Thursday, December 22, 2011

What not to ask

Sometimes the secret of successful design is to not include a feature. Boing-Boing reports on a company that increased its sales by $300 million by removing its user log-in feature.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Iterating good design

Rob Beschizza writing for Boing-Boing contrasts Sony's and Apple's approaches to solving design problems.

Misunderstanding Apple

"At a recent event I attended, someone involved in marketing said that Apple's success is founded on it creating substantially new designs every year to keep everyone keeping up. In his view, Apple ownership is about getting the latest thing to impress people."

"It's weird that a company under such constant scrutiny is misunderstood like this, often by people who have been watching it for years. Isn't it obvious that Apple rarely changes its designs?"

"I imagine that Apple is delighted to see rivals convinced that every year's model is different to the last one; talk about a reality distortion field. Companies like Dell and HP will chance across good design every so often, but companies like Sony make good designs then abandon them intentionally because they're blind to their own good design choices."

"... Sony rarely iterates, even when it's onto something good. Everything is a one-off. It treats a billion-dollar business the way a microbrewery treats ales with silly names."

"Apple isn't the only company that persists with a good design, either. If you want an ultraportable laptop that's Windows or Linux-friendly which works better than the Z and isn't outrageously expensive, look no further than the Lenovo X series."

His essay is illustrated with great comparison photos:
"Check out these two iMacs. The one on the left is from 2007, and the other is the latest model. They're more than four years apart. Here's the first and the latest iPod. While they're not identical, bear in mind that nine years passed in the interval... Here's a Mac from 1984 and one from 1994. Though Apple made all sorts of other desktop towers and pizza boxes in this period, this popular design saw more than a decade of refinement." See them at

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Websites that leave a bad taste in your mouth

Slate Magazine on Why are restaurant websites so horrifically bad?
Over the last few weeks I've spent countless hours, now lost forever, plumbing the depths of restaurant Web hell. I also spoke to several industry experts about the reasons behind all these maliciously poorly designed pages. I heard several theories for why restaurant sites are so bad—that they can't afford to pay for good designers, that they don't understand what people want from a site, and that they don't really care what's on their site. But the best answer I found was this: Restaurant sites are the product of restaurant culture. These nightmarish websites were spawned by restaurateurs who mistakenly believe they can control the online world the same way they lord over a restaurant. "In restaurants, the expertise is in the kitchen and in hospitality in general," says Eng San Kho, a partner at the New York design firm Love and War, which has created several unusually great restaurant sites (more on those in a bit). "People in restaurants have a sense that they want to create an entertainment experience online—that's why disco music starts, that's why Flash slideshows open. They think they can still play the host even here online."

The article illustrates its points with great links to expensive websites that may satisfy a chef's ego but don't work for the customer. The whole article is well worth reading.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Watch design

David Pogue writes on How to Build a Usable Watch

Good interface design is darned hard:
"Your inclination is to stuff a lot of features into your product — “hey, that’ll make it sell, right?” And yet every feature has to go somewhere. It has to fit on some screen, in some menu, under some keystroke. So the more you stuff in, the more difficult to use your product becomes, and the less pleasure it will bring your customers.

I had recently bought my daughter a $9 digital watch from Wal-Mart. It had three buttons. You were supposed to be able to perform all of the watch’s functions using only these three buttons: set the time, set an alarm, turn the alarm on and off, start and stop the stopwatch, record lap times, and so on.

It was, as you can guess, a disastrous user interface. Every button wound up performing multiple functions. Double-press. Press-and-hold. Press two at once. There’s no possible way you could master it without the 3-by-3 inch sheet of instructions in 2-point type."

Read his students' suggested design improvements at: