Then we saw it. “The biggest thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone.” And they weren’t kidding. iOS 7 brought the biggest redesign to iPhone since, well, ever. Not a pixel was left untouched.
The world then took to the social networks and blogs, myself included, to nitpick the pixels, the app icons, the frost effects, the font weights, the inconsistencies, the colors, the… wait I’m doing it again.
Summary of iOS7- Better UX- UI is conflicting. Pretty in some places, WTF in others- Color overload@dribbble will come alive tonight.
But after updating to the OS for myself, playing around with it, and comparing it to its iOS 6 counterpart, I’ve come to conclusion that iOS 7 is simply drunk.
Let me explain.
Being drunk lowers inhibitions – Apple has many of them. One is not giving into design fads and trends, but rather creating them. In iOS 7, that was broken. Gestures were added, chrome was significantly reduced, the back button became the back arrow (sorta), fonts became super thin, gloss was removed, and “flat” was introduced. Which are all okay when properly executed.
Being drunk slurs speech – Or in this case, pixels. The back arrows weren’t centered to the text, the control center on the lock screen confuses you as to which way to “slide to unlock,” etc.
Being drunk makes genius sound silly – you know when your wasted friend starts with “what if” and you’re like this? But if they relayed that same idea to you 24 hours later, it’d be pure genius? And that’s because we tend to focus on words, not context. Apple obviously knows where they want to take iOS, but had a hard time expressing themselves in the first beta. Focus on the vision, not the pixels.
You can still think – despite the controversial UI, Apple did innovate well on the UX. Lots of needed things were added/changed/removed (new finder, control center, improved notification center & multitasking).
But let’s focus on #1. Apple came out of their shell. Apple came out of their shell (twice for emphasis). And that’s a good thing.
The company is filled to the brim with exceptional talent. There’s no question that the people behind these devices and OS' are some of the smartest individuals on the planet, but talent doesn’t benefit you without a proper execution plan. Which leads to my second point.
The best part of watching a friend who was totally wasted last night sober up is when you hear them say “what was I thinking?”
What Apple shipped Monday is simply the first of many releases to come and the start of a more consistent design. They’re in their drunk exploration phase when genius sounds silly, pixels are slurred, and inhibitions are low. It could be that they wanted to test a few theories in the wild first and monitor reactions, or maybe they simply ran out of time. It’s not easy redesigning an OS from the ground up in 8 months.
Regardless, we can expect lots of things to change between now and Fall when Tim Cook takes the stage to release the GM iOS 7. In the meantime, our tweets, articles, and unsolicited redesigns will serve as AA meetings.
A more refined and sober iOS 7 is coming. Just have patience.
“We’re the Twitter for this and the Facebook for that.”
When I read something like this, here is how I break it down. The first blank is the company you feel you relate to most, and the second is the niche you wish to understand. But the overall sentence? Just a vague description. Open to multiple interpretations… which is bad.
When time is short…
Don’t get me wrong. When you’re trying to pitch something or help someone quickly understand your product, yes it’s nice to give some context. Something people can quickly connect with and understand.
But that’s great for when you only have a brief moment.
When you own the clock…
But when communicating via text (your product website, email, etc.), using an existing product or company isn’t always the best route. After all, if you latch on to someone else’s product and reputation, you’re automatically limiting yourself to what they’ve done–successes and failures. In the end, you still have to explain what makes you different.
So avoid taking the short route of describing your product with another. As one friend of mine said, “let the journalists form that mental picture.” And another, “get to your own unique description sooner than later.”
Identify what it is that you do/solve and explain it in your own words. Build your own brand, your own identity. Make it that products after you will do with your name what you intended to do with others.
You’ve spent so much time working on your killer product. Don’t half-ass its description.
Be short, yet specific. What is it that you do?
If you haven’t figured that out yet, then you have bigger things to worry about than comparison points.
Have you ever tapped an icon or used a gesture only to end up in the wrong place? You were mislead. It’s a sucky feeling. It’s also why we designers should be specific in our intent.
Design is rapidly evolving and trends are appearing all the time. Right now, our interfaces are leaning more towards iconography and gestures rather than text. Which is awesome, and more concise. But with them is a greater chance to mislead. You see, it’s hard to mislead your user with words because they’re words–the explicit and original way to communicate (unless, of course, you skipped English class). But there’s no popover hovering above our icons and gestures. We’re assuming that our users will deduce their meaning and in some cases, discover them.
We shape our products based on what we envision, but sometimes, those visions can be blurry in some areas. Then four hours after our product has gone into the wild, we begin receiving redundant messages exclaiming how this or that was misleading. We weren’t specific.
So be specific.
Specificity is clarity. I’m not saying you should write a paragraph beneath each trigger in your product, but pass it by a few people. Ask them what they think a particular icon or gesture does. If your accurate response rate is less than 90%, your intent is still blurry. In that case, reanalyze your intention and figure out a better and more concise way to convey it. Ask yourself if any other message could be inferred from that icon other than your intended one. Understand the placement, the context, and the message.
Many articles have been written on the benefits in store for designers who write. I can testify that they’re endless. Over time, the line that separates writing from speaking, coding and design gradually fades away. Eventually, you realize that they’re simply different forms of communication.
When you execute any of these four actions, you’re conveying a message. A good writer, speaker, hacker, or designer is measured by how well they’re able to convey this message. There are many rulers that could be used for this measurement.
Quality: No grammatical errors? Good powerpoint? Clean code? Solid UI/UX?
Value: Worth writing? Worth saying? What value does it bring to the code? What value does it bring to the interface?
Sustainability: How long will the article be applicable? How long will the speech carry weight? Is the code future-proof? Is the design future-proof?
In writing, it’s the ability to impart an idea in a short amount of words. Seth Godin’s blog is a perfect example. Everyday, he delivers a rich piece of advice in what most blogs will consider a mere paragraph.
In speaking, it’s the ability to verbalize an idea in a short amount of time. One presenter may take two hours to deliver a lesson while another may take 20 minutes to deliver the same. The first will bore the audience to sleep, the other will likely keep their attention.
In coding, it’s the ability to identify what line of code will render the other ten useless and give the same effect. What may take a novice 60 strings of JS may take an experienced coder just 4.
…and in design
As I continue to shorten my articles, I’m also “shortening” my designs. And by that, I mean finding the best way to do something.
In design, brevity is finding the best way to perform an action in the fewest steps without losing efficiency or the message. And it requires building a visual hierarchy–understanding what the most important actions are for your product.
I’m currently working on Evomail, an upcoming iOS mail client. So my most important actions are composing/replying, archiving/deleting, flagging, and switching between accounts. This is where drawers and gestures come in handy.
What’s most important now? Show that on top. What will be used infrequently? Show that later. How many steps are needed to access them–are they all necessary? Could removing this or adding that drop the action time by one step or second? These are the questions I ask myself when designing. I make my first design pass, then revisit later to “shorten.”
To be concise
I’m not suggesting that we only look for the short route in doing things. Sometimes the long way is the best way. Rather, I’m suggesting we look for the most efficient and concise way.
Mastering brevity is an art of its own. It involves linguistics. In writing and speaking, it’s word choice. In coding, it’s the code languages. In design, it’s the many design languages, styles, and aesthetics (yes, flat and skeuomorphic). Then from there, it’s wit.
Today, my lesson on the importance of typography in product design went live on Hack Design.
A few weeks ago we were introduced to the art of type, and gained a basic understanding of the rules surrounding it. But where does it all fit in? Of what value is typography to the interfaces we interact with on a regular basis?
We put extreme emphasis into the code and pixels pertaining to our products. But both are rendered useless without the content. And as the esteemed Robert Bringhurst once wrote, “typography exists to honor content.” In this lesson we’ll learn where typography and product design cross paths, and how to properly implement it into our designs. We’ll learn why it matters most.
It was fun curating what I thought to be the best 6 links for introducing one to the art of type, and its implementation. Go take a look!
Over the weekend, I received a few emails for possible design work. Immediately, I applied my red Gmail label.
But then I thought, what if emails worked like URLs? As you’ve probably read elsewhere, I’m currently working on an email application for the iPad. It’s called Evomail and with it, we plan to tackle email volume, management, and action times.
The management part is where triaging comes in. We do it every morning when we roll out of bed, grab our smartphones, and start sifting through the overnight delivery. Archiving here, deleting there, and most importantly smacking on labels for when we hop on the desktop.
These labels act as subfolders to our inboxes. But what if our email addresses could access these folders too? Then they’d resemble URLs. And that’d be a good thing.
Let me explain
Take the average freelancer for example. Their “hire me” URL usually resembles this: johndoe.com/hire
Now normally, Mr. Doe will receive an email in his inbox alerting him of a new follower on Twitter. Right above it, there might be an email from someone inquiring about a possible contract job. He’d then scan the email and apply his contract/work/hire label to it. Whatever it might be named.
But wouldn’t it be cool if people could send him freelance related emails to this? firstname.lastname@example.org/hire
note: I’m aware of the +tag syntax. Read last paragraph.
And as soon as the email reaches the inbox, Gmail detects the referenced subfolder/label and applies it automatically. One less email to triage. Do this a couple times and you’ll be waking up to a sorted colorful inbox.
All of those social network notification emails? Change your email address in their settings to email@example.com/social and have Gmail apply your “Social” label to all of them. Now you can sift through them separately.
Future email clients can even then take advantage of this action by allowing you to hide certain /folders from your main inbox. (thereby cleaning it out, further)
Taking it a step further, companies could trim down the amount of Gmail “Groups” created. Instead of firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com, you’d simply create subfolders. Less switching between accounts. Then you’d grant your staff access to specific folders (if they’re not meant to see it, it’ll never appear in their inbox).
Obviously, there are some flaws here. But the thought came to me and I though I might share it.
Auto-sorting based on an appended subfolder.
I guess the next step would be a syntax proposition. Yes, I proposed micmicing the URL scheme, but we could also use Gmail’s existing +whatever tag syntax. Except this time, Google will do the label applying for you.
my+[label name]@gmail.com. Any emails sent to this will automatically be applied the appended label.
Late September 2012, I had began designing a certain interaction for Evomail. I did my raw sketches on the Paper app for iPad, then finalized with pen and paper in my Moleskine. The look and feel wasn’t ideal, but it was a decent start. I waited a day (always good to flush out areas), then hopped in Photoshop with high hopes of conquering the design within a few hours.
Didn’t happen that way
I ended up spending day after day shifting, scrapping, and re-sketching. It became a cycle. “It just isn’t happening for me,” I thought. Had I seriously been conquered by 2-squared inches of an intangible interface? Jon and Dave (co-founders) were scratching their heads at the delay. After all, turnaround time was pretty quick everywhere else. What was going on here? I imagined that was what they thought.
But it wasn’t that simple. My “design juices” had been maxed out, burnt out. I needed some rest. And the day after day routine wasn’t helping at all.
On design and exercise
You see, designing is like exercising. We use a mental muscle when we create.
In exercise, there’s what’s referred to as the “3 Rs.” They are Recover, Rebuild, and Replenish (may vary from source to source). We’re really good at the last two. Rebuilding is the workout phase. Where we tone our design muscle by the constant reps, or code deployment and pixel pushing. We build the muscle when we challenge ourselves to widen our design capabilities through learning. For example, when graphic designers learn front-end languages (HTML/CSS/JS) to build out their own designs. And we replenish when we seek design inspiration and learn from others with tools like Twitter, Behance, Forrst, Dribbble, books and magazines.
However, we often neglect the first and most important one, recover. That’s when the muscle actually grows. In exercise, that’s when you rest and sleep. And in design, that’s when you simply breakaway. Ditch the computer, the desk, the office, the building. It’s when you get out, and do nothing.
I skipped that. And I suffered the consequences. I wasn’t going anywhere with the interface except backwards, and that wasn’t only detrimental to my productivity, but also the company’s and our goal of shipping Evomail.
So go outside
Mid-October, I went to Brooklyn Beta with my friend Josh Long from Treehouse. We stayed in my hometown for a solid week. And during that time, I kept my work at Evomail to a bare minimum. And I began to feel the mental tension gradually dissipate. My eyes were opened to more elements of design. I noticed the nice balance of typography and kerning at a local diner. The whitespace on billboards. The famous graffiti. The “artsyness” of Etsy’s office (top-left photo). The intricate nature of Aymie Spitzer’sNeighborwood carvings. Even the geometry of Manhattan. I noticed physical product design. And as a digital product designer, this was a welcomed change.
Unbeknown to me, this “break” gave my brain time to actually formulate answers to questions I had not been thinking about at the moment. That seemingly senseless act of wandering the streets of NY was actually the inspiration I needed most.
On night three of our Brooklyn visit, I opened Photoshop just for the heck of it. I deleted the folder group that held the design elements for this “trouble section” of the interface. Instantly, all the design cues I had noticed from earlier in the week began to muster together and amalgamate themselves into something sensible. Within minutes, the design was finished.
In excitement, I quickly took a before (always have a backup .psd file just in case you do crap) and after screenshot of the section. I then dropped them in Campfire for the team to see. The response was great. I was happy. I signed off. Fact: that section of the interface hasn’t been touched since.
And do nothing
The key to the breakaway is to not look at work. But in today’s society, it’s often encouraged to do just that even while on vacation. I just came back from mine this past Monday, and during my break, I made sure to not even open Photoshop. Why? Because rest isn’t only a physical thing, it’s equally mental. You have to give your brain a break once in a while. That means to not look at anything remotely associated with work.
While in New York, Josh and I ate enough good food to have us longing for another visit, for months. We rode the trains, visited the startups (some work exposure, but hey, we chatted with staff about where to eat next), and simply lived. We didn’t let our work dictate us.
And in the end, that break even helped me get work done. Essentially, no time was lost. I had been recharged, I had recovered. And all it took was a close of the Mac lid.
For the last few months, we’ve been hard at work on Evomail. It’s a modern email client for the iPad that will hopefully find its way to your tablet’s dock in the coming weeks.
The time I’ve spent designing the overall look and feel of Evomail has truly been educational. I’ve sharpened some skills and have learned a few lessons.
Lesson #1: I am my number one user
Funny enough, after we began work on Evomail, news of other iOS based email clients began popping up like weeds. Each aiming to solve something different. Each trying something new. And everytime I would read an article on TechCrunch, or view a shot on Dribbble, I would open up Evomail and just take a long look. “Will this work?” I’d ask myself. “Will it be a viable solution for our target market?” No thoughts of doubt, just questions of execution and audience reception.
I’d then hop in Photoshop and start touching things that didn’t need to be touched. Moving elements around, changing text formatting, altering gradients, and so on. Much to the annoyance of the team (1 designer, 2 developers, you know the drill). But one day I had a thought.
It was during my midday break. I grabbed some lunch and starred out the window. “I might as well get through a few emails while I’m here,” I thought. So I woke the Mac, but grabbed my iPad instead. I loaded Evomail, and began replying to short emails. I switched between accounts, applied labels, archived, deleted, responded, forwarded, did some bulk editing here and there, then closed the app.
That’s when it hit me
The overall experience felt great, but there were some UI/UX hiccups here and there for me. So this time I hopped in Photoshop with a true purpose. I was going to fix my problems, ship the changes, and play around with the app again.
You see, what I soon realized is that the first true user of Evomail will be me. As a matter of fact, the first true user of any product will be its creator. It was then I concluded that once your product works well enough for you, you haven’t failed. Once it makes you happy, it’s a success.
Chase the few, not the many
As creatives, we often strive hard to solve the problems of all. But in reality, we’re simply chasing an unrealistic goal. Our products will work well for few, work decent for some, and won’t work at all for many. So it’s in our best interest to solve our problem first. To build out of personal needs. At least that way, we’ve solved it for someone and most likely, for others too.
When I read those articles and saw those sneak peaks, the questions I had were in reference to the “many.” However, those are not always the questions worth answering first. But when I used the product myself, the questions I had were the best ones worth asking.
Are you currently working on a product? If so, find your true target audience. The “few.” And solve some of their problems. But first, use your product and ask yourself, “does this work well for me?” If the answer is no, you still have some work to do.
6Wunderkinder has just released the long awaited Wunderlist 2 for just about every device. I’ve been using it for a couple months now and it’s pretty amazing. The team at 6W, lead by Christian Reber, have executed well in terms of design and vision for the product.
It comes down to the applications’ simplicity. Often times we mistaken a slew of features for a more powerful effective app/experience. Yet sometimes it’s those same long lists of features that end up making the app hard to grasp, or in some cases ultimately useless.
We need to stop thinking about simplicity as solely an art direction. It can be a product direction. Focus only on what you want your product to be great at. Add some finesse. Everything else is noise.
After axing Wunderkit earlier this year, it’s nice to see them back in the game with fully native apps this time. We’ve reviewed the v2 on The Industry and I dropped a little $0.02 on simplicity (above quote). It’s what 6W seemed to have been chasing with this release. I think* they got it.
But today, the media shed some light on what the people behind Orchestra are working on. It’s pretty cool. But there was one section that caught my eye in TechCrunch’s coverage:
If there’s one feature that’s missing, especially for advanced Gmail users, it’s probably the ability to label emails into different categories.
When I read that line, I didn’t think “what? No label support?” Rather, I realized that the Mailbox team are truly out to do something different. You see, you can’t fix a problem, beat a company, or even move an idea forward by simply duplicating and reskinning what already exists.
Take Facebook for example. It is the social network. With over 1,000,000,000 users (typed it out for the dramatic effect), it’s safe to say they did something right. But there were social networks before Facebook. Myspace (still breathing) and Friendster, to name a few. But what was one significant difference between Myspace and Facebook? The lack of page customization.
For some, the site-wide static look and feel of Facebook was a turn off. People wanted to “express” themselves and show their inherent creativeness. But I believe it was Facebook rethinking things. I believe Zuck and the rest of the founding team believed that the point of a social network was to socialize within your network and on some occasions, grow it. It was not to make your page illegible by having pink text on a pink background. Facebook didn’t invent social networking, but they sought (and still are) to reinvent it.
I also believe Mailbox seeks to do the same thing in the mail atmosphere. The first email was sent in 1970. That makes the technology nearly half a century in age. Mailbox didn’t invent email, but they’re trying to rethink some elements of it. Labels seems to be one of the focal points.
Labels are used to “sort” your email. However, they’re probably more commonly used to mark importance. Think about it. Don’t you tackle the emails in certain label folders before others? You’re essentially building up a mental hierarchy of importance. “I need to respond to this ASAP. I can respond to this tomorrow. I can respond to this whenever.”
Mailbox is simply making that process quicker and more straight-forward. Instead of fooling yourself into thinking you’ll tackle this today, simply mark it to reappear tomorrow or next week – when you’ll actually respond. Do that a few times, and you’re at inbox zero <– feels good.
So although I have my questions, naturally (like what happens when the emails reappears? Do you delay again? Doesn’t that mean procrastination?), I like what the Mailbox team are up to. They’re really out to rethink the mailbox.
And, it makes great competition for Evomail. We’re out to change the way you think, perceive, and ultimately use your email.