I have been in this constant state of introspection these past few months and have tried to dig a little bit deeper about what makes me happy. Really enjoyed re-reading this comic from the Oatmeal today, which serves as a good reminder that happiness is a gradient. As humans we're constantly raising the bar for what peak happiness might mean – it just might be something we look forward to, something that helps drive our motivations, but not necessarily a state of being.
This interview with Obama in Vanity Fair was a nice read, but here's an excerpt that resonated with me:
Early in my presidency, I went to Cairo to make a speech to the Muslim world. And in the afternoon, after the speech, we took helicopters out to the pyramids. And they had emptied the pyramids for us, and we could just wander around for a couple hours at the pyramids and the Sphinx. And the pyramids are one of those things that live up to the hype. They’re elemental in ways that are hard to describe. And you’re going to these tombs and looking at the hieroglyphics and imagining the civilization that built these iconic images.
And I still remember it — because I hadn’t been president that long at that point — thinking to myself, There were a lot of people during the period when these pyramids were built who thought they were really important. And there was the equivalent of cable news and television and newspapers and Twitter and people anguishing over their relative popularity or position at any given time. And now it’s all just covered in dust and sand. And all that people know today are the pyramids.
Sometimes I carry with me that perspective, which tells me that my particular worries on any given day — how I’m doing in the polls or what somebody is saying about me … for good or for ill — isn’t particularly relevant. What is relevant is: What am I building that lasts?
I'm lucky to be friends with very exceptional and motivated individuals who've discussed having the same feeling with me. It's sometimes really hard to articulate how our work is all additive, all paving the path to a more ideal world. Time and again, I realize how quickly I find myself thinking about the future without taking a moment to breathe and celebrate the past and present - that's something I've been wanting to change.
The age old question of whether designers should code doesn't have a definitive answer. I have a personal belief that while it isn't necessary to be able to code per se, every interface designer who consciously spends the time understanding programming constructs makes a transition from being a good thinker to an even greater pragmatist. I also believe that with a designer's curiosity, a UI engineer's passion and a predictable path to achieving our measured goals for success, it is simply impossible to avoid gaining this knowledge over time.
My present role at work has required to step up the number of interactions with different people tremendously. In order to do my job correctly, it requires me to collaborate with other designers and other teams, thus providing me with more opportunities for unsolicited feedback. As an introvert, this has been incredibly hard to deal with, and simultaneously been my biggest area of growth. The increased interaction is definitely more time intensive than I had imagined, and as a result I have fewer hours in the day for actual execution. This isn’t actually bad, because every conversation usually provides me with new and valuable information needed to connect all the dots, and get to a more informed solution faster. The fewer hours then, are spent more efficiently.
The sheer number of these interactions has provided me with better insight to gauge inter-team dependencies and roadmaps, which has in turn allowed me to better sequence design tasks to accommodate additional feedback from meetings that are still to take place. The key for me has been to remain flexible, since every data point and every piece of feedback has the ability to influence this sequence of priorities.
Because priorities can change so frequently, it is not possible for different functions (Product Design, Product Management, User Research and Engineering) to be efficient without collaboration. This enables inclusion, more involved discussions, and an equal voice for all individuals. These benefits alone have made the time investment for the additional interaction worth it, with continuous prioritization leading the way forward.
What Google launched today is what I’ve dreamt about for the last couple of years. App switching isn’t too hard. But transferring context between apps isn’t nearly as simple as it should be. The idea of having this context available constantly through a keyboard, or be able to quickly search for something inline is something I’ve been wanting. I’ve prototyped it several times and always thought of it being implemented as an iOS keyboard that uses Google’s incredible Knowledge Graph to show cards of structured information. This is pretty much what Gboard showcases today. What I was unable to make use of in my prototypes were Google’s unparalleled keyword associations and typeahead predictions – something the industry always seems to be playing catch up to.
What I’m surprised about is the decision to roll this out without Google Account login – I imagine this is to prevent the almost predicable initial press about the privacy repercussions of a Google keyboard that not only follows you across iOS, but also remembers all keystrokes to improve its index. There is no question that this was discussed during the design process, since search algorithms are hungry for this sort of stuff.
This is important for Google as it has been maintaining individual indexes for logged-in users over the last couple of years, because it provides them with two things:
- Superior Typeahead: A universal index has a universal typeahead. While the prediction is great, Google’s algorithms rely on a whole bunch of signals. When users specify intent more accurately through keywords, they’re bound to get more accurate results. With time, the per-user index gets a more focused list of signals providing the user with a bigger advantage: the same accurate results with fewer keystrokes to indicate intent, the prediction and predictability keep becoming better and better.
- The perfect Now Card: While search is all about intent specified through keywords, Google Now has always been, in my opinion, the opposite of traditional Google Search. Instead of keywords, it relies on history, learned behavior and patterns from the user index with one bold idea: never search again. In such a world there would be no search UI: just one exact result for questions you may have or one list to choose from for queries that expect recommendations/choices. The reason we see multiple cards today is to increase the probability of finding something useful in the absence of enough signals to be completely accurate in prediction.
On Android, this sort of index-creation is already happening. Before installing Gboard, I thought this was a similar attempt at play on iOS, where, with authenticated sessions, the user might be able to see Google Now cards generated from all activity across iOS. If marketed the right way, I think users would look past the issue of privacy. While technically very different from Android’s Now on Tap feature, you could get a lot of the same functionality, without initiating much user action.
The one thing that might be preventing it right now may be a restrictive App Store review process. Cupertino may be scared to open those doors right this moment. While smartphones are becoming way more powerful, they are not likely to be able to compute and deliver information like web services already do today. Allowing this access may only be a matter of time.
A good diary-style account of the decisions enabled by making prototyping part of the design process. Today’s best engineers understand the bare-minimums expected for screen transitions and animation. Prototyping everything is a waste of time. I find it far more productive to use that time to use high-fidelity prototypes to test new ideas. These are ideas that make sense in your head but invariably require several rounds of tweaking before they are actually usable.
I was busy quoting each and every line of this short piece, and it occurred to me that I might simply link to it and say that every line is worth reading, digesting and giving a little bit more time than one might originally intend to.
But there is another choice. Objections but no astute interjections. Skipping over more important parts, its easy to identify reactions to abstracts and headlines. Created by the editors of eyeballs, hiking on trails of misinformation: snippets from summaries of synopses. Spending inordinate amounts of time on irrelevant puzzles with pieces kept away consciously. Less intellectually challenging, more about damage control.
The choice about whether five minutes should cost us as much. Easy.
Consider your favorite novel. You probably don’t recall the most memorable character in the book doing the most mundane of tasks—eating breakfast, getting dressed, using the bathroom, tying shoelaces—day in and day out. The author made an intentional decision to leave these details out. He or she, the leaver-outter in that situation, crafted a story about another arc that didn’t need those ordinaries.
As a reader, you didn’t consider those absences, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. Their presence, like the silent subjects of sentences or the silent strength of typographic scaffolding, creates the supporting structure to guide the main story, the primary choices, that the author, the artist, the creator is making.
“Love and the leaver-outters,” originally written for The Manual.
The same is true in layouts in design. In pauses between crescendos in music. In absences in architectural archways. In blanks in the maps of oceans. Rather than fill the spaces with unnecessary distractions, their creators have chosen to leave these areas blank. And the blanks speak for both what is and what is not there.