One of the best things about being involved with Playyoo
is getting to work with Stowe Boyd. Stowe is one of these people who manages to be impossible and invaluable at the same time. He has a knack for understanding what you're _really_ talking about, rather than taking the usual veneer at face value, and forcing you to address the real problems (for example, in my case, that I'm really NOT much good at design). Unlike the vast majority of consultants, Stowe really doesn't give a damn if you like what he's telling you or not. You work with Stowe, you'd better be prepared for a rough ride at times. But he also brings a remarkable clarity of vision into discussions. All this is an excuse to link to a lengthy post he recently wrote on design
. You may not agree with all of it - I don't - but if ever you're prevaricating about design decisions, I'll bet you'll find most of the excuses you're using well and truly demolished here.
Oh, and he plays a mean blues, too.
I've recently discovered Robert Hoekman's blog and book on web application design
. He certainly has a refreshing take on this. I wish a well-known design consultancy I've recently been working with would read his latest post
and reflect on it.
"I know it’s a hassle to debate everything with your clients. But the benefit of doing it outweighs the hassle."
Hallelujah to that. In particular from the client's side. Note to design agencies: we need you as short term colleagues and partners, not dictators. You are domain specialists, certainly, but the very first rule of consultancy I was taught, many years ago, is understand the client's requirement, and don't impose your own agenda on it.
Just got a new QWERTY Apple alumin(i)um keyboard. A bit of low end retail therapy. Totally sucks. I have a glass top desk. The keyboard has a shiny plastic underside. So, as soon as you start to type, it just skids over the table. Totally useless and very frustrating. Pretty though.
Back to the standard white keyboard I guess.
Back when I were a lad, Macs - and Apple stuff in general - were very much a niche thing. Used mainly in design, pre-press and academic circles, they were nevertheless respected, although correctly seen as vastly overpriced (unless you had an educational discount).
They were attractive because they were extremely well designed, and had a number of killer features, such as WYSIWYG text and graphic editing. They also featured zen-like design hardware and software, which basically got out of your way and let you concentrate on your tasks.
Around the mid 90s, things started to go a little wrong, but even so, the basic philosophy (which owed far more to Jef Raskin than Steve Jobs) held good.
So what went wrong ? An 2007 iMac compared to a 1987 MacPlus is a bit like Paris Hilton compared to Ingrid Bergmann. The 2007 model screams "look at me!! I'm dazzling! aren't I coooool ??? look at all the cool people who hang out with me!!". The 1987 model was subtle, refined, and discrete. The Mac has become a fashion statement, a way to look wickedly on edge, to show how different you are. The fact that form has totally taken over from function seems to have totally bypassed the current generation of designers and mavens, who see no flaws, and tolerate no criticism
. Of any Apple product.
Yesterday I was in a room with a small group of talented people. All of us demonstrated our slavish devotion to fashion with our $100 cool-tax black MacBooks. At some point, there was a suggestion that we should copy the latest Apple fad, the utterly pointless cover flow
. I decided to keep quiet about that one, but later there was some comment about how the iPod is the epitome of UI design. I dared to voice my end-user opinion (which apparently I'm not entitled to have) that the scrolling lists, which may have been fine for the 5Gb model, are perhaps a little stretched on the 60Gb model. I got torn to shreds for daring to doubt the word of the Prophet, er, sorry, I mean the genius of Apple. I doubt that the same comment about a Creative MP3 GUI would have even registered anything other than a complicit smirk. This stuff worries me, seriously. Good design these days seems to equal "copy Apple", full stop, and good design at Apple is becoming increasingly rare (striking design is not necessarily good design).
This isn't particularly about my meeting yesterday, and is not specifically a criticism of the people involved, who are doing great work. But I'm beginning to see the day when I'm going to ask "do you use Macs?", and if the answer is "yes", slamming the phone down. In the design world, "Mac user" is converging with "slavish imitator".
Yesterday I discovered Axure RP
, a piece of software which claims to "enable application designers to create wireframes, flow diagrams, prototypes and specifications for applications and web sites". Well, forgive me for a degree of skepticism, but I've heard it all before. But guess what ? It delivers everything it promises to, with style and grace. Axure RP is a totally wonderful application.
Since I downloaded the fully functional 30 day demo, I have managed to build the foundations of a prototype for a complex web application. It has full interactivity, it supports all sorts of extremely useful things such as re-usable functional blocks, and it is totally, but totally intuitive.
I haven't explored all of Axure yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing how it delivers specification outlines in Word format - within the layout tool, I can add comments at page and component level, and on components I can specify priorities, risk, and several other characteristics. So we not only have an excellent visual brainstorming tool, but one which delivers useful reports as well.
The only downside I've discovered so far is the lack of a manual of any kind. Sure, there is comprehensive online help, and the website has a range of tutorials and demos, but call me old-fashioned, but I still like to have a reference manual.
Other than that, all I can say is that if you're working on application or web product design or usability, try it out
. It is priced at $589, which is pretty reasonable considering its specialist nature.
Oh, and remarkably for such a brilliantly designed piece of software, it is PC only. But it works fine within Parallels on Intel Macs.
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