stephen.news

hypertext, words and more

Product Design

  • Elon decided to break Twitter today. Now, this is not the first time he’s danced with breaking features of Twitter. I would link to all the other times but instead I’ll just link to The Verge’s excellent story stream of the entire saga since the buyout. Apparently he decided to “rate-limit” tweet reads for logged-in users, and to paywall the rest of the public.

    The real story here is Twitter is trying to cut costs and run away from cloud providers. In all likelihood, these recent changes from Musk are mitigation efforts to prevent their cloud costs from exploding. I mean, what did Musk think was going to happen? Allowing two hour video content uploads has ginormous cost implications. Regardless, they have decided to walk away from huge data contracts and aren’t paying their cloud bills.

    Twitter hosts some services on its server and houses others on the cloud platforms of Amazon (AMZN.O) and Google, Platformer said.

    In March, Amazon warned Twitter that it would withhold advertising payments because of the company’s outstanding bills to Amazon Web Services for cloud computing services, according to the Information.

    Since Musk’s acquisition, Twitter has cut costs dramatically and laid off thousands of employees. Musk ordered the company to cut infrastructure costs, such as spending on cloud services, by $1 billion, a source had told Reuters in November.

    Totally normal operations for a properly functioning company. Nothing to see here folks. Move along.

  • Interface: people, machines, design, is a new show exhibiting at the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in New South Wales, Australia. From the exhibition’s description:

    Interface: people, machines, design explores how design has been applied to information technology products; about how a handful of companies made complicated technology appealing and easy to use. What they did effectively was, look at what you do, think about what you need and create what you want. Interface is about the visionaries who started some of the great consumer product companies of the 20th century, including Olivetti, Braun and Apple, and how the designers and engineers they hired found a means of imparting their ideals into the products they designed.

    I’m a huge fan of user-centric design. We often forget that everything is designed. While most items are not thoughtfully designed, the most successful are (and therefor, plenty of products are emulations or forked from original products without permission, such as mass-market SEM watches). The Conversation has an excellent summary of the exhibit core-focus on human-centric engineering and design:

    While we nowadays associate interfaces with digital computing, this show suggests we should think otherwise. Tactile buttons, knobs, dials and machined surfaces abound.

    […]

    Featuring the work of well-known designers such as Dieter RamsJonathan IveEttore SottsassSusan Kare and Peter Behrens, the show does more than acknowledge the genius of the “superstar”. It also presents an “archaeology” of how material, function and form morph across time.

    More than this, Interface underscores the importance and continuity of what we now call “user-centered design”. It shows this across a range of practices – and not just modern information design.

    2+7 Telephone. Designed by Marcello Nizzoli, made by SAFNAT, Italy, 1958. Powerhouse Museum
    Divisumma 18 portable calculator, designed by Mario Bellini, made by Olivetti, Italy, 1973. Photo: Powerhouse Museum. Powerhouse Museum

  • Photo by @benjaninja8 via Imgur:

    iPhone camera placement and product design, 2007 – 2019.
  • On Facebook Portal

    Oh, the humanity.

    Who is the hell would buy this… from Facebook? The company who has had a combined total of nearly 120 million users compromised in data breaches spanning 2 years — is selling a telecommunication smart-home product for the home.

    Wow. Just wow.

  • From Lost Type Co-op:

    pro·spec·tus: noun

    1. A document that advertises a product, service, venture, institution, or event for the purpose of attracting potential clients, investors, participants, etc.
    2. A new and bold contemporary serif typeface, with optical sizes, designed by Dave Bailey, exclusively from The Lost Type Co‑op.

    A lovely, light-hearted typeface. Full of spirit and originality. Glistening with nostalgia, but full of energy. Lost Type Co-op describes it as:

    A recognizably crisp, bold, and contemporary choice for all of your editorial, fashionable, intellectual, and satirical typesetting needs. Designed by Dave Bailey, and available now, only from The Lost Type Co‑op.

    So much fun. Get it here, pay what you want for personal use.

  • Link: The Overlooked Wonders of Soviet-Era Industrial Design

    Phaidon has an incredible collection of design books, and they run a wonderful blog too. Atlas Obscura got their hands on a copy of Phaidon’s newest design reference, Designed in the USSR: 1950-1989. This is a pretty sweet book. I’d love to see all the space-race inspired gadgetry and appliances. My favorite is this macaroni box:

    From Atlas Obscura

    Anika Burgess writes:

    “There were ‘sample product rooms,’ where Western examples of industrial products were displayed, often serving as prototypes for their Soviet equivalents,” writes Alexandra Sankova in the book’s introduction. Sankova is the director of the Moscow Design Museum, which first displayed these items in an exhibition in 2012. For her, the Soviet era from the 1950s onwards was an important period of design history, “when function and utility were the driving forces behind ideas but remarkable examples of innovation and creativity still flourished.”

    Oddly enough, Anika previously reviewed more Soviet ephemera at the Obscura: The Artful Propaganda of Soviet Children’s Literature — fascinating relics.

    You can pick up the Designed in the USSR, from Phaidon directly for $39.95.

  • Links: April 2018

    Time for another roundup of links:

    Don’t Fix Facebook. Replace It.

    It turns out that the data leak from Cambridge Analytica isn’t 5 million, it isn’t 87 million, but affects a whopping 2 billion users. Major bummer. This quote about sums up how I feel about it:

    What the journalist Walter Lippmann said in 1959 of “free” TV is also true of “free” social media: It is ultimately “the creature, the servant and indeed the prostitute of merchandizing.” But social media itself isn’t going away. It has worked its way into our lives and has come to help satistify the basic human need to connect and catch up. Facebook, in fact, claims lofty goals, saying it seeks to “bring us closer together” and “build a global community.” Those are indeed noble purposes that social media can serve. But if they were Facebook’s true goals, we would not be here.

    Advertising makes the world go round. No doubt about it. But let’s not beat around the bush, Facebook makes money. Connecting people is secondary to their primary goal — leveraging user data for advertisers.

    A Better Way to Put Words on Paper, IBM Selectric Ad

    A classic. You just don’t see ads like this anymore. It’s beautiful. Reminds me of the early Macintosh ads.

    IBM Plex C-Handle Mug 11oz

    Another IBM related link. In celebration of IBM’s new typeface, Plex they made this super cool mug. 10/10, would buy.

    Wesleyan Tetris

    This is a fun one. From Macintosh Garden:

    A Mac-exclusive bid to create the most vexing Tetris possible. It will lie, cheat, taunt you about your play (“Nice slide!”), give you preposterously unusable pieces, and find a creative “new way to screw you” on every level. While it never saw its intended commercial publication, a leaked development copy became an underground sensation.

    This version only refers to itself as Tetris by Randall Cook, but it picked up many other names as it spread: New Tetris, Obnoxious Tetris, Attitude Problem Tetris, Wise-Ass Tetris, Asshole Tetris and most famously Wesleyan Tetrisafter the author’s university. Recently, Cook announced plans to release the source code under the name Original Supertris.

    Scarfolk Council

    I discovered this one from Josh and Chuck at Stuff You Should Know. They’re a goofy bunch and easily my favorite podcast. Scarfolk is a misinformation-satire, specifically occupying the graphic design aesthetic of 1970’s PSA campaigns. From the Scarfolk masthead:

    Scarfolk is a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever. “Visit Scarfolk today. Our number one priority is keeping rabies at bay.” For more information please reread.

    You can watch the SYSK’s Internet Roundup episode here. The origins and inspirations of Scarfolk starts at around 7:30. Good stuff.

    The 1Password 7 Beta for Mac Is Lit and You Can Be, Too

    It’s here! Finally. The 1Password 7 Beta is out for macOS users. I’ve played around with it for a week now and it’s pretty nice. Very refreshing UI update. 

    More Sinkholes for West Texas?

    From Texas Monthly:

    A new study from two SMU scientists finds that oil and gas activity has made the ground unstable over a 4,000-square-mile swath of West Texas.

    Growing up in Texas, I can tell you — earthquakes are not common at all. Most of Texas sits upon several massive shale structures. As this oil and gas activity continues, there could be dire consequences.

    From the EIA

    SMU geophysics and researcher Jin-Woo Kim later says:

    If these shifts continue, they could lead to increased seismic activity in the area as well as the formation of new sinkholes, which would pose a danger to “residents, roads, railroads, levees, dams, and oil and gas pipelines,” according to Lu. Pipelines in particular are vulnerable to these shifts, and there are many of them in the area. “West Texas has one of the densest networks of oil and gas pipelines in the U.S.,” the scientists noted. Ground water could also be polluted as a result.

    Gothamist is Back!

    Hooray! WAMU gets DCist, and KPCC gets LAist! A great victory for the web and journalism. There’s a Kickstarter to help raise cash for WNYC + Gothamist. Fuck yeah.

    The Key Wrangler from CW&T

    From CW&T

    I came across CW&T (Che-Wei Wang & Taylor Levy) after HAWRAF (a design and tech studio in Flatiron) shared the photo on Instagram. CW&T is maker studio, seemingly focusing on solving unique problems at the intersection of art and design. The Key Wrangler is a rugged, solid piece of CNC’d titanium (or brass). At it’s core, it’s a carabiner designed for urban use. I love the passion and grit CW&T puts into their work.

    They’ve also done some cool projects in the past too. Such as this rad music project, 365 Days of OP-1. Very impressive. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything 365 days in a row except for maybe eating. 😬

  • There’s been an article floating around the web lately, maybe you’ve seen it. It’s time to talk about MVPs.

    WP Engine dissects a lot of the problems with MVPs. I have to agree overall, too often do you see entrepreneurs rushing their products only to fail disastrously. However, MVPs don’t suck. Entrepreneurs are just becoming more and more reckless. I have a problem with creating a new-hip pneumatic called “SLC.” It isn’t going to rally everyone to arms about how to deliver a badass product.

    In the article they claim:

    MVPs are great for startups and product teams because they maximize validated learning about customers as quickly as possible. But it’s a selfish act.

    Well… learning about your users is not selfish. In fact, it’s the very opposite of selfish. It’s a huge reason why the Dot Com Bubble happened in the first place. Too many companies were cannibalizing each other’s features without considering the consequences of users. To make matters worst, VC’s and investors were moving too much money into bad ideas without sound research.

    In the old days, startups had little to lose with money moving that fast. Just build it, gather feedback, iterate and repeat.

    But things have changed haven’t they? MVPs are a symptom of a new problem post Dot Com Bust — user expectations have inflated.

    Products have become increasingly complex. Solving problems becomes more and more difficult and that tends to follow a quadratic curve. Naturally, competition does too. That should go without saying.

    Since users grow along that curve too, customers will have loftier and loftier expectations. You’ve’re up against the likes of Google and Apple. It ain’t easy being a startup.

    Users have grown drunk with their expectations, and while that sounds bad, it’s not. MVPs are the hair of the dog.

    It forces us to focus on delivering complete products out of the box. It forces engineers to deliver, designers can ideate further, sales teams can unify under one message and users can more efficiently share products via word of mouth.

    Everyone wins.

    There’s no reason to think that MVPs suck. Customers just want a complete experience. No one wants to go to a carnival with no rides.

    Stick to your wits and make a damn fine product. Focus on what you want. Focus on what users want. Make it fast, make it complete. Table your conquer the world ideas for later and simplify your product design before launch.

     

    While I have a lot of problems with WP Engine’s take on things in the valley, I do agree that delivering a complete product from the beginning should be your highest priority.

     

    But there’s no reason to create a new pneumonic device for product development. Just maintain focus and never lose sight of satisfying the experience of the users.