Links + Commentary

This is @xAbhishek's notebook.

Worrying about knowledge being rendered obsolete, the finite consumption capacity of the human brain, and an ever growing repository of information deprecated at unknown times in the future.

New Life Goal: The combination of work for which appreciation lasts longer than reading this sentence, and a pitch that gets you dreaming about what was left unsaid.

Question everything.

Find a pain point first, solve a user problem, and figure out the tech later. Works every fucking time.

Limiting designs to support an existing technology infrastructure, is acknowledging that your users’ needs are a low priority. Technology only makes advances when you cut through the artificial boundaries created by its current established state. The mind knows not of these caps that separate us from what users think should be possible. The problem with supporting existing behaviors instead of new behaviors is that the feedback you get is biased because of current habits. Users have a general tendency to jump when they see a solution drastically improving their life. Due consideration not given, pain points unresolved, and seeing you existing user base slip away. New users, you say? Your second chance just began.

The Wheel Does Indeed Turn

The world of HCI is seen joking that the only correct answer to any question about designing for user needs is that “it depends”. What that answer doesn’t do is give designers the right to skip the process of abstraction to achieve the right level of information density. A very upset John Stasko addressing this issue both on the first and last days of his Information Visualization class: “If you only want to remember one thing [as designers], remember this: Overview first, filter and zoom, details on demand.

Users goals are action oriented, and increasing the number of clicks are not necessarily a bad thing. Google Maps is a good example where zoom and filter are such an important part of the product. When you search for Walmart across the United States, you see dots instead of pins:


As you zoom into a specific area, you will see the view update to give you more usable information. Information density has an upper limit, and cannot reach a point where users are doing your work for you.

The point I am trying to make has very little to do with designing good information visualizations. It has more to do with thinking about interfaces we design beyond the stage where it is a lifeless mockup. Talking about the number of clicks in a landscape just beginning to adopt touch based interfaces is ignoring a lot of opportunity. Most time is spent navigating and scanning through the interface, but if the interface and the path to your eventual goal are both clear, clicks might not matter, because you’ve reduced a majority of the cognitive load associated with scanning. If a really good idea gets dismissed, that’s the best time to realize that what your peers are picturing might be very different from what you are. Some ideas are worth fleshing out more than others. The beauty of a pixel perfect mockup might not be as efficient as a more rudimentary prototype transitioning objects around the screen. One of the benefits of motion design are that you are able to illustrate unique interactions that appear more complicated in a still image. More people should be building prototypes as part of their design process. You cannot be stuck creating square wheels that look simple enough to build but are impossible to turn.

‘Hiring for Culture-fit’ is a bad idea. Hire to expand your culture, not more people to conform to it.

Tweet by @sidnangia

I agree with this completely. I was reminded of this as I was reminiscing about the seemingly random rejection messages my friends and I got as we started looking for internships and jobs. Some of them conveniently stated “culture-fit” as the reason. Professors I spoke to shared the view that this is the exact opposite of the academic hiring process, where you recruit people who can accelerate change. The institutions that believe in inclusion are clearly a step above.

What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person.
George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language," 1946
At a high level, it’s the mentality of “this makes no sense to me, therefore it makes no sense.”