[UX] My Issue with Windows 10’s Multiple Desktop Feature

One of the more productive features I’ve embraced is the multiple desktops. I tend to compartmentalize tasks, and being able to actually do that visually, helps me focus on what I’m doing, and keep my process organized.

I use Windows at my day job and I was thrilled when I saw that Windows 10 was adding this feature. Unfortunately it comes up short due to one major flaw in the UX, the implementation.

OS X splits the various programs running in to the program and the windows (or instances) of that program. Windows does that too. OS X indicates which  programs are running in the dock with a little dot underneath the icon of that program. Windows does too.

But here’s where Windows, sadly, goes amiss. In OS X you can have different instances of a program running in multiple desktops. No matter which desktop you’re on, if the program is active on ANY desktop, it will show a dot under the icon. If you click that icon it will (should at least) take you to the most recent instance of that program regardless of the desktop that instance is in. Yes, it could work a little more smoothly as it doesn’t always work that way, but it DOES indicate that it’s running somewhere.

Windows 10 separates completely between desktops so that there is no connection between the programs running on the different desktops. This means that when I need a program, I can’t see that it’s running on a different desktop, because the dock only shows me what’s running on the current desktop I’m on. This leads to unnecessary instances of a program running leaving the benefits of the multiple desktops mute and void.

If I don’t know what’s running on my computer I’ll never find that instance, or I’ll waste time trying to find it. If I need my email and I don’t see it’s open, I’ll open it up again. If I waste time looking for it on the 5 different desktops I have open I lost the benefits of having multiple desktops.

True, multiple desktops came in on the Mac in 2009 with OS X 10.5 “Leopard”, and true, it wasn’t great with it came out either. But I had hoped that Microsoft would learn from Apple’s mistakes with this feature.

All in all, I must saw that upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 10 has been painless, it’s a shame it wasn’t eventful.

 

[UX] The Chicken and the Egg Problem

I recently had the honor of advising a startup on their initial launch design. The biggest issue I encountered, and I’ve encountered this quite a bit with new companies, is the problem of the chicken and the egg.

Many products rely on two separate types of users in order to get off the ground. A marketplace needs sellers and buyers, a social network needs followers and people worth connecting with, big data needs sources as well as consumers.

The big issue is that you cannot cannot cannot gear a site to both effectively.

Imagine going into an electronics store with sections geared towards the supplier. Would you really want to buy there? The message it sends is that you can’t get suppliers. If you supplied to that store, would you feel confident that that store would be able to sell your wares?

This is a design problem as much as it’s a business problem.

One classic pattern that tries to straddle both is to have two big buttons: “I’m a buyer” / “I’m a seller”. In lieu of the above paragraph, does that still sound like a good idea to you?

A page split down the middle doesn’t look all that good either. It gives the message that you don’t know what you’re doing, what your company’s focus is.

To solve this you need to focus on one. If you can do that effectively, you’ll never get both. Until you get the ball rolling you probably will have to do a lot of manual marketing to the other behind the scenes, to make the site work.

There are two ways to go about doing this:

The first is to put up a shell online for a very manual process that happens in the background. The shell is minimally automated, just enough to make it look like a fully functional site. What this does is it keeps the development costs down while you build a user base and test your assumptions.

Then focus on building it into the tool you would use, while you build up the user base. As you make successful deals through your site those deals make a great foundation for your next homepage that features your successes.

Airbnb did a version of this, I am not advocating for what they did as it might have been illegal, but when they were starting out and trying to grow aggressively, they pooled potential poster from Craigslist.

The second way is to provide a service for the first user-type regardless of whether the second user-type exists.

Kickstarter is a classic example of this. Kickstarter has two user types: project creators and project supporters. But Kickstarter became a platform for the creator to sell to the supporter. If you are a creator and you don’t have a community to begin with, you probably won’t find that community on Kickstarter. Kickstarter stays away from promising that. They created a platform that provides value for the user whether or not Kickstarter is huge.

If you can focus on one type of user you’ll be doing your website’s aesthetic and your company’s business plan a huge favor.

What do YOU thing? Please comment.

Why we need to avoid taboos

“At the great religious metropolis of Hierapolis on the Euphrates pigs were neither sacrificed nor eaten, and if a man touched a pig he was unclean for the rest of the day. Some people said this was because the pigs were unclean; others said it was because the pigs were sacred. This difference of opinion points to a hazy state of religious thought in which the ideas of sanctity and uncleanness are not yet sharply distinguished, both being blent in a sort of vaporous solution to which we give the name of taboo.”

– Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough

Frazer posits that the source of pig being forbidden in the Middle East in ancient times was due to its sanctity, via the worship of Attis and Adonis, rather than its uncleanliness. Throughout The Golden Bough Frazer brings numerous examples of how an animal, or object, or place went from being sacred to being profane due to its taboo status.

Whether you accept the thesis of the pig, this idea is found elsewhere. From one generation to the next, once something became forbidden, the reason for its being forbidden got lost.

I grew up with a story about a woman who wanted to get the recipe for her mother-in-law’s pot roast. One thing that puzzled her about the instructions was where that she was told that she needed to cut off the ends of the pot roast, or else it wouldn’t be kosher. When she found the source of this custom, she discovered that the pan, in which the originator of the recipe used to roast her pot-roast, was too small. But because her mother-in-law hadn’t asked why, she thought it was a necessity.

I was taught this story as an example of the importance of questioning things that don’t make sense to you. When people avoid something, and it becomes taboo, the reason they avoid it gets lost, because they don’t transfer that knowledge.

I’m concerned about how it’s no longer acceptable to discuss things that make people uncomfortable. I’m afraid that if we cannot talk about these things,  we are giving up our power to work through them and find real solutions. Whether it’s religion, race, or body image, it’s toxic to make discussion itself taboo. If we cannot talk about something, it means that we will lose the very reason why the issue is important.

Case in point, how many people who were so adamantly supporting the confederate flag knew that its popularity rose in the 50s and 60s in direct reaction to integration?

When we don’t talk about things, their knowledge gets lost.

How I Rea[r]d – Audible has changed everything

We all make resolutions as the new year comes around. Most don’t last a month, but half way through, mine seems to have stuck (tfoo tfoo) and I’ve been reading a book a week since January.

Over the past few years I’ve discovered that while I’m coding I am most productive when I listen to things. When I’m working on something that takes a lot of brain power that tends to be Bach or Mozart, a little less brain needed — Led Zeppelin or The Beatles. However, two thirds of the time I’m doing things I’ve done ten times before, it takes expertise, but not much brain power. That’s when I listened to podcasts.

TWO Free Books on Audible

About a year and a half ago I decided to try Audible instead of podcasts, I had just finished the back log of This Week in Startups and my day was feeling empty.

I rarely listen to podcasts now, I still have my few favorites, but I’ve been eating up all the books I’ve been missing, and discovering so many more I never knew I’d been missing. During my commute, during workouts and at work. I am a fanboy and am grateful.

Check out my reading list, I’ll keep adding to it as the year goes on.

I’ve decided to share my list now, because I’ve been feeling more and more a need to discuss what I’ve read. So if something jumps out at you on the list, leave a comment, or email me directly. I’d love to discuss.

Note: since I am reading with my ears (rea[r]ding) I’m also considering literary audio performances and courses as a complete book. You may disagree that listening isn’t really reading, it’s not quite as it is passive. But the outcome is the same, I’ve consumed the literary work in it’s entirety.

Don’t be TOO clever with your UX designs – Why I cancelled my Coin

Edit: After reviewing Plastic, I decided to go with them. First and foremost, their security isn’t over-thinking things. Second, their card actually recharges, so you won’t have to buy a new one after a year+.

* * *

I was excited when Coin announced their campaign. I love technology, and this is a great example of innovation being used to make life easier. I have several credit cards, it’s good for your credit score, and keeping track of them is a pain and risky. I’d rather keep them safely at home and use secure device out in the wild.

When I first received the notification to download the app I set it up. I had a little trouble setting up the Tap Code. I had a little musical training growing up, but that was a long time ago, and I never got around to learning Morse Code. I finally entered a code that was acceptable, but how do you write that down?

Months later I saw that Coin was starting to ship so I tried to sign into my app to see when mine would come. I’d been waiting for it for a while and was excited.

Tap Code: Damn. What was it again?

IMG_0097

I went to reset it, had trouble getting something complicated enough that was acceptable. Again. This time I tried noting it down in 1Password with dashes and dots.

Later that day I decided to try signing in again. Even with the dashes and dots I couldn’t sign into the app.

I applaud them for trying something new, but at that point I was starting to get concerned about ever being able to use my Coin. So I looked through the app, no there is no alternative to using the Tap Code.

At that point I wrote to them asking them if there are plans for an alternative for people like me who can’t seem to get their innovative password alternative working. The email I received in response, I felt, was patronizing. It explained how to set up the Tap Code, and made me feel like an idiot. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they’ve had a bunch of people who couldn’t set it up, maybe due to my frustration I was reading into the tone of the email. The person clearly didn’t read my complaint and sent me an answer explaining what they thought I was asking about.

Maybe I should learn Morse Code, but that wasn’t even the issue, I couldn’t get it working even after I had written down my code. I responded asking if they have plans integrating an alternative for people like me, and no they didn’t . So I requested a refund.

With innovations, it’s important to make sure they work well, if you want people to use them. If your innovation is truly unique and different, It’s also important to make sure there are alternatives, if you want your users to be comfortable enough to try your innovation out.

Even Apple had a password fallback when they first implemented the fingerprint reader. Now the password fallback is gone, but that was there for the first year+, until they ironed out all the details.

In addition to being concerned about being able to use my coin at all, I was just as concerned about their approach to UX. I’m not an average user, and I couldn’t use their technology effectively. If they’re not responsive nor thoughtful about THIS innovation, what other aspects of their system and security are they NOT thinking through?

At least I got my money back, but I’m disappointed. I wanted to use their tech.

I don’t know how many people they testing this concept with. I couldn’t find many articles about the security benefits of tap codes over pins. Historically Tap Codes are interesting, but they’re for communicating, not for identity. I think it’s a real shame that their approach is bullheaded and unthoughtful.

“The Crystal Goblet or Printing Should be Invisible”

This metaphor is truly stunning and puts into words the careful balance between that must be maintained between content and container. This is as true for a site’s design and the content it contains as it is for typography and the text it contains.

“Imagine that you have before you a flagon of wine. You may choose your own favorite vintage for this imaginary demonstration, so that it be a deep shimmering crimson in colour. You have two goblets before you. One is of solid gold, wrought in the most exquisite patterns. The other is of crystal-clear glass, thin as a bubble, and as transparent. Pour and drink; and according to your choice of goblet, I shall know whether or not you are a connoisseur of wine. For if you have no feelings about wine one way or the other, you will want the sensation of drinking the stuff out of a vessel that may have cost thousands of pounds; but if you are a member of that vanishing tribe, the amateurs of fine vintages, you will choose the crystal, because everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than to hide the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain.

“Bear with me in this long-winded and fragrant metaphor; for you will find that almost all the virtues of the perfect wine-glass have a parallel in typography. There is the long, thin stem that obviates fingerprints on the bowl. Why? Because no cloud must come between your eyes and the fiery heart of the liquid. Are not the margins on book pages similarly meant to obviate the necessity of fingering the type-page? Again: the glass is colourless or at the most only faintly tinged in the bowl, because the connoisseur judges wine partly by its colour and is impatient of anything that alters it. There are a thousand mannerisms in typography that are as impudent and arbitrary as putting port in tumblers of red or green glass! When a goblet has a base that looks too small for security, it does not matter how cleverly it is weighted; you feel nervous lest it should tip over. There are ways of setting lines of type which may work well enough, and yet keep the reader subconsciously worried by the fear of ‘doubling’ lines, reading three words as one, and so forth.”

“The Crystal Goblet or Printing Should be Invisible”
from Beatrice Warde, The Crystal Goblet, Sixteen Essays on Typography, Cleveland, 1956

Learning to Walk in Space

When a child learns to walk, they take leaps beyond what their skill and strength should allow. They look out at all the people walking around them, and see what is possible. Their muscles may not be strong enough to fully support them, to balance and stand, but they see what is possible. They pull themselves up by a table leg and stand. They may bounce on their feet a few times in anticipation of walking, and then they leap over, stumble a few steps, and fall onto a couch, or into a parent’s arms.

These are a child’s first steps.

When we, humanity, started our space journey our technological muscles were only beginning to be formed. Germanium was still being used in transistors, and Apollo’s computers had approximately 64Kbyte of memory and operated at 0.043MHz.

Landing on the moon was that stumbling first step that a baby takes from the table, lunging towards a couch.

Since then we’ve been strengthening our muscles. We now have cars that can drive themselves and more computing power than we know what to do with in our own pockets.

We have more than reached the time when we need to let go from holding on to the safety of the coffee table. We need to let go, and take steps out into the universe.

We dreamt of hotels on the moon and we think that we failed because they don’t exist yet.

But those dreams were the dreams of a baby believing they’re walking because a parent is holding their hands up. Our technological muscles weren’t strong enough to support hotels on the moon.

Our technology has matured and now is the time to build those hotels. Solving the problems that we will need to solve, to have a manned base on the moon, will reverberate through our economy. Such a project will reap dividends beyond our imagination.

There are a lot of technological problems that will need to be solved for man to safely set up camp off our planet. How will we cheaply and efficiently get past lower orbit? What sort of life sustaining systems will we need to build to survive there? Are there building materials there? How much water can be found there?

Cellphone cameras, solar cells, and artificial limbs each were developed by NASA to solve a problem, and each became an industry in itself, generating jobs, creating wealth, and improving our overall quality of life. The solutions we create to set up camp on the moon will do the same.

We should do this in parallel to the missions planned to Mars. The moon is close and shouldn’t wait. What we learn there will apply further out and it should pay for itself in dividends.

We should send man back to the moon. We should build science stations on the moon.

We should build hotels on the moon.

I Didn’t MVP

I’m currently learning iOS development.

When I start learning something new, I like to play with it. I like to take it apart into tiny pieces and then put it back together. “What happens with I put this piece back over here? Or add this one instead?” You can do that with code, and that’s a lot of fun.

When I started to gain momentum, I decided to do a project, and use that project to learn more about the language, the process, and the iOS ecosystem. I set a deadline; I wanted to have an app ready and in the app store before the end of the February. I didn’t make that deadline.

I think that learning a new language, for me at least, contradicts the concepts of developing a product.

When I’m learning how to code something, I add features, why? Why not? It’s something else to play with and it doesn’t matter how clunky my code is because it’s only there for me.

When building a product you really need to keep it as simple as possible. At least for v1. If you want to test a concept, see if it has appeal and will be useful for your target audience, you need to keep the experience simple, and the features to a minimum.

So that’s what happened. I didn’t MVP. But I’m okay with that. I have a working prototype of a much more complex app on my phone that I can show people, it’s the conversation piece I wanted it to be and looks and works pretty rad.

The MVP is MUCH simpler, and I’ll have it out much sooner than I could the current working model.

Long Live the QR Code

QR codes aren’t dead, they were just never implemented well.

In the past two weeks WhatsApp and Snapchat both announced different implementations of QR codes. What’s different now? Why would these work, and nothing else before them?

WhatsApp uses the code to connect a specific browser with the app so that WhatsApp Web can be loaded, similar to the WordPress plugin I wrote. Snapchat added QR codes for connecting with people reducing the friction of having to remember/type in a username.

There’s a lot of hate and cynicism towards QR codes. What they’re complaining about, mostly, comes down to ridiculous implementation and unnecessary use of the codes. Frankly they sound like luddites with their complaining.

I’ve been disappointed with the overall implementation. QR codes are great tools to pass a small amount of information from the physical world to your mobile device. Unfortunately they’re mostly used as a gimmick. Think of them as an alternative to a shortened URL. If you don’t want to force someone type in a long URL, that would be an ideal use for a QR code.

But you still probably shouldn’t use a QR code for most situations today; unfortunately, you need a special app to use them. Why? I don’t know, QR code deciphering libraries are built into the native iOS camera library. What’s really wrong with QR codes today is that they’re not easy enough to use.  If the camera had a “scan” setting along side the useless auto crop tool “square” people might actually discover intelligent implementations of QR codes.

The vast majority of implementation today are ads. When I see one out in the wild I usually won’t pull out my phone because there aren’t good apps for scanning QR codes. I usually snap a picture of the ad if I’m really interested in it, then pull up the ad later when I have an extra minute.

A good, and relevant use of a QR code for an ad would integrate location. If you scan the code, and that takes you to an app or site that verifies your location you get 30% off. But that would only really work if that specific location was important. If you’re an ad agency, there’s a freebie for you. Use it for the grand opening of a new store and place a treasure hunt in a 6 block radius of the new location.

There’s very little you can do with QR codes that you can’t with NFC or iBeacons. But there IS a bar of technical know-how for implementing either low frequency radio powered tool, that you don’t have with QR codes. Implementing QR codes properly is really a matter of treating them as a tool, and implementing them in a way where people might actually find them useful.

Enter WhatsApp and Snapchat. Here’s what they did right:

  1. The functionality is built straight into the app, no need for a nonexistent well-designed QR code reader to use the new feature.
  2. It reduces friction by providing a less complicated way to do something that might otherwise be more complicated. They did not use the codes as a gimmicky extra step.

An added benefit is that it actually DOES have the intrigue a gimmick might have due to the fact that they actually got the implementation right. Proof, all the great press they got for it.

P.S. I’m currently working on a companion iOS app for the plugin I wrote. Stay tuned…

Support NASA – The Plan

Anyone who knows me and has ever been around when the topic of space has come up knows that I’m a little obsessed with space and NASA. I know I’m not the only one. So once this idea stuck in my head, it’s stuck.

The Problem

The NASA Administrator is authorized by 42 U.S.C. 2473(b) to accept unconditional gifts or donations of services, money and property. However they are not allowed to solicit donations. Because of that, until now, the best way to donate to NASA has been through here.

That is inconvenient and we are sure deters many people from sending in checks or money orders.

The Plan

An simple organization whose sole purpose is to collect those monies and donate them to NASA. (I may have an accountant to help me set this up.)

A simple landing page (SupportNASA.org – yes I own it now) that enables people to donate to NASA. Money will be collected via online payment form and donated to NASA on a regular basis. Of course,

Org will be run completely off donated time and services. If money is needed that will be raised separately. Due to the simplicity of the plan I don’t think there are many administrative costs aside from money fees.

Bonus: Volunteer designers and developers will build a new donate page monthly… Because it’s cool. (Already have the launch landing page lined up. If you’re interested in grabbing a month, let me know.)

Questions:

  • Does anyone see any issues with this plan? (legal, practical…)

  • Will NASA be okay with this? Will they take our money?

Why?

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

In depth, in the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson. 

Brain trust: Feedback please!