15 days ago
28 days ago
As connected devices are getting cheaper, smaller and more sophisticated, we own more, yet they aren’t getting any better at working together. Old devices get discarded since they can’t effectively be used as a partner for newer, shinier lumps of metal-clad glass. An old iPad is not much help when you’re using your new iPad.
If you have two iPads side-by-side, how can you use them together? How can you flow your activity across them? We are extremely limited in what iOS (or Android, or Windows) will enable us to do, and it is perhaps only through OS-level support that this situation can be improved.
The irony of this Apple advertisement featuring two side-by-side iPads is they are pretty useless like this
Here’s two experiments:
1. Try copying this paragraph from your phone to your tablet. You might think of selecting the text, copying, creating a new email, emailing to yourself, switching devices, opening email, copying text. Or you might do a similar process but via Evernote or Google Keep. Is it time we rethink computing primitives such as copy and paste to work across devices?
2. Try using your laptop keyboard as an improvised text input device for your mobile phone. This is an impossible task for most, and you might end up having to do the same steps as #1. If you’re suitably prepared, you might have a special app installed on both your computer and your phone to enable this, if you’re very lucky it might be relatively simple to indicate you want keystrokes to be sent to the mobile instead of the computer. In any case it is far from as simple as it could be.
Flowing activity is not the same as flowing data, although there is some co-dependency. Flowing data is about synchronisation across devices, with the idea that the photos you see when you pick up your phone are the same as those on your tablet and computer. It’s a convenience made possible through pervasive, affordable, always-on, always-available connectivity. (And it works very well, leapfrogging annoying cables and Bluetooth pairing).
Web browsers offer the opportunity to synchronise bookmarks, tabs and history across the devices, handy for continuing a browsing session on your phone from your laptop. This is pretty good example of flowing data to help us flow activity. Some apps offer activity flowing in different forms, many however ad-hoc hacks making up for a lack of core operating system support. Most notable is Amazon’s Whispersync, which lets you switch devices and continue reading from the same page. It doesn’t just synchronise your books, annotations and such, it synchronises a useful snapshot of your interaction state: the book and page number you are reading. Web applications such as Google Docs are often quite close to supporting smooth transitions between devices or for bringing multiple devices to bear on the one activity (usually as a result of good realtime collaboration support).
There is relatively untapped potential for using a huddle of commodity devices. A desk with a laptop, tablet and mobile doesn’t provide anywhere near threefold potential. When I observe colleagues and students, it’s pretty uncommon to see devices used in some sort of assemblage, although they often have a number of devices at hand. People switch from one device to another, and gaps between people and systems are commonly bridged with the poor fallbacks of email, instant messages and Dropbox. There is some evidence that using multiple monitors improves effectiveness. I would suggest a reason for this is the at handness of tools and information when we can spread it across a larger display surface, and they can be “reached” directly without task switching. Smaller displays, mobiles and iPads are generally limited to a single task at a time. Sure, there’s multitasking, but trying to flow activity across more than one app is usually very painful.
Using mobiles as a display to a small hardware gadget is an increasing trend, such as with fitness accessories and “smart watches”. But even these commodity devices are much more than displays, they have their own qualities, possibilities and fit differently into our lives, and this might be better exploited.
Better glue between devices might enable a greater diversity of form-factors, since one device might leverage the capabilities of another. Why can’t I use a tablet as a quick pen interface to a computer? Why can’t I use a phone as a bi-modal input for manipulating something? Perhaps in a few years we won’t just have a number of glass-dominated touch surfaces at our disposal, but diverse, simple tools for getting stuff done. Professional artists, for example have Wacom tablets, musicians have a huge variety of MIDI control surfaces, what about office workers? What about regular computer users? Might they too deserve interfaces beyond touch, keyboard and mouse?
This dream of computing has long been a dream of the fields of ubiquitous computing, and to some degree, computer-supported cooperative work. Grand architectures have been built. Some were ahead of their time, when we didn’t have the diversity and pervasiveness of commodity connected devices we have now. Perhaps its time for some of these ideas to be revisited. This might not only allow us to design new experiences with technology, but importantly, find a new role for our older bits and pieces.
42 days ago
Shaking off the excesses of early-day CSS, for a period high-design on the web was typified by austere black-on-white, typography-lead web design. Pages loaded fast, adapted well to different form-factors and the readability was excellent. Unfortunately, not all content or brands adapt well to such minimalism and many such designs end up looking roughly the same: identity was diminished.
The new fad is grids and full-bleed imagery. Vertical scrolling through stacked bands of content. Parallax scrolling effects. One of the rationales for this aesthetic are richer, more engaging and vibrant designs. This makes sense when it makes sense for the content. Portfolios and product brochures are the two most obvious candidates for this approach.
Consider below the excellent design for Normann Copenhagen
High-quality photography which obviously suits the content. Offers magazine-style browsing in an authentically digital form. No nasty faux page curl and turns here. Moreover, the design is beautifully responsive, handling all sorts of device form factors and screen sizes with ease – from splash screen through to purchase.
Less favourable is the Ableton design, recently rebooted for Ableton Live 9.
The site opens to a full-bleed image and suffers from too much visual confusion, mismatched colour tones and odd spacing of elements. It feels a little awkward. Scroll down or hit the arrow icon and you get the grid:
Here various images (often of dubious relevance) are shoved into the grid cells, or sometimes not at all. Given the gigantic amount of space used for the grid, there is not a lot conveyed. For sure it is visually richer than a straight-up text list, but due to poor design ends up being a noisy, cluttered affair.
Worse yet is from AIGA, which has two levels of header-chrome at the top, and then just gives up and dumps cascading columns of boxes:
There are many aspects to the overall design one can take issue with; the most pertinent here is the absence of uniform row heights. Scanning the screen for content is nightmarish, made worse by some boxes transitioning between opaque and translucent, and a wicked moire-inducing finely-lined background. It has a tabloid feel not befitting a design association.
55 days ago
82 days ago