Design Interface design

Design is not a democracy

This morning I read Small Change by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker. Besides his remarks about the impact of social networks there is another interesting passage in his article.

There are many things, though, that networks don’t do well. Car companies sensibly use a network to organize their hundreds of suppliers, but not to design their cars. No one believes that the articulation of a coherent design philosophy is best handled by a sprawling, leaderless organizational system. Because networks don’t have a centralized leadership structure and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals. They can’t think strategically; they are chronically prone to conflict and error. How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say?

Image from Sketching User Experiences by Bill BuxtonFor a while this topic has been fascinating me. Why design needs direction, someone with a vision or clear ideas? Why do most open source projects fail to get this right? And why do you often need a designer or someone who thinks like one for innovation?

Building a house from a design could very well work like an open source project. Designing a house as an open source project would probably be a disaster, it would end up over complete and hard to stand out. Networks are good in converging, designers are good in diverging.

The networked and peer-culture that founded Google is likely why they are incredibly successful in finding things (“to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful“) This might also explain why they fail in building social networks (Orkut, Jaiku, Wave, Buzz).

This is what makes Facebook and Twitter succeed, those are fare more hierarchical organizations where there is a clear vision set by one or a small group of people.

Design is what makes you stand out. Good design is about making choices. Even in a networked culture.

The image in this post is a picture I took from the book Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buxton.

Interface design Mobile

Why I want to design something for the iPad

I don’t own an iPad, actually I have never seen one in real life. I’m not even sure if I will ever buy one (I probably will).

What I know is that I really would like to design a news application for the device.

The iPad envisions something that computers or mobile phones don’t. It show us a new platform of interaction.

1. The device is made for consuming instead of producing. Personal computers were never designed for entertainment. The computer was designed for work, it was never designed for fun. People my age will remember how desktop computers invaded our houses. Your dad probably brought one home, because he used it at work.

If you wanted to relax and have fun, game consoles are designed for just that.

The iPad is all about consuming and relaxing. How you hold the device, the weight, the wireless network, the size, everything. It’s the perfect device to enjoy what a connected world has to offer on the couch.

2. No history. This device has no past, the only mistake you can make designing for the iPad is to design for a media carrier from the past, like a magazine or personal computer.

3. Newspapers and magazines love it. They probably do love it for the wrong reasons. I don’t think magazines or books will re-live on the iPad. It’s a new medium and like every new medium this one also comes with its own set of rules.

Why would you want a magazine? It’s a connected device. It’s fully interactive, social and connected. You might like the content, but you probably don’t want the form.

The fact that newspapers and magazines love the device is great though. They are spending money on innovation again and this is a good thing, it will help the platform to develop. Eventually we will find out how to tell or sell a story on the platform.

The device symbolizes hope, revenues and new opportunities. The success of the iPhone makes expectations for the iPad even higher.

This is why I want to design something for the iPad.

Design Interface design Projects Somehow

My 2010 predictions for Fontanel (in Dutch)

The leading Dutch design weblog Fontanel asked me (and some other guys I really admire) to write down our thoughts for 2010.

The article is in Dutch. For the English readers you can try to read it using Google Translate.

screenshot Fontanel

In 2010 vermengt internet zich nog meer met apparaten, apparaten die weer aangesloten zijn op diensten. Het web grijpt op deze manier veel dieper in op ons dagelijkse leven, op het gebied van gezondheid, productiviteit, afspraken en vermaak. 2010 is het jaar van het omnipresente internet.

Internet op mobiel is geëvolueerd tot een markt die qua veelzijdigheid inmiddels ver voorbij de ringtonemarkt is. Op de mobiele markt is de technologische race – even – voorbij en is er ruimte voor verdieping. Wat kun je nu eigenlijk met GPS, bewegingssensoren en internet. Met welke diensten maakt je iemands leven beter én wat maakt je als bedrijf interessant in een markt met honderdduizend applicaties waarbij er per persoon slechts enkele dagelijks gebruikt worden.

Slimme apparaten
Technologische vooruitgang en prijs werken naar elkaar toe. Dit heeft inmiddels een punt bereikt waarop je RFID in speelgoed kunt stoppen, WiFi in een weegschaal, of een draadloze energiemeter in je meterkast. Informatie voegt waarde toe. Hoe meer informatie je kunt maken hoe meer waarde je toe voegt aan het product dat je (al) verkoopt. Nike+ maakt de schoenen niet beter, wel de loopervaring. Hoe? Door informatie op te slaan en te duiden.

Acceptatie AR
Augmented reality is geland in 2009. Mede dankzij het Nederlandse Layar heeft de techniek een gezicht gekregen en zit Nederland in de voorhoede. Augmented reality is van zijn science fiction imago af en tastbaar geworden. Dit maakt het eenvoudiger voor mensen om er toepassingen mee te bedenken. In 2010 is augmented reality de hypefase voorbij en zullen we nog heel erg veel nieuwe praktische toepassingen gaan zien.

Paradoxaal genoeg zijn we zelf het grootste gevaar voor onze privacy. Via Location Based Services (LBS) gaan we steeds meer informatie over onszelf geven. Waar we zijn, wat we er van vinden en met wie we er zijn. In 2010 zullen er diensten komen die uit de veelheid van verschillende sociale netwerken heldere analyses kunnen maken en deze informatie perspectief kunnen geven. Wat betekenen al jouw sociale activiteiten in tijd? Naast scepsis, zal uiteindelijk het voordeel winnen want zo’n dienst kan door efficiency en patronen ons dagelijks leven verbeteren. Informatie is waarde.

2010 is het jaar van de interface designers en informatiespecialisten. Als je weet hoe je extra waarde aan informatie kunt maken en zinvol kunt ontsluiten maak je relevante diensten. De creatieve sector zal zich steeds vaker in een positie zien dat ze in plaats van campagnes functionele diensten aan het ontwikkelen zijn.

Lees ook wat Victor D. Ponten, Luis Mendo en Marcel Kampman schreven.

Experiments Interface design Live Web Projects

What Twitter could look like

Some sketches I made a while ago to illustrate what I think a web-based twitter client could look like. I really like the Tweetdeck application, because it integrates lists in the most obvious way, showing all the posts like a dashboard. I think the basics of Tweetdeck could be very well made into a web-based dashboard.

What it would look like in your browser
Twitter Dashboard design concept (screenshot)
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The entire page
Twitter Dashboard design concept
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Photographs and other media links should be displayed inline. Like Twitstat does.

Reply and retweet should be inline as well.

Interface design Mobile Projects

Content as Software

I recently worked on a large mobile project for the Volkskrant. The project contained mobile websites and numerous applications for different devices, including iPhone apps (iTunes link).

The Volkskrant on iPhone

Content as Software
I learned about the term content as software from Gerd Leonard. Not only does it sound very interesting, it’s also a very exiting development that follows from a series of events. A move from RSS, followed by widgets, API’s and standardization in platforms.

These new platforms like Adobe Air or the iPhone development platform make developing applications easier and accessible to a new and broader groups of developers.

On the other side software is being replaced by the – todays very powerful – browsers. Google is working hard to replace Microsoft Office functionality with Google Docs, and adding even more (web) functionality like working remotely together on documents.

A computer without internet connection is half the fun, or to most people useless. The computer as a communication device needs the web as much as it needs power. Todays software needs the web.

Should a media company make software?
Content as Software. Should media companies deliver content as software? We decided to with the Volkskrant iPhone application because we think an application gives a better user experience and is more effective on the iPhone platform compared to a mobile website. The New York Times released a desktop application based on Adobe Air. The content in the application isn’t unique, the presentation is.

A great advantage of distributing software for publishers is that it gives control to some extend. For example the Times Reader has free and subscription only articles in the same application. The “free” user experience is good, but they will try to persuade you to become a subscriber.

So, should a media company make software?
I don’t know. Just because we now can as easily develop software as we can develop websites doesn’t mean we should. From a pure logic perspective it doesn’t add much value to the content. It’s still the same content. From an emotional perspective it does add extra value to the experience, it’s a nice package. And that’s something you shouldn’t underestimate. An application is also more persistent, it’s always there on your startup screen, desktop or in your dock.

The best thing with content as software is to just try it. Like you would try with a website. Release soon and often. Todays software is like the web.

The Volkskrant on iPhone
Screenshots of the Volkskrant iPhone news application

Times Reader
Screenshot of Times Reader Desktop application

Featured Interface design Journalism Social Classification

The Notification Homepage

My Facebook Homepage

This blog post was written for, and published on the Online Journalism Blog.

The last year has seen social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn updating the design of the homepage to turn it more into a notification page: the homepage as a place where you can see what your friends are doing. Your virtual center of the network.

These updates let you know what your friends are up to, but they also let you know what your friends like or share. The social networks often work as recommendation networks as well.

New technology, new business
Google added relevancy and order to hyperlinks and is very useful for the active searcher: someone who’s looking for something. Social networks add relevancy to hyperlinks you’re not searching for. The networks provide you with new information and new articles recommended by virtual friends.

Both are in a business that was traditionally the business of a news provider. Google gives you insight and background information. Social Networks keep you up-to-date and recommend information.

Does this design shift also affect the future design of news websites?
The average news website probably publishes around a hundred articles every 24 hours. We can’t and don’t want to read all the articles a news website publishes. We need filtering mechanisms.

News websites add hierarchy to the news by presenting the most important things first. But this is a mass hierarchy. It’s not personal. The sorting is based on what the news website thinks will interest most people. And this works very well for the most important news.

The news website is a large pile of stories. Is this still in the best interest for a reader? His or her most valuable asset is time. Sure there is some news you need to know about, but you get to know about the important facts through your social networks as well.

And if you know the facts you can learn more by hitting the search button. The news website is still a database with a single entry, the frontpage. This makes it vulnerable in a distributed environment.

Distributed environment
The future of information presentation (at least for the long tail of information) will probably be user-centered. Mobile devices are extremely user-centered. Successful access points like interfaces and devices provide readers with the most relevant information.

Time is our most valuable asset and the reduction of noise is a serious proposition for any new service. News itself is relevant, there is no question about this, but how do you deliver your content in a distributed environment?

Type of environments
There are different environments.

1. Get your content on other platforms through syndication or API’s. The problem is monetization, although you could distribute the news and link back to your website with hyperlinks in the text that link to more in-depth coverage.

2. Your content on your platform with a personalized presentation based on your own network or an external (social) network.

3. The current form of presentation where your content is on your platform presented in your hierarchy.

What can you do as a news website to be more relevant? Should news websites learn from the design of social networks and move to a more user centered approach? The New York Times is already doing this with Times People and with (the project I work on) we created a personal selection based on your reading habbits.

Your Thoughts
What design elements that originated in social networks do you think could very well be applied to the basics or every major news homepage? Or what are the arguments not to implement this kind of functionality?

– Share articles with your friends
– See on what articles your friends commented
– See what your friends are reading
– See what news is happening close to your friends
– See news topics your friends subscribed to
– Discuss an article only with your friends

Featured Interface design Usability

The underestimated value of marching backwards into the future

For an interaction designer not using the potential of a medium is horrible. There is this new medium with new a paradigm, new possibilities and you are using it the same way as the old medium. Let’s call it a transition period. McLuhan called it marching backwards into the future.

The value of the transition
For a designer there is nothing to gain in the transition period. It’s pretty frustrating to design the same old things on a new platform. We love using the new challenges a new medium gives us. And early adopters love designs and applications made for new media too.

And despite this there is incredible value in the transition. All thanks to the mental model. People are used in using something. And especially with digital media they have a mental model that tells them where they can find whatever they want. This is important when there is a new medium. They don’t understand the new medium, yet. But they do know how to navigate through your information as long it is structured the way it was on the old medium. And a large group of users will like it. See it as a beacon.


From paper to web
The newspaper where I work has this online image (pdf) based version. That looks exactly like the printed version, only online. From a web design perspective the interaction design is horrible. But it works for most users, since they have the mental model of the paper version. They know where to find what they are looking for. And this makes it easy to produce, and valuable for a large group of customers.

From television to web to iPhone
Dutch teletext is a very popular news service on television. TheY transported it to the web into an interface that doesn’t really make sense for the medium. And it was also transported to widgets and the iPhone. Creating a large group of very satisfied users.

From web to iPhone
The popular Dutch newswebsite is transporting the news website to the mobile sphere. Their readers except a similar experience on the iPhone as on the website.

From books to the Kindle
The Amazon Kindle and other eReader-devices are bringing the experience of reading books to the digital world. With a strong focus on recreating the same reading experience on this new device. In first instance they are neglecting (in communicating) the possibilities of these new devices that range from using hypernarrative structures, non-linear storytelling to importing the friends from your social network as characters in a book.

Why transporting the mental model to a new medium?
You slowly convert the mass from one medium to the other. It is often cheap to do and you will create a very popular service. It also gives you extra time and freedom to make something that is tailored to the medium. You earn some extra money and you are still connected with your users on the new medium.

Just some thoughts
How long can you stretch this? And would it for example make sense to convert the newspaper (paper version) to a pdf and make it viewable on your iPhone? Most readers will have the mental model of the paper version in mind and reading and browsing pdf-files on the iPhone gives a pretty good user experience.

Does it also work the other way around? For example the news website started on the web, can they transport the mental model used on the website to paper as well?

Do you have examples of successful companies that transported their content from one medium to another without altering the interface or way it works too much?