Flying Meat just released a major new version of Acorn, with a refreshed UI, speed improvements, non-destructive layer filters, and more.
I use a trick with co-workers when we’re trying to decide where to eat for lunch and no one has any ideas. I recommend McDonald’s.
An interesting thing happens. Everyone unanimously agrees that we can’t possibly go to McDonald’s, and better lunch suggestions emerge. Magic!
It’s as if we’ve broken the ice with the worst possible idea, and now that the discussion has started, people suddenly get very creative. I call it the McDonald’s Theory: people are inspired to come up with good ideas to ward off bad ones.
About a year ago I started studying Obj-C every morning before heading off to work. Last week I finally launched SpellRush, my first iOS app. It’s available for free on the App Store, so I urge you to try it out.
I’ll write a proper post soon about how it all came together (leaving Spotify, learning Obj-C, etc.). Right now though, I’m busy fixing bugs and adding more polish. Stay tuned.
There’s a simple question we ask when we’re thinking about bringing a new person onto our team: are they good at a minimum of two things? And that could be something like software development plus playing the trombone, or visual design plus film making. This is important because it’s really humbling to become good in yet another discipline, if you’re just good at one thing it’s easy to believe that you actually understand it and are the expert. But when you try to learn something new, like another language, you’re instantly humbled. And that’s really important to us, because we believe that creation really happens when boundaries are crossed.
Being good at two things doesn’t mean that you’re “master of none”. It’s the exact opposite—being good at several things make you better at all of them. Every single day, I work with programming and design. When I wake in the morning, the first thing I do is study French. Rather than turning to audiojungle, I decided to produce all the sounds on my own for my upcoming iOS game SpellRush.
I started broadening my focus about a year ago (at that time I worked at Spotify as a Product Designer), and although I’m now splitting my focus between more things, I’m learning more about design now than ever. And juggling several disciplines not only keeps you humble and hungry to always learn more, but it also makes it easier to look at things more objectively.
If you’re only working with one discipline, you’ll most likely look at any problem through that discipline. If you’re a programmer, it’s easy to blame a product failure on bad programming. If you’re a designer, it’s easy to blame a product failure on bad design. When you have experience with both, you learn to see how everything comes together, see the big picture, and pinpoint the real problem.
The extended version of the “Jack of all trades” expression is more appropriate:
Jack of all trades, master of none,
Certainly better than a master of one
The party ended in 2006, when we sold our company to IAC, a conglomerate owned by media mogul Barry Diller. Bit by bit, the youthful energy that created so much value was siphoned off. Whereas we’d once been free to work on whatever seemed interesting, we now found ourselves in vaguely defined middle-management roles, sitting through pointless meetings where older doofuses who didn’t understand the Web challenged our intuitions and trivialized our ambitions.
An acquisition, or an aqui-hire, is always a failure. Either the founders failed to achieve their goal, or – far likelier – they failed to dream big enough. The proper ambition for a tech entrepreneur should be to join the ranks of the great tech companies, or, at least, to create a profitable, independent company beloved by employees, customers, and shareholders.
When you install Facebook Home (or buy an HTC First), your homescreen will be whatever your friends are posting, no matter how good, bad, or downright terrible. When you press the sleep button to unlock your device, these are the kinds of images that will come to life on-screen.
“What if our phones were designed around people, not apps?” Zuckerberg asked, but what if those people are ugly? What if you haven’t seen some of those people in five years? Yes, the News Feed you browse every day is filled with these same things, but your lock screen is the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing you see before you fall asleep.
Right—what happens when you don’t have a feed filled with photos from professional photographers? The Facebook Home UI looks great, and the animations are remarkable. But this is the sort of design that can look stunning in theory, and it might even look great for Facebook employees as they try it, but they are all outliers. The important question is, how would this design work for ordinary people? Judging by the content in my own News Feed right now—not that good.
There are a couple of design classics that, it seems, almost everyone have read. You’ve probably read at least one of them: Design of Everyday Things, Don’t Make Me Think or Elements of Typographic Style. Maybe Universal Principles of Design. There’s a ton of topics that these books don’t cover, however, that are just as essential in your day-to-day work as a designer.
Design is about communicating, yet do you have any idea of how to communicate so that what you say is not instantly forgotten by others? Companies spend fortunes on marketing, yet regardless of how loud they shout, most fail to make a lasting impression. And, did you know that adding a single option to a choice—even to the most effortless choice, like choosing between two pens—can be enough to make people just bail out of deciding? These five books will help you expand your design thinking beyond just the appearance and interaction of things. They will teach about people’s irrational behaviour, how to communicate, and how design fits in your business.
In Made to Stick, Chip & Dan Heath explores what it is that makes some messages stick, and some disappear in the ocean of noise. In their own words, “In this indispensable guide, we discover that sticky messages of all kinds–from the infamous “kidney theft ring” hoax to a coach’s lessons on sportsmanship to a vision for a new product at Sony–draw their power from the same six traits.”
You might have seen Simon Sinek’s TEDx talk that went viral. If you haven’t, stop reading this right now and go see it. His book, Start with WHY, came out after his talk, and it explores in depth what is is that sets great leaders apart from everyone else: “They all think, act, and communicate in the exact same way-and it’s the complete opposite of what everyone else does. People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers might have little in common, but they all started with why.”
Barry Schwartz’s TED talk has been seen over 4 and a half million times. The talk is modelled and named after his book, The Paradox of Choice, where he explores how “choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures.” If you want better arguments why it’s vital to keep things simple, The Paradox of Choice is full of them.
The Big Picture
Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson is a no-bullshit business book, filled with practical advice accompanied by beautiful illustrations. In their own words, “Rework shows you a better, faster, easier way to succeed in business. Read it and you’ll know why plans are actually harmful, why you don’t need outside investors, and why you’re better off ignoring the competition. The truth is, you need less than you think. You don’t need to be a workaholic. You don’t need to staff up. You don’t need to waste time on paperwork or meetings. You don’t even need an office. Those are all just excuses.”
In Little Bets, Peter Sims explores how small bets leads to great breakthroughs; “What do Apple CEO Steve Jobs, comedian Chris Rock, prize-winning architect Frank Gehry, the story developers at Pixar films, and the Army Chief of Strategic Plans all have in common? Bestselling author Peter Sims found that all of them have achieved breakthrough results by methodically taking small, experimental steps in order to discover and develop new ideas.”
Greg Mathews, on how Instagram fights possibly harmful user-generated content:
As designers and developers we reach a lot of people in the work that we do everyday. With this reach we have a responsibility to the people using our products to help them make their lives better. Sometimes making our users’ lives better comes in the form of making them more productive, other times we have the opportunity to save our users’ lives.
Although a year old, I just discovered the great Golden Ratio Typography Calculator by Chris Pearson. With a few clicks, it helps you create perfectly balanced typography from a set of parameters. He also posted a detailed write-up on the process and research behind it.
For two months, ending on January 8, 2013, I—and a few other researchers—made 1,333 observations of people using mobile devices on the street, in airports, at bus stops, in cafes, on trains and busses—wherever we might see them.
For consumer products, SMB apps, software tools, hardware, retail, and other categories “viable” isn’t compelling. Using a merely viable product is like visiting someone in an intensive care unit. They’re alive, but not fun to spend time with.
Unfortunately, all too often MVP becomes VCP (very crappy product). Ironically this comes from losing sight of a very core agile concept: when something is done it’s done. Put differently, if a feature is built it should work without problems. The feature may not include all the functionality you can imagine, but what it does include has to work well.
Russel Williams, “Adobe Principal Scientist,” interviewed in Photoshop is a city for everyone:
“People take an artist toolbox and use the tools in totally bizarre ways,” he says. Adobe can’t simply decree how people use its product; as with a city, users find their own way through it. That makes it hard to establish just what Photoshop is — it has to be something for everybody.
Photoshop has since long filled the basic needs of most users, but there’s a limit to what is relevant to most users. The massive amount of features is what has caused Photoshop to flourish, but if Adobe keeps its habit of saying yes to everything, it will eventually be its demise. Photoshop doesn’t have to be something for everybody—most people I know use Photoshop despite the amount of features it houses, not because of it. New features are getting more and more niched with every release, and the complexity and feature bloat is adding to the hefty price tag. And judging by the statements from Adobe in the article, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
Photoshop has for long, despite its amount of features, been able to be the best alternative within each niche—there really hasn’t been any good alternatives. But more focused apps like Pixelmator and Sketch are steadily getting better at a faster pace than Photoshop is keeping up. Hopefully it won’t be long before users will stop asking themselves “Is there a good alternative to Photoshop?,” and start asking themselves “Why should I pay $980 more?”
Consumers will initially notice better site compatibility, especially with mobile-facing sites – many of which have only been tested in WebKit browsers.
Site compatibility is something Opera has struggled with—last year they took the controversial decision to add support for the webkit vendor prefix, along with their own prefix, which undoubtedly introduced some confusion, but more importantly risked undermining the purpose of vendor prefixes. Craig Buckler wrote for SitePoint:
Taking the decision to it’s logical extreme, all vendors would support every prefix but any implementation differences would render the CSS property useless.
Although competition is healthy, Opera’s transition is promising for Opera users as well as developers; Opera users will experience a less broken browsing experience, while we’re avoiding the risk of further fragmenting the web. And hopefully, we’ll see WebKit grow even stronger. Opera, near the end of their announcement:
In the last few weeks we’ve contacted the Webkit project, and contributing organisations, to discuss our intentions to work with them to make WebKit even better. By contributing patches back to WebKit, we’ll enhance standards compliance across a range of browsers, not just Opera.