Quality of Life: What Matters

I was looking at Numbeo’s quality of life index this weekend. They have different things that factor into their overall index, like climate and safety. I thought: “hey, why not see who – Boston or SF – would win if I looked at all of these objective factors (through my very subjective lens).

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Turns out, Boston does pretty well on everything except climate.

Then I decided to make my own chart with more employment-focused factors that contribute to “quality of life” for me, as a UX designer, in the bay area.

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Ok – so I’m a little biased, but I didn’t just do this to remind myself of why I moved out to San Francisco.

I did this to understand that quality of life is important. All those things that Boston wins at – those are real and I feel the difference daily when I go into the grocery store and a dozen eggs are selling for $6.99. It hurts when I pay rent every month. It’s half my take-home paycheck.

But quality of life is also dependent on many things, and most of the time the things that aren’t captured in these charts are actually the most important ones – the people we care about or choose to love and the career we choose to take.

Tuesday Thoughts about Hardware & Software

Once upon a time, iPhones fit in the palm of our hands. Holding and tapping anywhere was easy. The hardware never impeded you from using the software.

Now phones are mini tablets, but the software has stayed more or less the same. As a product designer who studied ergonomics in school, I occasionally find it strange that the two don’t always evolve together.

It creates some issues when performing certain actions like:

1) Taking a photo. Have you ever tried taking a phone of the sky with one hand? Try it. It’s hard to keep the phone steady while your thumb reaches for the camera button. Whenever this happens, I generally use the volume down button to take the photo instead. It’s because my thumb wants to be near the center of the screen or to the edge of it to keep it stable. It would actually be easier if the “trigger” button were on the top left and top right of the screen for either your left or right thumb.

2) Using Touch ID. Your thumb reaches for the center of the screen more easily than the bottom of the device.

What if the next Touch ID works by touching the screen rather than the home button? It would involve a lot of changes to the hardware, but it kind of makes sense from an ergonomic standpoint.

(I mocked up the last screen)

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My thumb has a much easier time with the option on the right.

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3) Using navigation bars and menus.

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Navigation and main buttons have always been at the top and at the bottom of the screen. It’s generally a good idea since you want content to be in the middle of the screen. But it doesn’t always make sense when you can’t properly reach the extreme corners.

Given that Apple is most likely implementing Force Touch on their next iPhone/iPad, I would want to enable navigation with different types of presses. Next step in navigation will be less about taps and more about gestures. Swipe-to-go-back and horizontal scrolling are already widely used. Let’s keep pushing UI in that direction.

Intentions & Execution of Design

“Look at this website,” my coworker said with his eyes rolled. I swivel my chair and peer at his screen. The website features a multi-colored word art title with a textured background that may have been popular twenty years ago. We both groan at the lack of professionalism the site shows.

We’ve all experienced the frustration of seeing bad design. Our gut reaction as designers is “someone ought to fix it.” Sometimes, we take it upon ourselves to fix it.

Several years ago, I saw a popular website that was promoting goods made in the US. The content was great, the navigation worked, but the styling of the website was appalling. There were boxes upon boxes, unnecessary drop shadows and weird illustrations that didn’t really make sense to me. I decided right there and then that I was going to redesign the site and then send the site owner my work.

I spent a weekend coming up with a new design for the site. “This is so much better,” I thought as I stepped back from it.  I emailed it to the owner, happy with the result.

A few days later, I got an email back. It went something like this: “Your designs are lovely, and I really like the ideas you came up with. But I’m really proud of the little drawings I did for this site, and I want to keep them.” I was exasperated. The drawings on the current site were, in my opinion, terrible.

It was then that I realized something. Even though my execution of the website was more modern and professional, the site owner clearly wanted her personal mark on it. I realized that maybe she wanted the website to be funky and unpolished. I was the arrogant designer, coming in and telling her to change something that she clearly did not want to change.

Jared Spool, keynote speaker at the User Experience Professionals’ Association Conference (held yesterday), spoke about this exact topic. In his presentation, a designer named Tyler Thompson saw the boarding pass for Delta Airlines, which can be difficult to comprehend at first glance, and decided to redesign it so that it could be “better.”

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Tyler’s design is beautiful. It uses modern fonts and rich colors. The flight, gate, seat and zone are clear to the customer. But Jared pointed out a few things about this design: the colors bleed out to the edge, it uses white stock, and it uses high-definition fonts that require printing at 300dpi. Delta’s low-resolution, thermal printers can’t do these things.

If Delta were to actually use Tyler’s design, it would have to replace 10,000+ boarding pass printers, change paper size and add cutting for bleeds on top of creating a new supply chain for colored inks.

Which design is better now? It’s easy to create designs without understanding the real constraints, but the best design is the end is one that satisfies real world needs. As Jared said, “to improve design, we must work on both the intention and the skills of rendering.” We can’t only improve the rendering.

Both my own website redesign from years ago and Jared’s talk have taught me that we, designers, need to have a little bit of humility. We can’t just tell someone how to do something “right” if we don’t know the context around which the original design was created. It’s easy to be nit-picky, and there are circumstances where better design is absolutely called for. But it’s time we stop to understand what situation we’re in so that we can do things with the right intention and execution.

6 Things I learned from 3 Talks at UXPA Boston 2014

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Things I learned from UXPA – The TL;DA (Too Long; Didn’t Attend) Version

Designing for Large Touch Interfaces

  1. Make sure people know they can touch the screen.
  2. Orientation affects how users perceive the kiosk
  3. Transitions are important as cues when navigating. Use gestures everyone is familiar with.
  4. Designer is also a performer – make them look good
  5. Height is important. Make sure user can reach the cancel button
  6. Adjust the drag and inertia on objects. Don’t make large objects feel “heavy.”

Designing with Real Data

  1. Fake data = fake design = fake feedback = wrong decisions. Real data will enter the equation eventually.
  2. Understand the data
  3. Organize data into information to enable users to gain knowledge
  4. Real data has a min and max, an average and a distribution. Think about this when designing screens with potentially extremely short or long text. Consider the outliers.
  5. You can do a lot with Indesign Datamerge/Kimono/Chartwell fontface/Sublimetext/Screenscraper chrome extension.
  6. Ben Salinas (@bensalinas) from Involution Studios is a REAL unicorn.

Design Psychology

  1. Self-determination theory levels: amotivated/external/introjected/identified/integrated/intrinsic
  2. Motivation is autonomy, competence, relatedness
  3. If you want people to do something, minimize external pressures and maximize internal ones
  4. Establish shared rules of engagement
  5. Convey belongingness
  6. If you use social media – be responsive to your customers.