Today is Earth Day, and being someone who likes to offer solutions rather than simply complain I decided to do something to reduce my energy consumption at the office. I recently moved out of my cubicle and into an enclosed office, complete with obnoxious overhead fluorescent lights. I've never actually used those lights, preferring instead the look and homey feel of lamp lighting. None of my lamps uses high wattage bulbs, but I knew I could decrease my energy usage even further. So today I picked up a few high efficiency compact fluorescent bulbs – my total wattage in my office is now something around 57 watts - less energy usage than a single standard 60 watt bulb, but with far more light! And I chose blubs that offer more natural light closer to sunlight than standard bulbs with their typical warm yellow cast, so it's easier to read all those notes I took in the morning meeting.
Sidebar: Compact fluorescents are not perfect. They contain mercury and must be disposed of properly in hazardous waste sites. However, I'm confident that in time this issue will be resolved.
There are a few more things we can do in the office to reduce energy usage:
- Turn off your monitor when not in use for a while (however, if color accuracy is important to your work then I don't recommend this since most monitors need to warm up to reach their best color accuracy, especially if you are careful to calibrate them).
- Wear a sweater instead of having your own private space heater (just unplugged mine!).
- Bring your own lunch to the office or walk into town instead of driving elsewhere.
- Unplug device chargers when not in use (these are often accused of "ghost" energy usage).
Also, thanks to Petar's inspiring posts about slowing down on the road to decrease gas consumption. I've been doing that myself for the past week and a nice side effect has been that I arrive at my destinations more relaxed than in the past!
Over the weekend I was taking care of some items on my to-do list that were accomplished online. These days I use Apple's Safari browser because it renders fast and the "chrome" is minimal, and it allows me to synch my bookmarks across multiple computers and the iPhone using .Mac. However, I could not complete a couple of items because the web sites required me to use, separately, Firefox and Internet Explorer. Before Safari I used Firefox, so I had that one laying around, but it's been a long time since I've used Internet Explorer, and in fact it is no longer available for the Mac.
In my opinion, the user should choose the browser they use; this choice should not be made by a web site. Every web site should adapt, and at Vertigo we know that this can be done. Sure, it takes a little extra work (sometimes, only an hour or two), but once you get to know the unique browser quirks it becomes fairly routine.
Imagine if you had to use separate cell phones every time you wanted to call a friend who is on a different network. This would be unacceptable, and having to use three separate web browsers to browse the Internet is similarly inefficient.
So, pick your browser and stand up for your choice!
I accidentally learned that if you double click a word in a New York Times article it brings up a small, separate window with Reference Search results that uses an Answers.com engine to provide definitions of the term from several sources.
I double clicked a word to copy it, but got the pop-up instead. While some may find the reference search useful I'd prefer to stick to the common usage of the double click over text since that is something I often do. On the other hand, the New York Times is a great educational resource and this feature plays right into that. Right clicking is rarely used on the Web, but that would be a better way to access this feature. Double click to highlight the word, then right click to access a link to the Reference Search. This implementation accommodates both the reference search link and my need to copy a work on a web page. Simply add it to the browser's own right click menu under a web page-specific action subgroup.
Amazon.com has quietly started to offer (in beta) music downloads. You can download single songs or entire albums. Downloading an entire album requires a simple desktop download application. The songs can be used with any audio player and blessedly do not come with any DRM restrictions (from the Universal catalog). So far there does not appear to be a wide selection of music available for download, but if the concept sticks this will surely grow rapidly. The downside to their audio files is that they are 256k MP3s. I'm still waiting for lossless downloads!
The interesting thing is that, depending on what the (dying) music companies decide to do, this could become a viable alternative to iTunes. Apple still corners the market on music (and video) downloads and any side players are left with crumbs, but it's only a matter of time before iTunes has some real competition. And I think Amazon.com has the scale, the reach and the technology (and probably the ambition) to accomplish that goal. The media conglomerates appear to be getting frustrated with Apple's monopolistic control of the media download business and they are surely shopping around for alternatives. However, Apple plays along with the industries insistence on DRM while so far Amazon.com's MP3 store is totally DRM free.
iTunes will reign king for the near future, but the ground is surely shifting under their feet.
An iPhone simulator has been released and it's called iPhoney. Designers can use it to view their web sites as they would appear in the iPhone Safari browser, including the rotation feature.
Even if you are not concerned about optimizing your web sites for the iPhone it is still an interesting exercise to see how they would look. Over the next few years more and more people will be viewing web content through small portable devices. Becoming aware of how a site degrades through smaller screen resolutions will be important. Browsing the web through a traditional cell phone was, is and always will be a painful experience. But the iPhone has set a new standard and new expectations. It remains to be seen whether the concept of the iPhone will become as prevalent as the iPod, but the genie is out of the bottle and web browsing through portable devices is finally here in a viable form. It will gain traction quickly.
I am curious to watch how iPhone-like devices impact how people browse the Internet. Small screens and temporary circumstances, like waiting at a bus stop, will lead to impatience. Just get me what I want and fast! The same will apply to the ever increasing in-car navigation systems that while not used to browse the Internet are still used in a similar fashion – to find the right information fast in a dynamic environment.
Havin some fun at the Ronda celebration.
Yeah, the movie kinda sucked. But who cares.
Ronda, we'll miss you…
The other day I learned that the design of the 2012 London Olympics logo was causing quite a stir in that great city. In fact, riots were threatening to erupt over it! With eye for images more than words I was curious to see it for myself. As someone trained in graphic design and having spent time in Europe I can tell you that, in general, the Europeans are pretty design savvy. Did you know that one of the best known styles of design was named after a small European country?
Logos are challenging to design. In one single image you are representing an entire organization and everything it is about. That's a tall order! Corporate logos are often less inspiring – their primary goal is to simply be immediately recognizable (and inoffensive). Even when used outside of its normal context you can surely recognize who this logo script belongs to:
But a logo for the Olympics should do more. It should inspire you to want to go. It should represent the unique host city or location. It should be universal in its appeal. You should see it all over everything for the next 4.5 years and not get tired of it. Does this logo do these things for you?
If the logo did not have those Olympic rings (required, I'm sure, of any Olympic logo) would you have any idea what it was for? Without those rings the logo would fall completely flat. It would recede from memory in approximately 23 seconds.
One of those near-rioters in London asked, "If this was seen to be the best option just how bad could the failed logos be?" Surely, the Olympic committee with never show us now!
All I can say is, WTF?
At Vertigo, we are often called on by clients to design and build demo applications (or web sites) that are used to present a product concept (or code sample) to an audience. These demos are a lot of fun because they are generally not too tied to real-world limitations and we are encouraged to come up with very interesting, innovative concepts. To make sure you end up with exactly the kind of demo application that you need here are some recommendations to follow. After all, you probably have an audience to sway in your direction!
What are the goals of your demo? What are you trying to accomplish? Would you like to get customer buy-in, get a project funded, or simply explore potential concepts? Clearly defining your goals can help you keep the discussions focused on delivering exactly what you need. It's easy to diverge into discussions outside the realm of the demo goals or be too concerned with designing the entire application (rather than a slice of it). While many good ideas come up during these discussion it's important to "parking lot" them for later use.
For the demo application, stay focused on your more immediate needs.
Who is the primary audience for the demo? Is it management or a technical audience with a lot of domain expertise? Are there political considerations? Do you need buy-in from other groups within your organization? The demo application should be designed to persuade your primary audience that it is a good concept. Naturally, there will be other audiences for the demo application, but in nearly every case there is one primary audience and that's the one that matters.
There are two key formats for demo applications – scenario-based and showcase. Scenario-based demos walk a sample user through one or more highly-scripted scenarios. These are often useful for customer buy-in because the audience can relate to the tasks and scenario flow. It demonstrates how the demo application can meet their needs. Showcase demos highlight an overall application concept or its unique features. These can be more free-form allowing for a less scripted experience, and are often used to get management or project funders excited about the overall concept. Of course, these two formats can be combined. Also, consider whether you need more depth – focusing on deep slices of specific functionality - or breadth – showcasing the global application concept with less detail.
- Define the level of interactivity
How much interactivity do you want the audience to have with the demo application? It can be as simple as a scripted walk through of static HTML screens or as complex as a fully interactive experience using a database for dynamic data storage and retrieval, with a lot of the application features "wired up" so the audience can get a real feel for the final product. A more interactive experience can be very compelling, but it requires more design time and more time to implement.
- Understand that you don't have to get it perfectly right
While a small percentage of demo applications need to be spot-on with the design and functionality, most don't. This is because you are presenting a product concept and not a product spec. While you could spend a lot of time discussing and tweaking content and functionality to make them perfect, it's more important to stay focused on an overall compelling concept (and your deadline!). Down the road when you design and implement the final product you can be diligent and thorough in your efforts. Today, just persuade your demo audience
The key is to stay on course with your demo application. It is only a small piece of the final, fully-implemented product. Plan your demo carefully and it will serve you well (and hopefully help get that big project funded!).
By the way, that screenshot above is from Family.Show, a WPF demo application that Vertigo design and built for Microsoft. This was a demo that was so successful both as a design effort and code sample that it just keeps going and going. Vertigo is still building on this "demo" application making it better and better. Try it – it's fun!
Let's face it. As far as we've come with telecommuting and teleconferencing the face-to-face meeting is still an important part of doing business. Early in an engagement it builds trust - as time goes on it builds relationships. But the face-to-face meeting has a cost. This cost is not only in a travel expense to the client or vendor, but also in the environmental impact of travel. When the business is done locally the cost is low. But when air travel is required the environmental cost becomes very high.
I recently flew back and forth in one day from Oakland, CA to Seattle, WA for a 2 hour client presentation. The presentation was critical to maintain the successful trajectory of the project and having the entire team in the room was the most effective way to accomplish this. Only when in the same room can you truly gauge a client's response to your work through body language and have the frank discussions that being in person enables. I don't know an equally effective, environmentally zero-impact way around this. Though most of our meetings are by phone, the important ones simply work better in person.
Using the carbon calculator on the Inconvenient Truth web site I calculated that the carbon cost of my round trip to Seattle was .20 tons. Making several of these trips a year – which I do – causes my overall yearly carbon cost to skyrocket above the average for the US (I was surprised and sadly disappointed that I, a mid-grade environmentalist, was playing an above average role in global warming). To make up for the business air travel carbon cost I'd essentially have to bike to work and live in a tent.
There is another unsightly and equally dangerous impact from air travel. Have you ever looked up at the deep blue sky on a beautiful, clear day only to see a criss-cross pattern of jettrails? Just think of the wonderful view you would have were it not for those man-made clouds. And, in fact, they are man-made clouds because after enough of them appear in the atmosphere they impact the weather. The jettrails also contribute to global dimming. Global dimming is caused by black carbon particles in the atmosphere blocking radiation from the sun. This causes a cooling effect in the atmosphere that contrasts with the warmth-trapping effect of the causes of global warming. The deep concern is that global dimming is masking the true impact of global warming. Some say that if we are successful at clearing the air of carbon pollution (and we are making progress in doing that) more radiation will enter the atmosphere, become trapped by the causes of global warming, and cause it to spike.
The global economy is here to stay and with it the carbon cost of doing business. Even though we can take steps to improve the environment by choosing to eat locally, it's a far greater challenge to only do business locally. That can be done if you are a masseuse, but far more challenging if you are a custom software firm with clients around the country.
So, I don't have a good answer yet, and in the meantime business goes on. But for my son and generations down the line I will keep working on lowering the carbon cost of doing business.
As a user experience designer with Vertigo I'm always on the lookout for what's new in the field, particularly ways to streamline the user experience and enable the users to focus on their work or play and not on the software. As a designer I can appreciate these things on a theoretical level, but there is no substitute for being an actual user to discover and appreciate an application's virtues (or feel the pain in some cases).
Several months ago I purchased my first "real" camera, a Canon 30D digital SLR. I love it! The higher-end digital cameras can take photos in either JPEG or RAW file formats. The RAW format is fairly new and designed to meet the needs of demanding professional photographers who want to maximize the quality of their digital photos. You can think of the RAW file as a digital "negative" where as much data is captured unedited and uncompressed. Once downloaded to a computer the RAW files are then converted for use in any photo processing tool that can process the RAW format.
It was when I was researching RAW-enabled photo processing tools that I learned of a terrific improvement in the user experience of these applications – nondestructive image editing. It's been a long time since I was an Adobe Photoshop power user, but I can recall more than a few painful experiences of accidentally editing an image and not being able to undo the changes. Sure, there were tools that came along that allowed the user to backtrack through steps or create adjustment layers, but the user had to find these tools and keep track of them. The user still had to think about it and still had to be careful.
Today, I use Apple Aperture for image editing and it is based on the nondestructive image editing concept. With nondestructive image editing the original RAW file (or any other file format) is never touched. And the best part is that I don't have to think about this – there is no setting to find and it is not possible to accidentally lose the original image. Each adjustment is an addition to the file layered on top of the original image. The adjustments are non-liner and they can be undone simply by clicking a checkbox.
Also, it's easy to create new versions of an adjusted image to continue working with separately. Finally, the adjustments are automatically saved. Without the risk of losing the original photo I am free to focus on the creative and technical aspects of photography and not on managing the software.
As an example, in cropping a photo, once I press the return key the application updates the view to the cropped image. However, if I decide to change the crop all I do is select the tool again and the original, un-cropped image comes back into full view with the current crop setting layered over it.
I can then re-crop, go back to the original, un-cropped image, or even come back 6 months later and crop it again. I could even create a fully tweaked black & white version of a color photo without fear of losing the original. Like a safe sandbox, I am free to experiment because I never have to worry about losing the original image. As a user this is an extremely easy experience.
As a designer I think it's a fantastic model for ease of use because it minimizes risk and encourages experimentation.
Adobe has a similar product called Lightroom.