Posted: April 26th, 2012 | Author: Patrick Thornton | Filed under: Main | Tags: design, software | No Comments »
This is one of the major reasons I use OS X. Software just looks much better on OS X than it does on Windows or Linux. The software coming from indepdent developers in particular is often very stunning.
Design soon becomes function. I write in Byword because it’s a beautiful text editing app that lacks chrome. I don’t want to see buttons and features that I don’t need. Too often in a Microsoft program I accidentally click on something that I don’t want.
If I’m going to spend 8+ hours a day staring at something, I’d at least like it to look good. I want it to be enjoyable.
I don’t think that’s asking too much.
Posted: January 10th, 2012 | Author: Patrick Thornton | Filed under: Main | Tags: content management system, design, innovation, The Verge, Washington Post | 3 Comments »
Can you innovate too fast? That’s what the Washington Post’s ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton wants to know:
One of the things that surprised and heartened me when I came to The Post 10 months ago was the tremendous amount of innovation going on.
Hardly a week goes by without the Web site or newspaper launching some feature, or a venture to attract more revenue, or a blog, or a social media innovation. Just since I have been here, The Post has redesigned its Web site; installed a new content management system; pioneered the Facebook social reader, which tracks and announces what your Facebook friends are reading; added a team of policy bloggers to Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog; revised its comment system for readers; added a ton more news videos online; started The Root DC, a site aimed at African American readers; and probably about 10 other things I can’t remember.
The answer to innovating too fast really depends on your position as a company. If you’re a dominate company, racking in profits, perhaps spending too much time and money on new stuff would be a mistake. Targeted R&D in the Apple mold produces better results than the spaghetti-on-the-wall R&D of Google. But there isn’t a newspaper company that is an Apple or a Google.
If you are a company in a besieged industry that is rapidly disappearing, I don’t think it’s possible to innovate too fast. Does anyone really think that the newspaper industry is in the situation it is in today because it innovated too fast?
But it is important to draw a distinction between new initiatives and innovation. Thus the proper questions are, “Are the new initiatives we are trying the correct ones? Are we spending our time wisely? Do we have the proper setup to ensure innovation?”
The Washington Post and many other news organizations are certainly trying a lot of new things. I wouldn’t call that innovation. New initiatives that resonate with users, drive traffic and ultimately help a news organization make money (and thus employ staffers) should be considered innovation. New initiatives that push journalism forward should be considered innovation and ultimately encouraged.
By this measure, I would say the Post and other news organizations need a lot more innovation. Particularly missing right now is innovation on the business model front. While The New York Times has been experimenting with different ways to make money, most notably its pay meter, I don’t recall any serious initiatives from the Post when it comes to business models. That’s innovation that the Post could sorely use.
Pexton does cite that several Post users complain that washingtonpost.com is becoming cluttered. I think that’s a fair point. I find Washington Post story pages to be distracting and hard to read (almost built for Instapaper and Reader to declutter them). This isn’t due to too much innovation, but rather far too little restraint.
This is an issue afflicting most legacy news organizations. The experience of focusing on and enjoying an individual story is rapidly disappearing beneath an avalanche of chrome: social media widgets, ads that are far too distracting and rarely relevant, polls that are unrelated to the story at hand, links to unrelated content on the site, newsletter signups, etc, etc.
My guess is that Pexton, and the employees at the Post agreeing with him, haven’t thought too deeply about what innovation at a news organization looks like. I’d suggest they check out the new tech news site The Verge. They have real innovation like story streams that allow them to create micro-blogs for big, ongoing stories. Their reviews feature layout and typography that makes them feel more like an interactive magazine spread, complete with very high-caliber video reviews and charts.
While the Post may have rolled out a new content management system and design (the site doesn’t look or feel much different to me, the end user), you can tell The Verge has a CMS unlike what traditional news outlets have. The site looks and feels different to end users. It’s what innovation feels like.
Perhaps Pexton should ask his colleagues why the Post’s website doesn’t look and feel nearly as a good as The Verge. There is no good reason it doesn’t.
Posted: October 7th, 2011 | Author: Patrick Thornton | Filed under: Notes | Tags: Apple, arts, beauty, design, liberal arts, Steve Jobs, usability | No Comments »
I don’t want to live in an ugly world. And neither did Steve Jobs.
Design isn’t just how a product looks — it’s how it works and feels. Steve Jobs and Apple made beautiful products, and I hope Steve’s commitment to a beautiful world lives on for many years to come. Beauty is more than just skin deep, especially when it comes to technology.
Steve made products that you were proud to display in your house. Products that you enjoyed using because design was an integral part of the product itself, not just a shell over some technology. Steve insisted on creating products that were design focused, because how you use and interact with a product is just as important than the technology itself.
Many think design is just veneer. That design is just style. That it’s not substance.
Good design is the core of substance. Good design makes something easy to use. Good design makes something fun to use.
I strongly prefer using products that are easy and fun to use. Without Steve Jobs, I think we would have many of the same technologies that we have today: personal computers with graphical user interfaces, smartphones with robust Web browsers, portable MP3 players, etc. But without Steve Jobs, I’m afraid we would live in a world with just technology and no design, culture or soul. This technology would be harder and less enjoyable to use, and I fear it would of the province of technologists alone.
Too many technologists and engineers don’t value design, usability and the liberal arts. Steve Jobs cherished them. As a technologist with a liberal arts background, Steve Jobs and Apple always spoke to me because they were more than just a computer company that only cared about computer components.
Apple under Steve designed computers and music players and software and phones and more that were a pleasure to use. For years I had to use Windows machines at work. They typically got the job done like Ford Crown Victoria does for a cab driver, but I rarely enjoyed using the actual machine. It always felt like using a machine.
I would go home at night, relax and work on personal projects on my Macs. I enjoyed the experience of just using a Mac. When I was away from my Mac and my beloved OS X (I used it full time from 10.1 onward), I would get antsy to get back to my computer. It was more than just a machine, it was my sidekick.
The difference between what Apple produces and what many other technology companies produce is that they make products that allow people to do something while also enjoying what they were doing. Steve and Apple make technology centered products that speak to non-technologists. To produce a truly great computer or phone or piece of technology, everything matters: the hardware, the software, the physical design, the user interface design.
Steve understood that better than anyone else, and I think it’s precisely because he didn’t see himself as a technologist alone. Steve cherished the arts. The world would be a better place if more people did.
Steve Jobs’s legacy is the marriage of technology and liberal arts.
Thank you Steve. You helped us live in a more beautiful world.
Posted: October 6th, 2011 | Author: Patrick Thornton | Filed under: Notes | Tags: Apple, design, Steve Jobs, style, substance, usability | No Comments »
Stephen Fry explains how those who think Steve Jobs was just style over substance don’t get it:
As always there are those who reveal their asininity (as they did throughout his career) with ascriptions like “salesman”, “showman” or the giveaway blunder “triumph of style over substance”. The use of that last phrase, “style over substance” has always been, as Oscar Wilde observed, a marvellous and instant indicator of a fool. For those who perceive a separation between the two have either not lived, thought, read or experienced the world with any degree of insight, imagination or connective intelligence. It may have been Leclerc Buffon who first said “le style c’est l’homme – the style is the man” but it is an observation that anyone with sense had understood centuries before, Only dullards crippled into cretinism by a fear of being thought pretentious could be so dumb as to believe that there is a distinction between design and use, between form and function, between style and substance. If the unprecedented and phenomenal success of Steve Jobs at Apple proves anything it is that those commentators and tech-bloggers and “experts” who sneered at him for producing sleek, shiny, well-designed products or who denigrated the man because he was not an inventor or originator of technology himself missed the point in such a fantastically stupid way that any employer would surely question the purpose of having such people on their payroll, writing for their magazines or indeed making any decisions on which lives, destinies or fortunes depended.
Posted: August 16th, 2011 | Author: Patrick Thornton | Filed under: Podcasts | Tags: baby apps, design, Fitbit, iOS, iPad, iPhone, labor apps, pedometers, pregnancy apps, usability | No Comments »
This week we focus on usability, usability, usability. And babies. And walking.
What good is technology if it doesn’t make our lives easier? What good is technology if it’s not easy to use? What good is technology if it doesn’t help us do things we couldn’t do otherwise and help us do other things even better?
We start the show by focusing on iPhone and iPad applications that help with pregnancy, birth and after the baby is born. Jeremy discusses which apps helped him and his wife out with their new baby.
The conversation then turns to walking, but don’t run away. I review the Fitbit, which is the geekest pedometer you’ll ever find. It’s not the cheapest, and some do more things, but it is the most usable and it really gives you great data.
Things are a little slow around the Interchange Project with Jeremy’s new baby and I have a few things that I need to wrap up this week. But next week and the rest of the year, we should be back with more great stuff.
Thanks for your support.
Listen to this week’s show:
Download the MP3
Posted: June 29th, 2011 | Author: Patrick Thornton | Filed under: Notes | Tags: design, Facebook, MySpace, News Corp, usability | 1 Comment »
Just five years ago MySpace was the most popular site in the US and considered a bargain when it was sold for $580 million to News Corp. Now, MySpace was sold for just $35 million.
We’ll be talking more about MySpace’s rise and fall on the podcast this week. My initial thoughts on this are:
- MySpace’s failure shows you what happens when an old media company such as News Corp. tries to manage a social network. The site stagnated incredibly and seemed to have no interest in trying to compete with Facebook. Constant innovation is required to be a successful website platform. If anything, people complain that Facebook makes too many changes. But change is necessary.
- Usability and design matter. MySpace was hard to use because its design was so poor. It was a technological, design and usability backwater compared to Facebook.
- Less is more. Facebook doesn’t allow much customization, certainly nowhere near what MySpace allowed users. Most people don’t have taste. Users’ poor design decisions made most people’s profiles a nightmare to use. We’re talking about huge background photos that made text hard to read, songs that started playing on load, photo galleries that popped up out of nowhere. It’s almost hard to believe that someone would make a social network like that.
- Mobile sealed MySpace’s fate. Facebook has great mobile apps, particularly the iPhone app. Look at how many people are posting to Facebook these days from mobile apps. Facebook embraced mobile apps early, and has a product that meshes really well with mobile. Post a short status update on the go or share a photo or see what your friends are doing. Facebook is a great way to kill time, especially when you’re waiting on a friend to meet for coffee, or on a train, or are waiting to be seated at a restaurant. Facebook gets that mobile is the future.