Deliberately Horrible UI Design

A few months ago, in response to a horrible web form for entering phone numbers shared by Stelian Firez, Twitter responded with a barrage of deliberately horrible and obtuse design alternatives, seemingly in search of the worst option possible. Many of these are collected and archived here.

Then more recently, Reddit set to the task of designing the worst possible volume sliders.

Hilarity aside, there are certainly lessons to be learned in trying to design a worst possible UI, as well as in studying these fine examples.


Recommended Reading: Analyzing the Gender Representation of 34,476 Comic Book Characters

I just read and enjoyed this:

Female characters appear in superhero comics less often than males — but when they are included, how are they depicted? The recent theatrical release of Wonder Woman briefly catapulted the question of female superhero representation into the mainstream.

Read “Analyzing the Gender Representation of 34,476 Comic Book Characters”

The analysis is beautifully visualised, including some great pixel art.

How an edge-to-edge screen could change the iPhone’s UI

With new iPhones almost upon us it’s that time of the year when iPhone rumors and speculation are everywhere. It is pretty much accepted as fact that we will see three new iPhones this year, two of them based on the familiar iPhone 7 design and one completely new design with minimal bezels and an edge-to-edge display.

Allen Pike had some interesting ideas how such a display could shake up the default screen layout of iPhone apps: he thinks that a lot more functionality as well as basic navigation will move to the bottom of the screen, maybe like this.

Max Rudberg also picked up on the idea and created a few more mockups to illustrate the possibilities:


As an aside: It’s kinda weird that I still care about this now that I no longer personally use an iPhone. I guess it’s hard to escape the pervasive excitement surrounding a new iPhone design.

Recommended Reading: Creation and consumption

I just read and enjoyed this:

It seems to me that when people talk about what you ‘can’t’ do on a device, there are actually two different meanings of ‘can’t’ in computing. There is ‘can’t’ as meaning the feature doesn’t exist, and there is ‘can’t’ as meaning you don’t know how to do it. If you don’t know how to do it, the feature might as well not be there. So, there is what an expert can’t do on a smartphone or tablet that they could do on a PC. But then there are all of the things that a normal person (the other 90% or 95%) can’t do on a PC but can do on a smartphone, because the step change in user interface abstraction and simplicity means that they know how to do it on a phone and didn’t know how to do it on a PC. That is, the step change in user interface models that comes with the shift from Windows and Mac to iOS and Android is really a shift in the accessibility of capability. A small proportion of people might temporarily go from can to can’t, but vastly more go from can’t to can.

Read “Creation and consumption”

Recommended Reading: Myanmar’s Smartphone Revolution

I just read and enjoyed this:

For six weeks in October and November 2015, just before Myanmar held its landmark elections, I joined a team of design ethnographers in the countryside interviewing forty farmers about smartphones. A design ethnographer is someone who studies how culture and technology interact.

Read “Myanmar’s Smartphone Revolution”

I didn’t expect Facebook to hold such a dominant position in people’s lives. There are also some great examples of how routing around infrastructure differences causes completely different usage patterns compared to the US and Europe.

Recommended Reading: Not even wrong – ways to dismiss technology

I enjoyed this article by Benedict Evans, particularly this bit:

In the enterprise, new technology tends to solve existing problems in new ways (or of course solve the new problems created by the new tech). In consumer products, it’s more common to seem to be proposing a change in human behaviour, and so in human desires. You may in some underlying way ‘really’ be replacing an existing behavior in a different way, as Word replaced typewriters and email replaced Word, but that line of reasoning can easily lead you to unfalsifiable assertions when you move up Maslow’s Hierarchy.  ‘Millennials care less about driving because smartphones give them their freedom now’ certainly sounds good, but I have no idea how you could tell if it’s true, far less predict it. This is not a falsifiable analysis. All that you can hold in your hands is that you’re proposing a new human desire, and that’s a subjective view, not the objective analysis one could do of the roadmap for flight in 1903 – worse, it requires a change in your subjective view. You don’t think that you want to listen to music walking down the street, and you don’t think that you want to be able to call anyone from anywhere you might be. The argument for progress here is effectively false consciousness – ‘you think you don’t want this, but you are wrong, and one day you will realise the truth of your own feelings’. But you can’t ever know this – again, you can’t falsify it.

Steven Sinofski made similar observations when writing about platform shifts.

Remembering the First iPhone

I don’t remember much about the original iPhone announcement, back in January 2007. I’m sure it was a momentous keynote and I was thoroughly impressed at the time, but as I said, I don’t remember much of it today.

I do however remember the first time I held an iPhone in my hands and experienced it in the flesh: I was visiting a mobile technology research group in Vienna and they had two new touchscreen devices on hand to try out: the original, first generation Apple iPhone and the LG Prada phone. Superficially the two devices were similar, just as today every modern smartphone is similar to every other modern smartphone: A huge, high quality capacitive touchscreen and no physical hardware keyboard (which were a common fixture on phones at the time).

On first glance the LG Prada phone almost seemed preferable to me, with its elegant, consistent and more restrained visual design language, but when I picked up both phones and started playing around with them, the superiority of the iPhone became immediately obvious: The way it reacted to touches, the immediacy and fluidity of interaction was staggering and unlike anything I had ever experienced in a phone before. At that moment it was obvious to me that Apple had created something in a league of its own, something entirely new, something that defied superficial comparison with other phones on the market. This was the future of smartphones.

I never bought the original iPhone because of limited distribution here in Austria and for its lack of 3G connectivity, but I picked up its successor, an iPhone 3G, as soon as it became available.

Lightform: Augmenting Reality Through Projection

Lightform is an interesting little device: It does automatic mapping for full-room projection mapping, so you can hook it up to a projector and project interfaces anywhere in the room:

The device itself looks a little bit like a Kinect and the whole concept is reminiscent of Microsoft’s RoomAlive, IllumiRoom and Lightspace research projects, which isn’t entirely surprising considering that Lightform was developed by former Microsoft researcher Brett Jones, who worked on the IllumiRoom project.

I rather like the idea of augmenting the real world around us with projections because in a way it turns the traditional idea of augmented reality by wearing heads-up displays on its head. Instead of these individual, private augmented realities you get a shared, public, consensus augmented reality. Kinda like the difference between smartphones and large TVs I suppose.

You can read more about Lightform at Wired and The Verge, and for another take on automated projection mapping see Razer’s Ariana.