A sketch from J.K. Rowling’s notebook, revealing how she planned out the story while writing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Really nice, straightforward case study of the newly released ngenworks rebrand.
Inbox Who Cares — How I manage my email
Gmail’s latest iteration on their fabulous webmail service, Priority Inbox, has opened a whole new world of email management for me. I was never very good at Inbox Zero, as much as I like the theory.
I know the idea was to spend as little time as possible dealing with email, but even the time it would take to delete, manage, and archive emails was too much for me. YES, some emails are not even important enough for me to spend the energy it takes to target my mouse pointer over the little checkbox next to the title in the list and then point to the “delete” button. EVEN THAT IS TOO MUCH EFFORT.
I don’t get so many emails that I always need to tag them or put them in special folders. I can scan the list and deduce from the sender and subject line whether I want to read them or not.
Apparently, the magic gmail genie can do this too. With priority inbox enabled, it does a surprisingly good job of putting the emails I would have wanted to open and read in a special section at the top of my inbox, called “important and unread”. I don’t have to do anything. It’s amazing. And if it makes the wrong choice, I can easily educate it so it will choose right next time. IT IS AWESOME. (Note: I have not been paid to write this. Though I wouldn’t turn down such an offer in the future.)
The rest of the emails I get throughout the day are easy for me to scan and make sure nothing’s getting missed. Once I’ve done that, I never look below the line again. I leave them unread, unarchived, undealt with, who cares. These emails are not important. Once I scan them and choose not to read them, I don’t want to spend another second thinking about them. SO I DON’T. BAM! It’s so efficient!
All I have to think about are the emails in the Priority Inbox section, which only stay there if unread. Once I read them, if I want them to stay above the “who cares” pit of nothingness, I can star them. Or I can tag them, label them, put them in a folder, whatever works. Or I just reply and understand that they will float back up again if the conversation continues.
Gmail marks the unread count appropriately for this system. I can ignore how many emails I leave unread in the regular old inbox (current count: 102), but pay attention when I have two emails unread in the Priority Inbox. (That almost always is at zero.)
One other thing I do, which may or may not work for someone else: When I subscribe to a mailing list or get a newsletter or promotion, I set up auto filters to filter those emails into folders so they never even reach my inbox. I sort of forget about them most of the time. But I can go back and scan through if I feel like I’m missing out.
Email shouldn’t be a chore. I am rebelling against the idea of email management while still managing to get through all my emails just fine. I read everything I need to. I haven’t missed anything yet. I keep expecting it all to come crashing down, but so far, it just hasn’t. So, who cares?
Finally, a readable and objective primer for the layman on HTML5, and one of the only sources on the subject that succinctly explains one big glaring reason some of us (Hi, I work for a video chat company) still have to rely on Flash:
Capturing input from a user’s microphone or camera is currently only possible with Flash (although a <device> element is being specified for “post-5″ HTML), so if you’re keen to write a Chatroulette killer, HTML5 isn’t for you.
Nice concept designs and ideas for reading and exploring digital information and stories. The idea they call “Alice” is the most compelling, I think, mostly because the other two seem like they’d quickly have trouble scaling to people’s actual networks. Cool in concept, though.
This gets really fascinating right around late summer/autumn 2008, then just gets blacker and blacker. Impactful way to visualize information. — The Decline: The Geography of a Recession
Three ideas for capturing the ever-elusive strike of inspiration
Inspiration is a fascinating little creature. Ever elusive and difficult to nail down, it strikes on its own schedule, and rarely when you most need it. I have no hard and fast rules to follow, but had an experience today that might put me on the right track. This is giving me some ideas for how I can recreate the experience the next time I’m waiting for inspiration to strike.
Idea 1: Frustration kills creativity. Give in or let it go, don’t fight it.
This week I’m working on a fairly standard marketing website project, which is different from the software interface design stuff I’ve been focused on for the last few years.
Before I transitioned into software, though, marketing webpages were the norm for me. I always approached them from the viewer’s perspective, and was often frustrated by the clients, creative directors, and account managers who wanted something that I frankly believed nobody visiting the site would care about.
While I buy the desire to make sites beautiful and attention-getting, I firmly believe in balancing this with the content and usability of the site coming first and foremost. (Which is why transitioning to UI design was a perfect fit for me.)
So as a UX person working on a marketing site, I’ve been struggling. When the marketing director tried describing how she felt about my mockups, which were clean, straightforward, and concise, I felt like she was speaking a different language, using words that mean one thing to really say something else.
But I listened to her ideas, had her sketch something out on a post-it note, said, “Okay, maybe that could work,” and went back to the drawing board. My idea was good, but stubbornly holding onto it wasn’t going to help the situation. I let it go, and was able to see the value in someone else’s idea.
Idea 2: Different approaches can reach the same goal. Be flexible with your process
With the new idea in mind, I went back through my normal design process of sketching, wireframing, and working through the user experience and flow. It wasn’t as fleshed out in my mind as my original idea, which had come to me mostly through intuition, and practically mocked itself up in Photoshop.
The new idea felt like something I was approaching from the outside, seeing its fuzzy form from a distance at first, waiting to find out exactly what form it would take.
This time, to get there, I had to trust a more traditional design process. When you follow a design process, you can make progress towards a finished product without really knowing what exactly the final product is.
Sometimes I approach a project with a vision in mind, other times the final vision comes much later. Sometimes I jump right into a Photoshop mockup, other times I start with flow diagrams and whiteboard sketches. It’s important for me to be flexible with my approach and not try to force the same process onto every project.
Idea 3: Let your brain go where it will. It might surprise you where it ends up
I had gotten to the point where it was time to turn my wireframes into Photoshop mockups, but for some reason I was procrastinating. I was still waiting for the vision of this new idea to solidify in my head, and wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. What I had wireframed was okay, but I guess I wasn’t sure it was going to fare any better than my original idea, and I didn’t want to put in a lot of time on it until I was more sure.
I could have forced myself to get to work and start Photoshopping, which is a technique that sometimes works, but I didn’t. Instead, I was poking around my computer aimlessly, when I came across a browser window full of tabs I had opened a few days back when surfing the web at home on my laptop, looking up window treatments for my apartment.
Of all things I should have been doing, I ended up spending the morning picking out curtains, so to speak. I made myself some tea, stumbled across a photo of a beautiful living room and fell in love with someone’s Chesterfield sofa, learned all about Top-down, Bottom-up blinds, and on and on.
There’s a reason people often quote the Don Draper line from Mad Men about “letting our creatives be unproductive until they are.” After a morning off from thinking about my project, I suddenly found myself sitting at lunch with a full-fledged, living, breathing vision in my head of what I was going to do with yesterday’s idea on a post-it.
I have no idea where it came from. I wasn’t looking for it, or even so much as thinking about it while so absorbed in my research into home decor. But at the end of two hours of not thinking about it at all, I was suddenly bursting with the feeling of a brilliant idea I couldn’t wait to share.
Inspiration is a fascinating little creature.
"If you’re a designer and you’ll ever be looking for a new job in your life, you should read this."
How to find your passion: If I read this right, I think he’s saying you need to leave yourself with a lot of free time, in which you need to do a lot of stuff to find something you’re interested in, then follow up on it and see if something sticks. I’ll, uh… get right on that.
But seriously, it’s true. The same has been said for finding inspiration. You can’t sit and do nothing, waiting for it to strike. Like today, I’ve got a problem without a solution on the backburner, from which I’ve moved on and am working on something else. Taking a break from that something else, I started browsing through RSS feeds, saw an image of something completely unrelated that totally inspired an idea for the backburner project.
Timezones: Is there a better way?
I designed a schedule form for scheduling meetings a while back. It contains a fairly standard date & time entry form. We derive the user’s timezone in the background, and display it to invitees.
In the next iteration, we decided to add timezone support, so I could schedule a meeting for 3:30 Eastern time, even if I’m currently in Pacific time, allowing me to be sure the meeting will happen at the right time without making me do math or be confused.
I designed a nice little dropdown to choose a different timezone in a limited space between the time and the right edge of the form.
When the developers implemented this, they grabbed a standard list of timezones and plopped it in.
This is where the nightmare began.
The standard list of timezones is a ridiculous list of 366 possible combinations of I don’t even know what, and don’t really care. All I know is nobody wants to pick through this list, and it made my dropdown so huge it wouldn’t fit in the space allotted for it.
A search for a more streamlined standard list that people could still use came up pretty much empty. This is ridiculous.
So I turned to Twitter, and got a nicer list from a developer friend, then edited that list to my preferences. Here’s what I came up with:
Apia, Samoa (GMT -11)
Honolulu (GMT -10)
Anchorage (GMT -9)
Pacific time (GMT -8)
Mountain time (GMT -7)
Central time (GMT -6)
Eastern time (GMT -5)
Venezuela (GMT -4:30)
Santiago (GMT -4)
Sao Paulo (GMT -3)
South Georgia (GMT -2)
Cape Verde (GMT -1)
Paris (GMT +1)
Cairo (GMT +2)
Moscow (GMT +3)
Tehran, Iran (GMT +3:30)
Dubai (GMT +4)
Kabul (GMT +4:30)
Karachi (GMT +5)
Mumbai (GMT +5:30)
Kathmandu (GMT +5:45)
Dhaka (GMT +6)
Burma (GMT +6:30)
Indonesia (GMT +7)
Philippines (GMT +8)
Tokyo (GMT +9)
Adelaide (GMT +9:30)
Sydney (GMT +10)
Noumea (GMT +11)
Auckland (GMT +12)
Nuku’alofa (GMT +13)
Kiritimati (GMT +14)
If someone out there knows of a better, more official, but not ridiculously long, timezone list, that makes sense to the people that live and work in these time zones, please let me know.
Nice! In case the people you follow on Twitter who have submitted a SXSW interactive panel haven’t been incessantly reminding you to vote for their panels (lucky you), this site will connect you to their panels on the 2011 Panel Picker. (via @sched)
While everyone else is randomly spamming their Twitter followers and Facebook friends with “vote for my SXSW panel” pleas, Tiffani Jones Brown cuts to the chase with a hand-picked list of the panels that really should get the votes. Yeah, she put her own panel on the list, but she went through the work to curate a bunch of others that look worthwhile as well, so she deserves it.
Thank you, Tiffani!
Excited to hear Omnifocus for iPad is finally out. I shelled out the ~$60 for the mac app and the ~$18 for the iPhone app, and will probably eventually cough up $40 for the iPad app, too.
I’m just not disciplined enough in my Getting Things Done to use a more streamlined (& less expensive) productivity application. Omnifocus is robust enough and flexible enough for me to make things make sense to me in my crazy world.
Some really interesting and practical approaches to gathering and using standard metrics to assess the UX health of your product.