What’s the design process at GDS?

We don’t make “high fidelity mock ups” or “high fidelity wireframes”. We’re making a Thing, not pictures of a Thing.

One of the problems with high fidelity wireframes is that they’re very easy to send around to stakeholders who respond with comments like “Move this up a bit”, or “Make that more blue”. The problem with that is they’re commenting on the picture of the Thing rather than the Thing itself.

Two Ways to Assess the Microsoft Surface

Some time ago I came across two interesting articles describing the experience of using the Microsoft Surface Pro 2. One of them is by Ian Betteridge, a tech journalist, the other by Lukas Mathis, a software designer and developer.

Reading and comparing these two articles reveals some interesting common ground between both authors: Both of them like the new Windows 8 Metro interface, native Metro applications, split-screen multitasking, the sharing menu and the pen support. They both dislike the old Windows desktop UI, which barely works with a touchscreen, and all the cruft that comes with legacy Windows, like shaky drivers, DLL hell and ad-ridden software. In the end, both reach opposing conclusions. Lukas Mathis writes:

In the end, I really, really like Metro, but don’t love Windows as a whole. It’s flawed. But even so, I like my Surface a lot more than I ever liked any of my iPads.

Ian Betteridge concludes:

The tablet experience isn’t anything like a modern tablet, missing out on the portability, ergonomic factors, and flexibility of use. It also comes with the high maintenance costs of a traditional PC. [...]

If you’re an old-school Windows diehard who kind of liked the idea of Tablet PCs in 2003, but couldn’t find one powerful enough, you’ll like the concept of Surface Pro – although you’ll probably hate Windows 8’s interface. For everyone else, you’d either be better off buying a cheaper Windows laptop or an iPad Air.

It’s quite illuminating how two people can like (and dislike) the same things, yet ultimately reach completely different conclusions. Different people, different needs.

UI Design Trend Cycles

A little while ago, Brent Simmons wrote about standard UI controls and their advantages in comparison to custom UI controls. This is in large part due to iOS 7, which leveled the UI design playing field last year: Where previously iOS user interfaces were expected to feature lavish graphical details such as photorealistic textures, lighting and shadows, iOS 7’s streamlined appearance reduces the necessity of a dedicated photoshop artist in UI design.

User interfaces adopting iOS 7’s new, minimal appearance look modern and fresh, whereas iOS 6 apps look dated and old fashioned in comparison. This begs one question: How long will it take until iOS 7’s appearance starts to look dated and old fashioned? Greg Cox speculates that just as standard controls and the default look & feel of iOS 7 are a useful differentiator right now, history is bound to repeat itself once the novelty of iOS 7 wears off and designers have to find new ways to differentiate:

So at some point in the cycle custom controls start to become valuable again. Apps that use them effectively will stand out and will be hard to copy. Consider the discussions about TweetBot’s famously custom UI, or the raving about Loren Brichter’s beautifully simple Letterpress design. In the latter half of the life of the original iOS design it became positively passé to rely on standard controls for your app.

Which reminds me of a theory recently put forth by Joel Unger:

Design ecosystems mimic biological ecosystems: Whenever a new trend takes hold or an old one reemerges in the world of design, patterns emulate competitive systems in nature. Resource-intensive adaptations often achieve substantial competitive advantages.

Alan Kay says that Xerox PARC bought its way into the future by paying lots of money for each computer. Today, you can almost buy your way into the future of mobile computers by paying small amounts of money for lots of computers.

PADDs, not the iPad

Visualizing Algorithms

Mike Bostock adapted his talk on visualizing algorithms from Eyeo 2014 for the web. He writes:

Algorithms are a fascinating use case for visualization. To visualize an algorithm, we don’t merely fit data to a chart; there is no primary dataset. Instead there are logical rules that describe behavior. This may be why algorithm visualizations are so unusual, as designers experiment with novel forms to better communicate. This is reason enough to study them.

But algorithms are also a reminder that visualization is more than a tool for finding patterns in data. Visualization leverages the human visual system to augment human intellect: we can use it to better understand these important abstract processes, and perhaps other things, too.

I’m also reminded of a video I came across some time ago, visualizing the inner workings of 15 different sorting algorithms:

A Better Place on Twitter

A Better Place is a positivity filter bubble. It uses terrible sentiment analysis to strip out negative Twitter posts from your timeline; hopefully leaving you with a few morsels that make your day tolerable.

A pleasant response to those Facebook mood experiments.