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Exit ArchiveArchive for the "Design" Category

In the move to get as much exposure and as many fans as possible for our new web show, Vampire Zombie Werewolf*, we are designing a site with a lot of clutter. Lots of thumbnails, lots of links, lots of boxes with text fed from other parts of the site, lots of badges to like or tweet or love or post, forms for commenting… Let’s just say it’s the opposite of a clean and orderly site.

The site will not be bad. In fact, despite the mess, I think it’s turning out to be quite nice. It will certainly be better than most sites out there, especially other video and social sites. But it won’t necessarily be a visual pleasure, serene and welcoming. It will be strident, a salesman wearing a trench coat containing pockets overflowing with goodies. Watch our show! Here it is! You love it you can tell because you want to click on everything here on the page go ahead just don’t leave please no don’t leave!

The practicality of having a site with every possible trick to lure and keep an audience is, unfortunately, more important than a site with a few really wonderful experiences. Robb is right: just look at the most popular sites on the Web. YouTube? Disaster. Facebook? A mess. Google? Noisy. But people love them and flock to them and expect the rest of their world to be like this. Can we have a serene, fun, cool site without all that? Of course we can. But no one knows who we are. If we’re going to have any chance of catching the eyes of the Web-blind, we have to have something they expect. It hurts me to admit that. Hopefully we are balancing noise with style.

I’ve heard of Edward Tufte, but for the first time today, I read about his concept of 1+1=3. I saw it mentioned in a blog post about the design tweaks in a recent update to a program I use often, OmniFocus. Perhaps ironically, I’ve been searching for a replacement to OmniFocus because that application’s vast array of features and the design that has resulted have been factors in me not using the app as much as I should. I don’t think OmniFocus is badly designed at all, I just want something simpler, less busy, faster for me to use.

Alas, the major feature I truly do desire in a to-do app—invisible, automatic syncing among all instances of the app across Macs and iDevices—is only to be found in OmniFocus. And so, for now, I have decided to stay with it and purchase the iPad version of the app. When I can afford it.

Now, 1+1=3. The Omni blog post linked to this essay by Scott Jensen, which contains a design example I imagine we have all had a bad run-in with at one time or another: elevator open and close buttons.

I agree 100% that open and close buttons require too much thinking. It takes too long to decide which button is the one you need to press. I would welcome better buttons in my office building, that’s for sure. However, once Scott gets to the part about removing the close button altogether, to simplify the choice and remove the +1 (and therefore the =3), I start to balk. I do not do so because I think the close button should be there to save a few seconds. I do so because the fundamental design of elevator systems do not allow for a perfect timing of the closing of the doors.

Huh?

Well, here, it’s like this: As with most elevators, the cars in my building emit a piercing alarm when the doors are allowed to stay open too long. Sometimes, as is currently the case here at the office, an elevator’s programming goes awry, and the doors will not close until the alarm has begun to sound. The only way to avoid the alarm? Hit the close button and hold it until the doors shut.

A more selfish case also exists in my office building. In the morning, until about 10:00am, the doors of the elevators on the lobby level are programmed to stay open until just before the alarm sounds. It feels interminable. I assume this pause is to allow each car to accept a maximum allotment of rush hour bodies before climbing into the building. But what if no one is coming? Why wait there like fools? No need to. There’s a close button.

In the non-close button scenario from Scott’s essay, we’d all be stuck waiting for technology to do whatever the hell it’s doing. If the technology is failing, we all get to stand, wait for the alarm to go off, then listen to it for the 3 seconds it takes the doors to close. In the morning, we all get to stand, waiting inefficiently, until the doors’ program allows them to close.

I’d be happy to take the door close button out of elevators, but another design consideration makes the door close button a near necessity: the elevators themselves. Design keeps the doors open a long time in the mornings. Design causes the elevator doors to fail until the alarm rings. Design allows for a pointless alarm in the first place.

And so it is with the Vampire Zombie Werewolf website. If we wish to attract a wide audience of people who frequent the Web, we have to keep the close button. I wish we could be the cool ones who have a stylish, beautiful, and minimal site that wins us millions of adherents by showcasing the quality of our episodes, but we can’t afford that. The current design of society dictates that we keep what others have come to expect.

A website without comments, three ways to get to everything, summaries of stuff from elsewhere, flashy thumbnail directories, and social linky badges?

An elevator without a close button?

Ridiculous!

*At this writing, the VZW website linked is not the one I’m referring to. Our new site will be up soon.

Thanks to some satellite pictures of housing developments—many of them unfinished—in Florida and a coincidental link at Daring Fireball, I have re-visited a post from 2006 about Walt’s film pitch for EPCOT.

I have to say, the mixed-use phenomenon has grown out of control in the last 4½ years. Since The Grove, an incredible number of mixed-use projects have been finished. The Americana in Glendale, by the same folks who did The Grove, is truly mixed-use, with living space above the actual mall, overlooking it.

Then there’s City Center in Vegas, which I just visited last week. It’s a sprawling mix of hotels, condos, office buildings, shops, galleries, and, of course, casinos.

The problem with every single one of these developments is their lack of integration into the surrounding environment. I don’t mean visually, but practically. In L.A., these large developments have not properly taken into account the impact of their presence on the rest of the city around them. Traffic is worse, parking is impossible (unless you want to shell out cash, which is like being robbed), crowds get unbearable. Part of EPCOT’s purpose was an attempt to harmonize the mess of traffic and congestion that is a city. Some people love the cacophony of a messy, crowded, traffic-jammed city. I’m thinking New York, Chicago… I don’t know a single person who likes the congestion and traffic of Los Angeles. Maybe because the city’s soul seems to spring from this source. L.A. is defined by it’s clogged arteries. How tragic.

Again, a 100% planned city is a bit creepy and strange, but maybe that’s because no one’s yet done it correctly. I’m not a fan of any of these mixed-use monstrosities that have sprouted lately, and I’d rather sleep under my office desk every night than go home to a condo over a Lululemon. Such places are built solely for commercial reasons, with no thought to, as Walt said, “the public need.” No one needs The Americana or City Center. They solve no problems. But EPCOT, had it grown into something like Walt pitched in that movie, might have drawn my interest. Maybe it would have succeeded, and been an inspiring mix of technology, progress, and design.

Maybe. Who knows? But the thought of it is still exciting to ponder.

I sent some feedback to Apple regarding the new UI for QuickTime Player. Here’s what I had to say. Notice I didn’t once mention York Peppermint Patties. York! The Freshmaker!

* * * * * *

The new QuickTime Player X interface is very cool on the surface, but it has some unfortunate limitations when compared to QuickTime Player 7 that make it less useful. I find myself opening most of my movies in QuickTime Player 7 so that my video is not invaded by UI elements, and so I can use some of the features now missing in QuickTime Player X.

1) Putting the title bar and controls inside the movie frame is not very logical for a computer screen-based interface. This is not a TV or iPhone I’m using where the elements have no choice but to appear over the video. It’s a Mac, and as such is capable of a better, more useful, non-frustrating UI. I was able to see the entire frame of my movies in older QuickTime Player interfaces without cruft. Now, if I want to see the entire frame while paused or take a screen capture, I can’t without the controller and title bar littering the frame. If I want to go frame-by-frame through the video, I have to move the silly player control around to find out where it will be the least obtrusive. And if anything is in the top of the frame in my video, forget being able to see it through the title bar. Likewise, having the Trim bar inside the movie frame is ridiculous, doubly so because it can not be moved. If I need to see anything behind that trim bar, I’m out of luck. There is no reason other than “gloss and flash” to have the controls where they are in X.

2) I used to be able to use standard key strokes for multi-speed playback in either direction. The J, K, and L keys no longer work in QuickTime X. If there is a practical reason why they have gone missing, I can not think of one.

3) Doing away with the half-size (⌘0) and double-size (⌘2) shortcuts makes no sense. Cycling through sizes with ⌘- and ⌘+ is a nice addition, but it can also be like TVs that don’t let you get to the input you want right away, forcing you to cycle through every input until you get to the one you need. The current solution is a weaker choice. There’s no reason the older shortcuts and the newer shortcuts can’t both be available in the new player.

4) The fixed-size timeline slider is much more difficult to use than the older, variable-length slider. In long movies, it was easy to get finer control in the timeline by expanding the size of the QT window. But now, no matter how big the window is, the timeline slider remains the same size, and becomes fairly useless for fine-grain control on long videos.

5) The vanishing title bar means no more playing multiple movies at once and being able to tell which one is which with a quick title-bar glance. A small hindrance, but I point out that there was no such hindrance until it was created for QT Player X.

6) Rounded corners? Why? Just because all Mac windows have rounded corners? But video does not have rounded corners. If this is not putting the sow before the silk purse, I don’t know what is.

Nothing has been gained by making the changes I’ve mentioned. Not a thing. Having all controls on the outside of the video is common sense, and vastly improves on the human interface of QuickTime Player. Again, this is not a TV or iPhone I’m using for watching video, and so there’s no need to make the video window behave as such. If you are really hot to have the controls and frame vanish automatically during playback, the same thing can be accomplished with controls outside the frame and a simple preference option to let users choose to turn that behavior off if they want to. A keyboard shortcut can be added, too, so we may make the controls appear and reappear at will if we choose. It seems to me, however, that the vanishing controls are only necessary because of the unfortunate addition of intra-frame controls. Hmmm!

Apple has set the standard for good, logical design and UI for decades, with certain exceptions, of course. Hockey puck mouse, anyone? Sadly, QuickTime Player X trades usability for coolness, and it just doesn’t work.

Thanks for reading!

Read this amazing piece by John Siracusa at Ars Technica. This is the latest in a recent series of articles that has given me hope that the standards I put on myself and on others are not unreasonable or impossible, but useful. Am I equating myself with either Jobs or Siracusa? God, no! But in my own brand of criticism, I have some faith.

I could spend my time talking about my “standards” as they relate to the sitcom, but I’m very comfortable with my talents and abilities in that realm, so I’m going to talk about a different project, something that’s a bit of a departure for me.

I have been steeped in the design of a website for work, a vast and daring undertaking of a site that will hopefully make most people’s lives at the company better. This is the third site I’ve been charged with overseeing in some way, and I have come to learn that the standards to which I hold the things I create is much higher than the standards of others.

The first site was an employee portal, a place for the exchange of ideas and documents. I simply had to design the look of the site. To me, that meant pondering a bit of the UI as well. I came up with an idea that people were sold on, and I did my best to get my design vendors and the site programmers to work toward creating that idea. The site was doomed, however, for a few reasons. First, it was being built in SharePoint, a Microsoft solution. “Uh-oh.” Yup. Microsoft. The site tools were limited, and any cool or interesting look or behavior I wanted was going to require re-programming modules and pages and other such nonsense. This is the second reason for its doomage: No one wanted or had the time to complete the extra programming it took to get the site looking really great.

I gave up on the site, since it was out of my control—I was only the designer. The site does not have the traffic it should today because, I believe, it’s ugly and difficult to use.

The second site was to be a subset of the first, a place to discuss and share anti-piracy policies and projects. Knowing what our limitations were, I did not expend any sweat on this one. I spent some time discussing UI ideas and how the site would be used, but I was not passionate about the outcome. I had a vendor design it, made sure the client was happy, and let it go. It’s a bit better than the portal, but not as good as it could have been.

The third site is the big one, a huge chance to get something up and running that people all over the world will not only find helpful, but great. This one I was allowed to design from the ground up, including the UI. The UI is much more important to me on one level than the design because without a great UI, the design would just be lipstick on a Sarah Palin.

We have had long meetings discussing esoterica such as button looks, fonts, drop-down tab bar functionality, and destination indications (huh?). Our SVP even threw a wrench into the works a while back requesting a “simple” interface option which, of course, is much more complicated to design and execute than anything else on the site.

I’m sticking to my guns on this one. I have argued my vision over and over, even to the smallest detail, and have changed my position only if someone has been able to show me that another way is better. (I’m usually that someone. Oh, the arguments I’ve had with myself in my head, and oh, the number of times I’ve talked myself out of one method or style and into another. And oh, the times I’ve talked myself back!)

We are still a very, very long way from any kind of functioning site, but I’m finding its creation to be a new and fun bit o’ business. I also am getting more comfortable with my critical ideas and putting those into a tangible design. I have been adamant that we find new or alternate ways to do the same things other sites do inelegantly. I have been forcing myself and others to make sure nothing on our site is overly complicated or difficult to use. The brainpower and long meetings seemingly wasted on the tiniest of details are, to me, necessity.

Of course, if it ever gets to the point where we’re not making any progress on the site because I’m too stubborn in my demands, I have to hope I recognize such, and move on or fix the problem later. But there can be very little of this. Fixing problems later usually means never fixing them at all, so getting them as right as possible from the get-go is one of my big goals.

If you don’t believe in the idea that how something looks is an important aspect of how it functions, I leave you with this link. We design OCDers are very good at selling our passion, aren’t we?

The inspiration for this…

Awesomeness Test

…came from this…

Print Shop Splash Screen 1984

Read all about it in my Life from the Inside blog post!

So there’s Chicken Vindaloo, Chicken Parmesian, Chicken Marsala. How about the following as chicken dish names? C’mon, top chefs! Let’s get inventing!

Chicken Verdana
Chicken Tahoma
Chicken Bodoni
Chicken Calibri
Chicken Kabel
Chicken Palatino

Less appetizing chicken dishes would include:

Chicken Officina
Chicken Compacta
Chicken Goudy
Chicken Futura
Chicken Perpetua
Chicken Wingdings

The most flavorless dish would, of course, be:

Chicken Helvetica

There is something I realized for the first time not long ago regarding Apple and their excellent sense of design, and I wanted to put it down here, now, on paper. As it were. My revelation is this: Apple does not use ® and ™.

I just got an e-mail from my sister. She uses Hotmail, now part of Windows Live. At the bottom of her message was a text-only ad saying, “Windows Live™: Keep your life in sync.” Now, I ask you, for whom is that ™ included? No one. No. One. Er, okay… maybe it’s there to alert that poor sap who’s almost finished setting up a new service for designing window treatments she intended to call Windows Live. Oh, no you don’t! See here in this e-mail footer? We already ™ed Windows Live, so hands off!

What a waste of time. What legal nonsense. And how ugly. Uselessly ugly.

Apple does not do that. Just go to their website and take a look around. Do you see a single ® or ™? Oh, well, sure… in the store, on the Microsoft® Office page, where you can read about Entourage® and PowerPoint® and Excel®. And Windows®. But Apple’s equivalents of these applications? It’s Keynote, not Keynote®; Pages, not Pages®; iWork, not iWork®.

iLife is not iLife®, Garage Band is not Garage Band®, Bonjour is not Bonjour™, QuickTime is not QuickTime®, Mac is not Mac®, iPod is not iPod®, iPhone is not iPhone®, MobileMe is not MobileMe™…

To be fair, Microsoft’s website does not have many ™s and ®s in the product descriptions either. Someone made a good decision to exclude those. Whew. But as soon as you get to any of the logos and packaging, the ™s and ®s make a strong appearance.

I should not pick on Microsoft alone, really, although it’s always great fun. The Adobe® Creative Suite® 3 Design Premium box in front of me right now has those two ®s plus a third, on the Adobe logo. I have a bin of Twizzlers® on my desk, and an unused Contour® Design ShuttlePRO™ v2. An Altinex® Cable Catcher™ is to my right, as is a Pantone®/GretagMacbeth™ i1 spectrophotometer and a butt-load of Sanford® Sharpie® pens. But I also have iLife, iWork, Aperture, Mac OS X, and MacBook Air boxes in my office, and what do I see? Not one ®. Not a single ™. The Apple logo itself, unlike most other companies’ logos, is beautifully unblemished by the annoying ®.

Including a ® or ™ is pointless. I know some lawyers somewhere would disagree, but certainly not for any non-esoteric reason. Once again I find myself thanking Apple for making the world just a tiny bit better.

Today: A gripping tale of T-shirt design! Be sure to make a point not to miss today’s LFTI post!

What a Bunch of Turkey!

This morning, I tweeted about Microsoft’s Surface showing up very select at Sheraton hotels. It was this video that made me comment:

Besides being a bit creepy—is that woman wanting to slap the little boy, or seduce him?—the video is humorous in showing how minimally useful the Surface concept even is. I can do the things that table does on my iPhone, and I have that with me all the time.

Expanding ever so slightly on my tweet, I ask you, how long until the majority of those things break? How often will they cease to function? When will I first be able to walk into a Sheraton hotel and see a $10,000 table crashed or dark?

When Microsoft first announced the Surface just before the iPhone’s release last year, I started to write a post about how Apple’s products are cool, and Microsoft’s, when they actually release them, are only faux cool. Microsoft wants you to like their products and tries to tell you how awesome they are, but they always suck. Apple strongly suggests that their products are cool, and often they really are. They certainly are well designed, well engineered, well built, and well well well.

I never finished the post because I got busy, and not in the cool sense. But the idea still holds. Microsoft, in a desperate attempt to steal some of the thunder from the upcoming iPhone, announced a fairly crappy product which introduced nothing terribly state-of-the-art, promised to deliver it by the end of the year, then failed to do so.

Well, guess I’m sorta wrong. A few Surfaces have surfaced, it seems. But look at the Sheraton announcement carefully. Notice there’s no date mentioned. When are these tables going to be installed? They aren’t installed already or the press release would have said so. To take one small detail into question, why, pray tell, would guests want to create playlists on the table? For what purpose? To play where? Certainly not their iPod! And so on and so on.

Lo, with perfect timing, here comes Kontra to muse on the concept of why other companies do concepts, but Apple does not. He or she or it or they or them are and/or is absolutely correct. While concept products are interesting, they are often amusingly, ridiculously out of touch with the universe. Every concept car I’ve seen at car shows is laughable in its ignorance. I would never deny anyone the right to create a concept. What gets me is when it is hinted that this thing you are seeing is potentially viable. That astounding future technologies will emerge from this thing at which you are marveling or laughing. (Turns out Steve Jobs brought up the concept car problem in this Time article from 2005.)

Kontra is correct. Apple does not need to release concepts. They are in the business of making concepts reality. When I saw Steve-o unveil the iPhone at Macworld in 2007, part of what made it such a thrilling spectacle is knowing that this thing, this amazing chiclet of technology, was going to be real. I would be holding one in my hand in six months. That never, ever happens with concept products.

* * * * * *

What follows are the videos I originally included in my un-posted post.

See all the the Steve Jobs/Bill Gates appearance videos here.

And here’s a video from D5 with Gates showing off the Surface.

Thanks as always to Daring Fireball for leading me to good material.

It wasn’t until I was led to Brand Name Pencils by H&F-J that I realized I miss penicls.

Well, maybe that’s not entirely true, the not realizing it part. I have, from time-to-time, longed to write and create once again with a good-ol’ wooden pencil. To chew on the slight metal ring holding the eraser. To feel the joy of using the rare, good pencil sharpener. I have used mechanicals most of my life, and still do, on those rare occasions when I still do use a pencil. Their convenience trumps the pleasures of the archaic.

I had not noticed that there were so many variations of type in the branding of a pencil. Look how much style and design gets crammed into such a tiny space! Pens don’t seem to be treated with that same care. Nor did I know that that slight metal ring that I loved to gently malform with my molars was called a “ferrule.”

Sorry for that uncouth title, but that’s what I was thinking when I saw these amazing, brilliant charts.

Zach Beane has charted the grosses, rankings, and longevity of the weekly top 25 movies since 2006, plus some top 10 charts for 1988 and 1998. I prefer the normal vs. the log scale charts. These charts are much more elegant end legible than the (still cool) chart at The New York Times.

I found this via H&FJ. Read their take here.

Oh, this is fun! Yes, great fun!

I was just saying a few weeks ago how, with Polaroid doing away with the instant film for which it is/was famous, the Polaroid white border will become extinct as an iconic representation for photographs. (I even used it for my gallery icon.)

So, too, thinks Jason. His thoughts are more perfectly captured than I would have been able to.

BONUS: Jason’s a designer, so it’s no surprise that he uses classic Polaroid details for the article’s design. Very nice!

Via Daring Fireball. Yet again.

This was a great thing to read on a Monday: “How I See Words in My Head” by Douglas Coupland.

This essay got me asking myself if I am a visual person or not. I love words and how they fit together to make sentences, and I get quite a charge when I can write something that I feel is effective. I saw Trumbo on Friday, and his sculpting of words was inspiring. But I also love letter forms, fonts, kerning, leading, and all the things about words and letters that comprise a visual element.

I want to be a visual thinker. I think it’s admirable. But am I such? I love design but am not as good at it as I’d like to be. I’m not as good a writer as I’d like to be, either. Would I become better at both with practice, or would I become better at one and not much better at the other? Can a person be stuck in between? Can I be so egotistical as to assume I’m someone who can straddle the fence?

I think that an inevitable and necessary step for written culture over the next few decades is going to be the introduction of a détente between the visual and literary worlds—at the very least, an agreement to agree that they’re not mutually exclusive and that each feeds the other.

Maybe it is possible to be a little of both. I do know one thing, and that’s I don’t know what font I see in my head when I think of a word. I think it depends on the word itself. I’ll see “icon” in a different font than I would ”fleuve.”Does that make me a non-visual thinker? Or a visual thinker who takes the literary into account?

I am who I am, and I really don’t need to define it. I just wonder if I’m in for some surprising revelation, like the one Douglas received during the interview, were I to think about it in any seriousness.

(Found via Daring Fireball, of course.)

So far, it seems only one company is close to releasing anything that has even the remotest possibility of being a competitor to the iPhone: Garmin. Its Nuvifone was announced a while ago, and since Garmin is big into GPS units, the GPS features of the Nuvifone were a huge selling point over the iPhone. Of course, now that the iPhone 3G includes GPS and, I’m guessing, much better nav maps, the Nuvifone’s GPS is no longer a unique feature.

But that’s not what I wanted to discuss. I want to specifically talk about how Apple has, in less than a year, completely defined how the touch interface on portable devices should work. The Mac set the standard that is still followed today (unless you’re using the nightmare Microsoft Office for Windows 2007), so we’ll see if the iPhone UI lasts as long.

Here is the Nuvifone in action (video is from Laptop Magazine):

Let’s go through this video and check for examples of the iPhone UI as copied by Garmin. (The Nuvifone in the video is not a production model, so who knows what may change by the time it’s on the market?)

0:07: The Garmin man is already comparing his product to the iPhone, saying “we have the same screens as the iPhone.” That’s probably not entirely accurate.

0:17–0:27: The Nuvifone uses the “fling” scroll with velocity slow-down and the all-important elastic stop. The genius of this design in the iPhone UI is that when at the very top or bottom of a list, if you try to scroll, it gives you a visual clue that your scroll was executed but that you are at the edge of the list. Imagine if there were no elasticity; you might try to scroll, but nothing happens. Does this mean you’re at the edge of a list, or that the scroll did not work? The ambiguity is gone with the elastic visual.

0:17–0:27: The narrow, disappearing scroll bars from the iPhone are here. Unlike using a cursor on a desktop, the scroll bars on an iPhone are merely there for reference, since the entire screen is scrollable. The bars appear when you start to drag your finger to scroll, then fade away when you remove your finger. No extra space is wasted on resilient scroll bars. The Garmin’s bars do not fade, they just vanish. The scroll bars in the Nuvifone do not look translucent, like the iPhone bars, but it’s hard to be sure on this video.

0:21: “It’s not a multiple touch screen, it’s a single-touch … including the scrolling function.” I assume this means no double-finger tap to zoom out, no pinching or spreading, none of the multi-touch features that make the iPhone UI utter fun to use.

0:36: Applications and widgets on the iPhone zoom in and out when launched or closed, but the Nuvifone uses a sliding transition. On the iPhone, the sliding “drills down” into lists and such, giving you a visual clue as to which way you are moving into and out of pages and lists. We can not tell from this video how the Nuvifone will handle such drill-downs.

1:30: Screen rotation was not invented for iPhone, but it sure was stepped up a notch. The Nuvifone screen rotation is orientation sensitive, but the graphical iris out transition is pretty low-rent. The iPhone could definitely benefit from using the landscape orientation mode in more places in the UI; however it’s not as good an idea to use it for the home screen as the Nuvifone does. Why? Because you want your launch buttons to always be in the same place to aid in motor memory. The home screen icons will be in different places if you rotate your home screen. You would also have to set up two sets of custom layouts. Not very easy to use. This is more of an issue for the iPhone home screen grid layout than it is for this Nuvifone sliding pane layout.

2:04: The Web browser “experience is very like iPhone Safari.” Without multi-touch? We shall see! Multitouch is the most useful tool when browsing the Web on an iPhone.

2:20: Ah, a keyboard demo! The Nuvifone’s keyboard slides up from the bottom of the screen, just like the iPhone’s. This is a pretty obvious behavior, whether it started on iPhone or not. The Nuviphone copies the iPhone pop-up letters when you type. I’ll be very curious to see how the predictive text works. The iPhone’s “reversed” predictive text set-up is fantastic, allowing you to continue typing as correct suggestions pop up and requiring you to stop typing only if you disagree with a suggestion.

2:27: “You can see there is no [sic] any button in the front panel. It’s even better than iPhone.” But no, it’s not. You’ll notice that there is no way to just get right back to your home screen on the Nuvifone without touching the arrow icon to back up through multiple “open” screens. (There could be a side button on the Nuvifone that accomplishes the same thing as iPhone’s home button, but I’m guessing that’s not going to be the case.)

3:13: Damn is that navigation/map app one ugly chicken! The ocean is DOS Blue. And those plus and minus buttons! Good UI design is hindered by bad graphical design.

3:36: That Home button in the navigation/map app… is it a sign of inconsistency, or maybe just a sign of an unfinished product? The return arrow icon we saw in the rest of the UI should be here instead. (Or, I guess you could argue, there should be a Home button everywhere else in the UI! Oh, wait, wouldn’t a physical button on the front be a great solution?)

4:32: Seems the screen has haptic feedback. The day the iPhone gets haptics will be a day I rejoice. There is no better way to improve the confirmation of a virtual button press than a physical event. Haptics on an iPhone will be complicated to include, though, when you consider the feedback will be different if you are touching and holding or touching and dragging. I obviously do not know how the Nuvifone will handle these situations, but I’m sure Apple is putting a lot of thought into that very thing. Assuming they are working on haptic feedback to begin with.

I think we will be seeing a lot more of this kind of borrowing in the smartphone field. Of all the interfaces and UIs from all other PDAs and phones, Apple’s is the most graceful, the best-looking, and, most importantly, the most thought-out. There’s a reason why the iPhone is such a pleasure to use. None of my other handheld devices have been nearly as fun and useful. Oh, except my Newton. I loved the Newton!

Coldplay Viva la Vida iTunes Ad Band

That new iTunes Coldplay ad is pretty damn great in just about every way. I think that should be their actual video. It’s beautiful and striking and an amazingly accomplished piece of animation.

Coldplay Viva la Vida iTunes Ad Bass

Coldplay Viva la Vida iTunes Ad Guitar

Coldplay Viva la Vida iTunes Ad Singer

Below is my Monday post over at the Life from the Inside blog, reprinted here for your mild convenience.

* * * * * *

When Tanya and Robb brought me on board as producer for LFTI, they probably did not realize they were gaining a lunatic. Not just any lunatic, of course, but a font, typography, and typesetting lunatic.

I’ve always been fascinated by text. I spent lots of time as a small child trying to draw perfect block letters. I’d take the plastic, all-caps letters (yellow Futura medium) from both our copies of The Alphabet Game and tape them onto construction paper to make signs. I cut out matching letters and numbers from the newspaper to make my own Iran Hostage Crisis count-up sign. I hand-lettered every single one of my campaign posters for Vice President in 8th grade and President in 11th. One of the best things about the Mac when it came out was, for me, that its handling of text was much better than Print Shop on the IIe.

My love for type has never diminished. It served me well post-college, when I worked as a book designer at Birkhäuser Boston, right through to the present day, when I get to contribute to the “online conversation” regarding the fonts candidates use for their campaign materials.

Unfortunately for Robb and Tanya, it currently serves me well on Life from the Inside.

I am of the opinion that text, fonts, typography, and typesetting, while flying under the radar of the general public’s awareness, are some of the single most important elements in adding a sheen of professionalism and style to any project. Most of the quality we strive for in LFTI is applied to the usual concerns: camerawork, writing, editing, music… Very few people might notice if a font is improperly stretched, or if a wayward apostrophe has made its way into an pluralized acronym, or if the hyphens in a block of text are disconcerting to the eye though they may be properly placed.

Robb does 99% of the graphic work for the show, including all the titles, credits, graphic elements, DVD menus (yes, DVD MENUS!), blahdee blahdee blah. And I have to say that 99% of everything he does, text-wise, is fantastically great. Unfortunately, now that I have wedged myself into the picture, I’m here to catch the remaining 1%. If I see some kerning I don’t like, I’ll say so. If the leading between two lines is too tight, I’ll point it out. If there’s a space between a word and an asterisk, I’ll call for its death. If four fonts are being used where two will suffice, I shall champion the cause.

Sometimes, where text is involved, there’s a trade-off between correctness and aesthetics. To me, correctness should win out most of the time, because there is usually an aesthetically pleasing way to correctly render an awkward block of text.

If I’m going to prattle on about this topic, I really should give an example.

Robb had designed a bit of text on an upcoming DVD menu (yes, UPCOMING DVD MENU!) to fit nicely into a rectangular space. The word “jukebox” (yes, JUKEBOX!) had to be split, so he designed it as “JUKE” on the fist line and “-BOX” on the second. Now, the text fit beautifully, four characters on both top and bottom, but I could not stand the hyphen being tied to the second half of the word. That is simply not done. It gave me a case of the frownies every time I saw it. Since I am now tweaking and redesigning that particular DVD menu, I changed the layout to “JUKE-” and “BOX.” It made the text top-heavy, but it was correct. However, knowing that I was changing a very particular design choice that Robb had made, I thought I could compromise. I was willing to—GASP!—have the word split, but not hyphenated! “JUKE” and “BOX” would fit more nicely into that rectangle without a hyphen. Perhaps to some, this would have been the worst choice out of the three, splitting a single word into two sans hyphen. To me, I’d rather have the hyphen gone than have it on the bottom. And jukebox was probably two words at one time, anyway. It’s not like we were splitting “grottos” into “GROT” and “TOS.” Blech!

I have not finished the menu redesign, but I think we agreed to keep the hyphen on the top, probably because I whined enough about it.

So what does all this pain-in-the-assery get us? From my point of view, it gets us closer to looking great. When no detail goes unnoticed, when we can concentrate on the small things that most people simply don’t understand or don’t even notice, we can give everyone a better show. Then, if people do know and do pay attention, they will hopefully appreciate the care that was taken to make LFTI a top-notch piece of time-wasting entertainment!

My boss walked into my office today, saying, “I have a surprise for you!” “Are you being facetious?” I asked. “Maybe.”

He handed me this:

I think my reaction surprised him. “Oh, wow! This was my favorite mouse ever!” “Really?” I was not being facetious.

This, friends, is the Apple Desktop Bus Mouse II. According to Mactracker—an awesome, comprehensive app that gives info on every Apple product ever made—this mouse was included on all Macs from 1993 to 1998. It was only the third mouse design since the Mac’s introduction in 1984. My boss found this one locked in a cabinet in some conference room. It cleaned up really nice, and I plan to keep it.

I began using Macs when they showed up in my junior high school, though it took a long time for me to have one of my very own. Macs were too expensive, so my folks bought a IIe while I was in high school. (I first used a IIe and learned Apple Basic when I was in 4th grade.) I used my Apple IIe to write all my papers in college, but I loved every moment using the Macs at school to create flyers or newsletters or graphics.

I got my very own Mac, an LC III, in 1993. It had the new Apple Mouse II. When I started doing scientific illustration and page layout for books at Birkhäuser, the LC III was quickly replaced with a faster mac, a Quadra 610, that could better handle Illustrator and Aldus PageMaker. (Here’s one of the books I typeset. For some reason, I thought I had put my name on the copyright page. I usually did. Anyway, I want to go on record saying that nowadays, I would never stretch a font like I did in those black boxes!)

I did not upgrade my Mac until 1999, when I got a blue and white G3. I had already been living in L.A. and working for Disney for five years. I got the G3 literally weeks before the brand new G4 towers came out. It was my first introduction to immediate obsolescence.

I got my G3 less than a year after Apple had introduced the bondi blue iMac, the machine that began the rebirth of Apple and the Mac. Perhaps the most maligned thing about the new iMac was the mouse: it was round, which meant you could never tell, by feel alone, if you were holding it upright or not. My G3 came with one of these horrible mice, but I did not mind, because the machine still had an ADB port, which meant I could use my old Apple Mouse II. (I think this was the last Mac to have an ADB port. It was the first pro-level Mac to have USB.)

When I got my 12″ PowerBook in 2003, I could no longer use my Apple Mouse II. I still have not found a mouse I love as much.

The Apple Mouse II was perfect. That seems like a silly thing to say, because it had only one button, used a physical roller ball, and had no scroll wheel or scroll ball. But I consider it perfect anyway.

The mouse was low profile, which meant it sat in the curve of my hand without me having to bend my wrist backward to accommodate its bulk. The button end of the mouse was very shallow, down close to the desk surface, so I never had to strain my fingers up to rest on the button. My hand could relax comfortably. Most mice, especially today, have unnecessary bulk. They force the hand to arch up to unnatural heights, and the buttons are far off the desk, which pushes the fingers higher than is normal. The Apple Mouse II was shaped so that you could plonk your hand down, relaxed, on the desk, and the mouse would just happen to be there, in the cavity, ready to go.

The button had perfect tactility, which meant you could rest your finger(s) on the button comfortably without the button accidentally clicking. It also clicked at just the right pressure, so I never had to strain my fingers to press down. If a button clicks too easily, finger muscles get strained as you hold them aloft, trying not to click. When a button mechanism is too strong, the muscles have to strain harder to click.

The single button that covered the entire front of the mouse meant I could relax my hand in a natural position, even to the very right edge of the mouse, and still move and click with ease. A two-button mouse where the left button is the default button forces your wrist to rotate farther left and your index finger to angle more than is natural, then hold the pose the entire time you use the mouse. Most mice are designed with the buttons inset from the sides of the mouse, so even if you can rest your hand at the very edge, you have to move your finger to click. On the Apple II Mouse, you could just click any part of the front, and you were okay.

All these tiny little alterations, muscle movements, and position-holdings add up over the hours, and, in my experience, at the end of a long mousing day, they hurt. My right hand is sore every day using “better” mice. For sure, hands of different sizes and shapes may require different shapes of mice. A large hand still rests its fingers at the surface of a desk, so the low mouse button works well there. Perhaps stronger fingers would need stronger button clicking, and a wider hand a wider mouse to more comfortably grip, but overall, I posit that the Apple Mouse II was a perfect, average shape.

My current favorite mouse is the Wireless Mighty Mouse. Yes, also by Apple. I have used a number of other brands of mice, and none of them works as well (though the Logitech MX 300, now impossible to find, was pretty decent). With the Mighty Mouse, I get back the low profile and the low, borderless button. I swap my left and right clicking, so the right side of the mouse is my “left” click. This way, I only have to strain my hand or fingers occasionally to execute a “right” click. My hand can rest as it did using an Apple Mouse II. (I tried swapping button mapping on other mice, but for some reason, it didn’t work so well, mostly because the unclickable side border made it pointless.)

The down side of the Mighty Mouse is that I have to be very careful, and therefore strain my hand, to do a “click and pick up the mouse to move it before you unclick” maneuver. This is easy on most mice, but because the whole top of the Mighty Mouse is mostly one piece, the only place to grab and hold is the side-click buttons. I have to move my thumb up to the left side click button (because it does not naturally rest there), then sort of do a squeeze–hold while I click the main button, then do a cumbersome lift… Do you know how many times I accidentally squeeze too hard and bring up Exposé? And then suddenly I’m stuck, hand aloft, mid-click, with all my windows shrunken, and everything has to come to a halt while I repair the mess.

Another issue is the touch-sensitive button. I love the idea in theory, but you have to lift your fingers off the “left” click “button” to make the “right” click “button” work properly. If the mouse senses a touch on both sides, it does not execute a “right” click. This strain does get to my hand by the end of the day.

I could get into my issues with tracking sensitivity, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that the Apple mice have the best tracking algorithmicity thingy I’ve used. Other mice are too sensitive and don’t get the acceleration right.

One could say that I simply like the Apple Mouse II because that’s what I got used to using. It seems a fair argument, but it doesn’t work here because I can just lay my hand down on my desk, let it relax, and see how it comes to rest. The Apple Mouse II fit right into that relaxed posture. I do not imagine other people’s hands lie in completely different ways than mine, all twisted to the left with fingers naturally hovering in the air and wrists bent backwards. Maybe I’m ignorant, or a fool. Or maybe it’s approaching 8:00 on a Friday night, and I’m here in my office writing a blog post about mice.

I have spent a lot of time at work testing mice, trying to find decent ones that haven’t been bastardized by forced progress and redesigned for redesign’s sake. It’s a constant battle. So seeing an old friend walk in the door was a great surprise and, perhaps pathetically, a happy one.

I really don’t ever watch TV any more. So it seems I’m late to the game on these great Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups “Perfect” ads. I love them (except the out-of-place Whipps one). They play like animated, snarky greeting cards. Best of all, they are deceptively simple. They look like, “Hey, I could make those!” but really, a lot of work and talent went into the production.

Sort of like something else I know.

See the Reese’s ads here. It’s a dumb-ass Flash interface; currently, the ads play automagically. If they don’t play automagically when you visit, click the TV Commercials box. If you’re reading this in 2009 or 2010 or 2416, the site may have changed, and I’m sorry you won’t be able to see them.

No, that is not me making fun of Japanese. On the contrary! It’s… well, not on the contrary. I’m not even sure why I used that phrase. I just know I’m not making fun of the Japanese language or people. I wear a Chococat bracelet, for God’s sake!

All I want to say is that there’s a lot of talk going on about the fonts Obama and Clinton and McCain are using in their political campaigns. I don’t have the energy to post all the links here (see previous post regarding not getting things done), mostly because there are so very many. But here’s the one that got me started on this post in the first place (via Daring Fireball, of course).

What I thought might be both fun and helpful was posting snapshots of the three main candidates’ websites here for easy comparison. So I did. This is what their homepages look like today. Click on any of the images to see them full-size. (They are large PNGs, so they may load slowly.)

Let’s start with McCain.

John McCain\'s Website on April 22, 2008

Boy, that’s a fun site! All the wonderful colors! The cheer! The optimism! The Optima! (And the Gill Sans and the Myriad and the Futura and the Trajan and… ACK!) If John McCain were an investment firm, this would be a great website design. Or, perhaps, a great start to a website design.

How does Hillary’s look?

Hillary Clinton\'s Website on April 22, 2008

Hmm. How… cute. Is she running for district council? And I hear she just recently put a new font on her site. Is that… Gotham? Copycat! Charlatan! Lemming! Oh, wait, it’s Avenir? Well, then, she’s definitely not copying what’s-his-face. The guy with the funny name. What is it again?

Barack Obama\'s Website on April 22, 2008

Ah, yes, that’s right. Obama. Well, now, this is a site! Look at the airiness! The beauty! The hope! The change! The fonts! Gotham! And I can not for the life of me find the name of the serif and script fonts, but they are fantastic. Look how well the script and Gotham work together! Now if only HTML 5 were in effect, we wouldn’t have to put up with Helvetica and Georgia in the text boxes.

Most pundits have agreed that Obama’s branding team knows what it’s doing. I have to agree. That is one professional, good-looking, and effective site. It’s yummy. I’ll take a double scoop in a waffle cone, please.