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Category Archives: Design

Why are you selling what no one wants?

Q: Why do we go to web sites?  Or to stores?  Or to movie theatres?  Or … anywhere? Have you ever really considered that question, I mean, seriously considered it. 

People go to places for information, for entertainment, to interact with people, to buy things, but people go to them always for… something.  We go to places because they have something we want.  Pretty simple model for anyone who’s in business… supply and demand.  People demand – and you supply.  Everyone walks away happy.  That’s the goal.

So, let me ask you why… when we build web sites and software and things for people that we give them stuff they don’t want?  Why do we purposely make it difficult to locate our products.  Intentionally engineer them – to be almost painful… and we as users, are so used to this experience… that we don’t even blink when we see it.

Here’s some food for thought. If you bought a magazine (yes I’m back to the magazine metaphor… work with me here it’s worth it…)  would you enjoy the magazine if every article in it began with the table of contents for the entire magazine at the beginning?    Seriously?  How ridiculous would that be.

Wired Magazine does.  Well, their web page does.  Every web page does.  We call it the navigation menu.  It’s this really cool security blanket on the top of every page.  We just … assume it has to be there because – hey, how can you navigate if you don’t have it??  Right??  I mean… right?  We have to have it. 

Let me let you in on a little usability secret.  No.  No you don’t.  In fact, you probably only seldom actually use it, and when you do – you only use it because, well, it’s there.  It’s something we put up there back in the early days when we were trying to figure out how best to navigate on the internet and we, frankly just kept doing it even after people started just using the back button. 

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Here’s a standard map of a classic style web site hierarchy.  It’s not how you’d navigate it, but it is how the links function… go to the main site – then there’s a sub page… then there’s the info you actually want to see…so this is… what the site really looks like to you.  It’s pretty much your experience.

I get to the page, I click, I click, I read.

But… that’s not how a magazine works is it?  Magazine, I look upimage what I want, and then I go straight to it.  In a magazine… your experience is like this… it’s open and read.  Because that’s what you want.  That’s what you expect of it.  But… what if we drop the concept of a magazine.  Let’s say we’re going car shopping. 

Is your experience one of you go to a dealer and they have 8 cars in the window, and every time you want to look at what they have, the dealer pulls out a flip book and makes you flip through them like a police mug shot book – and then he’ll bring one up to you?  And some of the time, he comes back and says, “Sorry that units not available.”.  And every time he drags out the flipbook – there’s a map of the store that drops down in front of you, and pictures of whatever models they’re really pushing this month are stuffed into your mug shot book and they take up like 25% or more of the pages and the pictures of the actual cars to chose from are like … thumbnails, and you have to ask the guy to bring one up every time you see one that might be what you’re looking for.  That’s currently how a lot of online shopping works. 

Now, here’s what you wish would happen… I come in, I ask the guy if he has any of the model of car I like, and he steps aside and the cars I like are on display.  In fact my favorite models are on display and I can see them right there.  It’s like magic.

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  Don’t believe me?  Here’s an actual car dealership website.  Here is imagethe same website… with just what I came there to do, and everything else that the web site has on it obscured…

Over 80% of the site… has stuff I don’t want to do.  I mean really, there’s more real estate on that page devoted to navigating the web site than there is stuff there for me to buy. 

imageSo… what’s the alternative?  How about considering that no matter what – there’s basically a 2 tier structure for content, and focus just on the content in those top 2 tiers.  Main Page – > Car Page. Or imageMain Page –> Deals, or Main Page –> Trucks. 

As you can see – this is already getting the customer to their choice faster… they can perform their searches, save them for comparisons, and in general – we’re getting the user where they want to go faster and easier.  We could, include things like financing and research … as an option off the page.  The idea is we get the customer to what they want, effortlessly.  We don’t waste their visuals on navigation menus, on options to download phone apps, and so on.  If we need to provide financing as an option… then we include that as an option.  A good place for this is at the bottom of the screen – because it doesn’t break the flow of what the users doing. It’s not in their face, but it’s an option available and accessible. 

And obviously we’d have a specific details page for the car itself we’ve selected.  But we don’t need all these very big navigations and distractions that break the user out of what it is they’re looking to do – which is find a car.  It lets you sell the user what they want … and not what it takes to navigate your web site.

 
 

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Why I only create things for …

I just had a discussion with a designer friend.  As usual, I got my ripping on for only doing stuff for Windows based systems.  I got my usual lecture about the glories of design for Apple and how the iPhone was going to take over the world and it really, lets face it – already had.   How Google’s chrome was right behind it.  How could I possibly still be thinking of designing anything for Windows? It was dead – a dinosaur.  Hardly bleeding edge.  It died a while ago and I needed to really jump on the bandwagon.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m the first to appreciate the design and innovation of the iPhone, even the Mac, Linux and other OS’s… Heck, I’m a huge fan of the design work that went into the OLPC.  But let’s have a reality check here before we all go running down to drink Kool-Aid and jump in the river to be saved okay?

Here’s the latest numbers on what Operating Systems are being used to access the Internet from NetMarketShare, based on actual use by people. 

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Now… if you want to know why I specialize in Windows based technologies… there’s your answer.  Pretty simple. 

But to the bigger question of “Is designing for Windows based technologies no longer “bleeding edge”?  Windows, to me, isn’t static, the desktop isn’t static.  It’s very very much alive.  Very dynamic.  Because it’s just an Operating System.  It’s just a desktop.  What I put on that desktop.  What I make it do.  How I make it do that – that’s beyond the bleeding razors edge. 

Anyone can design for a new platform and be creative or original.  Literally even bad ideas become “bleeding edge”, even the ones which aren’t really all that useful or practical or provide a level of function that people didn’t have before. 

If you look at the iPhone development community – it’s a bit like the rest of the mobile phone community.  Aside

Augmented Reality Watch Demo

from work being done in augmented reality – which are currently mostly demos using adobe after effects -I haven’t seen anything there that really excited me and made me say, “Wow I should look into more of that.”. 

Now, there’s a lot of stuff going on now in the Augmented Reality space (I’ve mentioned in previous posts the merging of video and entertainment and new technologies so this isn’t like its a shocker).  But a lot of the really really cool stuff isn’t just happening in the mobile market.  And until it’s happening on more than just the iPhone – well it’s not of much interest to me.

Why?  Look at the numbers above.  iPhones sitting with around .53% of the overall OS market share, now look at the Android… it’s not even a year old fully and it’s sitting at .09%.  In two years – the iPhone has only been able to snake out .53%??  It’s freaking everywhere it seems… everywhere I go I see people talking about building an app for the iPhone… and yet it’s marketshare is .53% of the overall Internet viewership.  

And this does not mean that I think that Androids a better OS – it’s not.  It’s that the uses of the iPhone, Android, etc., are not the uses that people are actually using.  The next jumps in technology in the mobile space will not be phones.  Phones have been done.  Phones are going to merge with something else because phones are a communications system.

I’ve said for decades now the big jump there (communications) is going to be computer telepathy.  Yeah, yeah, that’s sci-fi – it’s too weird and it’s decades out…. I know.  That’s the point.  You want to be cutting edge – bleeding edge – you go decades out and work back.  You don’t go 3-4 years back and work forward.  Android, Apple, all of these are as much stuck in their platforms as Windows is to the desktop.

Windows – is moving out of the desktop.  Surface and other cool technologies are moving it out of there and into the 2.5 and 3D spaces – ala Minority Report.  Eventually I would not be surprised if we see them move to mindspaces of communication.  If they don’t – they should. That’s bleeding edge.

The iPhone – moved to the iPad.  That wasn’t a jump forward, at best it was a jump sideways and back.  We’ve been to the eBook and the tablet space.  Yeah they’re doing some nice stuff there.  But there’s a reason they didn’t sell before and it wasn’t aesthetics, it was ergonomics and practicality and functionality.  iPad’s closer to what I would have liked for that kind of thing… in fact I’m a huge fan of the design of the iPad. 

But the iPad space… isn’t new ground.  It’s not even taking old ground to new heights.  It’s just taking it to new places.  For me – that’s not enough.  I’m also guessing that for a lot of people it won’t be either.  Don’t get me wrong we’re going to see about 11,000 iPad copiers out there and it’s going to be a huge market.  But it’s not ever going to bust into that 92% marketshare a whole lot.  Why not?  Because – if it was going to – it already would have.  Sure it’s going to dent it.  But not by a whole lot, and certainly not enough for me to justify a lot of time thinking about it.

I’m still thinking about quantum systems and mindspace systems because that’s where I want to go.  Where people will eventually have to go.  And at the end of the day… y’know what… they’ll still be using that desktop I’ll predict right now.  Eventually it will go away.  Something will replace it.  But the reign of this dinosaur is still many years from being over.

On my drive to work the other day, they had a talk radio show on technology talking about the new 3D TVs out there.  How the cost on them was pretty low.  One caller pointed out he got a 58 inch screen, blu-ray player, and 2 dinoridesets of 3D glasses all for under $3,000.  Which – is pretty impressive.  Then someone asked him, “So what movies are available?” and he said, “uh… so far all I’ve found is one.”.  <insert crickets chirping sound here>

Bleeding edge is cool.  Designing for it is really cool and I love to do that.  It’s dreamer design work and incredibly rewarding.  But designing something that isn’t used steals from that reward.  I want people to see what I’ve done  – comment – criticize – help improve it – give it life.  That’s bleeding edge. 

So… for now.  I’ll stick with making my dinosaur out live it’s usefulness and find new ways for people to ride it.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2010 in Design, Development, Rants

 

The Next Generation…

Been a while since I got into what’s going on with fringe technologies people are going to see soon (soon is naturally a relative term) so I figured it was time to get everyone up to speed.

Several years ago I made the rather bold statement we’d see a quantum computer in 2-3 years, and a functioning unit in 5.  That was 2003 as I recall.  We actually saw a quantum computer hit sales around 2008.  A lot of people have commented that’s not a “true” quantum computer since it relied on existing tech – which has known barriers with Moore’s Laws.  This is kind of the purist view of a quantum computer IMHO.  But just to be fair … here’s a blip Science Daily about a “true” quantum computer  from Japan this week…

Molecular Computations: Single Molecule Can Calculate Thousands of Times Faster Than a PC

ScienceDaily (May 6, 2010) — An experimental demonstration of a quantum calculation has shown that a single molecule can perform operations thousands of times faster than any conventional computer.

Now, it’s arguable that a this is just a fourier calculation and there’s not a full blown PC or anything connected to it… and on and on…  Let me be clear.  The future is not something created in one massive jump over night.  It’s made in a lot of very little steps that happen not every day – but every second.  It’s waves and waves of the next second, that cause you to one day wake up and discover that the tide of yesterdays has already come in… and you’re up to your neck in tomorrow.  Wink

Here’s a good example….  watch how this kind of thing goes from a news blip you don’t care about to most of the things needed to actually make it a reality – in your hands and you complaining about how the “new” model has the “cool” features…

In Japan they create a Iodine molecule based computer that’s 1,000’s of times faster than what we have today.  We saw that above … but… over in…  Zurich they’re creating an Optical Transistor Circuit for computers…

Optical Computer Closer: Optical Transistor Made From Single Molecule

ScienceDaily (July 3, 2009) — ETH Zurich researchers have successfully created an optical transistor from a single molecule. This has brought them one step closer to an optical computer.

Oh wait… how do you connect an Optical system to an Electronic system like your keyboard or your web cam on your laptop?  Hey… sorry – the future already happened on that one already… happened back in 2008 in case you missed it… so we have that…

Single-Molecule Sensing Breakthrough: Optical and Electronic Measurements Made Simultanously

ScienceDaily (Feb. 11, 2008) — In a study that could lay the foundation for mass-produced single-molecule sensors, physicists and engineers at Rice University have demonstrated a means of simultaneously making optical and electronic measurements of the same molecule.

Now… Atom based Quantum computer core(s)… Optical transistors – and optical / electronic switching and sensors… and then there’s the amplifiers and distribution systems (trust me – they have it underway), and the power supply which is most likely going to be some kind of hydrogen fuel battery (about 3 weeks between charges and uses… tap water to power it.  Yeah… its very real) .  And all of this, btw, are not the only works of their kind being done.  There are several approaches on all of this work being done simultaneously around the globe.

These are just the most recent blips I found.  Fact is – a lot of work is going on right now, and that’s not even the only quantum atom computer out there, once again it’s just the most recent.  And I know the naysayers are saying “Hey you need a lot more than just a transistor and a processor what about…”  – Microwave amplifiers needed to retrieve the data??  Like I said…  Already being put together.

Okay but what about… storing data?  Nanodots on the short term – about 3-5 years.  You’re expected to be looking at a type mega-high-speed SSD card which holds several terrabytes.  Yeah… that’s right I said Terrabytes – on one of those little cards that you use for your digital camera.  Holographic storage according to GE and 3M is just a few years after that and  the actual speeds or limits for storage are on those are expected to be frankly – science fiction levels.

The fact is the computers found on TV shows like Star Trek are just around the corner.  Sci-fi like computing capabilities for all of us keep coming out, but like the guy at the beach waiting for the tide to come in, we’re expecting some massive Tsunami while the waters inch up past our feet, to our ankles, our knees, our hips… all the while complaining it’s not here yet.

Here’s some perspective for you… 20 years ago… there was no internet a “laptop” weighed around 5 lbs or more, and you had 256 colors (if you were lucky) for a screen and the biggest hard drive was around 10 mb.  For $350 now, you can get a 3G Netbook that is more powerful, much faster, with more memory a vastly longer battery life and better graphics, than a laptop that 5 years ago – cost you $1500.   

The “Next Generation” of computers are here every day.  We’re just so busy complaining about how slow, how cheesy, how limited they are we keep missing the

advances we’re seeing.  Just some food for thought while you wait for your quantum laptop … or your computer brain interface… oh… yeah forgot to mention – award winners for Computer Brain Interface designs were announced this month too

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Posted by on May 10, 2010 in Design, Development, Future

 

all burned up…

Okay… so had a few minutes this weekend and my son had asked about how the demons do their warps in the tv series “Charmed”. Ironically enough … Andrew Kramer had on his blog this week a bit that’s very much like the old “staked” flame away from Buffy and Angel.  So this is my way of giving and unabashed plug to Andrew and his site… and I would be really evil – if I didn’t mention he’s got all kinds of updated video tools you can buy there. 

Anyway – after a bit of telling my son that these effects weren’t as hard as you might imagine led to me grabbing some old video footage… And here’s a couple examples I did in After Effects to show him how easy these effects are to do.  Very fun – and surprisingly easy – they just take time.  My only complaint is I really need to break down and get a better quality camera because it’s sad when the CG work has better quality than the original footage. 

Now – admittedly the warping / warbling warp in on this is largely to cover the fact I was too lazy to go out and shoot any new footage so I took a bit of garbage footage lying around and used that as a quickie bit for the burn effect.

A better copy of the burn – is below.  Here I’m using a simple image of a penny and you can really see how the right media really makes the effect. 

So… let’s get down to how the effect layers out – and that is really the secret to making it work, a lot of layers each one over lapping the other. Now this is explained a whole lot better in one of Andrew Kramer’s tutorials and since I don’t do tutorials – and Andrew Does I’m going to refer you to him here

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The only real twists I’m adding to this is – I don’t use any pre-comp’d smoke which he does, and I’ve simplified this up a bit so we’re not using several layers that he is.  Remember I’m doing this for just a very quick effect on some very grainy footage and Andrew’s outputting HD level.   For a lot of work (web for example) this is good enough and it’s very quick. 

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So – we take a simple comp shot of just the woods – and another shot of me walking in these same woods.  If you have a green screen you can do this very quick – but if you’re just using raw footage it won’t take long for you to matte the woods out – and then overlay these shots.

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Now – we apply the layered burn effect which is really just a combination of linear radiant’s on a texture – that is then applied with color.  As this transitions across the layer it causes it to glow.

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The next set of layers uses a similar radiant and glow effect on a texture – that we’ve boosted to a point where it’s pretty much a very jagged linear ramp that as we transition this across – gives the effect of it erasing or burning away what is below. 

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We add over this a layer of smoke and some particles that pass over it. You can see that we need to do this on a very semi-transparency to the overlapping layers that are placed over the footage.  But that’s really how easy this effect is to pull off.  It’s not complicated – it’s just a bit of repeating the same effect with slight variations one over the top of the other, and then applying them in a set order.

Once again – you can get a great detailed video tutorial on this over at Andrew Kramer’s VideoCopilot.net site who is pretty much the definitive guy for any After Effects effect.  Any of us who do anything with video from your basic beginner to long time pros can learn a lot from him – so even if you’ve never used AE that’s the place to go if you want to learn these effects.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2009 in Design, Internet, media, video

 

Make some color happen…

I’m taking a breather from the next installment of eCommerce talk.  Not that discussing the glories of PunchOut catalogs and on line supplier services isn’t hoot – but I needed to add a little color so I

grabbed a bit of video I had lying around and I did just that.  If you take a gander at the clip here ther’s a couple tricks that are pretty easy to create some very dramatic and colorful footage out of well, kind of drab footage. 

The clip here has the original footage, first – just a simple few seconds of the back yard around the house here on a typical Seattlish late afternoon.  Meaning – it’s overcast and dark.   And that’s not a bad thing – in fact the nice thing about it always being overcast here is that it’s easy to light a video shot, and you seldom ever have to worry about over exposing the shot.  But life isn’t always about various shades of grey.  imageNow, the original footage isn’t all that bad – there is some color there.  But as you can see its a bit washed out.  So one of the first fun things you can do to boost the color is to replace the sky entirely.  So I did – I spent a few minutes out there on Flickr and got a very nice flaming red sunset. 

¹Fun tip for Video and Design:

Which … btw – is under a creative commons license that allows it to be used.  Flickr has a very nice feature that allows you to do a search for works that are under the Creative Commons – so keep that in mind.  It’s under the Advanced Search settings – scroll to the bottom of the search imageoptions and check the boxes for Creative Commons reuse policies.  You can even have it search for stuff that you can use commercially – which – is pretty cool.  (Be even cooler if you could download actual video instead of flash videos – but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.)

Anyway, like I said, I got on on Flickr and looked around for a very very dramatic flaming red sky since I really wanted to give the shot a vibrant dramatic boost.  Now the trick to doing this with a shot that’s very effective and very quick is imagenot to roto-scope all the frames but to do a color matte.  What’s a color matte? It’s really simple to do in After Effects and it’s very useful.  First things first – is to duplicate the shot, and then desaturate it completely.  Then hit the levels and totally boost the sky so it’s got a really almost black and white look.  Then, last but not least bring in a good luma key.  Drop the photo in behind it so it shows through the key – and wallah – you have a very dramatic sunset.  Now, you may have noticed that it’s ALL black where it’s not colored sunset… so drop a mask across the area you want to show at the bottom and pin to that the original footage.  Do a little color correction on it and you have the very dramatic scene you see here.  (A little more work and we could get the little color spots out of the edging – but this was done very quickly  – even still its very dramatic.  Got a nice vibe to it and the colors’ literally scream at you. 

What it is not however … is particularly realistic.  And the downside of this technique is that you really make the fine details get blocky and pixelated. So its really good for less than photo realistic effects butimage you need to use it wisely or it really will drown out any moments that need to be done subtley.  So … how do you color it up without losing detail and without making it… blah?   Color correction gel.  What’s that?

Simple – the way you’d get a similar effect is to use Andrew Kramer’s free AE plugin – the Colored Gel Effect.  It takes a bit of getting used to and tweaking to get just the look you want – but the results are awesome.  If you look at the detail of the trees – they keep that very soft pine needle blur, and when they move in their own way they’re very … cabin on the lake.  I was tempted to play around with a mask or two on the barn down there – but decided to leave it be – basking in the golden sun.    You know they say that Lighting sets the mood for a shot quicker than anything – faster than sounds, faster than anything in the shot.  So play around with some color, have some fun with it.  I will.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2009 in Design, media, video

 

what’s been keeping me up at night…

Been a bit busy… so I figured I’d give everyone a taste of the somewhat promised cXML eCommerce toy I’m working on.  So here are a few screen shots.  As you can see – it’s designed to load cXML or XML and perform validations.  It also allows the tester to actually POST the cXML PunchOut and OrderRequests directly to the server.  This retrieves complete header information.  The tester can auto-generate OCI HTML web forms that can be sent to customers for their own testing.  

You can also verify Authentication Tokens, Session IDs, and perform HostName / IP Address checks. 

The cXML validation allows the user to validate against any of a number of DTD files, from cXML to those used by OSN or even 3rd party or local files.  Anyway… that’s what has been keeping me from Posting.   In the next week or so – I’ll get some code up and discuss how eCommerce procurement systems work a little more directly. 

Until then… you’re just going to have use these shots and wonder.  (And for the record … yes I have removed any sensitive info from these screen shots.  The cXML displayed is a generic OrderRequest form. 

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Posted by on April 3, 2009 in Design, Development, Internet, Work

 

Boredom leads to adventures…

So I’ve been pretty bored of late.  Over at work I’m working on eCommerce issues – mostly dealing with the various choices vendors have in linking to our network and they all involve XML based products.  You’d be surprised how many top notch IT departments have grown so reliant on tools by Oracle and others for their procurement solutions they literally click buttons and fill in forms without knowing how their tool really works. 

Not that I’m an expert on procurement (well actually I suppose technically I am) but it seems to me that any time you’ve sufficiently automated yourself to the point that you don’t know what kind of XML you’re pumping out, how it gets to the other guy and what kind of an output you need to put out… your over adapted to your technology and now dependant on it.  Which is never a good thing.

So naturally – since I handle a lot of post-production troubleshooting these days… I automated things with a few tools.  I’ll detail these out in a future blog since I’m pretty sure most people have never had to deal with cXML or understand the difference between it and standard XML, and I’ve encountered several “Oracle Gurus” who keep insisting that what Oracle pumps out is “XML”… it is – but not in the classical sense anyone else would expect.

So I’ve started a couple projects there to make it easier for people and those are forth coming…

I also… decided to do a bit of video fun and that… is how I fought off boredom this weekend.  Did two bits you can find here

 

and here…

 

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2009 in Design, media, Rants, video