Mobilegs Crutches

Mobilegs crutches

I hope I’ll never need to use any crutches, but if I ever do, I’ll probably settle for a pair of these.  I’ve shown them around to a few people, and each one of them who tried walking with the regular crutches, agreed that Mobilegs Crutches are superior in design.  I found them while reading “design is everybody’s business“.

2.  Purposeful – We design to solve a problem.

When one of Herman Miller’s designers, Jeff Weber, broke his foot, he realized how awfully-designed crutches were.  Not just uncomfortable, they can damage nerves, arteries, and tissue, and it’s easy to slip and cause more pain or more injury.  So he went about designing a better crutch (Mobilegs).  This is a perfect example of the purposefulness that informs the company’s designs.

Khan Academy – a MUST KNOW!

I’ve heard about KhanAcademy.org a few times since about 2009-2010.  But I haven’t really explored it or learned much about it.  It was just one of those “good things” on the Internet, which was about education and which was a not-for-profit.  And now I can’t believe I’ve been missing out on it.  Wikipedia page describes the project in a rather dry language:

The Khan Academy is a not-for-profit educational organization, created in 2006 by Indian American educator Salman Khan, a graduate of MIT. With the stated mission of “providing a high quality education to anyone, anywhere”, the website supplies a free online collection of more than 2,800 micro lectures via video tutorials stored on YouTube teaching mathematics, history, healthcare and medicine, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, economics, cosmology, organic chemistry, american civics, art history, microeconomics and computer science.

There you go.  A cheese slogan, a single guy, a bunch of videos on YouTube – what’s all the big fuss about, right?  Wrong!  Here is a better way to get introduced to the project – a TED talk by Salman Khan.

Continue reading “Khan Academy — a MUST KNOW!” »

The Click Test – your own usability study group

When I came across The Click Test this morning I had one of those “why oh why didn’t I think of this myself?” moments. Both the idea and implementation are very simple, but extremely useful for anyone involved with interface design, usability studies or web development. When you want to try out a design or user interface concept or element, when you don’t know which version works better, or if you want to find out which element stands out for most people, you need a usability study, and The Click Test gives you everything you need to do one quickly. All you need to do is upload your design and ask the question. It will then be shown to a bunch of people who will answer your question by clicking somewhere in the design. You’ll see the results of your study as a heat map of user interaction. That’s it.

There are applications, even in a form of WordPress plugin, that would allow you to do a similar study directly on your website. That’s not news. But heaving a crowd of people to use for your test – now that’s brilliant. Now you can actually test something before putting it on the live website.

Zoomii.com – The “Real” Online Bookstore

Via this CyberNet News post I got to Zoomii.com.  There is a saying about all new being well forgotten old.  And that’s exactly what Zoomii.com is about.

There is something magical about walking through a bookshop – touching books, flipping pages.  Especially, when you don’t know exactly what are you looking for.  Amazon has sort of taken it away.  You get in, get your stuff, maybe grab something that is recommended nearby, and leave.   Zoomii.com combines the best of both worlds.  You can still get stuff from Amazon shop at Amazon prices, but instead of visiting a rather cumbersome interface of their site, you can browse through a familiar bookshelf area.

The combination of a good design with intuitive interface makes it almost a “Wow!” site fo me.  It took me exactly three seconds to figure out how to use it.  And even if I wasn’t tech savvy, there is a little friendly popup that appears when entering the site, which tells briefly how to navigate around.  The control panel on the left is small, and has only the things that I care about – navigation, category selector, and information about my cart.  Brilliant.

The only thing that I wish Zoomii.com had that it doesn’t have (or at least I couldn’t find) is the option of choosing which Amazon shop to buy from.  If I could buy directly from Amazon.co.uk, it would be a 10 of 10 web site.  Hope, they will add this option later.

Sites like this should be taught to web designers and developers.  This is how the web should be – clean, simple, efficient, and intuitive.

Annoying software

Slashdot is running the post about annoying software.  The fact that Slashdot crowd mostly consists of computer geeks is sort of a guarantee for some interesting comments.

With my Fedora 9 saga I had to review and try a lot of new software.  Needless to say, I found quite a few annoying bits.  Here is a brief list, just to give you an idea:

  • Clock applet in Gnome. It shows calendar with Sunday being first day of the week.  If you don’t like it, you’ll have to recompile your locale to change it. This one is cancelled out though by an excellent support of Google Calendar (or, for that matter, any other web published calendar).
  • Metacity window manager in Gnome. Window titles are displayed in the middle.  This is really annoying for those of us who are used to seeing them on the left.  There is no option to change this setting either in GUI or in GConf.
  • Pidgin new message notification. I once had it popping up nice looking bubbles, but I don’t remember how I managed to do it.  I also don’t remember how I managed to break it.  And I have no idea to bring them back.  I really miss them though.
  • WordPress 2.5 post editing screen. It has been much reworked in the latest version and looks and feels so much better. However, the list of categories was moved from a really convenient location on the right of the screen to a really inconvenient location at the bottom of the screen.
  • FileZilla FTP manager. This one drives me nuts with server connections.  It either disconnects every 40 seconds when being idle.  Or it keeps multiple connections open forever and most FTP servers block me out temporary.
  • Request Tracker (RT3). Works perfectly with queues and tickets, but annoys the heck out of me when I need to do something with users.  Users aren’t first level citizens, like tickets.
  • SugarCRM. Excellent business tool, with lots of small annoyances, like not being able to set default user role, disable theme selector everywhere, change logos to company ones, lock down the functionality, etc.  Most of these are easily fixable.  But some aren’t as trivial as they may sound or seem.
  • Google Reader. This one annoys me a bit (but often) when I want to leave a few items in the feed unread and go deeper into archives.  Somehow it keeps marking everything I passed as read.

Now, what piece of software were you annoyed with recently?

Simpler Google Talk translations?

Google has recently added Gtalk bots that can do translations to various languages, mostly available with Google Translate.  While I’m all for helping people understand each other better (even though there are certain complains regarding the quality of translation), I think this functionality could have implemented simpler.

Disclaimer: I haven’t tried it out myself, I’ve only read about it and saw the screenshots.

The problem that I see with the implementation is it being one way.  The bots are named fr2en and fr2en.  Which means that in order to keep up with conversation in the language foreign to you, you’ll need to have two bots nearby, not one.  Why?  Because if you will ask a person in his language a question, he will likely reply in the same language.  So you will need to translate both to and from the language.  I think this should have been done with one bot, not two.

Undo for sending in Gmail

Google Blogoscoped runs this post speculating about an “undo” option for Gmail.  I’ve touched this topic some time ago in my “You can’t recall an email” post.  The base for that post of mine was purely technical.  What is sent is sent, and there is no way to get it back.

With another look on this issue, I see that technical side can be controlled to a certain degree.  Webmail providers (such as Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, etc), can indeed delay the outgoing message by a few seconds.  Countdowns and disappearing buttons aren’t an issue either – we have plenty of technology these days (AJAX, Flash) to implement them.  And there is a certain demand for the functionality too – this can be judged by all those browser plugins and extensions, like the one mentioned in the Blogoscoped article.

Still, I’m standing on the side of “don’t do it”.  I think it’ll add to the confusion of the interface and the complexity of the system, without too much benefits in return.  I don’t think that we should have an “undo” for everything either.   And I think that the old way of “sorry, forgot to attach this document” works pretty well and sometimes makes people to actually read through and think over again about what is that they are planning to send out.

What do you think?  Would you like to see an “undo sending” button in your email client?

Keep it simple, stupid

It is sometimes amazing how people behave.  Especially when they buy something and they get a choice of what they can get for their money.  Given the freedom to “get anything they want”, they often won’t stick with what they need, they won’t usually know what they want, and so they’ll go for as much as they can carry.  This might be a worthy technique for a supermarket, but it’s a bit different with web sites.

Yes, we (at my job) build web sites.  We do design, programming, hosting, promotion, maintenance, and many other things. And, yes, we can stack a web site with pretty much any technology or interface there is – forms, dynamic menus, AJAX, you name it – we can do it.  Can’t name any?  Good!  Because practice shows that if you can name something, you want it on your web site no matter if it needed or not.

It’s amazing how difficult it is to convince people  to stick with the KISS principle or make them understand that “less is more”.  Make your web site functional.  Put only things that you’d want yourself to use.  Study your statistics and see what people use and what they don’t.  Remove things that they don’t use.  Improve things that they use.  Stay focused and specialized – your web site is not an endless trash bin which you can throw everything into…

One argument that I often use, is of Google vs. Yahoo. When asked which company is number 1, Google’s leadership is never questioned.  When I confirm that Google is the authority, I go for examples.  How do you want your web site to look and feel?

Like this:

Yahoo front page

or like this:

Google front page

If these examples don’t convince, they at least plant a seed of doubt.  After these, it’s much easier to bend the conversation.

How busy is your desktop?

Accidentally, I stumbled upon a thought provoking post with the following words:

If you’re really using your computer, your desktop should almost never be visible. Your screen should be covered with information, with whatever data you’re working on. I can’t imagine why you’d willingly stare at a static background image– or even a background image covered with a sea of icons. Unless you consider your computer a really expensive digital picture frame, I suppose.

Well said!

I haven’t thought much about this before, but suddenly I realized that I can strongly relate to the above statement.  My desktop is never visible.  And it was always a bit awkward for me to pick a background image (I know use slide show, which cycles through all images in my Pictures/ directory) or a set of icons (I have a few in the corners of my desktop, but I never click on them, cause I never see them) to place on my desktop.

I’m going to set it to a solid color right now.  And I’m going to remove the useless icons too.

What about your desktop?  Does it look something like this?