Vincent Gable’s Blog

July 19, 2010

Facilitated Learning

Filed under: Accessibility,Design,Quotes,Usability | , ,
― Vincent Gable on July 19, 2010

We made a world populated with objects that reacted to what humans did, but they didn’t interact very strongly. Whereas that isn’t enough, pure discovery learning took us 100,000 years to get to science. So you actually need learning that’s facilitated. And if you can’t make 1,000 good teachers in a year to save yourself, you have to have a user interface that can do that.

Alan Kay, answering questions on the OLPC project, November 5, 2008


Filed under: Design,iPhone,MacOSX,Programming,Usability | , , , , , ,
― Vincent Gable on July 19, 2010

It’s a small thing, but it breeds deep suspicion. Mac OS dialogs always had “OK” buttons (capital O, capital K). Windows dialogs had “Ok” buttons (Capital O, lowercase k). “Ok” buttons in Mac/iOS software are a sign of a half-assed port, by someone who doesn’t really know the platform.

June 24, 2010

Retina Ready

Filed under: Announcement,Design,iPhone,Programming,Tips | , , , , , ,
― Vincent Gable on June 24, 2010

The iPhone 4’s ultra-sharp “Retina Display” really is a game changer. Until now, popular computer screens have been so low resolution, they could only display crude, low density, designs. It will take a few years for such high resolution screens to filter up into the personal computer space. But if you start writing an application that takes advantage of the iPhone 4’s display now, there will be millions of people who can use it by the time you’re done.

The best source I can recommend for understanding the kinds of designs that take full advantage of high PPI displays are Edward Tufte‘s classic design books:

If you just get one, make it The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

PS: Tufte’s books are themselves examples of beautiful, complex, high density design, and as such really only make sense printed. At least for the next few years. Even if you can find an electronic version, I wouldn’t recommend reading it, because it won’t convey the power of a 1600 PPI display (printer).

June 9, 2010

Apple’s Typographic “Perfection” Sucks

Filed under: Design,iPhone,Quotes | , , , ,
― Vincent Gable on June 9, 2010

…one particularly outrageous moment stuck out for me. At about three minutes into the video, senior vice president for iPhone software Scott Forstall extolls the virtues of the Retina Display by declaring that “The text… is just perfect!” Meanwhile, the central image in the video at just that moment is this little typographic calamity:


I urge you to fast-forward the time code to 3:02 to hear this for yourself. Forstall is quite literally claiming perfection while a hand model holds up this terrible example of everything that’s wrong with Apple’s commitment to typography. While the letterforms on that virtual page may look gorgeous, it’s apparent to any designer that the text is far from perfectly typeset. It’s hideous, scarred as it is by unsightly “rivers” of bad spacing within the text. No self-respecting typographer would dare call that perfect.

Khoi Vinh

The unrelenting drive for perfection was a quality I always admired in Apple. I hope this is just bullshit spin, and an unfortunate choice of sample frames.

March 29, 2010

No Love and No Science

Filed under: Design,Quotes,Usability | , ,
― Vincent Gable on March 29, 2010

…But in practice, nearly all the great analytical designs have come from those possessed by the content; people who have learned something important and want to tell the world about what they have learned. That is, content-driven and thinking-driven, and not at all driven by bureaucratic externalities of marketing, human factors, commercial art, focus groups, or ISO standards.

In working on 4 books on analytical design, I have often turned to the human factors literature, and then left in despair, finding few examples or ideas (beyond common-sensical) that were useful in my own work. This contrasts to the work of scientists, artists, art historians, and architects–work overflowing with ideas about evidence, seeing, and the craft of making analytical displays.

I believe that work about analytical displays should be self-exemplifying; that is, the work should show us amazing displays of evidence. My despair about human factors began many years ago upon going through volumes and volumes of the journal, Human Factors, where evidence was reported using statistical graphics of wretched quality, with thinner data and worse designs than even in corporate annual reports.

Also the methodological quality of the research was poor, and so nothing was credible. The findings seemed entirely context-dependent, univariate (design and seeing are profoundly multivariate), and without scope: what did it matter if some students in freshman psychology in Iowa preferred one clunky font compared to another clunky font in an experiment conducted by a teaching assistant? Later, while consulting, I saw this naive dust-bowl empiricism fail again and again for nearly a decade in trying design a competent PC OS interface. (And with the Mac interface sitting there, smiling, all the time. Apple’s superb interface guidelines seemed to me to be a retrospective account of the beautiful hands-on craft of a few brilliant designers, not a reason to have experimental psychologists attempt to design OS/2 and Windows.)

At any rate, if this was the scientific practice and the design craft of applied psychology, I concluded the field did not have much to contribute to my own work on analytical design.

I happily fled to the classics of science, art, and architecture.

Edward Tufte, November 27, 2002 (emphasis mine).

It’s still pretty bleak.

March 23, 2010

Cocoa Influenced The Gang of Four

Filed under: Cocoa,Design,Objective-C,Programming,Quotes | ,
― Vincent Gable on March 23, 2010

Next time you want to gloat about how seminal Cocoa is,

Erich Gamma: Yes, and it is funny that you mention the iPhone. The iPhone SDK is based on the NeXTStep object-oriented frameworks like the AppKit. It already existed when we wrote Design Patterns 15 years ago and was one source of inspiration. We actually refer to this framework in several of our patterns: Adapter, Bridge, Proxy, and Chain of Responsibility.

Richard: Which is a great example of the enduring nature of good design, and how it survives different technical manifestations.

Erich: Just as an aside, it is also easy to forget that we wrote design patterns before there was Java or C#.

Source: Design Patterns 15 Years Later: An Interview with Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, and Ralph Johnson

February 9, 2010

This Usually Makes Me Feel Better

Filed under: Announcement,Bug Bite,Design,Programming,Quotes,Usability | , , , , ,
― Vincent Gable on February 9, 2010

February 4, 2010

Deus Ex Ignorantia

Filed under: Design,Quotes | , , , ,
― Vincent Gable on February 4, 2010
Felten’s Third Law
Given an intractable and complex policy problem, people tend to look to areas they are not experts in to save the day.

For example,

Given a difficult technology policy problem, lawyers will tend to seek technology solutions and technologists will tend to seek legal solutions. … It’s easy to reject non-solutions in your own area because you have the knowledge to recognize why they will fail; but there must be a solution lurking somewhere in the unexplored wilderness of the other area.

Ed Felton.

January 13, 2010

Splash Screens Are Evil

Filed under: Design,iPhone,Programming,Usability | ,
― Vincent Gable on January 13, 2010

Splash screens are evil. While branding is important, the proper place for it is in the iconography, optional “About” or “Info” screens, and App Store profiles. The most common interaction pattern with iPhone applications is to launch them frequently, close them quickly, and treat them as part of a set of tools that interact to comprise a single user experience. Splash screens break the perception of seamlessness.

The HIG offers a very useful suggestion for managing launch states, which may be quite slow, depending on the needs of your application. The suggestion is to provide a PNG image file in your application bundle that acts as a visual stand-in for the initial screen of your application. For example, if the main screen for your application is a table full of data, provide an image of a table without data to act as a stand-in. When your data is ready to be displayed, the image will be flushed from the screen, and the user experience will feel more responsive.

In this book, we will explore extensions of this, including a pattern for loading application state lazily

–Toby Boudreaux, iPhone User Experience, page 15; emphasis mine.

I’ve always hated splash screens, from the first time I turned on a computer. They get in the way of what I want to do. I want to write, or draw, or play — but if I launch Word, or Photoshop, or any game, I have to sit through a splash screen before I can get to it.

Branding a splashscreen is putting your name on a purely negative experience. Nobody wants to wait for their computer. Splashscreens, by definition, force you to wait. It’s hard for me to imagine why anyone wants to associate their brand with a computer not doing what customers want.

iPhone 4 Update

Fast App Switching, introduced in iOS 4, makes splash screens a much worse idea. They won’t consistently display, because sometimes the app will really be resuming, not starting for the first time, when the user “launches” it. Forcing a splash-screen to appear on a resume as well means breaking the “multitasking” experience.

December 18, 2009

Guess Towards the Middle

Filed under: Design,Quotes | , ,
― Vincent Gable on December 18, 2009

Survey researchers call this kind of behavior satisficing – it happens when people taking a survey use cognitive shortcuts to answer questions. In the case of questions about personal behaviors that we’re not used to quantifying (like the time we spend online), we tend to shape our responses based on what we perceive as “normal.” If you don’t know what normal is in advance, you define it based on the midpoint of the answer range.

Aaron Shaw, writing for Dolores Labs


Acquiescence Response Bias

the tendency to agree with any assertion, regardless of its content

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