Category: Human Factors

ARS Explores Hated Design Trends

After Windows Phone 7 design (but not commercial) success, everybody has gone flat. It may have taken Apple longer than most, but they’re getting there, and the next iteration of Android will be the flattest yet. Ars Technica explores some of the downsides of this movement in “The software design trends that we love to hate“.

I agree with the completely on most points, even if I feel that the complaints about all the all caps menu in Microsoft Ribbon-based applications is a little… excessive. Still, it’s a good reminder that nothing is perfect and tastes do change. Every advance is accompanied by it’s own issues and problems.

“Mother of All Demos” by Douglas Engelbart

On December 9th, 1968 Douglas Engelbart finally gave an extended public demonstration of the personal computing system that he and his team had been working on for over five years and planning about for over a decade. The demo, later and rightfully remembered as the “Mother of All Demos“, would present, albeit primitively, nearly every important aspect of modern computing decades before they entered the consciousness of the general public.

The “oN-Line System”, or “NLS”, was a comprehensive hardware/software platform that was designed from the ground-up to provide real-world solutions to common problems. Although known primary as the debut of the computer mouse as a tool to modify on-screen information the demo also incorporated a massive number of other long-lasting innovations. On-screen editing, multi-tasking and window management, hypermedia and object linking, live (and wireless) video teleconferencing and remote presence collaboration were all presented, not as theory, but as full-fledged, working solutions.

Amazingly, considering the massive amount of hardware and custom tools being used, the demonstration went off without technical incident. Granted this was before the invention of the blue-screen. There’s more at MouseSite, dedicated to remembering the history of this amazing work.


In defense of Comic Sans

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan has an excellent overview of several UI innovations that have later taken bad raps, “Who Designed Clippy? The History Behind Four Legends of Early UI“.  It reminded me of one of my pet peeves: the ridiculously emotional modern response to the font Comic Sans.

Comic Sans in all its Glory

Comic Sans in all its Glory

I started authoring websites way back in the history-times of the early 90’s.  My future bride and I had moved to Boston several years earlier and as I was teaching myself HTML I created a website dedicated to Boston, “Virtually Boston”.  It had the basics: pictures, visitor information and historical data.  (Although I still own the domain name,, the site had been defunct for years but you can still explore it, more or less, on the Internet Archive Way Back Machine.)


TiVo Sucks, Part 2

As I’ve written before: TiVo sucks.  In that first article I lamented the lack of innovation and features for this premium product.  The worse thing I can say is that now, over a year later, every single one of my issues still exist.  In fact there hasn’t been a single truly significant upgrade.  Nothing that screams, “you can only get this here!”  The service today is, for all intents, the same service I challenged as not advanced enough for premium pricing then.  Hell, it’s been two years and they still haven’t completed the HD interface.

Now that my contract has ended I’m considering dropping Tivo and reverting to the stock offering from Comcast.  I went to the Tivo site to allow it to convince me not to.  I got the following “10 reasons you’ll love Tivo”.


Friday Development Anecdote

[I was reminded of my favorite “Point-haired boss” anecdote today.  Thought some of you might be able to relate.]

It was ’97 or ’98.  Netscape 2.0 (and the first iteration of JavaScript) were only a few months old.  I had designed a (then) novel inter-page server communication technique using graphics and cookies.  For the time it was, if I do say so myself, pretty remarkable (there are still links out there claiming it as a precursor to modern AJAX).

I explained how the new financial goal planning system we developed dynamically reacted to user data during a questionnaire to both dramatically improve performance and customize presentation zones with contextual, meaningful information during an interaction.  Income bracket, number of dependents, current savings, etc – it would all feed into a dynamic, context-sensitive system that presented tailored information and products.  Initial human factors work indicated orders-of-magnitude increases in user acceptance and confidence in the system.

After a 30 minute presentation about the business opportunities the new technique presented the lead executive in the room thought long and hard, nodded and then said “Can we make it blue?

TiVo Sucks

My premise is simple: TiVo sucks.  I will defend it, but I do want to make one thing clear: TiVo sucks, but having used TiVo, Comcast and DirectTV DVRs I feel confident in saying “so does everything else.”  This will not be an exhortation to switch brands of DVR but rather a lamentation of the state of an industry so dominated by what’s become a mediocre product.