Monthly Archives: November 2009

Think small, well, smaller

The times, they are a changing, but of course what I’ve really learned is that they never stop changing. And what I’ve noticed is the intense increase in “smart phones.” Not everybody has one, of course, especially people over 40 or so.

Kids want them, though they’re texting more than anything. But business people and tech people led this movement and it’s gotten to the point that people with iPhones and Android phones are the future.

What’s not to like? I’m doing this post on my iPhone with a WordPress app. I’ve got standard apps, plus some cool ones, none of which cost me anything-yet anyway. It’s got several of my email accounts, a browser, my contact info, calendars, and a bucket ful of stuff

It’s not capable of everything I need to do – hell, designing an interface on this would be hard to say the least. But it is the future. Whether Apple comes out with their tablet next year or the next, by the time it’s here, we’ll be ready. It won’t dominate initiallly but within a couple of years it will. And how it works will be different, just like the interface here on my iPhone.

What we need to do now is start thinking about how we’ll use them. Before the iPhone, no one would have thought of using two fingers to make things bigger or smaller, it’s not a natural or a usable interface methodology. But it works.

Similarly, when the first Mac came out magazine editors and writers all thought this “mouse” gadget was a real loser. They were wrong then and if we aren’t willing to try and develop and design new and different ways of doing things on the web and new ways of using these tools we fail as designers.

It’s going to be an interesting time. That’s both the good news and the bad.

Hmmm. How interesting …

Someone has invented bomb-proof wallpaper. It is stronger than the wall it papers. Testing showed one thickness of the wallpaper was enough to prevent a wrecking ball from destroying a concrete and a brick wall. It’s a Kevlar-type material, in between sheets of elastic polymer wrap, which provides flexibility and strength. From PopSci, where they even have a video in action. Very cool. It’s called X-Flex and the Army is considering its use in Afghanistan. It comes in a peel and stick roll.

Edit: Got a family member that’s deployed and need a Christmas gift? There’s not much better.

Oh, and yes, I know I keep changing the look

Sadly, unless you’re willing to pay good money, there are no really well designed themes for WordPress blogs when you’ve got many categories and you post long rambling posts. Or the say you can do this and that with their theme but they don’t actually tell you how (and if you add in that you’re too lazy to teach yourself PHP programming, it just goes downhill fast). They have this feature or that but not both and I’ve gotten accustomed to having certain things on the home page. I’ve tried several things. I’ll stay with this one for a while until I realize I’m missing something I want or need – or think I do.

Of course, if I wasn’t so cheap, I could buy one. But that’s crazy talk. :)

Battle Lines

Battle lines are being drawn. There is a war, a battle for your eyes, waged by two implacable foes with opposite views, one cold, detached and statistical and the other creative, free-spirited and emotional. Both sides see themselves as the Rebels fighting the evil Darth Vader. It’s almost a religious war in its intensity. They’re that polarized. It’s Webdesign Wars!

The armies are made up of people with titles like user experience designer, information architect, usability analyst on one side and interface designer, graphic designer and interaction designer on the other. Thinkers versus creatives.

One side is led by people like Jakob Neilsen of useit.com and Jared Spool at uie.com, espousing the benefits of numbers and hard facts and research. It’s their research and beliefs based on it, that drive making the Internet and it’s pools of information (sites), simple, easy and obvious to navigate. So simple that anyone can do it, even grandma.

Someone with a cynical bent would characterize what they do as “MS-DOS with two columns,” but it just looks that bad. It’s like Sgt. Joe Friday (“Just the facts, ma’am.”) designed everything to be plain and gabardine, like his suit of clothes. Their arms cuddle facts and statistics and questionnaires that have you pick a number to signify how you feel. It’s all quantitative-based. They look at how many clicks it takes you to get where you need to go and how confused you get doing it. It’s more web engineering than design.

And then there’s the other side, except they’re not really organized all that well. That’s because they’re all designers, so they don’t really have leaders, per se. They think in terms of making it cool and looking really, really good. They talk in terms of ambiance and transparencies and Integrating lash or whatever is the newest and latest col thing.

I live in the middle of that war, at least during the daylight hours. I’m a designer working in a user experience team. These days it’s all about making things easy to use, clean and simple. Mostly, at least in corporations, that’s driven by an obsesion with more and less. More time doing what I need to d0, which is generating revenue, and less time doing what I have to do, whether it’s an expense report or making a reservation or whatever. It’s a git ‘er done philosophy of web development. Do what takes less time and costs less, plain dollars and cents.

How did we get to the point that it all can be quantified? When did we give up on quality?

It’s leaf season again

And once again, I’ve been sweeping but it’s not going to be the pain it has been. (Well, that’s relative, I guess. I bagged 30+ loads of leaves, roughly 600 cubic feet of leaves, over the weekend.) I’ve ordered a leaf vacuum to attach to my mower. It consists of a small motor (6 hp) on a cart that runs a vacuum and attaches to the mower deck.

And I’ve learned several things in researching these gadgets. First, deciding which one to get is a decision you need to make before you buy the mower itself. You see, since it’s got its own motor, it is heavy. Your mower (somewhere in the manual, will have a tow rating. These gadgets basically weigh in the neighborhood of 200 (or more ) pounds and your mower has to be rated to tow that much. Most mowers aren’t designed to tow this much. Mine isn’t. And I’m not going out to buy another new mower just for this gadget. Note that this is the weight of the vacuum when it’s empty, not full.

Mind you, most of the vacuum manufacturers won’t tell you this. They normally say things like “if your mower has a 12 HP motor” or “check with your mower manufacturer” or “we’ve not had any issues reported by people with that mower.” It’s not in their best interest to tell you that your mower won’t pull their gadget, now is it?

I looked at four different leaf vacuums. The DR Power Equipment people make one that’s got a huge hopper to collect the leaves (and they make one with a built-in chipper as well. It has a shipping weight of 350 pounds. They also seem to be the most expensive. Northern Tool sells one too (and the TSC store carries the same thing). Then there’s the Cyclone Rake people. (That’s the one I bought). They have several models, most of which are heavier than my mower is rated for even when empty.

Then there is the Trac-Vac company. Unlike every other one of the vacuum manufacturers, this guy (I think I actually talked to the owner but I’m not sure) was completely and totally honest with me. He told me what my mower could handle and he actually told me he wouldn’t sell me the model I was interested in because it wasn’t right for my mower. I learned a lot from him. However, I didn’t take his advice – I’m banking on the tow rating for my mower being a conservative one – and I want more than a 30 bushel capacity. If I end up having to replace the transmission on my mower, I’ll see if it can be upgraded then.