Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

Touching the… something

June 5, 2011

You may recall I’ve had words on various touch gadgets in the past, like here or overthere – this post I thought I’d devote to a designer’s look at touch technology itself, so let’s dig in:

– undoubtedly riding the coattails of both the ridonkolously successful iPhone/Pad and their own attemps at mobile OS, Microsoft have started teasing Windows 8. Now, if one did not much like MS, one might ask why one should believe they can make that work when Win-7 clearly ended up as little more than a graphic front-end on XP but that would be outside the scope of this article, and… whoops, I guess I did ask it after all.
Anyway, that’s not the point – the point is, MS want to be the first to apply what is essentially the user interface of a smartphone to a “PC”, as they call it. Complete with swiping, tiles, apps, the whole shebang.


The above video became the straw that made me start writing this, and now I must explain why…

Well, in one of the articles I linked at up at the beginning, I mention hotkeys and such, and I also berate the lack of an actual, physical keyboard – at the heart of it, these two complaints are the problem with touch.
Of course, you may think that hotkeys are the stuff o’ geeks, and certainly there are ones you (or even I) have never heard of, but if you’re being but a little productive on your computer, chances are you use some, like cut/copy/paste, or arrow keys or tab, for example.

Then there’s the physical keyboard itself – it relates to touch like a church organ does to a harmonica. What I mean is, even if you’re the most dexterous person you know, the number of possible gestures you can squeeze out of ten fingers (even if none are used to hold the device) pales in comparison to the number of combinations even a relatively-fumbling person can manage with those ten fingers and a qwerty keyboard – there’s just way more material there, which means potential access to a greater number of practical shortcuts.

But there’s something more to the difference between touch and an actual keyboard, and it’s the same reason that this never became popular:

It’s a laser keyboard, and it’s been around for almost twenty years but maybe you’ve never seen one in real life, as it never really caught on.
Why? Because it lacks something you probably didn’t know you needed in a keyboard (and indeed in many other cases): Tactile feedback.
Your fingers, flying mostly below the radar of your consciousness, rely heavily on feedback from the keyboard, and therein lies the rub: – anyone doing anything other than casual browsing (i.e. non-productive activities) on a device is going to experience significant slowing in interaction if, instead of the fingers instantly “knowing” if they hit those buttons or keys or not, and if they responed, you’d have to rely on a visual or audio cue (like a blink or a click) that you have to consciously take note of.
That’s why the F and J keys on your keyboard, and the 5 if you have a numerical pad, have a small bump – to tell you, at a near-subconscious level, that your fingers are in the right place.

This is hyper-low tech – it’s tactile response, something we’ve had since we were friggin monkeys, having snuck into everyday use (check your non-touch phone if you have one, see the little bumps? – see the little nubs on your headphones, telling you which is left and right?), and we rely on it so heavily we’re not even aware of it.

It makes sense – afterall, how often do you ever look down at your fingers, or any other part of your body, to check where it is? Usually (as in, when you’re not learning the tightrope, for example) you don’t have to because the body is exceptionally good at keeping you informed about what it’s doing.
Imagine doing something as simple as walking by consciosly deciding what to do with your legs and feet all along – this is head-explodingly difficult, and the reason some people never learn to walk fully again after certain types of injuries, namely the type that makes the body “forget” how it feels, and forces the concious mind to work it out instead.

The concious mind is good at many things – but being fast is not one of them.

So everyone who uses even slight amounts of blind-typing, which here means “anyone who ever take their eyes off the keyboard at any time during computer use”, is going to have to overcome this. Now granted, for much casual use speed is not of the essence, and you’ll probably be OK once you’ve got new routines but for most productive uses, touch is going to be a major hurdle.

(if you’re now sighing and rolling your eyes, mumbling to yourself how they’ll overcome that easily and soon, you should know that Nokia announced their tactile feedback touch keyboard as far back as 2007 – also something you’ve probably never seen or even heard of. Apparently it’s not that easy)

OK, so what am I saying here, that I want to outlaw – or at least diss heavily on – touch interfaces?
Of course not. Well, the dissing part may be true. But they’re cool, and what’s more, they are now popular with Microsoft, meaning we’re stuck with them even if they weren’t cool at all.

What I want to say with this article is this: – some very important details concerning humans and design are especially apt at flying below the radar and be overlooked, specifically because their place in whatever process we’re talking about is mostly (or completely) outside the spectrum of the conscious experience involved, even if they’re absolutely central to it.
I think we should devote specific attention to try and notice these details.
Not because we can’t make things that work otherwise – things like touch technology clearly works – but because we can make things that work even better if we do.

I also think touch interfacing has as much place on an actual computer as wifi on a sledgehammer, and by thinking this is the one goal of computer development now, to add touch to everything, MS and Apple both (damn, I wish we had more choices!) risk crippling the otherwise incredibly versatile tool a computer truly is.

Broader vision, people, broader vision.

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On a great dane

May 26, 2011

I think I may be something of a jaded person sometimes – no, it’s true, at times I am cricital, skeptical, even cynical, and find that occasions of real inspiration are few and far apart.

But even I get caught up now and then, and it seems this happens almost every time Bjarke Ingels opens his mouth… so I thought I’d share a few hastily scrawled notes on that, if for no other reason then at least to express my admiration (and hopefully explain what drives it), and also spread the idea of even grumpy old people like myself being happy about something.

Here, enjoy one of his tour-de-forces first, if you haven’t already:

Now, obviously Bjarke is charming and funny and knows how to work both a presentation and an audience, and that is really cool. As lectures on architecture go, in my limited experience with them, this kind of feels like eating candy for dinner.

But – and this is what I like – it’s not all candy.

By Bjarke’s logic, and to continue with the eating analogy, he believes that, rather than force some politically correct but bland or bad tasting health sludge down your gullet, or opt out of health entirely and just eat the aforementioned candy, you should make food that is both nutritious and healthy and provides you with a lovely eating experience of aroma, taste and appearance.

– and for dinner, raw beets, they’re good for you!

Actually, this is no bad analogy when I think about it, becaus it obviously leads to this question: – the idea of food that is both healthy and delicious has become quite ubiquitous and should not surprise anyone these days, so why is it that this trend seems so new and jawdropping when applied to architeture, as Bjarke Ingels does?
Howcome this same, wholesome idea, that what is good for you (for us, the world, society, whatever) should also be a good experience, has not permeated business, politics, architecture and design along with the food and beverage industry?

Unmodestly, I like to think I’ve thought along these lines for a while, as I’m sure others also have – like, what if one of the powers of design could be to make the things society or the world desperately needs fashionable somehow? Even identifying said things, which are often not what seems most obvious or alluring?
What if we, designers, found other ways of thinking in terms of added value in our work, besides the (let’s face it) old-hat concept of desperately trying to create the “designer classic” of the future?

This is why I like Bjarke and his work so much – because no matter how hard you may try to point out flaws in his plans or ideas, you’re faced with two facts:

1. – that he and his company, notwithstanding the comic book presentations, rap music and humor, are completely serious about their ideals and willing to do a lot of homework to explain how they’re supposed to work, and

2. – when Bjarke speaks of hedonism and having a good experience, having a conscience is an indispensable part of it; you’re not just indulging yourself egoistically. To him, this is a requisite of any project.

for the sake of your job and/or sanity, don’t do a Google image search for hedonism – massively NSFW

It’s important to note that you may disagree with BIG’s way of realising those ideals, and that they may not at all be the only propositions one might come up with.
That said though, I think we should really be happy about this example of how it’s actually possible (in these ways, and so maybe in other ways as well) to be joyous, humorous and playful about using technological power, granted by mankind’s struggle through history towards modern society, in trying to create even greater societies and even better technology.

We should also appreciate the message, built in to the concept of hedonistic sustainability, that you can seek enjoyment while still being a responsible person, and that combining joy and responsibility actually strenghtens both.

Rock on, Bjarke!

Update: – Wired featured a large piece on Bjarke which is now available online, and I’m happy to find that Williams (the piece’s author) seems to harbor the same fascination with some of the same main strokes of mr. BIG’s way as I do.

It makes for a helluvalot more spreading of these generous and necessary ideas that guys like that hook on to them than, well, guys like me. Kudos, sir.

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– and it designs back…

August 19, 2010

I’ve tried not to get into this, on account of it being a veritable can of ticked-off killer bees, but I think I must, so with a due sense of dread I utter the word: – Microsoft…

(disclaimer: while I am very much a Mac fan, this is not going to be a “Mac vs. PC” article, and I probably won’t respond very well to that line of discussion. Clear? OK, let’s proceed)

So what’s the deal here?

Well, as any designer with a user experience focus should, I have taken note of this thing, the computer – in fact, the very recent history and speedy ascent of this thing presents us with a unique opportunity to see what design actually does in a complex environment.
You see, the computer operating system is the first widely accepted, uniform “object” ever to have taken on its shape purely by design, and to have spread far, far beyond any specific demographic, environment or circumstance.

What I mean is, the chair, the hammer, the glasses, the car, all the other designed objects we have, they were made into their overall shapes by a meeting of function and design – so there’s a million chairs in the world, but they all have a seat, and they all have some manner of footing, and a car won’t work unless you have a reasonably intuitive steering method that is also reliable, and so on – you get the point.

some are weirder than others though

Not so for the computer OS. Nobody had any expectations for this entity, and there were litterally no limitations – anything could have been built on the 0’s and 1’s that make up computing.
To say that something was limited only by imagination has rarely been more true.

Anyway, long story short, someone at Xerox PARC came up with a programming paradigm called Smalltalk, somebody thought of multitasking in windows, there was some borrowing, some stealing, some lawsuits and some business shenanigans, and presto, what we now know as Microsoft Windows became the prevalent operating system of computers all over the world.

And this design, it’s designing back – and this, as they say, is where the plot thickens…

For example, pretty well 90% of all computer users consider crashing and recovering from it a basic condition of working with a computer, much like refueling a car, but this is by design, not by function.
The only reason they think so is because the only OS they’ve ever known, Windows, is prone to crashing. They don’t know that a computer is not a thing that’s supposed to crash anymore than the aforementioned car is, and that it should be treated the same if any particular model is prone to do so.
Similarly, the way most people react when a piece of technology doesn’t do what it should is something along the lines of “- oh, I’m so stupid with machines!” – but this, too, may (!) be traced back to the fact that Windows, most people’s first and only direct acquaintance with hi-tech, notoriously chides the user when something goes wrong, and/or talks tech above the user’s head with gibberish alerts that sound ominously complicated, yet serves no purpose since nobody in the room understands what they mean.
It has done so ever since it was first brought to the market, and an entire generation of people just got used to it.

The list could go on but as I said this is not about bashing Windows, so let’s just say the point is made.
(if you feel like a real tirade, albeit an extremely well spoken and interesting one, this guy did his homework and then some)

Now, I’d like to think there’s more of a reason for looking at this, and certainly for writing about it, than just establishing that I don’t like the Windows experience particularly – and there is.
That reason is, there’s a cost – mostly in actual money, too, we’re not talking abstract cost here – and we’re failing to notice.

imagine a pile of these reaching from earth to the moon…

For example, look at the concept called the productivity paradox. If you don’t feel like following that link, the brief version is that, in the business world, there is hardly any visible gain in productivity with the increase in IT expenses.
This is named a paradox and has statisticians and other researchers flailing for an explanation but I believe the answer is right at hand: – the most prevailing computer user interface is Windows, and Windows does not increase productivity, at least not in any way relative to the expenses incurred by using it.

Let’s do a bit of math here – I know, it sucks, but it matters:

Acme is a copywriting company that, so far, has worked on electric typewriters. There’s some 25 writers employed, and they each get 40.000,- a year.
So let’s get them computerized – each work station costs $750,- and each copy of Windows is $300,-.
That’s $93.750,- right there – or more than two whole salaries for the first year (and we haven’t bought antivirus software yet, or even an office package). The computers better make these people that much more effective, but how would they do that? They’re still just writing stuff.

It gets worse though.
A piece of hardware such as a computer should be able to run pretty well for at least 5-6 years (in fact there’s no real reason why it shouldn’t run much longer than that) but, mainly because of Windows, this company is probably going to have to upgrade most of the workstations every 3 years or so – in addition to that, there’s going to be point updates to the system, costing money too (say, a couple of hundred dollars pr. workstation pr. year average).

But it gets worse yet.
Because, unless these people are mostly superusers, having 25 workstations running Windows is going to require at least one full-time IT support employee. If the company has servers, too, one guy probably won’t cut it (if they run Windows Server, IIS and the sort).

– and just as you thought it wouldn’t get worse anymore, it probably will; the company is all but guaranteed to experience serious downtime and expenses due to a virus or hacker attack. Most attacks (even taking the spread of Windows into account) exploit weaknesses and security holes in Windows that should not exist in the first place.

Remember these? Gone. By the wheelbarrow.

The calculation is not meant to be textbook but I’d have to be off by quite a lot before computerizing such a company is going to be worth it.

Again, my point here is not that they’d be better of with Mac systems – my point is we, society, businesses, take this as a prerequisite condition of day-to-day operation without question, even though similar conditions in any other field of human endeavour would have us frothing at the mouth.

Could this be because the omnipresence and uniformity of Windows has redesigned our perception? I maintain that it is, simply because there is no other explanation for our glaring blind spots regarding computers.

I think we, people, need to start learning to cope with tecnology and design – in fact, we’re overdue; the personal computer is spreading in the form of smartphones, and these are already beginning to show the same kind of vulnerability. If we just sigh and resign to this development, we will react to it in the wrong way, also known as the Micosoft way: – the tecnological equivalent of frantically trying to heal two broken legs and a gunshot wound with a band aid and a tylenol.

The world of computers should be teaching us this, to the tune of billions of dollars every year in costs incurred by virus-, bot- and worm-attacks, spam (some estimates have more than 75% of all spam spreading via Windows PCs, thanks to their inherent vulnerabilities) and just regular wasted time.

And it’s not even that we don’t know – articles flood the news everytime there’s a major virus or worm attack. It just never gets traced back to Microsoft, which is even more baffling when you realize that significant action could be taken against these attacks, and the costs they cause, by redesigning the computer operating system in a sensible way.

I think this is really an appeal to the true power of design – just imagine if we solved this problem, born from (bad) design, with (good) design, and saved the world billions upon billions of dollars…

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Perspective on neo-tribalism

May 18, 2009

Have you heard about that, neo-tribalism?

Well, it’s a concept notably promoted by Seth Godin, modern marketing guru and widely credited for popularising the concept of “permission marketing”, and it revolves around using technology (that is, the internet) to form modern tribes around products, causes, activities etc.

actual tribe, the model for Godin’s concept

At present, this idea has considerable buzz going for it in marketing circles, spilling over into lots of other fields of professional communication – so I think this might be a good time to do a piece on it… here goes:

In Godin’s perspective, a neo-tribe is inherently positive – it’s a group of people who genuinely believe in something, and who are given the goodies about that something and the channels for spreading them.
Ideally, this means that a relatively small number of “true believers” will philantropically spread ideas far and wide, in a way no one person or company could, with a credibility you couldn’t match, and reaching deeper into the receiving masses than you could ever hope for.

A PR professional’s dream, and also, when it works, a great idea indeed – which is why Godin has reached the levels of fame and recognition he now enjoys – and a powerful implementation of permission marketing.

In fact, I use techniques similar to these when I communicate about the things I do, and I have done so before I knew anything about these concepts – however, my experience leads me to this advice: Don’t think this is magic.

The fact is, there are many, thousands, of us, trying to create this kind of following – you see this every day in your email inbox, on your twitter, Facebook, everywhere.
And you do it. Sort of.
You see, the modern tribe has two major weaknesses that an actual tribe either didn’t have or rarely fell under…

and neither did jedi…

Number one: – tech tribalism is easy. I can join a tribe about the most important topic in the world and be a contributing member in five minutes flat, by joining some manner of internet tribe, but I don’t even have to give my real name, and I can also forget about my tribe in five minutes, without any consequences whatsoever for me.
Tech tribes can build, grow huge and create momentum in short order, but they can also fizz out just as fast, and there’s usually little the tribe chiefs can do if that happens; it’s part of the speed of the media.
Just because your Facebook group has 50.000 members doesn’t mean that any of them actually do anything for your cause or product.

Number two: – there are other tribes. Many, in fact. An actual tribe doesn’t have to worry about this until it meets one of them, at which point they may have to fight over the ressources.
Which is exactly what tech tribes will have to do almost constantly.
See, like the food the actual tribes fight over, there’s only a limited availability of people, their time and their attention – so a tribe for veteran car owners can be in direct conflict with a tribe for fans of the tiger lily, simply because they occupy the same space in the receiver’s attention.

This can get much longer but for now, I’ll say this: – by all means, let’s go ahead and use those techniques Godin promotes, but as an advocate of really beating as few dead horses as possible, I say let’s already consider our next moves – and most of all, let’s be as real as we can about anything we do: Nothing is inherently perfect.

Now go forth, grasshopper.

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“Would you like to listen to some music…?”

March 14, 2009

I am no fan of websites with sound on by default – even though occasionally it can be done well, most sites run some sort of ambient loop which gets old very quickly.
On the other hand, music is, of course, great, and the internet is a multimedia, errr… medium, so let’s try to use that for the powers of good – here’s my take on that:

Jesper W. of Copenhagen’s website now offers you, dear visitor, a right cool radio station

(I’d put it right here, too, but WordPress doesn’t allow that type of embedding)

It’s my station over at – I’ve decided to put it in as an opt-in, popup solution: If you’d like music, you’ll get it, and you can even keep listening after you have left my corner of the web (no doubt vastly impressed and inspired).

The station features everything from cornball to dire techno and polish dancehall, because I am a man of broad taste (plus, I’m getting old, I think) – it’s all good.

You’re quite welcome.

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Hoops and plastics

February 28, 2009

This… well this is a classic of mine – must be at least a lot of years old I guess.

Actually it is really simple, some metal hoop and then a sort-of hammock for your tushy – the original version had a leather seat, trimmed to look as if you were sitting in the palm of a glove.

And then I moved on to this, the indoor/outdoor version:

by JWcph

The cutaways, aside from looking cool and providing flexibility, also let water drain from the seat – if you’ve left it out or, say, happen to sit in it wearing wet swimwear (and I certainly prefer imagining it at the beach or pool in the sun, over standing out in the rain at night).

Another edition would have a soft rubber seat with air pockets – mainly because it looked rather wicked I thought:

by JWcph

This was before I went all ACD, you might say – but make no mistake, I still want things to look wicked!

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The first date

June 10, 2007

As those who subscribe to the new DesignMatters may (or may not) have noticed, yours truly got to make a small thumb print on this edition – I am refering to the article about the workshop arranged by Sapa & RIAS in march, at which I was one of the happy campers.
(The repeat took place just this thursday and I understand the second iteration was just as good as the first)


That’s nice indeed – makes me feel listened to, certainly, but more importantly, the subject matter is cruicial: Creatives and industry need to get to know each other. That’s why I address it yet again (besides commenting to the reporter from DesignMatters I wrote about it in my PM blog as well), and I’ll probably bring it up at the get-together in Designbrancheforeningen on wednesday if I get half a chance (stay tuned for my comments on that after the event…).

The designers of the future will be the ones who grasp the reality they’re creating for – not just the advertising campaign or the end user, but the entire process, where it begins, where it is going and how it’s supposed to get there.
True innovation will be happening in the crossfield between creativity and engineering, during the process of making something new.

I’ll just underscore that point: – During the process of making something new…

You tell me – why am I emphasizing this?

Jesper W.
sunny day

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