Decisions

Miles: Sometimes you gotta say “What the F**k”, make your move. Joel, every now and then, saying “What the F**k”, brings freedom. Freedom brings opportunity, opportunity brings freedom. So your parents are going out of town. You got the place all to yourself.
Joel Goodson: Yeah.
Miles: What the f**k.

Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.
Napoleon Bonaparte

When is a decision rash?  When is it bold?  How does one know whether a decision is right or wrong?  These are the turning points of our lives.  So many of us let events make decisions for us.  Is that good?  Bad?  Neither?

We live in complex times where decisions are made every minute.  And those decisions stay with us for a long time.  Maybe I think too much.

Memories and Technology

Back when I had more hair.  Jared looks so happy.  Time flies.

I got a new scanner, the CanoScan 4400F.  So far, it’s pretty impressive.  I am scanning Katie and my wedding album.  Ahh memories and new technology.  What more can I ask for?

Review: Designing the Obvious

I just finished the book, Designing the Obvious by Robert Hoekman, Jr.  Although I appreciated his overall view and the points he was making, I just thought the book fell a little flat for me.  In comparison, Don’t Make Me Think, was a much more enjoyable read.  Neither book really introduced me to any new concepts, but that is OK.  Sometimes, I like to give these kinds of books to others as primers.

Compare Designing the Obvious to The Design of Everyday Things and to Universal Principles of Design.  DOET has virtually no pictures, but it was mesmerizing.  I had to read it all in one sitting.  Don Norman changed my life and I am a life-long disciple.  Universal Principles had a unique layout approach where each spread was 1 principle.  I love this book.  It’s so easy to learn from.  You could flip to any page and learn something.  Don’t Make me Think has fun animations and is a very quick read.  He made the book so that one could read the whole thing on a cross-country plane trip.  By comparison Designing the Obvious was a hybrid.  Some pictures, some layout, alot of text.  It just didn’t capture my imagination or engage me enough.

Maybe I am not the right target audience.  I hate giving bad reviews. The information in it is accurate and sensible.  I just didn’t love the writing.

With that said, I tried to write my own book on the same subject and could not complete it satisfactorily.  Writing a book is incredibly difficult and I am being very unfair to Robert by comparing his book to my favorites.  I am a picky reader of UX books in general and I still bought this book. I think I will subscribe to his blog too.

UPDATE:  I like his blog. 🙂  Apparently, he requested that blog reviews about the book should be linked to amazon.

WordPress 2.6 and Gravatar

Wow, that was fast.  WordPress 2.6 is released.  I actually had trouble with it for the first time ever.  I downloaded the ZIP file and it had errors.  I then tried the TAR file and it worked like normal, magically and instantly.  This is my first moment using it, so I haven’t seen specifics about the experience.  The WYSIWYG editor “looks” the same, but apparently it’s been upgraded.  It still uses some PrototypeJS, but it has an up to date version of jQuery.  I’ll look around.

Also, this theme uses Gravatars.  I find them pretty cool and easy to use.  Just go to the site and register your email.  Then upload a photo.  That’s it.  Then whenever you post on a board that uses Gravatars, your pic will show up.  You don’t have to upload a photo of yourself, you can upload a picture of a monkey, but the point is that you get to personalize.  I think it’s neat.

Upgrades – Trillian/WordPress

I love upgrades.

Trillian Astra just sent an update that allows me to see when someone is STARTING a message to me.  I love this feature.  I am so excited about it.  Whenever I see the “Joe Smith is preparing a message to you”, I get giddy!  I can’t believe how long Trillian Astra has been in Alpha.  When will they release a beta so you all can use it?

WordPress is testing 2.6.  They are on Release Candidate 1.  I am trying to hold my breath until it’s released in final.  I should probably just upgrade though.  Hmm, upgrade, wait, upgrade, wait…I can’t decide!  What to do?!  I suppose I could wait a tiny bit longer.  I am excited for the usability improvements though.  I love WordPress.

Theme Weekend

I’m definetely pissing Katie off this weekend.  I never have time during the week for this, so I have to do it now.  Plus, since I am by the computer, I am moving a bunch of files from a smaller external HD to a larger one.  This is taking alot of time.

Anyway, here is more on my theme modification adventure.

  • I had to fix the URL for the Gravatars.  Gravatars are really brilliant.  You create an account and upload a picture.  Then Gravatar aware systems can put your picture next to your post.  Brilliant!  We should do this on the Success forum at work.  The link on the theme was a little messed up though, so I had to modify.
  • I cleaned up the design for the recent commentators in the sidebar.  This was relatively easy with the WordPress plugin.
  • I converted all of my categories into tags.  I am not sure this is the right thing to do, but it feels like WordPress is suggesting it as best practice.  So I replaced the categories on the right with tags.  I didn’t like the way the tag cloud looked, so I modified it a tiny bit to look like the themes sidebar lists.

Well, it’s looking in the ballpark.  My wishlist right now is:

  1. Add archives links on the right.
  2. Improve picture of me at the top.
  3. Add pictures of draggable kids? Maybe smaller versions this time.
  4. Check plugins.  Some may be broken now.
  5. Possibly change colors.
  6. Replace social networking links with ShareThis.  Might be hard.
  7. Review older posts to see if they broke.

One step at a time.

Experimenting with New Theme

There is one thing I love more than anything else, and that’s Katie.  However, a close second runner-up is trying new software.  I love new software.  I love trying new things.  I am addicted to it.  My theme is no exception.  The newness of it is just intoxicating.

As you can see, I have the Lemon Twist up and running…mostly.

There are a few errors that I have to work out and of course, I need to customize it.  Here is my experience so far.

  1. I think there was an error on line 49 of commentform.php.  It was killing the page having TWO endif statements.  I eliminated one and it seemed to fix the problem.
  2. One thing I did was put hidden DIVs on every single page saying the name of the file.  I think this really should be best practice for theme makers.  It’s so hard to tell where one file ends and another begins.  Although I am digging this theme, underneath, I felt that there was ALOT of duplicated code and html.  It’s important to reduce complexity by never repeating html.
  3. I made nav_current_right.png twice as wide.  It doesn’t hurt anything because it’s a background, but if you have a long named page then it doesn’t fill up the box.  Make 3x as long would have been right.
  4. I changed the jQuery call from static 1.2.1 to dynamic 1.2.6.  This will keep it up to date better and serve it faster.
  5. I removed the theme authors google analytics and put in my own.  This is a major silly thing to leave in the theme.  It will mess people up if they don’t catch it.
  6. Seems to conflict with the shareThis plugin.  It has some of it’s own social networking functionality.  I sort of like the shareThis one more.
  7. On his site, the recent comments look nice.  On mine, it looks jacked up.  I need to fix that.
  8. I stuck in quickie versions of my head and logo.  The head needs rework.  The logo is ok.  I like the font, Karabine.
  9. In header.php there was a <br /> right at the top.  I wonder why it was there.  I took it out so that my fade started way at the top.  I made the fade 2000px wide.  It’s just 6k, so it’s not so heavy, but this will help with the IE6 issues.  I am going to adopt this approach until IE6 is gone.  I haven’t tested this theme in IE6, but I am pretty sure it’s not going to be pretty.  The author said as much in his comments, but I believe any issues can be fixed with the wide PNG technique.
  10. I lowered the padding at the bottom.  Not sure why it was 150px.  50px seemed more than enough.

Well, I have more work to do.  I really like the background pattern.  My main concern now is the recent comments formatting.  I am sure Katie is wondering what happened to me.  Sorry Katie.

My WordPress theme

I have been getting tired of my WordPress theme. I have zero time to do anything about it.  However, I saw a theme that I kinda liked.  It’s called Lemon Twist.  It uses PNG files very nicely.  It’s got jQuery and jQuery UI built in.  The mouseover effect on the right is nice.  Rounded corners, of course.  I really dig the comments section.  The author’s comments are in white.  Overall, I really like it.  I found it on SmashingMagazine.

So I was thinking of installing it and then making some mods.  I’d have to change the logo of course.  Adding in the kids would be a good idea.  The colors are actually quite nice.  I like the green.  It makes me feel like it is an economically friendly theme.

Any opinions?  Of course, I have no time to modify so this is all moot.

Some UX Rules

I have been compiling some UX rules in my head getting ready for my AjaxExperience talk in October.  Here are some that I have.  Not too much detail here, I will expand on them at a later date.

  1. Don’t bend your users. Given 10 users, you will get 8 different ways they try to succeed in your application.  (2 will be different by NOT being different and doing it one of the other already tried ways).  So rather than bend your users guesses and make only ONE way the correct way, you should make ALL the ways correct.  RIght-click, menu, icons, buttons, etc etc.  Make all of their guesses work.  Users will guess the first way that works for them and then they will stick with that way for a long time.  Make their first guess a good one.
  2. Be friendly. Even with errors.  Never say, “You messed up!”  Give the application a personality that is funny and friendly.  You would surprised how often a friendly and funny error message will make someone feel better about your application dying.  The blue screen of death could have been an asset if Microsoft had given it a sense of humor.  (I’m not joking).  Be careful though, one man’s joke is another man’s insult.  As a basic rule of thumb, do not let engineers write anything that the user sees, not errors, not instructions.  Either you do it or get a writer to do it.  Engineers make bad writers. (Not always of course, but you better be sure if you are the exception)
  3. Right-size your user interface. Interfaces support specific ranges of elements that they work on.  A select box is good for 1-10 items.  A combo box is better for 10-250 items.  Search is best for bigger numbers.  Each one does the exact same thing, but for a different set of elements.  Every UI works for a particular range.  Not only choose the right one, but be prepared to SWITCH your UI when your numbers get too big.  Same goes for grids, trees, menus…anything that is considered UI.
  4. Don’t be afraid to revolutionize! I look at every challenge in two ways.  One is “how did everyone else do it?”  The second way is “How can I make this MUCH better?”  The first view leads to incremental improvement.  The second way leads to ground-breaking user experience.  So many people are stuck in the first way.  The second way is much better.  I am not saying to ignore the first way.  Use it as inspiration.  Thinking outside the box is key to innovation and making your product special.
  5. Manage Expectations. So much about a good application is managing expectations.  The most important question to ask people using your app is “What do you expect to happen when….”  Get them to talk out loud about what they expected.  It doesn’t mean you should do that!  You just need to understand it.  A great term is “unexpected WOW”.  You can’t get that if you do exactly what they expect.  However, unexpected WOW does come with managed expectations.  There is a range.  You don’t expect the computer to blow up when you click a button.  Manage expectations to get WOW.  It’s hard but not that hard.

Hmm, that last one needs further detail.  Oh well, gotta run.  I am sure I am  missing some good rules.

Interface Driven Requirements Docs

I use Powerpoint 2007 to do all my prototyping and requirements.  It’s a great tool.  Much much better than PPT 2003.  Over the last 18 months, I have used this technique to great success.  Check out these two examples.  One is an older style and the other is newer.  The newer one has animation, so you might want to check it out in presentation mode.

In general, the thing to notice is that they contain very little text.  From a engineer’s standpoint it means having to extrapolate architectural requirements from the UI.  I have seen people call this Interface Driven Architecture.  Here is another snippet on IDA.

This technique has been honed on dozens of products dating back to 1995.  I used to use Visio but it was a static representation of each screen with alot of words.  Over time I kept removing words and adding in fake interactivity.  The point of this is to get enough detail to the engineer to start working and sketch out an architecture.  It doesn’t represent the final reality of the product, but rather the beginning of the process.  It’s a visual use case with details.

How do you do requirements? How close should the reality and the documents conform?  100%?  30%?

I think there is an analogy between documents that are trying to be 100% accurate and 30% accurate to Waterfall versus Agile methodologies of project management.  I am a fan of Agile because it embraces change and encourages iterations and discussions.  I also like documents that are 30% accurate  for the same reasons.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a library of different kinds of planning documents online?  I wonder if Universities are teaching the different kinds of requirements docs and prototypng?  Please send me examples of your docs.  How would you improve them if you could do it anyway you wanted?