Category Archives: Fundamentals

When did that happen?

World Clock

It’s the little things that matter in interface design.

For instance, I just discovered this amazing little detail in Mac OS X’s Dashboard. The World Clock widget (by Apple) that is installed by default has always offered a slick little display of the time in a chosen time zone, but at some point between Tiger’s release and now, (perhaps with the release of 10.5 Leopard?)1, they added one of the little details that makes Apple… well, Apple.

Now, when choosing a new time zone from the back, when the widget flips over, it animates the clock hands, moving from the currently set time zone to the new ones, including changes in day and night — and even gently accelerating from the start and decelerating into the finish!

As soon as I can get a decent video screen capture, I’ll post a glimpse of the animation.

  1. No, it was not part of 10.5.2 — it was definitely there in 10.5.1, at least. 

Ready, Set, Hype!

iPhone Calendar Okay. I admit it. I’m obsessed. I’m readying my sleeping bag for June 28.

We, the iPhone fanatics, received our marching orders Sunday night, and we’re pointing our boots in the direction of the nearest AT&T (née Cingular) store. (Uncle Steve told us to avoid his own Apple Stores on Release Dayâ„¢, because that’s where all of the campers will be. Well, until he said that.)

We’ve gotten so obsessed that we’re already spinning out of control with wild speculation based on merely a few frames of one of the commercials.

The three new ads are all truly good — simply, smoothly, and stylishly making the iPhone’s complex set of features look natural, seamless and essential.

Even if you’ve never heard of the iPhone before (Really?), the ads make the device and its powerful, simple-to-use features clear in only 30 seconds (apiece).

As John Gruber points out, the ads sell the iPhone largely by just showing off its interface.

Its interface.

(That bears repeating. In its own paragraph. In its own sentence fragment.)

Yes, it’s the iPhone’s interface that makes it the product that it is. (Jobs: “beautiful software wrapped in a beautiful box.”) Making sure that the software is the driving force behind the product is one of the key reasons that Apple has had such enormous success with the iPod and has garnered such devotion from Mac users.

iPhone’s beautiful interface is definitely worthy of excitement, and the ads’ glimpses of that crystal-clear screen followed by the words, “Coming June 29″ have ignited the passions of the iPhone masses.

David Pogue is looking forward to the frenzy to come, and so am I.

PS: As one hype machine winds up, another is taking a surprising beating from various posts:

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  • Living online, with web apps »

    A promising new blog, fortuitous, with a great piece detailing how a Google Browser Sync’d copy of Firefox can be a gateway to a web-app only workflow. Well written, with excellent points.

    I would add only one thing — in my web-app living, I have found java bookmarklets to be excellent tools. Link »
    (Thanks, Daring Fireball)

  • Silly season »

    Dive into mark (Mark Pilgrim) says exactly what I thought (more or less) about Adobe and Microsoft racing to “reinvent” the web. Link »

  • Simplicity Sells »

    Well worth the watching: David Pogue (of the New York Times) speaks at TED 2006, with a great overview of the importance of simplicity in interface and device design.

    I love TED Talks, and Pogue is a great presenter. This session is so good that it has earned this whole quick clicks post a “Fundamentals” tag. :)

    The entire 20-minute session is available at the link. Link »
    (Thanks, Bagelturf)

“Sometimes Knowledge Is More Important Than Truth”

Subway MapIt may seem a bit contradictory at first, but Signal vs. Noise (37signals) points out an excellent case study of an instance where the essence is more important than the truth itself: mapping the New York City subway system (nothing says complexity like the largest number of subway stations in the world — 468).

Current official maps are geographically accurate, but the maze of different lines makes understanding the map and figuring out how best to navigate through the system becomes a struggle.

Enter Kick Design. Eddie Jabbour, Creative Director at Kick, apparently grew frustrated at the deficiencies of the standard maps of the New York subway system. At least five years of research (finding maps on eBay, among other things) and design work led to Jabbour’s new map, a widely-praised work that eschews the geographic reality of NYC for a cleaner, easier to read representation:

Comparison of Maps

As you can see, the map uses simplified notations, straightens the lines nearly into a grid and simplifies the color usage into more restricted, abstract spaces. Text is now cleaned up, non-diagonal, and less overlapping, and the legend and symbols have been dramatically clarified and improved. (It’s not as dramatic as Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 abstraction, and that may be a good thing.)

As 37signals and the New York Times point out, the map bears a similarity to London’s classic logic-oriented map of the tube system. The Signal vs. Noise blog calls it “helpful distortion,” eloquently and elegantly asserting that “sometimes knowledge is more important than truth.”

Indeed, often, the best way to explain a concept, tell a story, or even interface with a complex device is through trustworthy simplification. Though there are numerous examples, an easy one can be seen in the qualities of a successful interface to a computer or other consumer electronics device.

Often, criticisms of the iPod revolve around the fact that it doesn’t offer this feature or that feature (it doesn’t have built-in radio, it doesn’t have wi-fi — it doesn’t even have an off switch). But, that type of argument misses a critical point and significant appeal of the iPod — it does what it does simply, cleanly and efficiently. That simplicity gives it elegance and attractiveness that has certainly helped it to become the best-selling music player in history (and one of the best selling electronic devices in history).

The subway maps are a great object lesson in this appealing accessibility, and rather than continue to rehash the excellent coverage from 37signals, I’ll simply direct you over there with my hearty agreement, and two last thoughts:

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
—Albert Einstein 

…and, consider this: Eddie Jabbour finally met with the MTA about his map and the possibilities for improving the official map, and they rejected it. What do you think about that?

I’d love to read your thoughts and any other examples of “helpful distortion” in the comments!

(Thanks, Daring Fireball)

Signs of Life

Indexed Often, when a presenter wants to express a complex topic, he or she will rely on charts and graphs to express concepts, comparisons, and more.

Statistics, charts, and graphs can help to clarify things, or — in the wrong hands — bore and/or mislead audiences. It’s tempting to lean on these tools too much, or craft them hastily from PowerPoint templates, draining them of their expressive power and value.

Two clever minds have thought about this ‘PowerPoint culture,’ and explore what might happen if life — in all of its complexity — were reduced to simple graphs and charts. The results are humorous, and yet fascinating.

Jessica Hagy maintains a unique blog, Indexed, whose content is expressed through hand-drawn notecards, each bearing a different explanatory graph or chart that covers one of life’s mysteries. It’s a compelling concept, and — best of all — an ongoing blog, so there’s always a new insight to enjoy.

A nice introduction, however, can be found in Le Grand Content, a movie by Clemens Kogler, inspired by Indexed.

Both are worth a look (and, in the case of Indexed, an RSS subscription):

(Thanks, Presentation Zen)

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  • facebookFacebook Updates its Look »

    In case you haven’t noticed, Facebook has updated its look and categorization. In addition to aesthetic tweaks (the interface is a bit more streamlined now), the update adds an Inbox to consolidate messages (with improved abilities to send them), and Network Pages that give an aggregate look at events within the networks you belong to.

    Facebook » Information on the Changes » Facebook Blog (even more details) »

  • Two More Lenses on Time

    Some time ago, I pointed out piClock, the Mac OS X Dashboard widget that views the time in the digits of Pi, and here are two more ways to envision time in a new way:

    Color Coded Clock » Look! It’s 14:36 (2:36pm). Just count the dots. It’s easy… right? For Mac OS X Dashboard, from “strijdhtie.”


    Wheels of Time
    Wheels of Time » A screen saver for Mac OS X that counts time in floating 3D rings of bars, one wheel for hours, one minutes, one seconds. (And an optional digital clock cheat sheet sphere in the center.) From Big, Fat, Stinking Software.