Tag Archives: design

iSight by Andrew Kim

Minimally Minimal

iSight

A couple of years ago, while living in Finland, I became very interested in physical design. During these years I read Minimally Minimal on a regular basis. Back then Andrew Kim was a student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The way he wrote about product design was contagious. His observations celebrated good design’s attention to detail. When he got a new camera, his photos improved and he took great care to arrange the subject of his reviews in a way that showed an appreciation of form and function.

Andrew’s review of the 2011 Ford Fiesta (comparing its design motif to a Imperial Stormtrooper!) almost put me in one (until I found a used BMW 325i that was begging for a new owner).

Andrew Kim’s gorgeous photographs and one/two line captions are crisp & evocative. If you are interested in design, I highly recommend Minimally Minimal.

On Ephemera

Om Malik recently wrote about receipts as a design experience. He was writing about Square, the payments company, that is re-thinking the way people exchange currency. Square’s focus on design, particularly the receipt, is inspirational. They view commerce as a design challenge, not only the method by which a transaction happens but also the artifacts left behind from the transaction, the receipt.

In his post, Om quotes Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Square, on their approach,

One of the things that really excited us in the early days was the receipt, putting a very simple map on the receipt where the transaction took place, putting a business’s Twitter account, putting a big picture of what they just sold, a beautiful photograph of a cappuccino, just to make it feel like something that was a lot more tangible, and also a lot more focused around communication. In the early days we saw the receipt as this amazing, kind of often played down and often forgotten about communication channel. It kind of evolved our thinking, this is not about payments, this is about commerce, and the definition of commerce is the activity between buyers and sellers.

Back in the 90′s, I took a trip through pre-Euro Europe. One of the things that fascinated me were the receipts which I saw as vestiges of the experiences I had on my trip. The receipts were ephemera.

ephemera

I would collect the best ones and mail them back to my parents who kept them for my return. Om’s post reminded me of this collection so, over the weekend, I pulled out the old wooden wine crate that holds them and scanned a few to share.

As I pawed through the box of receipts, I ran across another box, a cigar box this time, filled with all the ticket stubs of every concert and sports event I’ve been to (as you can tell, I’m a bit of a hoarder of this stuff).

Each of these slips of paper bring back of flood of memories. While the ticket represents the details of a commercial transaction where money changed hands in return for an experience, important for record-keeping, they each expressed these details in their own unique way.

Each moment in time has been crystallized in time, a keepsake to be shared, a gift and celebration of a shared experience. I am thankful that Square is thinking of this in this age of e-tickets and am glad they encourage attention to this important detail.

Google Japan

Google Japan – Design

Google Japan

My good friends Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham were contracted to design the Google offices in Japan. Google asked them to integrate design motifs from the host country and, as is their style, they re-purposed everyday objects such as Japanese Sentō murals, giant car wash brushes, and soba stand noren to great, playful effect. More pics over at deseen.com, more about their design firm, Klein-Dytham architecture.

pinterest

The Interest in Pinterest

By now I would imagine you’ve all heard of Pinterest. The latest site to cater to our need to collect and curate the world around us has boiled down the act of clip-n-share to it’s most basic form, the image. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then the endless scroll of the Pinterest front page is the modern web’s newspaper.

The site has been around since 2010 but only recently has it jumped into the forefront after a lengthy nurturing period with the Etsy-crafter-design set. Their strategy was smart. Close attention to detail allowed the small team to grow the service naturally and allow the community to gain a voice. Since late last year the site has been growing by leaps and bounds as the Silicon Valley set has taken to the site in droves and driven user growth through the roof (52% growth from January to February to 17.8M uniques according to comScore).

Along with growth comes a host of real world problems. Spam, copyright complaints, user backlash one (affiliate links), and user backlash two (design changes). Even the US Army is on Pinterest. But the Pinterest folk are smart people. They’ll survive and if they do right by their core users, they’ll make it through. The service reminds me of the early days of flickr and I wish them the best of luck.

As a product guy, what is interesting to me is how the Pinterest design motif has popped up overnight. It’s almost as if every site out there is re-thinking itself and the designers all have dynamic grid filters on that only allow them to re-arrange content on the page into floating block-sized chunks. I would argue that what we’re seeing today is as significant as the AJAX-ification of the web we saw in 2005.

Several design trends are converging that are helping along the pintrification (gosh, I hope that doesn’t become a word) of the web.

Tablets – the tap and swipe interaction of tablet devices lends itself to interaction via the visual box metaphor we see today. As a navigation device, it’s a lot easier to tap on an image than a headline so why not make the thumbnail image the thing to click to open up an article?

Metro UI – When Microsoft put on their thinking caps to reinvent the phone ui for their Windows Phone 7, the Metro UI was their primary breakthrough. Inspired by transit system signage, the UI emphasized grouping similar tasks into squares so you would drill into related sub-tasks instead of scrolling through a hierarchical list of folders and files. This same UI is now being adopted in the next version of Microsoft Windows, Windows 8.

jQuery plugin Masonry – comments on a recent CNET article give credit to Masonry as the catalyst of many WordPress themes that took on the grid look.

CSS3 and Responsive Web Design – Since Ethan Marcotte’s manifesto in 2010, and thanks to the evangelism from sites such as Media Queries, we’re seeing more and more sites embrace responsive web design including, most famously, The Boston Globe and Good Magazine.

The conversion of all these trends & technologies will cause an explosion of dynamic grid designs this Summer. Like swoosh logos, rounded corners, brushed aluminum, and all the glossy icons that came before, this new trend will take the web by storm. If you’re interested in turning your own blog into a tablet friendly grid, check out Pressly or Onswipe and join the party.

If the growth trajectory of Pinterest is any indication, the service is off to a great start. Because of it’s growth and because imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, the dynamic grid is here to stay.

Pinterest doubled traffic to over 17M in February

 

Jack Dorsey the Zen Master

I had a great day yesterday at the GigaOM Roadmap conference. The agenda had a number of great speakers including Brian Cheskey of AirBnB and Tony Fadell of Nest, the red hot company that is re-defining what a thermostat should look like.

The thesis the conference explored is one that Om Malik (now my boss) has put forth a number of times. If you think of the steam engine as the PC of our age and the portable version of this technology, the locomotive, as the mobile phone, what does increasing bandwidth and the enabled mobility mean for society and businesses going forward?

Each speaker chipped away at this thesis with their own slant but Jack Dorsey, as he described how Twitter has enabled empathy on a global scale and how Square has removed the barriers of a Point-of-Sale system and the, “massive counter” that sits between a customer and the vendor, more than anyone else opened my eyes to the incredible transformation going on around us.

Yet, in light of all these incredible transformations, Dorsey challenged us to maintain a balance between the “sleek, modern perfection and the rustic, zen-like chaos” and to build products that maintain this “balance in-between”. He referenced the Japanese design aesthetic of wabi-sabi (if you want to read a great book about the topic, I highly recommend Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers).

In the end, Dorsey advised all product managers to guide themselves with these two principles.

  1. Simplification, work real hard to get technology down to its essence (of an interaction). Take away the “conceptual debris”
  2. Make things fun, remember to be human, relate, “have some whimsy” in your application and make it human.

The whole interview is worth a listen. I’ve embedded it below.

Watch live streaming video from gigaomroadmap at livestream.com

The $8,000 dumb phone

When you can afford a personal secretary to keep track of your every need, a mobile phone is basically a piece of jewelry, much like a wrist watch or pocket watch of by-gone days. These are single-purpose devices that are a fashion statement, more form than function. Taking this approach, focused on the voice aspects of mobile phones, Aesir, a design firm in Copenhagen, has designed the phone to go with your Rolex.

Fitted with a sapphire crystal, metallic-coated ceramic antenna, and keys that are individually screwed on by jewelers, designer Yves Béhar (his SF-based fuseproject firm designed the Jawbone headset) give you a phone as a work of art. No camera, no email, no internet browser, just a simple object of desire, purpose built to receive hush-toned murmurs from your Swiss banker or to whisper sweet nothings to your mistress in St. Tropez.

While they have stayed away from anything as gauche as a Facebook or Twitter client, you do get bespoke icons, original typeface, and ringtones composed by Vietnamese-Danish ‘master of the upright bass’ Chris Minh Doky.

Please pass the Grey Poupon.

Yahoo Like Log

Social Decay

The money shot from yesterday’s Yahoo Research’s Like Log study is the social activity graph below showing how this activity drops off a cliff after the first 24 hours.

Looking at over 100,000 articles across 45 big media sites over the course of three months, Yahoo researcher Yury Lifshits found that a vast majority of the Facebook Like and Twitter Retweet activity. Broadly, 80% or more of the activity takes place during the first 24 hours following the posting of a story. No surprise here, News is about New.

The conclusion from  Yury makes is that sites that put out more than one story a day actually run the risk of splitting their traffic if they can’t double it. Each additional story/day diminishes the return and may contribute to burnout of your audience. This runs counter to the leaked AOL way memo pushing for quantity over quality.

Gawker Revisits the Front Page

Gawker famously underwent a redesign that reinforces the conclusions made by the Yahoo research. Look at the redesign before and after and you can plainly see. The image below is their traditional “blog” output which presents the latest story at the top with newer stories pushing the older ones down the page. The default Popular Now column on the right gives some counter-weight but otherwise it’s the standard, reverse chronological layout.

Gawker.com Old View

Now contrast this with their new look below. Notice how much more emphasis is placed on the images. This view is called their “Top Stories” view and they’ve taken away all timestamps on the stories as that is not the point of how things are laid out. This layout has an editorial touch to it, the Gawker editors are putting stories in front of you they want you to see.

Gawker.com New Design

Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker, posted at length on the thinking behind the redesign.

We need a few breakout stories each day. We will push those on the front page. And these exclusives can be augmented by dozens or hundreds of short items to provide — at low cost — comprehensiveness and fodder for the commentariat. These will typically run inside, linked by headlines from the blog column, so the volume doesn’t overwhelm our strongest stories.

and later,

A prominent “splash” slot on the home page — taking up the two-thirds of the page — can promote the most compelling gossip and scandal. But it also provides the opportunity to display our full editorial spectrum. The front page is our branding opportunity. It’s a rebranding opportunity, too, a way to demonstrate intelligence, taste and — yes, snicker away! — even beauty.

Back when I was selling the idea of blogs to media companies, I remember saying to them that the front page is dead and that people were coming in the side door to their sites via shared links and pointers from the search engines. This was why it was important for them to make sure each page could stand on it’s own as its own front page for their business.

It seems as we have come full circle with the larger blog sites now focused back on the front page, picking favorites to be their star headline stories for the day. Are we giving up on social mediation to solve the information filtering problem? Are we going back to a world where we start each day with a collection of bookmarked top sites we visit daily? Are we going back to appointment television? Do we abandon the firehose feed and stick to just the top stories?