Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New role model: John Maeda

John Maeda
So I’ve tried for several months (arguably years) to figure out my career path and determine if my choices toward user experience and interaction design have been the right ones. Unfortunately, I’ve been labeled a ‘developer’ by people who work with me, which loosely translates into ‘you should code and only figure out ways to code better...nothing more, nothing less’. This is particularly disheartening because I’m a creative person atomically (ex. jazz musician, graphic designer, etc.) who understands the dry / boring logic that can make things work. I’ve designed many things in my life and I enjoy the creative process of concepting and prototyping. As such, I’ve always tried to be more of an interdisciplinarian that wants to smooth the boundaries between design and development. Most people believe that designers can’t code and developers can’t design, which I think is a bold faced lie....
The Laws of Simplicity
Anyway, I took a chance with Amazon.com and decided to buy a book entitled The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda. I’m still reading the book (very impressed so far), but what struck me was the path(s) that Meada took throughout his career and how they make sense . He is currently the President of Rhode Island School of Design which is impressive by itself, but what is more impressive is his interdisciplinary background. Maeda completed his undergraduate and master degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering @ MIT, received a Ph.D. in design from the University of Tsukuba Institute of Art and Design in Japan, AND received an MBA from Arizona State University. On the back sleeve of The Laws of Simplicity, Maeda is described as a ‘graphic designer, visual artist, and computer scientist’ and its well deserved.

The irony of all this is that I found myself plotting a course for the same destination as Maeda before I started reading The Laws of Simplicity. I have two associate degrees (Math and Computer Science), an undergraduate degree in web technologies, and I’m currently in a MS program for Human Computer Interaction. I started scouting MBA programs about 2 weeks ago to gain mastery of the business side of design and development. I may have stumbled across an individual who is living proof that design and science can coexist successfully.
I intend to continue reading Maeda’s books + posts and hopefully I can pose questions to him someday to find out if I’m crazy or not. But for now, he is a role model for me and reminds me that there is a larger scale purpose that will soon be made clear in the future to all those who are constantly confused by the smaller thoughts in the present.

Follow John Maeda on Twitter: @johnmaeda
Visit John Maeda's Blog: http://our.risd.edu/


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

BlazBlue Calamity Trigger Icons

BlazBlue Calamity Trigger Icons

With the most recent update to CandyBar from Iconfactory, I was more than a little excited to import and export some new icons and since I'm a HUGE fan of a video game called BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, I thought I would try my hand at making some icons of the characters.....for FREE!!!

Click here to download (15.1 MB .zip, Windows XP/Vista, Mac OS X)

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Language of Things

The Language of Things
Quick Facts
Size: 208 pages (B&W photography)
5 Chapters:
    1) Language
    2) Design and its Archetypes
    3) Luxury
    4) Fashion
    5) Art
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Every now and again, I buy a book to try to understand the different forms of design and the mystique that draws me to it. My exploration led me to The Language of Things by Deyan Sudjic. To put it simply, it is one of the most comprehensible, intelligent, and clever books I’ve read in a long time. Here is why...

First, Sudjic has an non-American perspective which is refreshing and presents a style devoid of capitalistic or consumerist undertones. Sudjic’s statements are often quick and to the point and his citations from the works of prestigious designers and architects reinforce his perspectives. Sudjic analogizes consumerism to product pornography and device fetishism. Later, he cites John Berger’s Ways to Seeing to support his assessment. Berger states: “It is important...not to confuse publicity (of a product) with the pleasure or benefits to be enjoyed from the thing it advertises”. Sudjic identifies several attributes of design that seem to be overlooked or forgotten in modern products such as consistency (ex. black laptops paired with white power cords), redundancy, and a lack of durability. Sudjic states that “the allure of a product is created and sold on the basis of a look that doesn’t survive physical contact”. In addition, Sudjic states that the product cycle of each new version of a device is too quick to ever foster a meaningful and lasting owner/object relationship.

Second, Sudjic does a great job of transposing design into commonly available forms and communicates what design is not. According to Sudjic, a designer’s goal is to modify an existing archetype, such as a lamp or chair, which tells exactly what it does and what the user needs to make it work. In addition, Sudjic highlights playfulness as an archetype to encourage design as an engagement of all the users senses, not just the ‘look and feel’. Sudjic switches to define design within luxury as those products that represent stability, quality, scarcity, and communicate ‘coded social signals of privileges’. Sudjic identifies design in fashion by describing the processes, presentations (ex. shows, models, parties, etc.), and the use of uniforms to evoke an emotional response from viewers. I can say that Sudjic is absolutely correct because the websites of designers such as Nubbytwiglet.com, which I frequent often to stay inspired and interested in design and / or fashion, often are designed to evoke an emotional response via comments and praise in the artistry that appears there. When contrasting art and design, Sudjic believes that design is forever burdened with utility and problem solving, while art is driven by the intangible and can result in uselessness.

References to iconic designers and architects such as Earnest Elmo Colkins (Consumer Engineering), Philippe Starck, Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class, Josef Hoffman, and Adolf Loos' Ornament and Crime appear frequently throughout the text.

Final thought: Go get the book! I finished this in one day because I was enamored with it’s brevity and precise thoughts. Sudjic’s thoughts are clear and once you’ve completed this book, perhaps your thinking of what design is and isn’t will be clear too..

An audio interview with Deyan Sudjic as he discusses The Language of Things is available through The Sound of Young America. Click here to listen or download it (12.4 MB .mp3 format)

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

iPhone Cool Projects Review

iPhone Cool Projects
Quick Facts: 240 pages
Source Code: 184.98 Kb (.zip file)
Where to buy: Buy from Amazon.com or eBook from Apress Buy eBook

iPhone Cool Projects is a very broad and deep iPhone development composition. The book is broken into 7 chapters:
CHAPTER 1 - Designing a Simple, Frenzic-StylePuzzleGame
CHAPTER 2 - Mike Ash’s Deep Dive Into Peer-to-Peer Networking
CHAPTER 3 - Doing Several Things at Once: Performance Enhancements with Threading
CHAPTER 4 - All Fingers and Thumbs: Multitouch Interface Design andImplementation
CHAPTER 5 - Physics, Sprites, and Animation with the cocos2d-iPhone Framework
CHAPTER 6 - Serious Streaming Audio the Pandora Radio Way
CHAPTER 7 - Going the Routesy Way with Core Location, XML, and SQLite

For new iPhone developers, Apress provides the source code for each chapter’s project to help those of us that like to learn by seeing the code work, and only then decomposing it into various pieces for learning purposes.

Without going into gross detail, I mainly bought the book to gain some insight into threading, multitouch interface design, audio streaming. Chapter 3 (Threading) opens by describing the taxonomy of threading and several keywords such as thread, process, multitasking, synchronization, deadlock, etc. After the description, the chapter walks you through the steps AND color graphics of each of the XCode screens. There are LOTS of diagrams to explain the setup and the arrangement of threads in the example project as well. In the past, when books have very intense globs of code, there is something lost when attempting to explain each line. iPhone Cool Projects actually does a decent job of walking through the connections to UIControl objects and completing tasks such as an event processing loop or implementing a critical section. Chapter 4 (Multitouch Interface Design and Implementation) explores many concepts and breaks mutilt-touch gesturing into 2 tasks:
- Arrange for touch messages to get routed to your code (Event handling: touchesBegan, touchesMoved, touchesEnded, touchCancelled)
- Understand the information passed to you (gesture recognition: tap, double-tap, finger scroll, swipe, pink/unpinch, two-finger scroll)
- Track and parse gestures from that information

Many of these sorts of topics are available via the Apple Developer Connection, but it helps to have additional context and perspectives on how to implement these types of methodologies for multiple situations and architectures.

If you are a skeptic and want to see more before committing to purchasing this book, Apress has generously provided a sample chapter (Chapter 5) to entice you to buy.

Try it out!

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Why so few humanitarian iPhone apps?

It may not be obvious, but I’m an iPhone designer and developer. Although I got started late last year, you could say that I’ve been pretty successful at it, for the most part.

Recently I decided to do something I considered to be an act of selfless design: concept and build an iPhone application for a non-profit group that may benefit from exposure through 40,000,000+ iPhones and iPod touches. In June 2009, Apple stated there were 50,000+ iphone applications, so I figured “why not build one or more that might benefit humanity?”.

After contacting several groups, I found that several did not think that it was worth the time or effort to build an iPhone app for their cause...even if it was done free of charge!! Primary reason: “We don’t think an app might help us”.

Is awareness not enough? Can socializing ideals that a group promotes hurt them in some way? If so, why do so many have websites? Is it because there is a lack of understanding of how Apple's or Google's success could benefit non-profit organizations? Could it be because there is no incentive for designers or developers to volunteer to build humanitarian apps when the contract market rate is between $100-$200 an hour? Is it because no one believes that consumers are willing to be a part of a philanthropic effort when accounting for the cost of ownership of an iPhone or Google Android device?

Or is it something else altogether??

Please comment and let me know your thoughts on why there are so few humanitarian apps. Comment if you managed to find a humanitarian app in the iTunes App store or in the Google marketplace. If you even have a cause that you think is worthy of an iPhone app, let us know. Maybe the iPhone development community can get something built for them...

What can we / you do about it?

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Now You See It Book Review + Giveaway

If you want to skip to the book giveaway, click here

Quick Facts
Book Name: Now You See It: Simple Visualization Techniques for Quantitative Analysis
Type: Hardcover
Size: 329 pages
Where to buy: Amazon.com
Organization: 14 chapters split into 3 primary groups. Building Core Skills for Visual Analysis (6 Chapters), Honing Skills for Diverse Types of Visual Analysis (6 Chapters), and Further Thoughts and Hopes (2 Chapters)

About a month ago, I got a hold of a copy of Stephen Few’s newest composition. I’ve been a fan of Stephen Few for a while, specifically when I read his book Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data and I was pretty excited about this book too. I may be somewhat biased in my assessment, however, I think I can provide a somewhat objective review as I, and countless others, haven’t quite reached the level of information design mastery.

Stephen Few compresses visualization and data principles into a single source that would normally be scattered over several hundred (maybe not that many, but enough to discourage). The book is transcends the role of a reference guide and is more of a guide on the ‘journey of discovery’. Stephen makes a note early on that the amount of information in the world is not the issue, but more of the lack of skill in making good use of it. Ironically, this is the premise for all of the new bing.com commercials where people suffer from information overload when asked a question that has a very singular and fixed answer)

Stephen outlines the traits of good data analysis, information visualization, and even goes as far as to outline the aptitude and attitude of an effective data analyst. In addition, he outlines the traits of meaningful data, which include high volume, multivariate, atomic, and of known pedigree. Stephen even goes as far as to outline the components of analytical interaction and navigation, which was a new learning point for me. In addition, Stephen covers a LOT of ground including pre-attentive attributes, working memory, and Ben Shneiderman visual information-seeking mantra.

In all, this book is outstanding and should serve as a good standalone for those interested or aspiring for good information visualization or as a supplemental addition to an existing collection of Edward Tufte and Colin Ware books.

I like this book so much, I want to hand a copy to someone who will use the power for good. All you have to do is:

1. Write a tweet about this giveaway and include a link to this post

2. Leave a comment with a link to your tweet

That’s it! Contest will end on Friday, July 3rd at 12:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Good luck!

Update: Congratulations to @bump! Stay tuned for prizes and discussions coming up soon...

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Balsamiq Mockups Giveaway

Balsamiq Mockups
Sometimes there is a need for really good software tools to help visualize a concept. Balsamiq Mockups is easily one of the best wire framing and conceptual drawing tools available. Equipped with a vast UI Library that includes controls for websites, iPhone screens, and software user interfaces, it’s a must have for those who want to plan and design with maximum benefit and minimum cost.

Now, for the good news....
Balsamiq has allowed me to give away a copy of Mockups to one lucky individual. All you have to do get in on the action is:

1) Follow me on Twitter (@compoundj)
2) Leave a comment below with your Twitter username
3) Tell me how your life can be easier with Mockups

The winner will be announced @ 11:59 p.m. EST on May 22nd, 2009. Feel free to retweet and download the trial version of Mockups so you can get some practice in. You may be surprised what you are able to do with it. Good Luck!

Update: Congratulations to @sheatsb! Thanks to everyone that participated in this giveaway. Stay tuned for prizes and discussions coming up soon...

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