, lacking confidence, whatever, is to go by the book. And when you go by the book, you get something generic. And when you get something generic, leave out all sorts of ideas and improvements. You close your mind down to what's possible.
When I shut down fuckjetpacks, my dear friend said "don't you want to change the world?" It's a simple equation - change the world means touch a lot of people, touch a lot of people means don't shut down your site.
I realized, nope. That's the standard way of thinking, and there's validity there. But nope. Not for me. My goal isn't to change the world. My goal is to build and publish. I'd rather touch 100 people who care than a million that don't. And like the Jobs quote, it makes sense once you say it out loud, but first you have to shake off the old assumption that of course everyone wants to be large, famous, everywhere.
So let's shake off something else. "Personal branding".
The conventional wisdom (I really hate conventional wisdom; at best it's a shallow understanding of something, but it feels like most of the time it's just flat out misleading) is that brand is great. You see an Apple logo, you'll pay more than a generic logo, so Apple does their best to make sure their logo means something.
And bully for them. They're a business making money.
So now people talk about personal branding, and I get it. You need a portfolio, yeah? You do one thing, then you tie it in with this other thing, and all of the sudden you have fans. "Oh, the guy behind Filepile did a new site? I AM THERE." (this exact thought process happened to me)
And it's not just about fans, it's about selling yourself. You need to be able to say "yes I am good and here is the proof of 12 things I did that are good". Which leads to "hire me".
But no one ever talks about the downside to personal branding, and there is one: fear. Being pigeonholed. You think it's easy being Johnny Depp? No, that guy turned down scripts constantly. He finally, over many years, was able to claim a body of work he was truly proud of. But he's pretty unique in that, most actors take basically whatever. And the most famous ones got there by picking enough summer blockbusters. Not Depp, for a long time he was more indie than not. An artist, not just a guy going for a paycheck. I've followed Depp since the 80s. Love his approach.
So the upside to brand is that people know what to expect so you get more fans. The downside is people expect a certain thing, and it's hard to do what you really want. So let's talk about Madonna and Bowie.
Madonna, Bowie, and other artists that reinvent themselves a lot are doing it with a wink. They're like "look it's still me, but I'm going to pretend for an album to be another person". It's brilliant, because they get a chameleon brand but also get to explore. They're halfway there.
Now take Banksy. I'm reading a book on him now. (side note: street artists hate Banksy because he broke the rules. Which just leads to me, yet again, hating the art community. Movements are straight-jackets powered by stale conventional wisdom. I can't get far enough away from them.) He has this great quote, again, Steve Jobs obvious. He says something like "I didn't get into vandalism to be told what to do". Duh. And yet most street art follows this stupid code that holds the whole thing back. Fuck that.
Banksy is quasi-anonymous. I mean, it's not hard to discover who he is, but he's basically anonymous. And that's part of the fun. But like Bowie and Madonna everyone can trace it back to him. You do a gallery showing, it has 40 Banksy pieces, and there you go. Banksy's personally branded and stands to profit from each one. Bully for him. He's a business, there to make money.
But my favorite part of street art is the idea that it disappears. You see it, then it's gone. Or you don't see it at all, and people have to show you a blurry picture of what it was like. Or even better, the most delicious scenario … no one ever sees it except the person painting over it and some random passersby that don't even know what they saw. No proof, no evidence, just touching (for example) 100 people. But then it stops there. How cool.
I want work that's impermanent. I love to finish sketch books and send them to friends. I write stories that span 5 sketchbooks, given to 5 different people who will never meet. I purposely refuse to tie up my work in a tidy bow, I'd rather scatter ideas all over the place like a mess. I want my work to feel like a stolen kiss in the last minutes of a dance before you have to get back on a bus to get back to your side of the sleepaway camp. Things are so much sweeter when it's fleeting.
And as the guy building this stuff, it means no fear. It's best when I can do whatever I want. Write a play, do standup (I recently did spoken word at the Moth, that was awesome), re-start my comic, do a mystery novel, whatever.
JK Rowling was recently discovered writing under a pen name. I know exactly where she's coming from. And then it occurred to me: I want every project to be under a different pseudonym. That's perfect.
I get to start completely fresh each time. No one can love my a design essays and then expresses frustration that I'm writing, I dunno, a children's book. Because the children's book is a debut by Samuel Whifflebottom. It's not me.
That's the epiphany I came to. Everyone assumes everything should tie back to one person, because personal brand blah blah blah. Fuck personal brand. I just want to create. I don't want to be told what I can or cannot do. I don't just want a pen name, I want throwaway names for everything I do.
And I've already been doing it for years.
Dear Jon, all this is really touching and is very important for me. I'm happy that I was lucky enough to jump into this "100 friends" train.
I think this is all about freedom. When you are making things for general public, there's always a moment then you start feeling this physical pressure of your followers' anticipations. Suddenly you find yourself not developing your blog/portfolio/whatever, but working FOR this thing, as if you had a job. You become a slave of your own image, although this type of slavery can be relatively pleasant.
This may be not bad, but it misses the point. Misses something crucial, may be even the very essence of human being. Strolls a person away from the most important search in life, from the path to self.
Most precious discoveries lie far away from public places. Like the rays of the setting sun, like these disappearing street drawings, most beautiful inspirations are elusive and subtle. To share them, one has to keep this subtlety, breathe freely, ignore constraints and expectations.
And for sure, you can share this only with those who listen.
I have a design essay that I've been trying to write for a year, tentatively called "Meaning Is The New Black". Writing this little thing in the morning and getting a response is definitely more meaningful than "SO AND SO HAS FAVORITED YOUR TWEET".
You are my arch-nemesis.
Wait, that didn't come out right. What I meant to say, is…
I hang on to everything. If I were a 60-year-old-inventor, my workbench would play host to a fascinating array of gadgets and half-deconstructed-widgets (and junk. Lots of junk).
Since I'm not that 60-year-old-inventor, but rather an 'aspiring' UI designer, I hang on to any kind of screenshot that can serve as inspiration, as well as just any other file that can fit into some kind of bin (be it nostalgia, or "I Like This Experiment!", what have you).
Letting go of anything is hard for me. Be it digital or physical (digital is much hard to part with, because it has such a low consequence for hording).
I begrudgingly acknowledge that letting go of past designs, past files, past * helps tremendously in becoming a better designer.
Maybe one of the best things to help other designers (hell, even other netizens) would be learning how to let go of anything that once had value. You seem to have learned that lesson up and down — How do you do it?
[insert Cherry Tree lesson part 2]
It didn't come naturally to me, it was like growing a muscle, where the more I did it the better it was.
Take a trash bag and promise yourself to fill it this weekend. Not normal trash, but things that could conceivably stick around for years. Fill the bag and throw it away. That's exercise one. Then, next weekend, do it again. In my experience it's extremely hard but it feels good enough that you keep it up.
(Jon to the Design Play Seattle mailing list)
It turns out it's really hard to pick just 20 people, and I'm sorry to announce that Design Play Seattle has filled its allocated spots.
This is the first year I'm trying this, and I've learned a lot. I can only imagine how much I'll have learned by the time it happens next year. It's my goal to sort of step into the background and hopefully Design Play events can spring up in other places. And that's where you come in.
Please let me know if you'd like to be added to a special mailing list for Design Play thinking/planning. The actual attendees are going to be kept in the dark about almost everything, but I think it'd be cool for you to follow along, share your ideas, hear what's working and what isn't, etc.
My hope is a) you'll help Design Play be awesome as an outside consultant and b) that the idea will spread beyond Seattle, beyond me, and be its own thing. And to do that I'd need your help.
Really sorry we ran out of space. For the record, it's not like we did a stackranking of coolness and you weren't cool enough. I had a certain demographic makeup that I was looking for. Mostly I was concerned that everyone would be an male interaction designer working with software. So the closer to that criteria you are, the more weighted the ranking was against you.
Thanks again, sorry it didn't work out, but please tell me if you'd like to help make Design Play a success. I'd love your input.
(A Surpriseboxer wrote...)
Here's a handful of thoughts about the state of human–music interaction.
Let's say you want to start making music. Maybe you're tempted to get a guitar. That's actually a surprisingly bad choice. It would take you several years of sustained effort before you're comfortable making music with your guitar. Until then, all your attention would be focused on the mechanics of playing guitar. It's a road paved with hating the guitar, hating your own fingers, hating whatever song you're trying to play. (youtu.be/9DbUPjEbIvA)
The guitar, like most traditional instruments, is a crappy user interface for music. The achievement of its design is that it's able to make good sounding tones at all, not that it's easy to play. As a guitar player you're forced to adapt your body after the physical requirements of that design.
This is why I'm so excited about computer based interfaces for making music. For the first time in history, we have the potential to design a music interface that works more like the way the human mind already understands music. After all, if you can listen to music, and understand it, you should also have the capacity to express music, given the right music making tools.
But the current crop of "serious" software in this genre is, surprisingly, almost not at all about making music. Instead, these apps are highly intricate sound making toolboxes, and it just so happens that you could choose to arrange those sounds into music, if you know how.
As a user, you need to have an extremely technical approach to your creativity, in two ways: you need to learn how to navigate these complex tools with their alien terminology and antiquated metaphors, and you need to supply the music theory and understanding needed to actually create music, rather than strange noise. This isn't much of an improvement over the guitar.
The problem is that these tools force you to work at the wrong level of abstraction. They supply an abundance of detail-oriented tools for adjusting aspects of the sound that no one (literally) can hear, but there are rarely any tools for working with the musical structures that really matter. In graphics software, we've always had tools for drawing circles, lines, curves, writing text, and inserting other meaningful symbols that are the basic building blocks of almost all visual work. Yet there's nothing like that for working with harmony, melody or rhythm in music apps.
Another big problem is that these tools are typically completely linear. This directly contradicts the way people make and play music outside of the computer: by jamming, experimenting and improvising, repeating things with variation, combining different ideas in unexpected ways. Mistakes and creative dead-ends are usually penalized by these user interfaces. It's as if you're expected to write and arrange the complete song first, then start building it out in the app starting with the intro and moving linearly to the end. Crazy.
This is the most interesting design problem I can think of. I think there's an incredible solution waiting to be discovered.
What an apropos discussion. This week on designdare I wanted to write about something I saw last week. And then lo and behold someone started the discussion already. Neat!
Last week I saw a thing called called EarSketch: http://earsketch.gatech.edu
The site itself is pretty academic, but it was shown by someone who worked on it, and it's really freaking cool. Here's the thing:
If you want to teach code to high school students, you're in for a challenge. If you want to teach code to high school students who aren't geeked about computers, the challenge is larger still. So the standard approach to teach code is to lead with games.
Games! Everyone loves games! It's a relevant cultural touchstone, the great equalizer!
Well, it turns out that's not the case for inner city kids in Atlanta. What this team discovered is that a much more culturally relevant angle is music. Lead with music to reach kids and get them interested in code. It's simple, but what an amazing insight!
And think about it - it takes a fair amount of fiddling to get code to power a game that has a satisfying end result. For example, if you start with a blank document and a canvas, the best you can do is something like:
... and then you'd compile that and watch a dude walk across the screen. Ok, that's all well and good, but building all the systems and constructs to make an actual, honest-to-goodness GAME can actually feel kind of intense.
Also, a computer-geek type person may see the dude walking across the screen and think "wow imagine what I can do with this little bit of knowledge!" ... but most people wouldn't. They'd see a guy walking across the stage and think "well that was sort of boring".
Now compare this to a line of code that says:
So you hit play on that and what happens? You hear something. Ok, now maybe you add something else and set the tempo:
Boom, you've got a song.
But remember, this class isn't about music. It's about learning to write code. So they've built this brilliant syllabus where they met with the compsci school and the music school and found a way to take musical concepts and use them as a way to address all sorts of code concepts. This is awesome.
And remember, every step of the way, you're able to hear actual music coming out of your actual speakers. They hooked up with Jay-Z's producer to make sure the loops are awesome, too. Nice touch.
So while I was watching this presentation, I was thinking about the traditional "drag and drop" approach of ACID, ProTools, Garage Band, etc. It encourages "painting" layers on top of each other. It leads to a certain kind of music making. But I agree, it's almost like the song should already be done before you start using the software.
But what about using a command line instead? What about code? What about telling the code:
hey I want the tempo to be 130
and I'd like the song to last 3 minutes long
fade in the first 8 seconds and
fade out the last 15 seconds
So the main song is in C
But the chorus will change to A
... and so on. I feel like you could get the scaffolding of a song in a totally different way than we're used to with this linear stuff. You're sort of describing the vision for the song before diving into the specifics of it. I think there are enormous implications here.
And as was mentioned above, there's a huge opportunity for harmony, melody, and rhythm to be treated the way Photoshop treats elemental shapes in graphic design. With our without my code idea. It's all sort of tackling the problem from a different direction, which will lead to different creative results, which is awesome.
This got me thinking of the good old command line. The pendulum has swung way too far towards buttons, in my opinion. Take something like Photoshop or Excel. Millions of features and properties and things you can do and blah blah blah and we decided to put everything behind a tiny little icon and hope for the best. Augh. Professional apps are such a pain.
I'm not saying you should have to learn scripting to learn Photoshop. I'm not saying everyone wants a command line everywhere. But I do think people consider their tasks in plain English, and all this button mashing makes you think like a robot, not like a person.
I want to be in Photoshop and be able to say "Export all documents as png". There are three things there. Export is the verb. All documents is the scope. As PNG are the options. Think about the complexity of that command today. We're making people think in terms of buttons, not in terms of task completion.
On my phone, I want to "Move all applications I haven't run in six months into a new folder", presumably to delete. That's like space age voodoo magic shit right there. But it's a real case! People would totally do that.
In iTunes, I want to "Play a mix of new music". Sure, you can get to that today by thinking like a damn robot. But there's this whole conversion between the very common human need "new music please" and actually making a smart playlist that's sorted based on year.
I want to say to the Finder "all files in this directory should rotate 90 degrees". It's possible if I know Automator or Applescript, but we're thinking like geeks instead of humans.
And I think it ties in with this music thing. We keep thinking like software engineers, not humans.
Voice control is bullshit. Always will be. It's an awful affordance. You don't know what's possible, it's constantly mis-understanding you, blah blah blah. I'm afraid we're going to have to wait for the baby boomers to die off before we get past this Star Trek vision of the future. It's myopic.
I don't want to string together a series of things just to have it probably fail. Instead, I want to see the commands I can do, in plain text. (not hidden behind a dumb icon). So imagine I'm in Photoshop and I just type "Rotate" into some sort of command line.
No reason for Siri to say "I didn't quite catch that" or "Do you want me to search the web?" or do the phone tree thing: "I heard you say rotate, now tell me what you want to rotate". No, it should be like auto-complete on Google.
So I type Rotate and it somehow tells me I've typed a valid verb. Great. Next I see "All documents", "this document", or any other options. I pick "all documents" and then it autocompletes the next bit: "90 clockwise", "90 counter-clockwise", etc.
This isn't about asking people to learn code or think like a robot. It's about unlocking pretty powerful (yet useful even for a computer novice) stuff behind plain English auto-completed prompts instead of making people hunt for icons that could possibly get them to their goal.
This wouldn't just help music. It wouldn't just help software. It's how humans should use computers. Even Google is just dumbly returning pages that have the best SEO. No, I want to type "Best rated camera under $99" and know it's actually thinking on my behalf and returning a true answer.
Today it's just ads. We've settled for dumb little icons in software and ads online. One day we'll look back and realize how primitive it all is. Until then, we wait.
(Jon to Ellen)
I was watching kids play at the park yesterday. It was the afternoon of July 4th, so not many people were there. But my son discovered two brothers and another boy, and a game of tag started.
I've always liked tag because I never had trouble catching up to anyone. But for most kids, being made "it" is just frustrating. Everyone fans away from you. You begin jogging towards them and they scatter. You start running faster, picking someone, and everyone else melts behind you . And now, if you're not faster than your chosen target, you sprint for a few fruitless seconds before realizing you can't catch up.
So your sprint slows to a halfhearted jog. Then you start again, except now you're more tired and the next person you choose to hunt has had more time to rest. So your chances are even worse this time around.
This is a horrible design. It's like the worst parts of capitalism distilled into a playground game. The slow start with a disadvantage that gets worse and worse.
The game is easily fixed. Choose two people to be "it", and when the team tags someone, the person who's been on the team longest gets to come off the team.
In a three player game, it means the "it" team outnumbers the hunted person, so turnover happens quickly. Same with four players - there's little room for downtime.
But even a ten player game works better this way. It sets up a strategy for the "it" team where they're trying to herd the group into a place where they can more easily pick someone off. Just like how packs of animals hunt in nature.
For all I know this is a well-known variation on tag that kids already do. I hope so, because traditional tag could use a redesign.
(Ellen to Jon)
I was self conscious when I opened this - much like how I used to feel while playing tag. Somehow I'd decided you sent it because you knew I'd been bad at tag. Ugh. Tag. I'd still hate to play it now, even.
I like your variant - although I've never played it. I think there are lots of possible ways to make it better. I think adding almost any additional constraint helps - as soon as you do that it becomes about multiple skills, and not just about running.
One we played on my playground was something along the lines of "lava tag." You could only play on the metal parts of the play structure, and not walk on the basic wood platforms that people usually did. This way it wasn't about running - more about strategizing where in the play structure to be, balance, and calculating how far you could possible jump from one place. Usually, someone would make a bad decision, get stuck, and get tagged. It helped equalize the game.
I also always liked Freeze tag. We'd play with a large group (30+) - so some people were always frozen. It wasn't nearly as shaming to be frozen as it was being "it" in a solo game. You just stood with your hands outstretched and legs in the outwards-jumping-jacks position. Plus, if someone who wasn't frozen crawled under your legs (or tagged your hand, depending on the version), you were unfrozen. It worked because there were always some people who were great at running, but also wanted to unfreeze everyone. I think in this particular version we always started by letting one person choose to be it, or had a small group of people who were it.
That way the game had lots of modes: really hard (being it), hard (trying to unfreeze people), and normal (being someone who wasn't very good at tag, but wasn't always frozen).
I wonder if there are any other systems where the initial one is stressful, but as soon as you add almost any other constraint it becomes a lot less so. I think writing might be one - it's hard to just write. As soon as you get any prompt, it's easier to write, even if you don't write what the prompt says (or write about why the prompt is silly).
Can you think of more?
To go back to Tag, I feel like it's bad to just slam Tag across the board. What if we evaluated it a different way?†
For me, I think there was some value in being bad at tag. There were many other classroom based games I was good at (especially ones involving multiplication). I think tag gave me perspective on what it's like to be bad at something.
Maybe Tag as a game is bad, but Tag as a learning experience is good?
(Jon to Ellen)
Interesting point about how tag and writing can be tough on its own but with a slight modification or variant it can get so much better. The word "gamification" is one everyone's loved to hate for years, but I think it's the core principle here. If you expand game theory from "collect badges" to "keep people engaged", all kinds of things open up.
And yeah, tag isn't as engaging if it's the vanilla version and one person is super slow. But you add lava tag or freeze tag (I totally forgot about freeze tag!) then the quality of the interactions increase, and hurray, now it's more engaging.
I think writing with others is like anything with others. Yawning makes other people yawn. If you laugh, I'm more likely to laugh. Watching someone throw up can make you feel nauseated. And when you see someone charismatic and/or passionate about something, something in us activates. We want to follow. We're tuned for it.
So when you're staring at a blank page, you're stripping everything away. It's just you, and you have to write. It's been demoted to a chore. But then you say "ok, I'm going to write three sentences about Alaska without using the letter I". Or you set up an exercise where I say five words, then you say five words, back and forth ... anything that provides a structure for creativity, things blossom.
At work this week, I pulled all our PMs together for a design play session. Asked everyone to form teams and design something that the design team is currently thinking through. It's pretty tough interaction design work, but I was unsurprised to see teams split off, grab whiteboard space, and dive straight in. And they weren't just doing it, they were clearly deeply engaged/involved. I see the same thing from CEOs to my students at the Art Institute to PMs. Absolutely everyone, without exception, likes being given this kind of activity. It's my secret weapon as a designer that needs to coordinate across multiple teams/PMs/partners/etc.
Afterwards, a PM said to me "I've been here for 12 years, and these activities stand out as my favorite meetings". Which was nice to hear, but unsurprising. Play is built into how we think, how we're motivated, how we interact with people.
I'm really looking forward to Design Play next summer :)
(Jon to Bill and Lukas)
Lots and lots of ink has been spilled about iTunes. I saw you both mentioning things you didn't like about the recent redesign. And before the redesign it was a well-known fact that iTunes was struggling a bit. I agree with a lot of iTunes criticism, but today I want to talk about something a bit different.
And it all has to do with databases.
First, an aside: my absolute favorite thing about design, the reason I leap out of bed in the morning to get to a whiteboard, is that we'll never be done. Not even close. When people say "it's not perfect, but..." I think "duh, welcome to life". You give me an app, I'll use it, think about it, and I'll be able to offer up tweaks to maybe make it slightly better. Always and forever, regardless of version, regardless of how lovingly it was crafted, there's always something can be improved, and there are no absolute right answers, just tradeoffs. I love that.
And the follow-on insight from that is how obvious things look in hindsight. The biggest UX leaps forward in my lifetime all have an "of course" vibe to them. It's like we all struggle with something for years, decades, whatever, and then someone finally fixes it. And we confuse "they addressed a problem" with "that was an easy fix". But it's absolutely not easy to convert an insight into a fix.
Well here's my insight: iTunes keeps showing me Aimee Man and Afro Cuban All Stars. Because it's a database and it's lazily sorting alphabetically. And I really don't like that experience. Sure, I can go through the effort to make a smart playlist that mixes things up somehow, but that's just a single-user hack to get around something that should be addressed at a higher level.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that music selection isn't about always starting with an artist that begins with A. Or to realize that sometimes you're in the mood for mellow, sometimes in the mood for a certain artist, sometimes you're not sure what you want - "just play me something good". Blockbuster studied this and got it right - along the outer wall is the "I dunno, give me something good" promenade. And the internal sections of the store grouped by genre, then alphabetically.
But when I worked at RealNetworks on the video store, this doesn't really work. Why? Because a screen is not a store. The closest comparison would be two massive buttons: CLICK HERE TO BROWSE BECAUSE YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT and CLICK HERE TO LOOK AT GENRE, and then two different experiences. But that's clumsy of course. And remember, just because someone goes to a genre doesn't mean they've toggled from "browse" to "search". Sometimes it's "browse within a genre", or "I forget the name of the movie, but I'm pretty sure the poster had a picture of a boat on it".
So, iTunes. I sit down and I get ready to work, and I have to convert "I dunno, something good" to "No, not Aimee Mann, I guess I'll scroll" to "gah, whatever. I dunno. Wow my library is full of cruft. I guess I'll come up with an artist to type in. Uhhh ... let's see ... ummmm..."
Sure, I end up finding something. But hey, I'm not surprised most people just hit shuffle or let Pandora hit shuffle for them. If you don't like a song you hit the forward button. Much less cognitive strain that the "hey iTunes is just a database, please enter your query, Mr. Roboto".
I want iTunes' default view to be super smart. I want it to factor in the albums I listen to cover-to-cover versus the ones where I skip a lot of tracks. I want it to notice I've been obsessed with Daft Punk's latest, but it was only 4 months ago when I was really into Alt-J. It should know the genres I listen to the most and not bother me with all the strange one-off genre tags I end up with like "Rockabilly Rap" or whatever.
I should load iTunes, get into this view (again, I want it to be the default, but maybe I have to opt-in) and be given a bunch of good ideas about what I might want to play next. It's not genius, it's not radio, it's more like Blockbuster's back wall of yesteryear. It can even factor in things like "in the morning you listen to louder music" or "every Sunday you play Norah Jones". But I don't need to know all the logic behind it.
I just want something that's attempting to be smarter than showing me Aimee Mann every time. And if it guesses poorly, that's fine. I still have a search box, plus A-Z sort, plus playlists, smartplaylists, and radio. But those all require me to be active. They all require me to think of iTunes in a way that isn't comfortable.
I want to say "Show me some good options", and the computer should do the rest.
This is not unique to iTunes. It's what happens when you think about a user experience through the lens of a big database. It's pretty common, but with some new thinking we could make a lot of software more delightful.
(Jon to Lukas)
A few years back I stumbled on the idea that I wanted to give away my sketchbooks. And I gave one to you!
My favorite part of it was that I have an over-arching story I've been writing for almost 20 years, but if I keep scattering the story (for example, writing chapters across 7 sketchbooks that I give to 7 people that don't know each other) then no one can ever piece it together. I find that really fun. Call it Scatter Fiction.
But let's be honest. It's not like if a person found every single piece and stitched them altogether it would, like, create Voltron or something. There's no meaning of life hidden in it. It's just a fun way as an author to keep a larger story going across a bunch of different mediums, over the years, with shared characters. It's why I registered TheSharedStory.com although I took it back down.
Now, typically people want a single body of work in one place so they can point to it when they're old and say "see? I did that." But while that's all fine, I'm more tickled by things that are short term, can get removed, are disjointed, and somehow create some larger body than perhaps anyone will find.
Sometimes I wonder how many Banksy pieces are out there that no one knows are Banksy. And I continue to be convinced that Bill Watterson is producing art under an assumed name.
Now, I Count Bees was a fun idea, and it's coming up on its ten year anniversary. But that was all in the name of a marketing game. Sure, it was crazy and new and people loved it and it's hard to imagine it was actually tied to Microsoft, but at the end of the day it was just another marketing vehicle.
But I've been thinking how I'd scatter a story myself. Sort of like the sketchbooks. I think I've figured it out. There's craigslist, there's (now) neocities, there's tumblr, there's blogger, and on and on and on. There are tons of platforms out there that really want to publish my content. Tons of spots hoping that I come make my digital home there. (geez, not to mention twitter...)
What if I treated each like a graffiti artist treats a wall? What if I tossed up a storyline on craigslist missed connections and it had a particular phrase in it, like "gaslamp mirage" or something. And there are two ways I can go from here. Either "gaslamp mirage" is the phrase I use everywhere I write things, or I come up with some construct where each thing I write can somehow refer to the next.
I assume I can trust Google to cache everything, or almost everything. Right?
And the thing to remember is that I don't care, I can't care, if no one ever finds anything. The fact is, I feel great when I write things. I feel great when I can write without thinking. Just following my intuition wherever. So throwing a continual story up, one piece at a time, across all the giant blank canvases the internet provides to me, and finding some way to tie them together ...
It sounds pretty fun. It reminds me of this great Keith Richards quote:
"People say 'why don't you give it up?' I don't think they quite understand. I'm not doing it just for the money, or for you. I'm doing it for me."
(Jon to Mark)
The other day I heard someone say "if you have multiple browsers open..." and I thought "Ok, Chrome, IE, and Firefox are all open in this example" Nope. She meant "multiple instances of IE", as in multiple windows.
This is a convention that's always blown my mind. On the Mac you launch an app (singular) that can spawn windows (plural) and sometimes a window can have tabs.
And yet I know some people that even think of multiple tabs as "multiple instances of the browser". Which, I dunno, maybe that's technically true... but huh? Total mental model confusion. I'm a crazy Mac user, but I'd be willing to bet an average person who's not skilled up in computers thinks "My browser has two windows open" not "I am running two browsers".
Which got me thinking of Outlook's combination of mail and calendar. (not the same topic but a similar mental model confusion) Which reminded me of "Netscape Communicator" megasuite back in the day, when they went from a browser to trying to cram everything on the web into one bloated package.
Just as I only want a single app for my browser, and a separate one for, I dunno, newsgroups... I think mail and calendar are two different apps that should talk to each other. Period. When you cram the two together, it causes a lot of chrome cruft and context switching and strangeness.
Which is why I love mobile so much. Shipping an app that tries to be a suite just doesn't fly on mobile. If Windows Phone had a single application for calendar and mail, wow. How strange would that be?
And if on Windows Phone, you tapped IE once to launch it, but if you went and launched it again it made a second window, again... wow. That would be straight up wrong. A tap should launch the app. If you really need tabs, make that a construct inside the app.
So. I think it's clear people are going to need professional apps today and in the future. That's not changing. But Apple had it right in 1984. You launch an app. It does one thing as well as it can. There are constructs (windows on desktop, tabs on mobile) to do multiple things at once. And that's it. None of this "multiple instances" or "cram two apps together" business.
We got away with a lot of strange design choices for a long time. But in the small space of mobile, you have to simplify, polish, and aim at your core scenarios. No bloat.
And once you see this kind of mental model clarity that mobile requires, it makes you wonder about the traditional desktop. Remember when Apple put RSS and Notes in the email client? And remember how they took them back out? "Do one thing and do it well" isn't just the future. It was the right answer decades ago, and a lot of software makers just neglected to notice.
(Jon to Dawn)
Hello! I hope you had a wonderful day.
Today I checked on designdare's archives to see how many words I've written there. Tossed everything into InDesign to see how many pages I've written so far.
Well, my new "The Problem With Jetpacks" book has somewhere around 140 pages of content. Designdare is up to about 90 already.
I think I know what my second book is going to be. Although I should probably finish my UXLaunchpad syllabus first. I've already got some people interested.
(Jon to Bill)
Ok, I've cracked it. I think.
The endless ongoing debate about visual design and interaction design tends to hurt feelings. Someone who was trained in the classic way and understands fine art, or print design, or whatever, they're bound to feel a bit burned when people say interaction is more important than visual. Of course.
And on the other hand, we all know that if you're not good with interaction, your software stinks. This is indisputable. Software design is interaction design. And that's my epiphany, in a nut. The nut I have cracked. I think.
Either you're trained for software design or you're not. Either your trained for print design or you're not. You can study up on both, but learning one does very little to prep you to understand the nuances of the other. That's the mistake we keep making - we think someone who loves print design will magically understand software. Nope, no more than someone will be a fine artist because they've made some apps.
Am I saying visuals aren't important? Of course not. They're a vital subset of the overall experience. But let's be clear, they are in fact a subset of software design, whereas in print design they're literally everything. For example, I'm currently working on a concert poster. The entire job is visual design. If I design it well, it's a good poster. If I design it poorly, it's a bad poster. It's just that simple.
But let's say we took that same poster and needed to make it into software, or a website. The exact same visual now has to work on all screen sizes, and download correctly, and work in other languages, or work with screen readers, or do the right thing someone bumps their font size up, but also be buttery smooth if the user decides to scroll the content, and on and on and on.
Visual design is extremely important. But in print design it's everything. In software design it can't be. There's too much other stuff going on.
(Jon to Nikki)
Hi Nikki! I just had a thought about museums. They're pretty awful.
I looked at it, I zoomed in, and it got me thinking about its background. And how it's completely at odds with how I'd experience it in a generic "everyone walks around looking at things behind glass" kind of format.
Now, I grew up in the DC area. (so as a side note, it's hard for me to pay money for museums, doubly so since they're not as good as the Smithsonian ones, but oh well) And the best museums in the area are great because of rarity and volume. Like, "oh, that's the Hope Diamond", and "That's the plane used to break the sound barrier" or whatever. So you can't help but think that's pretty cool because it's stuff you've read about in books, but now it's here.
And it's true that there are a lot of fine museums that do things like little mini-documentaries, and labels that explain things, and little hands-on things, and audio-tours. Those are all great. But I'd like to see them amped up. A lot. I don't want them as the side course, I want them as the main event.
Because imagine if that Russian RAM actually had a story behind it, whether audio, video, or some sort of interaction smartphone thing. That would be so much more awesome than what almost everyone else does: a few steps over. Look at thing. Ignore labels. A few steps over. Look at a thing. Maybe skim a label. Every so often there's something particularly interesting, so you call over a relative. They peer in through the glass. "Neat," they say. "Did you look at this?" Meanwhile the kids are bored and texting their friends in the corner because it's so sterile and boring.
Art galleries, same thing. There's so much more greatness than you can understand walking by big paintings and feeling like it's all an elaborate game that you haven't been invited to.
I'm not saying this is a great idea, but it's a start towards making things feel more inclusive and interesting. What if it was like a sushi boat thing? You sit in a little room and things are brought to you, complete with some sort of compelling story or interactivity. Not that walking is bad, but I like the idea that the group you're in experiences it together.
What if you could request a certain piece/exhibit? What if it was like queuing up items on a jukebox? You request to see early man's hunting tools. I request to see fossils of saber toothed tigers. We both experience both. And each time you're queuing up your next item, you're seeing all the things you have to offer. To go back to the sushi metaphor, it's like you're saying "Hm, I want the uni, but oh hey, look at this, they have mackerel, maybe we'll get that next".
Maybe you don't actually need to see everything? Maybe via a smartphone or touchscreen, you're actually experiencing a lot all by itself. Like a wiki dive, sort of. But sometimes you're like "oh, I wanna see this one", so you order it up.
You'd leave the museum understanding exactly what was in there, seeing exactly the things you wanted, and everything you came in contact with was probably experienced at a deeper level than the standard museum.
And I also like the group aspect of it. When we both see a movie together, we won't be talking much. But we are laughing at the same time, scared at the same time, etc. And afterwards we'll have felt like we experienced the same thing.
But audio tours are odd because if they're done by each individual, you can't experience it at the same time. We may be looking at the same piece, but you're 5 minutes ahead in the audio. No chance for a knowing smirk at a certain part in the recording.
What could we do to make museums more engaging, not just with the exhibits but with those around us?
(Nikki to Jon)
Yes. I like all of these thoughts.
I know someone who would be very interested in this conversation. She works at the Smithsonian Institute - according to her, museology is extremely conservative and entrenched, so it's really hard to make changes. She's leaning really hard on that particular problem. :)
I'm going to step back and ask what it is about museums that is good and interesting. What's the point? What does a good museum experience mean? Is it about learning as many facts as possible? Immersing yourself in a different place/time/mindset? Getting an overview of something you knew nothing about? Getting depth on something you know a bit about? Admiring the scope of history?
I know what the answer is for me (I mostly like dioramas and seeing how they're put together, which is a somewhat unusual part of museums to enjoy), but it's probably different for everyone...
I agree with Michelle (linked above) that the social aspect of museums is really important. The best experiences I've had at museums and aquariums have come out of being with knowledgeable people. Going to an art museum? Boring. Going to an art museum with a friend who studied art history? Awesome. Part of what is special about it is the existing relationship with the person - they have a much better idea of what you will/won't like, and can tailor content. Plus, they tend to be more relaxed and not constrained by acting professional. And you probably already like their personality, as you're friends with them already.
Even going to a museum with an equally ignorant friend can be interesting. It's the shared discussion aspect, where you're leading one another to see things from a different perspective. And why not be able to talk while you're experiencing it? Movies are constrained that way (although there's a whole separate thing of watching movies in someone's home and specifically allowing talking) but museums don't have to be.
(Tom to Jon)
Jon, have you seen this video? Possibly relevant to your dumbphone experience.
Sent from my iPhone
(Jon to Tom)
That's fantastic, thanks for sharing :)
(Tom to Jon)
By the way, I got a Lumia today and love the experience.
What are the details where I can see your work? :)
(Jon to Tom)
I'm glad you like it!
I didn't build any of these things from scratch or by myself, but the places I was involved with include Mail, Messaging, Family Rooms, Skype, Backup/Restore, Camera/Photos, the People Hub, Calendar/Todos, IE, and Office. It's a very talented studio that really sweats the small stuff. Everyone says their team is amazing, and everyone says they care about details, but the fact is most software designers aren't being entirely truthful.
It's always a giant set of tradeoffs between design, technical realities, and business realities. Designers make it sound like they can present an amazing design and that's that. Nope! There are a few big things in WP8 that I'm not proud of, or that I would have done differently, or whatever. But it's not that we weren't sweating them, it's just that the realities of software design require compromise.
But here's the magical bit: the studio is very good at sussing out the "soul" of a product and fighting hard for it. So as the bug count climbs and the deadline looms and people want to cut features that don't feel like a high priority, the studio's pretty good at understanding what is ok to cut and what just isn't an acceptable thing to lose. For example, the motion design work that's put into the phone is really world class. If it weren't for the motion, the experience of using the phone would feel fundamentally different. Clunkier. Less delightful. A lot of the soul of WP is animation, but it would have gotten cut three years ago if we hadn't stood up for it.
After all, it's easy for an engineer to say "This is a high priority bug because if we don't fix it the phone reboots randomly". It's a lot harder to say "this is a high priority bug because right now the animation is a bit sluggish". But if a design studio is careful to pick its battles and keep fighting for the user and the soul of the product, you can make that animation bug just as much of a must-do as the reboot bug.
Speaking of phones, and speaking of great experiences, and finding what really matters, I had an insight earlier this morning after watching that video. I've learned a lot since switching to my $20 phone, and there's two separate thoughts.
Thought one: wow, I don't need my phone that much. Thought two: I really don't mind if others do.
Looking through those YouTube comments, I see a lot of despair. A lot of "sad that this is what society has come to" and "social media is ruining the world" and so on. But that's not where my head is. I've found that I'm pretty self assured and calm in my decision, without feeling like I need to "convert" anyone else to my monk-style approach to technology. I don't think the world is ending, I just like more quiet.
I think it's a lot like alcohol, actually. A lot of people are truly addicted, in a way that causes trouble for them and those around them. Of that group, some realize it's a problem and some don't. But then there's a whole other group who can handle alcohol without it being a problem. It's all upside for them.
And then there are people on the side, the fun police, trying to shame people away from alcohol. And I think that's just rude and wrong. Just because I can't handle a smartphone (or alcohol) doesn't mean I should make someone else feel bad about it.
The fun police have a point when they point out the health benefits of not drinking too much. And they're totally right that there are more people with alcohol problems than would readily admit it. But then again, the number of people who drink socially with no ill effects at all are probably the largest group. And they don't deserve to be lectured to.
So that's where I am. I've sworn off the smartphone, and I love it. But that's where my mission ends. Everyone else is having a lovely time, and though some are overly attached, that's for them to decide. It just doesn't bother me in the least.
Which brings up an interesting topic. Are there great experiences to be made for the minority of people who want to opt out of smart phones? (and if so, it stands to reason there's money to be made too)
I've been thinking about this a lot. I don't want to get anyone to stop loving their smartphone, and if you're a designer on Windows Phone, you absolutely cannot market products with "now with 99% fewer features!"
But ignoring the mainstream for a moment, what about the people like me? What about the people who do want less out of their phones? What does that experience look like? Is there a middle ground between "infinity in my pocket" and "Jon's $20 phone that doesn't even have a camera?"
I think there is. I think there's a market, meaning great experiences can be designed, meaning money to be made.
Jon to Bill and Vicki
Oh geez, I'm going to write a memoir. I thought about it all night and this morning. Here's the thing.
A traditional memoir is written after a famous person does something and is older than I am. But I think there's a different approach I'd take: the memoir that is seen through a particular lens.
For example, a young chess star who doesn't play chess anymore. If he wrote a book at age 21, I'd be fine with that. I'd be reading it for the chess even though it's technically a memoir about a person too young to write a memoir.
So. Let's talk about the internet.
Well, most young folks that talk about "growing up online" just mean "I don't remember dial-up". That's not a compelling story. It's like "There has always been TV in my lifetime". Whoopie.
Most older folks use the internet but again, it's no surprise. The eventually got AOL, or email, or they check their Facebook, whatever. There's no story there. It's like "I remember when TV came around. Now I watch it." Whoopie.
But I'm a tweener. I very much grew up online, when it was actually strange. Before the web. I'm pretty sure (gotta check the records) I was online during Reagan! If not Reagan, definitely the first Bush. I remember what I did online the day Clinton was inaugurated.
My first girlfriends were found online. A huge part of my identity comes from online. And all of this is even before the web. When the web came around, I was THERE. And very excited. I made a webpage before anyone else I knew. I was blogging before Kottke, before anyone but a handful. I was there.
And now I'm not.
So there's an arc here. I'm considering naming the book I Was Here First, to point at the strange obsession with status that's emerged online. Not just in me, but in everyone. "First!" But that's a negative title. I should try for something better.
Regardless of the title, whether I make it sound grumpy or delightful, there's a pretty compelling arc from the late 80's to 2013 about how the online world (cyberspace!) shaped me. And how I couldn't wait to get online when it was for freaks, and how I've been moving off. (which puts me squarely outside the mainstream, it's clear)
So I sort of want to write my memoirs, but focused on the internet. Maybe a clearer example of what I want to write is Falling In and Out of Love With the Internet.
(Jon and Bill, texting)
Wait why does everything need to be a book or a shipping product
I present: design spec as final deliverable
No bugs. No code. No localization.
And it lets you be super specific where you want (detailed designs) and sort of imply things where you want as well. We think of the spec as the plan for the thing.
But it could just be ... the thing.
But if it is good, why not make it?
Because it's approximately one million times the effort
And that can kill the motivation, which is all that matters. Fun first.
I am so used to a process that requires building as you go
Yeah, that would be a drawback
Or at least a thing that was different
I wonder if I could do the kind where you give a spec to a client and wash your hands
But if you embraced it, and knew that wasn't on the menu, two things happen ...
One, it almost becomes "fantasy design" as in, "wow this world is neat"
And who knows it might shake loose ways of thinking that actually do lead to actual shipping things
I like the idea of specs for products that can't exist
I wasn't thinking can't
But yeah, can't
Like you're in a game and you define to great details
Like "and here's where it reads your mind"
Fantasy design specs
(Jon to Bill)
So I did UX Launchpad and it was ok. Next one is going to be a ton better, though.
I'm here to talk to you today about "Hospitals for Musicians". I did my random generator thing at UX Launchpad and these sorts of things shook out of it:
Space tourism for doctors
Museums for nurses
Fridges for kids
Cars for people with ADD
Schools for people with OCD
iTunes for women (Ben got this one!)
Robot vacuums for the military
... and so on. Tons and tons of interesting stuff shook out. But the one I got assigned was "Hospital equipment for musicians". How strange. But actually ...
Hospitals are necessary but can also be scary, sad, lonely, and boring. And musicians? They're just creative people. But music is actually pretty universal, and so is creativity. It got me thinking about how to make hospitals better overall by using music.
Right off the bat, when you go into a CAT scan or something, how nice would it be to be able to listen to your own music? Not hard. You just load up Pandora. (this actually happened to me once at the doctor. It was rad.)
Ok, but beyond that, there are a ton of whirring and clicking and beeping and stuff that just sound so inhumane. I could imagine a study that's like "when we replaced hospital sounds with less awful ones, patients were x% less freaked and healed y% faster". Like Patch Adams meets music.
I mean, music. Come on. Everyone knows music is great. This can't be as hard to get people to believe as Patch Adams trying to prove that a clown costume was appropriate in a hospital.
So what about waiting rooms?
Would be cool to sign in with the nurse and then duck off to bang some drums, or fool around with a guitar or something, no?
Which opens up some interesting ideas around group stuff. Like you walk into a room and whether it's a series of iPads talking to each other or a full band setup, it'd be cool to just bond with other people for a bit. Sit down, join a jam session, oops, I'm being called to the nurse station, see you guys later.
Ok, what about take-away items?
I could see someone recording something and wanting to take the song with them. That's starting to get complicated but I could see some real delight there.
Or what about sitting in the hospital beds? Everyone gets a TV today. It'd almost feel inhumane to not let a patient watch tv, right? Except TV is such a sapping thing. So many ads, and so much bad content. I like TV shows but I honestly wonder if the TV set is making people more sick!
Ok, so you swap out the TV and instead you get an iPad. Maybe you can choose one or the other? Let's skip over iTunes accounts for a minute, because that's complicated.
One way or another, you get a person (not just a musician!) an iPad with fun games on them, including Garageband. I just played around with Garageband on my iPad and OH MY GOD IT'S SO GREAT.
I'd totally want that in a hospital.
Also there's a "jam session" button! Wow man. So I'm on my iPad, and I can't leave my bed. But I see other people on the floor want to do a jam session. We sync up. We play all afternoon. WHAT. I would play the heck out of that.
So wait, why can't patients talk to each other? Why not have a chat room esque thing? It doesn't have to be as geeky as IRC, it doesn't have to be "just" a chatroom.
I dunno, maybe it's just a smart system for seeing when someone near you is "logged in". Maybe you could write with your finger like pictochat. Or whatever it's called on DS.
So many people are just sitting there rotting. Whether you're there for 5 days after surgery and you don't have a lot of friends and family and there's about 98% downtime or you're in the hospital for much longer, which is much worse. Either way, you're just rotting. Nothing really for your mind.
And again, I don't hate TV on principle, but the reality of hospital TV is just awful. Lowest quality stuff, tons of ads, just ... yuck. But even something as simple as "here's netflix, and you can watch full seasons of a compelling show" would be better. (and those have no ads!)
So. This has been fun. It's not even about music anymore. It's about banishing the TVs from the hospital. Banishing boredom. Getting past rotting and towards somehow feeling valuable, feeling like you're growing, and have a reason to use your brain.
This is just a human need. Though musicians/creative people are more sensitive to it than most.
I haven't even gotten into the visitor space. Like you go to the hospital as a family member whose loved one is in a coma or something. I bet there are all kinds of ways we could improve that too.
I am on a plane to Boston. This is a long email. I hope you're having a nice weekend.
(Jon to Nick)
Hi Nick! I write emails to friends about design and post the results on designdare. Today I'm tapping you on the shoulder to share a thought: Twitter should make a search engine.
I was talking with mathowie, of Metafilter fame, at XOXO. I've been meaning to tell him face-to-face for over a decade how much Metafilter means to me as a community, as a place to find interesting stuff, and as a great resource.
He told me that some people have considered making a front-end for ask.metafilter.com, where you type any term like you would into Google but there would be a really strong emphasis on ask.metafilter wherever possible.
The fact is, Google is both necessary and tremendously disappointing. When I want to find a good place to eat brunch in New Orleans (true story) I know Google will let me down. I have to go beneath the surface of Google results and into the human internet. I have to ask the same question of ask.metafilter or find some grouping of New Orleans locals somewhere. A place where they are actually talking, not talking in adwords.
If you combine the power of Twitter's search (for current events) with the power of ask.metafilter (for actual information, not SEO'd webpages and ads), you really get somewhere. Obviously InternetFolk(tm) know all this stuff, but average people don't.
Twitter has search but it has a reputation for being a trend tracker. Oh look, #weLoveYouSamantha is tracking. Whoopie. If Twitter saw the goldmine they're on, and tied their algorithms to fantastic non-ad based content throughout the web, they could make a really fantastic search engine.
Let Google be the general purpose, mostly disappointing one. Let Twitter Search be the one people actually like to use.
(Valentin to Jon)
I've watched your recent talk, liked it a lot and decided to share some thoughts on the topic with you. To do that, I'll have to tell you a story :) Hope it will be interesting for you.
For two years I'm working for a social e-commerce startup here in Russia. The idea of the project is to give a tool to everyone who wants to run an internet shop, and provide a social-based marketplace for selling their items. Our site also supports a 'group buying' mechanics -- when the seller collects money from a group of buyers, and uses it to make a bulk order from a wholesale trader. This allows people to start their business with zero funding, which is insanely great for Russia with comparatively low life levels outside the big cities.
Our core team is made of three people: a Businessman (Andrey), a Designer (me), and a Developer (Dmitry). Last week, we decided to align our visions, and discussed how each of us sees the goal of our project.
Andrey said: "I want to step into a cafe one day, and see random people using our site", meaning lots of users, large-scale revenues, and generally enormous success.
I said, "I want to build a better buying experience for people, making it more personal, meaningful and worry-free. Also, I hope to let more people in the country to earn money, make them to believe in themselves, and help our ill country to recover faster."
"Wait a minute", Andrey looked at me with surprise. "Don't you want the project to become successful? Don't you want millions of active users, a billion dollar company and stuff?"
I looked into myself very carefully, but I didn't see anything resonating with the idea of success. So I had to answer: "Of course it would be great, but I can't say I care too much about that".
This discovery led us to some rethinking of our roles, and I went to indulge in philosophing.
What is the source of design? What things drives somebody to design something new? I believe that true design grows from sympathy and compassion towards people around. Watching people struggling with bad tools or environments to do what they need gives birth to a burning wish to make things better. And nothing brings more joy to a designer than people becoming happier.
I was lucky to palate that feeling this summer, when our project started to work to the full extent. One woman, a granny from a small town near Ural mountains, wrote us a very warm letter, thanking for the site. She told us, that she met many nice people, and one of them, from the same, town also had become her good friend.
For me, that was a moment of a great insight. My eyes went wet, and I thought: I had created something with my own hands, that have changed lives of real people, have made them a little better. What could be a greater reward? This is what gives a sense to all this butt-chair-polishing in the office. And the numbers don't matter very much: each person is unique, one life is pretty enough.
But to make this happen, a designer has not only to create a great tool. He also must make sure that his prototypes will finally make it to the real product. He must select the solutions that are feasible today. This means, that a designer just doesn't have another choice than to work closely with developers, businessmen, market people, and always check his work against their requirements.
So even if product success isn't designer’s primary goal, it's necessary for him to achieve his own goal of making lives of people better. That was my final conclusion, when I went to see your talk, so it resonated with me a lot. Although you seem to talk about a different dimension of this problem.
I'd say it's a problem of confusing design with art. This happens all the time, although I think there is a large gap between the two. Design is not art, it's a craft, and it’s different in all ways.
An artist creates something just for the sake of it, to express his vision and to push the limits of beauty; a designer creates something to solve a concrete problem. An artist starts from a blank piece of paper; a designer starts from analyzing people's troubles. An artist is driven by a wish to express the unknown; a designer is driven by sympathy towards people, and by a wish to help them. Although both guys draw stuff in Photoshop, and eventually produce some graphics, their activity is driven by totally different intents and involves dramatically different thinking.
So why are these things get confused so much? I beleive this happens bacause people tend to see design in all objects that have any practical use (contrary to paintings or installations). But if we look closely, for example, at a chair from your talk, and ask ourselves -- what intention was behind it’s creation -- we will clearly see that it looks like an art object, and not a result of design effort. Apparently it was made for beauty, fashion and style, not to solve somebody’s real problem; so why should we call this “design”?
Same story with the famous Paul Rand “Next” logo. The very process of work, -- Rand’s refusal to provide several versions of the logo and iterate -- clearly shows that it was not a design, but an art project. And this very logo is surely a work of art.
These examples are very famous, and I think they drive the common understanding of design in a wrong way. Surely, most chairs are designed in a true meaning of this word (think Ikea). Most logos are designed too, with designers striving to solve very definite branding problems and apply to the strict requirements. But few people know about 99% of this work. Thinking of design, most of them turn to iconic examples that are closer to art, and this makes them think that design is essentially a type of art.
But we, the designers, are different. Shouldn’t we know the truth? :)
P.S. I'd like to thank you for the surprisebox project. It was a great fun to participate, and also helped me to discover some things about myself that I didn’t know before. I beleive it’s the most important aspect of learning, so I’m sure you have really great teaching skills. Wish I could attend your new course :)
P.P.S. Sorry for these damn long sentences. This comes from some Russian thinking, so it’s kinda Russian written accent. Hope you’ve enjoyed it though :)
(Jon to Valentin)
Augh! Long emails are so wonderful and so intimidating to respond to :)
I loved every word, can I post it on Design Dare?