Apple’s take on brainstorming

One thing I found quite difficult when transitioning from an engineer to a designer was the idea that blue-sky brainstorming was okay.  I remember during one of my first brainstorming sessions, we were trying to come up with a novel interface for dentists to interact with computers while respecting infection control.  I kept shouting down each new idea as completely infeasible, until one of the interaction designers gently took me to one side and reminded me what the purpose of brainstorming is.

With that in mind, I found the following article (via The Unofficial Apple Weblog) to be quite an interesting exposure of Apple’s design process.

Every week, the teams have two meetings. One in which to brainstorm, to forget about constraints and think freely. As Lopp put it: to “go crazy”. Then they also hold a production meeting, an entirely separate but equally regular meeting which is the other’s antithesis. Here, the designers and engineers are required to nail everything down, to work out how this crazy idea might actually work. This process and organization continues throughout the development of any app, though of course the balance shifts as the app progresses. But keeping an option for creative thought even at a late stage is really smart.

This to me sounds like a fantastic approach to design.  I think too often one is favoured over the other, when really, both are required for innovative yet achievable design.  There were some other interesting nuggets in there too.  Pixel perfect mockups is something I’ve considered using myself, except within a startup there really isn’t enough time to get this just right.  With a large engineering team and plenty of dedicated graphic designers, I’m sure this is a fantastic way to get the product just right before going out.

This, Lopp admitted, causes a huge amount of work and takes an enormous amount of time. But, he added, “it removes all ambiguity.” That might add time up front, but it removes the need to correct mistakes later on.

I couldn’t help but notice there is not much mention of user experience or usability testing.  It’s something I’ve always found difficult to balance myself.  How much do you want to balance user experience compared to innovation?  If you have really great designers working for you, usability and user perception are things they account for unconsciously and it’s virtually unnecessary to closely tie design to user testing.  However not everyone is capable of (or does a good job of) cognitive walkthroughs as they design.

Google Calendar Sync now available – I’m updating my list

In a previous post about Google product experiences, I noted that Google Calendar wasn’t quite there yet on my “everyday use” list, thanks to syncing.

My wife just shared a link with me from the official Google Blog regarding a new tool for syncing your Google Calendar.

It sounds exactly like what I’ve been waiting for:

This was my life for a whole year before we started working on Google Calendar Sync, a 2-way synching application between Google Calendar and the calendar in Microsoft Outlook. I was probably the most excited person on the team when we started developing it, because now I can access my calendar at home or on my laptop, on Google Calendar or in Outlook. When I add an event to the Outlook calendar on my laptop, Google Calendar Sync syncs it to my Google Calendar — and since I also have Google Calendar Sync running on my desktop, the event then syncs from Google Calendar to Outlook calendar on my desktop. All of my calendar views are always up to date, and I can choose whichever one I want to use.

Wikipedia article of the day – Banach-Tarski Paradox

As found from a commenter on Hacker News, the Banach-Tarski Paradox is described as thus:

The Banach–Tarski paradox is a theorem in set theoretic geometry which states that a solid ball in 3-dimensional space can be split into several non-overlapping pieces, which can then be put back together in a different way to yield two identical copies of the original ball. The reassembly process involves only moving the pieces around and rotating them, without changing their shape. However, the pieces themselves are complicated: they are not usual solids but infinite scatterings of points. In a paper published in 1924, Stefan Banach and Alfred Tarski gave a construction of such a “paradoxical decomposition”, based on earlier paradoxical decompositions of a unit interval and of a sphere due to Giuseppe Vitali and Felix Hausdorff, and discussed a number of related questions concerning decompositions of subsets of Euclidean spaces in various dimensions.

The Consumerist should stop giving a voice to the entitled.

I love the Consumerist. Honest I do. But all too often the ‘problem consumers’ are making it their soapbox. I’m all for the little guy getting a leg-up against corporations, but there are people who try to achieve what is right when fighting with businesses, and there is people who try to get what they think they are owed.  In this case, the consumer in question isn’t trying to get a freebie, but basically an Apple store exercises its right to refuse a sale because  they suspect the customer is going to unlock the phone.  The customer responds by having a tantrum.

I still don’t understand the volume of commenters at the Consumerist who side against the consumer, but here is one of the few occasions I will join them:

Now I am about to lose it.

“First off, you have NO right to dictate to me what I do and do not do with a product I purchase. If I pay FULL RETAIL PRICE for something, I can smash it with hammers and throw the pieces off the Grand Canyon if I so choose!”

Purchasing an iPhone at full retail price carries with it no commitment to anything, and to make assumptions to what I plan to do with the phone is complete discrimination. What if I wanted to give it as a gift to my girlfriend and she would be able to activate on her own accord???

I explain all of this, calmly mind you, and then ask them to call their corporate office. Mrs. CSR #1 says “We are corporate”

So now they’ve lowered themselves to LYING to my face. Awesome.

“You’re corporate? I make more money in one day then you make all week Mrs. Corporate

Now THEY’RE really pissed and tell me they are calling security. I tell them go ahead! I’m not stealing, Im not breaking things, Im not wildly running around the store naked & screaming “The iPhones are your demi-god! OBEY!” I am trying to PURCHASE a product and agree to the terms of their contract!!!!!

“We are denying to sell to you”

I fold my arms and wait. Three security guards show up and I take the ‘leader’ aside and explain. He has NO idea what to do. He actually calls the main office, his boss, and asks what to do in this kind of situation. The security boss says the store CAN deny me the sale and asks the security guard to pass along that message to me.

Is there anything Wikipedia doesn’t know? The Palace of the Soviets

Palace of SovietsThrough Google Reader, to BoingBoing, to Modern Mechanix, I found the following Wikipedia article detailing the Palace of the Soviets, which I found fascinating. The 30s was a heady time for large scale architecture in Europe. Albert Speer rose through the Nazi ranks after being hired by Hitler to design his large scale projects (his book Inside the Third Reich is an amazing read).

The amazing thing is that construction did actually begin, and was only stopped due to the beginning of World War 2. Plans for its completion remained open until 1958, when it was converted into a swimming pool.

When geeks bite back

Very interesting article on news.com about Sarah Lacy’s interview of Mark Zuckerberg, from Facebook. I’ve seen some pretty atrocious interviews, keynotes, panels and presentations in my time, but this is right up there when you think of the scope. Interviewing the world’s youngest self-made billionaire (is that title accurate?) at a conference like SXSW…well, I can’t but help think she was a little blase about it all, even by her own self admission in a post-interview discussion with Valleywag.

Edit: Found the interview in question. Suspicions confirmed! Sometimes the arrogance in the Silicon Valley can get a bit much… Haha and Mark’s rising inflection at the end of almost every sentence is kind of irritating.

Edit 2:  Jeff Jarvis has a great post going into detail what went wrong in a far more insightful manner than what I could muster.

Google Reader and other Google products

Miles has been a long time fan of Google Reader, but it’s only been recently that I converted to using it full time.

I found that I was visiting the same blogs several times a day to see what was new. Once every week or two I was stopping by the less frequently updated blogs, but invariably I’d forget and miss something. In addition I was trying to manage all my concert updates via email, and using sheer curiosity to check Woot.com each day.

So after much cajoling I finally tried out Google Reader – and I love it! I tried it briefly several months ago but didn’t find it at all useful. I suspect it was the typical Google product experience – try once, yeah – it’s okay, then come back a year later and it’s amazing. I went through the same thing with Google itself in 1999, Google News in 2002, Gmail in 2004, Picasa in 2004, and I’m hoping PicasaWeb will be the next one I come back to, because frankly Flickr is kicking its arse. Google Groups and Google Maps were two instant hits in my opinion. Actually that reminds me, the other product I’m loving at the moment is Google Finance which has some of the best visualisations I’ve seen with a supersmooth interface.

Actually now that I think about it, there are still some misses in there. Google Apps is about 6 months down from when I started trying that out, so I’ll give it a bit more time, but Google Calendar has been a disaster. I know that a sync tool must exist, why don’t you release it Google?! Actually it’s interesting to look over the full list – many applications that I had tried and forgot about – Google Sync, Notebook, Page Creator, Base, and Orkut. Plus a whole bunch more I peripherally use.

My favourite feature in Google Reader is the ability to share links. It’s great that you can give them tags, but what I would really love is the ability to post a full comment about each article. I guess that’s what I’m doing on my blog though! To see what I’ve found interesting have a look in my sidebar, or click here.

Passengers to start getting fingerprinted at Heathrow

In another life I was an information security tutor. Security is such a fascinating topic, both to teach and learn. I can’t get enough of it, and routinely end up taking part in security decisions at my company, just because it’s a startup, and I can. I have a background in usability and user experience research, and I love trying to solve the problem of the balance between user frustration and protection.

Anyway, I digress. Security theatre is such a problem at the moment, 6.5 years after September 11th. Cory Doctorow from BoingBoing has posted the latest ridiculous element of “security” to be enforced, with some excellent commentary.

Britain’s breaking new ground in the slide into a total surveillance state: as of the end of this month, domestic passengers at the new Heathrow Terminal 5 will be fingerprinted and photographed twice, to “ensure the passenger boarding the aircraft is the same person.”

Well, I suppose that if you’re the kind of lazy suicide bomber who believes in dying for the cause — but not if it means rebooking your ticket or, you know, driving to Stansted or Gatwick or East Midlands or Manchester, this’ll work. And that sounds like a pretty good adversary analysis. We all know how easily dissuaded suicide bombers are.

People you gradually lose respect for

Miles sent me a link to Violent Acres a while ago. At first I identified with the no-nonsense, down-to-brass-tacks approach to people and problems, but then I read some more narrow-minded posts such as how it is a necessity to have two parents to churn out a “normal” child, amongst random other angst that seems only relevant to her (I wonder if her inability to care for a dog, and then have it killed means it was a personal reflection on what she felt was missing).  It’s always a shame when someone you respect and like starts tarnishing in your eyes.  I suppose it is almost inevitable that when you get to better know those you admire, they’re never quite as great as you initially imagined.

Regardless of how I feel about Ms Acres now, you have to admit there’s some nuggets of gold in that site. The raw anger of her response to tailgaters (reminds me of a good friend actually, also female), the absurdity of buying 25 bottles of Nyquil, to a personal favourite activity of mine, giving stick to people who love woo-woo.