The UX of Google Inbox

Google is trying out a new interface for GMail called Inbox.  I asked for an invite and received one that day. Clearly the design has been lifted from Google+.  It’s all circles and material design. At first, I didn’t like it because it was too full.  Then I discovered a new way to “Archive”.


They have these checks which allow you to “Mark as Done”.  As many people have, in GMail, I let my inbox get huge.  I never archived anything.  Literally, the effort of archiving just didn’t seem worth it. (Yes, I am that lazy)

However, I got the hint from Inbox, that the interface makes that task slightly easier and the UI is better if your inbox is empty.  I went into GMail and did a mass archive of my inbox.  There were thousands of messages.  Now, it’s all neatly tucked away.

I went back into Inbox and the UI looked alot cleaner. I started using it more.  It’s on my phone, my iPad and my desktop.  It’s a consistent and pleasant experience.  The truth is that isn’t not radically different than GMail. However, the little things make a difference.

The graphics are nicer, just plain nicer.  The “Done” action is much more satisfying than the “Archive” action.  It’s the same idea, but “Done” feels better when I click it, whereas “Archive” felt like an unneeded step.  I get closure with “Done”. Additionally, the bundling of the other categories is more elegant than in GMail.

When you have a system like Marketo, there are a thousand features.  You can’t spend all month thinking about the wording of one action.  However, when you design a system like GMail/Inbox, you HAVE to obsess about those details.  They make a huge difference.

Nice job on the UX Google!

Note: I recently spend 4 hours with my team over the week debating what to call a different mode of landing page design. It’s good for the design soul.

The UX of the Carwash

We had a UX team exercise today, where we tried to redesign the car wash experience. It started with a picture of a completely dysfunctional UI.


Funny, isnt it?

Then the team all designed alternatives.  My mind wandered to my feelings about the car wash experience in general. As a kid, I remember going with my mom or dad.  It was like a strange trip into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.  All of these noises and tentacles slapping the windows.

I remembered this scene called the Wonka Wash.

I didn’t want to make the car wash user interface streamlined. I didn’t want to make it fast.  I wanted to make it LESS fast.  I wanted to make it steam punk with a giant lever you pulled into position to start the car.  I wanted a giant rubber hand to check if your window was shut.  I wanted colors and noises and a kaleidoscope of sensory input. I wanted the kids to say, “Dad, can we PLEASE go to the car wash?!”

People often mistake what UX is all about. It’s not efficiency.  It’s not intuitiveness or usable.  It’s about love.  Its about fun. It’s about remembering things as wonderful delight and not just task completion. It’s about human psychology and the experiences we keep with us.

I HATE the car washes where you get out of the car.  The one near my house is like this. It makes me sad. Design your next project with this mind set and you might surprise yourself (and your customers) in how memorable and fun your tool can be.


The Story of School

My kids (and many others) often complained about homework and education. “Why do I need to know this?” They were avoiding homework.  As a kid, I didn’t do any homework.  I had a 2.2 grade point average in high school.  I went to community college and then University of Hell, I mean Buffalo. On my resume, it does not have a great school.

When they asked about this, I told them the Story of School.

Warning: Please don’t troll me on this. Raise your own kids. Don’t correct my history or tell me I am a bad parent. I am just sharing.

The Story of School

School in its current form was designed by officials in the Bavarian empire.  They wanted to train soldiers and identify who should be officers. Soldiers should be obedient and trained and follow orders.  Officers should also be disciplined, but they should be smarter.  They created the K-12 system. (Kindergarten from German, literally ‘children’s garden.’)  It emphasized tests and fine-grained differentiation. They gave specific GRADES.  Those who were the best went to officers school for further training and differentiation.

Nowadays, kids go to college, but WHICH college matters a ton.  If you can get into one of the BEST colleges, you get to have advantage for your entire career.  It says your college on your resume forever.  It’s a major advantage and will get you more money than otherwise.

How do they figure out who goes to the best colleges and who goes to the worst?  Grades.  How do you get the best grades?  You do exactly what the teachers wants.  You follow orders like a good solider.  It’s a game.  They try to make the orders more and more complicated.  They give you math questions that are nearly impossible to solve.  They make you read books you hate by authors long since dead.  They make you memorize insignificant details. They try to make it hard to follow directions.  It’s a game.  The winner gets to put the best college on their resume for 60+ years.

Now, you can go to a crummy school and make less money and have less opportunity and fight for recognition. I didn’t go to a good school and I am doing well.  But every day, I imagine what I COULD have done if I had that advantage.  I might be a billionaire now or a senator or world leader.  I love my life and family, but I regret that no one told me about this game.  I wish I knew what school on your resume would mean.

Play the game, don’t let them break you. Do the homework early.  Read the book.  Solve the riddle.  Play the game and get A+ grades every time.  Make it a game.  Don’t say, “When will I use the quadratic equation in my life?”  The answer is never. But you will use your college degree on your resume with every single job application.

It’s hard to follow directions, especially if you are a creative soul like myself. I wish there were schools that were designed for people like me, but it wasn’t meant to be. I believe in reform of public schools.  No Child Left Behind is a bad public policy.  The Bavarian system is no longer appropriate. For an interesting take on the subject, read Practical Wisdom by Barry Schwartz.

Icons Designed for Design Teams

Last year, I tried to switch to a newer icon collection.  We researched hundreds of different collections and chose one by Axialis.  We thought our requirements were this:

  1. Looks nice and modern
  2. Lots of variety in shapes
  3. Big sizes (up to 256)

We then went about converting the icons in the system to Axialis.  Unfortunately, everything went wrong.  Here are some of the negatives we experienced:

  • Small Size: 256px is just not big enough.  For anything in print, you need 512px minimum.
  • No Vector Type: Modern devices are getting smaller, but their resolution is skyrocketing.  The Chromebook I recently purchased has 1920×1080.  The new Dell has a whopping 3200×1800.  This means that we are moving into a world where user interface has got to be vector based.  Specifically, icons should be SVG and not PNG.  They are much smaller and will look much sharper on high resolution screens. Axialis only had PNG. Tracing the PNG to SVG proved incredibly difficult.
  • No search engine:  Finding the right icon is an important part of design.  With Axialis, we had to scroll through thousands of icons to find just the right one.
  • Terrible naming: Making the search problem even worse was that the files were not named sensibly.  They have duplicate names with different looks.  All of the icons were in different folders, which made finding them even harder.
  • Badges: You had to use the badges they had or open up Photoshop and manipulate them yourself. This led to inconsistency amongst the team.

Our Hero: IconExperience
IconExperience is the one collection that is designed for a team of designers to work together. They have the complete set of our requirements:

  1. Large (512) sizes
  2. Various sizes
  3. Color Options
  4. Built in Search
  5. Toolkit for badges
  6. SVG versions

Additionally, they have multiple different looks in many color combinations.  We chose the O-Collection.

The bottom line is that “looking good” is not as critical as it seems on first blush.  By focusing exclusively on the user, you may be creating a horrible working environment for the designer. Imagine the quality of code engineers produce.  Now give them notepad instead of their preferred editor. The quality is bound to go down.  Tools matter.

O-Collection by IconExperience gets it.  I wish other icon makers would follow suit.

The UX of Monarch Sofas

We have had the same couch for almost 20 years.  It looks pretty ratty at this point and needs to be replaced.  We have been searching around at different places and stumbled upon Monarch Sofas.  Really interesting and counter-intuitive UX.

The website looks cheap.  Made us think it was a discount place, when in reality it is a premium, hand crafted furniture company.  We went to the showroom to see what was up.  As opposed to Scandinavian Designs, whose website looked premium and showroom was a palace of elegance, the Monarch showroom was a plain concrete box.  No art on the walls, terrible lighting, it was a true shithole.

Without any distractions, the sofas were plainly arranged in a grid.  In a bizarre way, it actually made us focus more on the details of the sofas. Every sofa could be made into the same arrangements, so we could figure that out without thinking about the style.  Additionally, they said they could do anything.

“You want it 3 inches taller, we will make it 3 inches taller.  You want a different base, we will put on a different base.”

How crazy is that?  Hand-crafted.  It’s an anachronism, a throwback to a different time.  The service was good.  They helped us through the choices, like which fabric is best for a shedding dog.  They give life-time warranties for the pillows and structure.  They deliver it and take away the old couch.

Although I started off skeptical, I have become a fan of the Monarch Sofa company. It’s not what you would expect, but it is the right product and user experience.

Minor extra point: The showroom was in Menlo Park.  Man, I love it there.  We ate lunch downtown at a Burmese restaurant that was delicious.  The whole downtown is filled with great places to eat and cool shops.

Superbowl L

This year was Superbowl XLIX or “49” to us normal people.  Next year, is 50, therefore Superbowl L.  Doesn’t quite have a ring to it, but 50 is a milestone. The institution has held up over the years and not turned into a joke that is painful to watch. You know who I am talking about Academy Awards!

Superbowl L may be my year.  It’s L for Lipka, right?  L for Lucky.  Or Maybe L for losers. I mean, of course, the New York Jets.  They have a new coach and new GM. Lots of salary cap space. They have no quarterback, but who knows what will happen.

Every year, I hope for the best and every year, I am disappointed.  However, all of those years the Superbowl has an X in the name.  Not next year.  L! L for Lipka! Maybe I am out of my mind, but I will predict it anyway.

The New York Jets will make it to Superbowl L … and lose.  L for losers.

Sometimes I think my brain is broken.

The UX of “Old”

I have a terrible affliction called “Old”.  It is fairly common for people born before 1975. The symptoms are fairly broad.  Weakness in the joints, inability to heal quickly, weight gain, hair loss and vision degradation, just to name a few.  Seriously, this thing is worse than any disease I have ever heard of.  Many people have died of “Old”!  Each year, more and more people are afflicted.

So far, there is no cure.  You can only manage “Old”. For example, I was looking at the ingredients of a sports drink for my kid over the weekend.  The small text was giving me a headache and was difficult to read.  I happened to be near a rack of reading glasses, so I grabbed one and put them on.  The text grew in size and came into focus. I sat down and realized, “Old” has struck again.

When I was a child, I wore regular glasses.  I had approximately 20/60 vision.  Then in 1997, I had LASIK surgery on my eyes.  It was a bit expensive, but I thought it was the best money I have ever spent.  My vision was perfect after the surgery and has only degraded slightly over the years.

LASIK does not improve reading vision.  It reshapes the cornea to put distance objects in focus.  Reading vision requires the muscles around your eyes to be flexible and they do the focusing for you.  Unfortunately, my eye muscles have “Old” and are less flexible. Thus, I need to get glasses again for reading.

I’ve read about some solutions including have one eye focused short while the other eye focuses long.  I am unsure if I like this option. More research is required.

Do you have “Old”? What symptoms have you been experiencing?  It sucks, doesn’t it?