Category Archives: Notes

Social traffic and design visibility

Traffic and signage congestion

During the redesign of my portfolio website in 2014, I thought about the advantages of using a socially-driven portfolio with a built-in audience (behance, dribbble, tumblr, etc.). It connects you to an existing user base instead of relying on search engines or your smaller circle to showcase your design work with others.

Free publicity! I thought it would beneficial using a service that eyeballs were already gazing at, though that wasn’t the only thing that I wanted out of my online portfolio. There are more considerations than just being visible to everyone.

One exploration while looking at portfolio options was to see the ranking of social sites that could potentially house my work or be integrated in my identity online. The most readily understandable way to find this info that I know of is through Alexa ranking, which comes from Amazon. Looking at this gives a close snapshot of where the internet viewers are visiting at a given time, and this can be informative in determining the size of your potential audience, and whether it is worth setting up an account and being active on it.

These were a few of the social services and sites that I thought could be relevant, or they were places I’d seen other portfolios or designer presence in the past:

Ranking of traffic, as of 2014:

1 – facebook
8 – twitter
37 – tumblr
38 – pinterest
57 – flickr
102 – instagram
447 – quora
1,105 – behance/prosite
1,544 – dribbble
7,293 – cargo collective
17,710 – forrst

I didn’t just go down the list and start going with the top ones just because they seemed popular. The part of the story that these numbers leave out is the subset of internet surfers that would be interested in design, in you, and your portfolio more specifically. Realize that the world may not flock to your showcase of work unless they have a reason to: they could be potential clients, fans, collaborators, employers, people interested in your work’s subject matter, or taste-makers that are drawn to your stuff. The other thing to consider is the relevance and fit of your work. Flickr, for instance, is heavy on photographs, from professional to family memories. I’ve seen graphic designers post their stuff on there and connect with the right groups, but the majority of people aren’t thinking of flickr to find design material, unless it’s a photograph thereof.

Why did I start looking into this? Well, online I’m typically more of an observer than a promoter. I tend to be more interested in learning from others than showing off. But I also recognize the importance of sharing, being social, and not hoarding my knowledge, my experience, or my work. All of these sites have a digital social component that can bring new connections to what would otherwise be a one-way conversation of a portfolio.

In the end, I kept my main portfolio on my own domain so I had full control over it. The decision was guided by the fact that I’m not bound by other sites controlling my content, and that I had already had a presence on this domain. I’ve joined a few of the above to remain on the radar, but I haven’t placed much prominence on social media to market myself. It works for some designers, but I’m not trying to drum up demand for my work.

photo by:

Stop Treating People Like Users

Path-of-a-human

Although the word slips from my tongue from time to time, I dislike thinking of existing fans of products and curious people on computers as mere users. I’ve said before that the title of “user” sounds more fitting for a drug addict than a prized participator. Obviously, humans are also thinkers, talkers, interpreters, dreamers, feelers, responders, and storytellers. They’re a whole lot more than users.

Usage isn’t everything.

Let’s say that your profession deals with digital or physical products, and they get used by people. You might classify those people as users, but is that all they are? Unless you’re an oxygen supplier helping others breathe, you probably shouldn’t expect people to be chronic users at all times. Even if it does fulfill a critical need 24 hours a day, it would be inconsiderate to monopolize people’s time in constantly reminding them of that fact.

Misuse is still use.

Imagine a pair of special eyeglasses that is worn by a “user.” The glasses could try to make people use them more often by sounding an alarm when they aren’t being worn. They could vibrate when the user’s eyes are closed. While hugging a family member, they could fly a digital banner along the glass that mentions how clear their vision is thanks to Intelliglasses™. That would be a terrible way to acquire and sustain users and their usage.

You can’t always make a guest appearance.

Other service industries view people as intermittent guests. This feels a bit more flattering–because I don’t want to live in a hotel, or stuff my face at an all-you-can’t-leave buffet. But it seems a little off to describe when it’s an app or digital experience. A guest implies they are going somewhere, and people don’t exactly think of an app as a virtual space they actually travel to.

Life’s not about just carrying out actions.

While usage is a fine to consider as a metric, taken alone, it fails to capture the humanity of the user. Don’t act like a drug pusher, knocking on the door to make your guest a mile-high, frequent-flying user. Treat users with respect. Be okay when they are not using it. After all, your brain benefits from a combination of mental exercise as well as downtime. It’s becoming easier than ever to expend people’s energy and time at the expense of consolidating those memories and winding down and enjoying life. For me, thinking back on a past vacation can yield more positive recollections than when I actually took the trip and had to deal with the now-forgotten stresses I had while traveling.

Let the story unfold.

Intrinsically desirable products can thrive on non-use and balance. There is confidence in an “off” button. Music is beautiful because of it’s wonderful sounds, but also for its silence between the notes. That silence completes the story. And humans love a good story, especially ones that they get to make.

Like a boss…

Instead of users, think of them more as Chief Executive Officers and Chief Operating Officers. They are the ones that are ultimately managing their own day-to-day activities and making the decisions whether or not to take advantage of your product. These CEOs and COOs are freely using and enjoying the services of companies or else abandoning them.

People are what give tools and ideas meaning. A cool product or startup idea isn’t all that cool without those people. So value them.

Does a new label mean better nutrition?

Age old nutrition

You probably know the table of nutrition facts on almost any food package in the US. This FDA label is an informative and seminal work, possibly “the most reproduced design of the 20th and 21st century.” The proposed 2014 redesign seems like a subtle improvement, with small changes such as more realistic portion sizes, in your face caloric measurement, and hierarchical information. But will it promote life-changing healthy eating behavior for hungry customers and grocery shoppers?

new-fda-label-2014

The fact that the label hadn’t been revisited for over 20 years suggests that there were behemoth regulatory hurdles before considering any improvements. Although research and media continue to report declining diets and poor health, the label had sufficed to express the basic contents of food products.

If policymakers wish to encourage balanced eating, adjusting the label is only a pawn in this game. The labels now more clearly suggest nutritional priorities, but it doesn’t easily explain the what responsible choices are. It doesn’t compel people to take nutrition to heart (no pun intended). Most people probably don’t care enough about the dissection of food into impersonal numbers to do the math to make informed choices. Relevant and concise information in the right format and at the right time can increase awareness and healthier decisions.

For traffic control, a radar speed sign effectively provides real-time feedback to remind you of your current driving speed, and that actually reduces average speeds in that area. While it isn’t the final answer to safety, it is a relevant reminder that is actionable. The nutrition label, on the other hand, doesn’t give proactive guidance that is equatable with how people actually eat, and think about eating.

I don’t keep a tally in my head of all types of foods and nutrients I consume for the whole day, nor do I rigidly count my target calories so they are in daily equilibrium. I might think about overall quality of a single meal, if I’m getting enough variety, or some measure that’s easier to think about. Instead, the label assumes I can mentally quantify the 27 peanuts that satisfied my hunger, although the serving size is different. These facts fits the model of manually cataloging each nutritional subcomponent, or else ignoring it completely because you crave an old-fashioned milkshake. Most people have taken the latter approach.

While I support better labeling, the new nutrition label doesn’t have the power to address these underlying issues.
I imagine the label is something people purposefully ignore. I know I’ve been there. At a design lecture, I grabbed a Coke and only noticed the 140 calories because it was also shown separately from the nutrition label.

coke-label

You can’t build nutrition by emphasizing calories alone though. Reinforcing calories as the primary measure of health leads to oxymoronic claims, such as this sugar advertisement in 1950s showing that three scoops of sugar have fewer calories than an apple.

2.1953-domino-apple
via motherjones.com

By the time people glaze over the nutrition information, it might also be too late. Not many consumers will really scrutinize each item at the grocery store. They might check to see if there’s anything outrageous about an impulse buy, but during a busy day I doubt they are turning to the back of every box at the point of purchase.

Some apps and services are tackling the lack of personal feedback, clarifying nutritional goals, and arming people with positive eating recommendations and routines. I haven’t given many of them a try, but the fact that they exist reveals that people struggle to make sense of what they eat. They want to know what they are doing, as well as receive guidance on what are good options, or warnings when they could be deficient in something like Vitamin D. Would it then be in my best interest to chug whole milk or grill some portabello mushrooms? The nutrition labels haven’t told us.

Pass the Banana- Testing Mobile Accessibility

BananaUX

In an era of fidgety fingers attached to portable devices, does your app pass the banana?

People interact with smartphones and tablets differently than desktops and laptops. Our tiny, pocket sized computers have shrunk, yet we remain the same size (assuming you’ve already gone through puberty). As we try to design and adapt with all the historical baggage of large computer screens, we’ve come far from just squeezing and shrinking content to fit. Besides visual constraints of being able to read comfortably, there are other human factors that don’t seem as apparent when it’s time to design.

Touch screens are made to be touched. But you can’t control the size of someone’s finger, whether people use their long-nailed pinky finger, their knuckle, or if they are holding 50 pounds worth of groceries. They’ll hold it their own way, or else succumb to the awkwardness that your app demands. Fingers today are doing gymnastics and contortions in surprising and unintended ways, from hooked thumbs to Photoshop’s bearable Save for Web claw. The variety in finger positionings show that people discover their own ways to accomplish what they need.

How can anyone possibly anticipate every move our fingers will make in the wild, short of memorizing the logarithm for Fitts’ Law and requesting your users to upload their finger measurements?

Well, if you learned anything by now (or remember the title of this article), you might try a little reverse-biomimicry with a banana. The peel of a banana literally has the right fingery essence to work with the capacitative touchscreen (but it probably won’t crack your fingerprint authentication). See if your app design is accessible and friendly for larger hands, non-ideal fingers, and other physical scrutiny—bananas are a good stand-in for a large thumb mashing its pad on a tiny screen and covering visible screen estate, or a parallel finger that with fingernails that rival Scissorhands.

Below is a quick and dirty video I took using a real banana as the touch input on the iPad while playing Joggle Brain Training game.

Forget everything you know about human factors, ergonomics, usability, the HIG, or “Metro” design principles. Instead, slip on a banana… I’m not monkeying around.

Can Flat Design Handle Reality?

NES Controller in red

If you look back at the early video game consoles, they were pretty basic. NES, or Nintendo Entertainment System, was a successful game system that relied on a controller with only eight hardware buttons, or five when considering the directional-pad as a single pivoting button. Nintendo knew what typical thumbs could do comfortably with speed and precision. While a rectangular brick isn’t the most ergonomic piece of industrial design, it is an example of a decent controller that is both usable and is aesthetically pleasing. The nice thing about it was there wasn’t a lengthy manual about what the buttons did, and most people could experiment for a few seconds and understand how to interact with games without much training.

At times, the current influx of flat design reminds me of 8-bit computing and low resolution gaming, because they both work within a limited rule-set and style. Since NES and flat design share similar characteristics, I pondered what the controller might have looked if Nintendo had designed the controller using the same button configuration and with current flat design principles.

Flat design can be either a blindly-followed trend, or a suitable technique that can be implemented well or poorly, just like most other design practices. I don’t hold any dogmatic prejudice or evangelism for flat design in either direction, but I thought it would be helpful to illustrate how you choosing and executing principles make a world of difference.

So let’s go through some examples:

Flat + Buttonless

nintendo_flat+buttonless

So our first stop is an interface without distinct bordered buttons. It sticks to labels and strips away the chrome embellishments. The strength of this controller is that it is verbalizable. It’s easy to communicate what command translates into the jump action of a character with a concrete label.

There’s long been talk about getting rid of buttons and having No UI altogether, as well as intelligent arguments against turning people’s world inside out:

Their literal invisibility can cause confusion, even fear, and they often increase unpredictability and failure.

Without spatial differentiation, its a bit vague where the active area is going to react, and gives no feedback if you’re within range. Apple’s new iOS 7 for iPhone and iPad gave up on visual boundaries by ditching well-contained buttons and using floating text links instead.

I also recall Flash websites back in the day that required you to hover your mouse exactly on the text of the link, but you had to be exactly positioned on the character, and couldn’t go to a link if the mouse was between two letters, or smack dab in the center of an “O” because the center is inactive counter space.

Flat + Minimal

nintendo_minimal+abstract

You could also make the point a player isn’t looking at the controller hardly at all. So they don’t really need to know the name of the button, just as you don’t need to know that mound you rest your feet on is called an ottoman. You make use of it because it fits the bill.

However, this controller isn’t really as obvious how to start. The only informative thing here is the shape of the D-pad, with four points similar to a compass. But maybe it’s an oversized plus sign… Then there’s a relationship of shape and proximity between the other pairs of buttons, but little insight. What was once labeled Select and Start are now twin capsules, next to two circular buttons. As a piece of art, it’s minimalism is appealing. But it’s lack of clarity might slow people down or frustrate them. That doesn’t mean it has no place though. It would work well for people who are familiar with NES, or game consoles in general, since video game controllers have reused and built from this controller pattern. Furthermore, there are plenty of people who can touch type on a QWERTY keyboard (a much more intricate device), and could probably type blindfolded without letters printed on the keys.

Flat + Discoverable

nintendo_labeled+discoverable

Conceding on previous points, you might consider this controller, which is closer to the original design, but still “flatter” in terms of quantity and visuals. Someone with impaired vision is going to be at a disadvantage for its lower contrast, but maybe NES games requires sharp visual acuity anyway, so it might not matter demographically.

Do we call it a day here? Is flat design good for a controller or even possible? After all, a controller is a physical device and requires three dimensions. Even a thin sheet of paper occupies space in three dimensions. If this were a real controller, I would hope for the buttons to be recognizably different in touch, which can be achieved with different tactile surface, raised 3D position and shape, or other feedback.

Calling foul on a Flat reality

This analysis might not be fair, because there is no such thing as removing Photoshop Layer Styles for a physical thing. Philosophically, virtues of flat design could be possible by avoiding dimensional simulation and doing reversed skeuomorphism (embracing true 3-dimension). This way, you could still have your flat controller be carefully and beautifully crafted with stitched Corinthian leather, squishy bulbous buttons, and be placed in a home where a long shadow is cast by the gradient blur of light from a brightly-lit screen. Editors note: Excuse the mash-up of Layer Style puns.

A Flat home taller than the ground?

Thinking bigger: A flat design home might be end up something like a Mondrian painting (see the Eames House). And it might try to remove power outlets from the walls, for the sake of beauty and minimalism. But if you stop here, you’d have an electricity problem. You could go further to support the vision and include outlets that were hidden behind a panel until needed, or out of sight but still accessible, such as underneath a shelf. You could deal with the problem a totally different way to make your whole house work wirelessly with adapters for any wired gadgets.

Falling flat or flying high?

Flat design isn’t a magical thing that makes things better by itself. Flat design can fall on it’s already flat face, or it can push the boundaries of design in exciting ways. But it must be supported by a sound strategy and a critical mind (and sometimes a diet of mushrooms and a red Italian jumpsuit).

photo by: Emil Erlandsson

Rethinking Design Principles

sign-14089

Design junkies often preach of design principles and rules that lead to good design. But sometimes, design values aren’t as absolute as they appear. As design pros, we’ve been taught to produce and redesign things to be more simple, more engaging, more functional, and more enjoyable. While most of the time they’re for the better, it’s also a good idea to consider abandoning these principles when you can make a product or design better without them.

Don’t Strive for Simplicity.

Simplicity for its own sake has no appeal, otherwise we would all prefer to be a bodiless brain in a vat, left in isolation, and free from the complexity of daily life and social relationships. Simplicity isn’t substantial without a reference point. There’s an amount of simplicity that’s usually desired, but maximum simplicity without regard for other values can be hilariously elementary or even downright dangerous.

Simple by itself consists of one button, or even no input at all. Cruise control without a gas pedal or brakes. A UX that replaces a heart at the wink of an eye. It’s taking a feature and making it as simple as possible. Redesign a keyboard to be a wheel.

Simplicity does not equal good design. At the WWDC this year (which revealed iOS 7) Jonathan Ive stated that design was about managing complexity. I’ve heard that from others before, and also feel like it encapsulates the desired result much better than striving for simplicity. Reduce when necessary and helpful. Add things that are essential and don’t impede usefulness and clarity.

Simplifying is hugely beneficial when there is no concern it will infringe on necessity. A cockpit allows for quick control (speed advantage), deep involvement with lots of features (breadth of opportunity), and is far from simple. While I’m sure a UX makeover could optimize the controls of a cockpit, the current intricacy satisfies a need and enables pilots to do their job well.

Efficiency is Intrusive.

Efficiency does not make a good user experience. Efficiency is a path of least resistance. It’s like preferring a medical device for nutrition even when you are able to eat. For healthy people, it would be rare for someone to opt to be fed through a bolus tube, even though it provides nutrition without having to digest by mouth. We can’t cling to optimizing performance criteria, such as time to learn, and time to complete a task. By themselves, it’s only abstract data that can help inform what you should do. It doesn’t account for the value of enjoying time, and for feeling comfortable.

Joel Spolsky argues that “Usability is not everything. If usability engineers designed a nightclub, it would be clean, quiet, brightly lit, with lots of places to sit down, plenty of bartenders, menus written in 18-point sans-serif, and easy-to-find bathrooms. But nobody would be there. They would all be down the street at Coyote Ugly pouring beer on each other.”

Don’t Engage me!

Marketers and businesspeople know the power of engagement. But we don’t need to latch onto our customers and hold their hands so hard until they’re dripping with sweat and they’ve lost sleep. Usually the goal is to get people addicted to your products through gamification, alerts, email reminders, etc. You can crank up retention by spamming people and intruding in their lives, or find a balance and let the desirability of your product be the magnet that attracts fans. While it’s possible to psychologically hack people to engage, this can go to immoral extremes, but it can also positively influence people to do good as well.

It’s not all happiness though. Some say that your app makes me fat by taking up precious mental resources. I haven’t stepped on the scale lately…

The Dark Side of Enjoyment.

Depending on where you’re directing attention, you can help people enjoy the wrong things. People might gawk at others’ misery, or abuse your features against your intentions. And if you are making money off of harmful habits, you’ll have to face the moral consequences of supporting enjoyment at the price of users, just as a bartender who can play a part in promoting or preventing drunk driving. A study showed that rats chose to press a lever that sends pleasurable brain stimulation to their head instead of eating. Don’t treat your customers as lab rats that will die of starvation just for a joyride.

Throw Away the Rules?

While these common design principles encapsulate the general checklist for upstanding design attributes, they aren’t set in stone. Settings change. People have different needs at different times to support a variety of feelings and goals. A solution involving human beings can’t fit neatly into a formula and be expected to perform in all situations. While questioning the rules can lead to novel solutions, they are still important to consider. Principles act as guides and suggestions that apply to a majority of cases, but they don’t replace careful modification and application of a completed outcome by designers collaborating with others with different specialties.

Alternatives to Click, Tap, Select, Press, etc?

tap-or-click

There has long been dissent about the best wording for interacting with different interface elements, such as links and buttons. Will using Click make enough sense when used on a touch screen or using voice command? Is it too ancient to use for youngsters on mobile devices who have never used a mouse? Is Tap too specific to touchscreens and too foreign for veterans of the PC era?

Part of the problem is that there are websites and apps that support a mixture of mice, keyboard, and direct input with the screen with fingers and stylus, and more. Often times there is no way to detect what device is being used, and whether more than one input mechanism is available (think of an iPad with a bluetooth keyboard, or assisting technologies such as eye-gaze detection and keyboard accessibility). When touch, mouse, and other mysterious input methods are allowed, what is the most helpful and accurate way of describing this?

Click/tap combo is impersonal and indefinite.

You could certainly opt to include both the words Click and Tap, but that might end up confusing people into trying multiple things which may not be supported. By offering multiple choices and making the user slow down and think about what to do, you might reduce the rate of completion. There is more cognitive overhead needed to process which one to act on, and begs the question why not include all options:

Click, tap, set with your keyboard, command with your voice, execute with your Wii remote, or direct your personal assistant to pursue the Submit button.

It also comes off as you not taking the time to get to know your users. As part of a brand, its voice would be indecisive. Using Click by itself isn’t so bad, but still comes off as outdated.

Select can have no action.

Select

Select seems pretty smart , but it has potential to be misconstrued as highlighting content, such as selecting text by dragging a range (for copy and paste). Select can also mean to make the object in focus, which makes things ready for action, but doesn’t actually carry anything out. It’s like being able to select a place to fish, but not casting your line.

If the context is clear enough, you can probably get away with Select.

Press can be permanent and misrepresent.

press

Press has the advantage of being colloquially appropriate for both touch and traditional computing, but still fails to reflect a neutral interaction method. Imagine someone has hacked a NES zapper gun so it works on a web browser by aiming and Pulling a trigger… We can’t rely on the fact that all user actions will be “pushing” against a link.

Press does address both tap and click, but still leaves ambiguity about the keyboard and other input types. If I say “Press Delete,” I have no idea if that is a text link in the UI, or if that is referencing the Delete key on the keyboard. If I am blind and use voice input to make my choice, I am not pressing anything. Just realize that Press falsely describes other modes of access, like shouting into a microphone, aiming a remote, or throwing at a target. This might be a smaller issue because those using accessible technology are in the minority and may be familiar with the metaphor.

Aditionally, Press fails to clarify whether or not to hold the press since there is no “unpress” mentioned, and people may never let go! The same issue occurs with Touch being the lengthier version of Tap. Touch doesn’t imply release, whereas tap does.

If you want to optimize for primary interactions and the duration of the “press” isn’t an issue, you can stick with this one.

Activate doesn’t explain how to.

Activate

While Activate is an honest way of universally describing the act of engaging a link, it is also a bit too technical and robotic. While it makes sense to use for an engineers spec or for clarity in code, I just can’t imagine people using it in a natural conversation.

It also has ambiguity with checkboxes. Activating something suggests that it has opposing states can be deactivated. It also doesn’t instruct how something becomes activated. Imagine a help manual that explains, “To import an image, activate the Upload button.” Does that mean I have to find somewhere in the settings to switch the Upload button from disabled to enabled? Do I have to right-click and choose Activate in the context menu? Will I need to edit the code because it’s deactivated? Maybe I have to mix chemical compounds to awaken neutralized solutions?

Use Activate if your participants are technically inclined, and you are performing your best C3PO impression.

Other novel options

Hit

If you don’t mind being liable if people break their screens, you could ask them to wear boxing gloves to Hit the pressure-sensitive Submit button. I don’t think most people would get carried away with that one. But if you have angry customers or they run into errors, you never know. If you are a magician or ghostbuster you could Summon the submit button. Officers in prison may suggest that you Execute. Choose is also good for describing a decision, especially when there are multiple options to decide among.

To loop the peanut-butter animation, choose Jif or Gif.

Describe the end result

Skip-It

You also have the option to skip the issue altogether. Take a closer look at labels, surrounding text, and visual treatment to increase the self-evidence of an interaction. You might be able to abstain from referring to the input type by stating the activity that will take place and formatting it properly:

“You are seconds away from a free iPad. Verify your account.”

If the context is not clear enough, you could try “Follow the link below to [do action].” Other similar action phrases include go to and visit.

The best choice

If you know there is a single allowed way to interact, stick to what is recognizable and familiar to the medium and its audience (i.e., pressing the physical Power button on your phone). Realize how broadly you can encompass all modes of interaction, while also being specific enough to delineate between what is allowed. Clarity is king here. If it is dead obvious, you can probably get away without referencing the physical action, and instead describe the outcome. It’s better to be context-oriented considering the relevant mental model. It’s easy to get caught with little things or be too high in the clouds when it comes to giving comprehensible directions.

I leave you with a breakfast instruction parable for not unlike “The Three Bears,” given to someone who may want to eat and is unfamiliar with the situation:

Too programmatic

Obtain 4-inch spoon. Balance spoon to capture cereal and milk from bowl. While perpendicular to the x-axis, catapult spoon while easing acceleration vertically toward open mouth belonging to you. Once contents of spoons is 100% inside mouth, close mouth to secure nourishment. Eject spoon from mouth and […]

This spells things out accurately, but is not quickly intelligible.

Too high-level

Reach for edible ingredients.

This statement is true, but may lead novices astray. Assume users will make mistake when things are on-target but ambiguous.

Just right

You can find raisin bran or bagels in the pantry next to the refrigerator. Utensils are in the top drawer to the right of the sink.

This has the right amount of information to be helpful without being distracting.

A taste of Unreal branding

unreal candy packaging

This is an unsolicited review of the candy that goes under the name Unreal. But instead of the taste, I’m addressing the design and the branding.

My wife and I both have a sweet tooth. So it’s easy to just grab the most sugary, processed thing that can be considered edible. Being a design addict and interested in advertising and branding, I somehow stumbled on a youtube video a few months ago for the “unjunked” candy alternative. I thought it was interesting, then forgot about it and never thought to find them at the store. Until I went to the discount grocery filled with failed, novel, or oversupplied goods. I decided that the discount made it worth trying mystery candies that were Snickers-like, one like Peanut M&Ms, and chocolate peanut butter cups. When you know what’s in their products and the taste compared to the usual candy, you might feel a bit less guilty scarfing down a candy bar. My experience got me thinking about what the company is trying to do, where they are now, and the role design and advertising has at improving what I feel is the weakest link: design.

What the company has right

  • Comforting ingredients, quality taste, and balanced sweetness
  • A worthy story and good intentions; they fill an interesting gap for consumer-conscious treats
  • Recognition; endorsements from recognizable people can’t hurt (unless maybe you’re Lance Armstrong)

Where the company can improve?

Clarity Please.

Exemplify value at all points of interaction and exposure. Copywriting and visuals excel at communicating. While the point-of-purchase text contextualizes the candy and suggests candy that is healthier, I didn’t quite get what was physically behind the wrapper, yet alone what was on it.

The logo is sideways on the wrapper. That is both a user-experience issue and a graphic design concern for composition. It’s important to design for the context that a candy bar will be–here it is displayed horizontally in the stores like all other candybars. As a logo, it’s very difficult to decipher and illegible as a blocky maze. I read it as cul-oln. The logo on the containing box is displayed in a single row format, but to me it reads “unpeal” (which also made me think “unappeal”). Candy doesn’t need to be dry and boring, but it should at least make sense unless it’s sold as an eye exam.

Express a message that fits and excites snack seekers.

Unreal doesn’t necessarily mean good. An earthquake can feel unreal. Is it worth calling a company unreal when it has little context and is probably unknown to potential customers except as a hyperbole? Monster Energy drinks uses a word that can signify something negative, but the essence of the drink caters directly to edgy people. I didn’t get those type of vibes with Unreal’s youtube video though, so there’s a disconnect. My emotions are toyed with. Is it unreal because it’s genetically engineered? Or has unrealistic flavor combinations that aren’t evident in the product photos? I decided to take a risk that I wasn’t purchasing a rabbit-flavored food in a chocolate shell.

There nothing human-readable or natural about a product named UN77. United Nations? UN- as a prefix for deprivation? Using numbers connotes a science experiment and removes the emotion and indulgence out of it.

The brand position sits a bit close to edible condoms and the cheap thrill of glow sticks and ecstacy. Intense dayglow colors are cheery and may grab the attention of your children, but also goes combats the notion of “natural” and pure ingredients. The demographic seems a bit juvenile and limited in style.

It seems like more companies these days are putting design on the forefront of priorities, and I’d like to see brands with good intentions benefit from doing so as well. Google shifted its lop-sided focus on “big data” to incorporate the proven benefits of design. Strategic design, UX practices, visual design, and marketing can expose the benefits and appeal of a good product. This brand deserves a facelift.

35+ Design Videos that Inform and Inspire

Design video playlist

Over the past year, I’ve been hand-picking some of the top free design-related talks, interviews, films, and other videos from Vimeo and Youtube. I wanted to be able to share them in one place, but you can’t make a Youtube playlist from external videos, and likewise for Vimeo. That’s where Dropmark came in handy to load the videos from various sources.

At the time of writing there’s close to 40 videos ranging from a few minutes to a few hours, and I’ll be adding to it as I curate my watch later list and get more recommendations. Most of the videos are lectures from conferences, documentaries, and short clips that are educational or provoke good thoughts and actions in the design fields. Go get your autodidactic insights…

Head over my Dropmark list to watch the video playlist in its entirety. If you’d prefer to save the videos for later, subscribe to my playlist on Youtube, and my channel on Vimeo.

Connecting What’s Important

Hold All My Calls

I first caught the short film Connecting when it was posted over at ixda.org before Christmas. Although it was funded by Microsoft, which I feared could make it seem like only an advertisement for Microsoft’s flat Metro design interface, I think this short documentary captures the current status of interaction design as well as give plenty of food for thought.

It’s interesting to read the reactions on vimeo as well. Marc Rettig brings up the point that this film focuses more on the device and technology than the human component of interactions, interfaces, and objects. In general, I had the opposite reaction. I thought that those that appeared in the film explained a holistic approach that favored the overall experience rather than strictly the medium. Interaction designers do have to be in tune with the medium, but also aim for a solution that fits the needs of people.

I’ve noticed people tend to swing one way or the other as designers in terms of methodology (objective and technical vs. psychological, cultural and visceral). I’d like to see more designers and teams consider all sides of design, so that objective science and data blends in harmony with insights about emotion, tone, and unpredictable and intuitive areas of humanity.

There are objective rules to design, but computers alone can’t produce stunning designs that reach people on a intimate level. Looking at data and adapting to a screen doesn’t automatically tell you what people like. Testing and observing users won’t get you into their mind. Sometimes you can uncover great things by just asking people or formulating an algorithm, but it’s takes a multi-dimensional perspective of disciplines that will make design truly shine.

Some other commenters on the video get a bad taste in their mouth because of the control tech companies have to bombard (or connect) into our lives. Besides imagining the dark potential of unsolicited geosolicitations, I think some of the biggest problems that come with this is overconnection and impersonal connection. Information overload has never been easier in our history. More than ever have we had to battle fragmented attention and deciding what and who to spend our time with. We have to make interactions that aren’t barriers to a healthy community. We have to make things that are not a burden. Not overwhelming. Not just a link that encourages us to absorb everything imaginable regardless of how it affects us in the long run. There is more good information out there than I think is consumable for a person in a single lifetime. So now is the time to do something with it all. Let’s connect what’s important.

photo by: Furryscaly
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