Looking Forward. Mobile Communications in 2020.

I love these kinds of forecasting videos. This one is entertaining. Not sure I agree with their event for 2016. I guess we’ll see.

Top Web Design/Dev stories for 2010

So, last year I put together a post outlining the top web stories for the year… Read it here. I thought I’d spend some time doing the same here for 2010. There certainly were a lot of big things that happened.

Those are some of the biggest ones in my opinion. Some other notable things that took place in 2010 were the launch of the iPad and the subsequent launch of Flipboard, Tumblr’s growth even while plagued with outages, Chrome OS’s continued bumbling (yes, i have seen the new devices and I just don’t how the fill a gap) and the ongoing upward climb of Facebook.

What are some of the other news stories you liked in 2010? I’d love to hear em.

Look who RIM bought…

Anyone thinking RIM is standing still, wel… look no further. This Swedish outfit, TAT, just go picked up by the Blackberry maker. This should give them a much needed shot in the arm in the UI department from a creativity standpoint.

via Wired.

Conference Recap: Design 4 Mobile 2010

I’ve returned and finally had a chance to look at my notes from Design 4 Mobile, an event put on by Little Springs Design in Evanston, Illinois. In short, the event was masterfully run, full of deep insights and presentations from industry experts and even had enough, “Wow factor” to keep the most jaded conference goers and mobile tech enthusiasts engaged for the duration of the event.

Prior to attending, I reached out to the CEO of Little Springs, Barabara Ballard, asking her for an overview of the conference and some insight into the event’s focus. She provided this thoughtful and well put statement:

Design For Mobile is, at its heart, a community. Indeed, the wiki of
design resources (found here: http://patterns.design4mobile.com/ )
predates both the conference and the Design For Mobile brand itself.
We did this because there weren’t any other places to learn or share
about mobile user experience in the western hemisphere, unless we
wanted to rely on specific manufacturers for the information.

Continuing on, she speaks to the sad truth of state of affairs in terms of mobile conferences in the states:

To put it another way, we at Little Springs Design needed to continue
to improve our mobile UX knowledge, and it is cheaper to run a
conference then send us all to Europe for conferences that don’t match
our needs, or a conference here in the states that was mobile (with
1-2 design sessions) or design (with 1-2 mobile sessions).

In closing, she wraps it up, stating the ethos of her design company succinctly.

We believe that a great user experience can be had with delivery with
a lot of different devices (from iPhone to feature phone) using a lot
of different delivery methods (from apps to web to text). We believe
that mobiles are not just small computers, but a fundamentally
different type of device that is both lesser, and greater, than
computers. We believe that user needs and cognition are different when
they are mobile. And we believe that designing for mobile is a lot of

I have to say, after seeing the effort that she and her company put forth in scheduling, producing and executing Design 4 Mobile, I am certain that she is very very right. They brought together a killer list of speakers, had an excellent bunch of sponsors and lined up some great gadgets and networking events as well to keep things moving at a good pace.

I spent a good portion of the event hanging with UX Magazine’s Juan Sanchez, of Effective UI, and I will be anxious to hear his take on the event as well. He has posted his first day recap here.

I wish I had seen Tuesday’s presentations, in particular, Future of Mobile UX presentation by: Jonathan Brill, but I missed the first two days of the event due to work and teaching. I drove up after hours on Tuesday night to be sure I wouldn’t miss Wednesday. I am glad that I didn’t miss it. Nancy Proctor opened the day with a presentation on Mobile in Museums. Since a large portion of Iona’s work has perennially been with museum clients, I was especially interested in seeing what she had to say. I was not disappointed. Her deck along with many other great presentations she has put together is available on Slideshare, here. Spend a few minutes and flip through it:

Nancy covered some very interesting ways the Smintsonian is employing mobile to create scoail and more engaging visitor experiences as the museum moves from a traditional stance of serving as a repository of things to a repository of digital assets. She stressed how mobile shouldn’t be about the technology, but rather about how to connect people in new and engaging ways in the museum. Very cool ideas indeed. For some of the deeper detail check out this website.

After Nancy’s presentation, Scott Jenson presented Mobile Diversity: the coming Zombie Apocalypse. It was informative and really entertaining. Scott talked about some key differences between mobile apps and web sites. Not a lot of new info there, per se, but some new insights on how this situation is escalating and is quickly getting out of hand. Take this example from his presentation:

You are at a concert and want to know about the opening band, but you can’t remember who they are… Where do you look in terms of apps? The venue’s, the headlining act’s? Getting ridiculous, maybe the band shell has app? How about the trash can next to you? If you simply use the mobile web, your answer is easy… Google (or your search engine of choice). It was a fun way to make a point very well. You can grab his deck here.

After that, Steven Hoober was up with Mobile Device Specifications, or Politics Is Fun. His presentation was novel in that the slides were actually print outs displayed via an ELMO. Kinda retro and fun. I liked it. The content wasn’t super new or ground breaking, but there were some interesting points on creating documentation that were good all by themselves. One key point:

If you can’t document it, you can’t design/build it. If you can’t build it, you can’t sell it.

So very true. Documentation can make or break a product.

Steven’s main points on creating good docs: Clarity, Consistency, Extensibility, Accuracy, Avoid Duplicates. All great points. I look forward to seeing the slides and will update this post once I track ‘em down.

So, all that was before lunch. Whew. So, after some good conversation and food, things got kicked back up again with Ryan Unger’s rather fun and non-traditional presentation on “Navigation Design for Mobile”. He was fun, though maybe just a smidge rambling. I really identified with a couple points: “Mobile is the Snickers, Web is the Steak Dinner”, “Your Mobile Navigiation Should Be Able to Handle Your Content Doubling Tomorrow” and “Be the Pet Psychic, Build Familiarity and Go From There”. It was a good presentation overall, though a bit cloying, really.

The “What gestures do people actually use?”, presentation by: Dan Mauney on the other hand was anything but light on details and great information. Dan shared the results of a huge multinational heuristic study that sought to determine what cultures use what gestures. The results were fascinating. I do hope he publishes the results, or at the very least, the deck he used in the session. Amazing detail and thoroughness! 9 countries, 28 gestures, over 9500 gestures logged. Gestural inputs definitely vary across cultures. Experts DO want different gestures than novices. Somewhat indecipherable commands like “Print” or “Share” DO likely provoke UI hacks like right click menus or popovers. Also, a nice piece of trivia… The clapper may have been the first gestural input device. I’ll embed the original ad here for kicks:

“Smartphone Text Input Methods Compared: Which is Best?” presentation by: Nika Smith was next, and overall, a good and very decent exploration of which device offered speediest and most error free input. I would have liked to see a little more unbiased testing. ie. Keyboard emulators, etc being deployed on the devices rather than only testing the actual OS keyboards provided, thought that would admisttedly be a costly and time consuming test suite to complete. In short, it was somewhat unsurprising… iPhone users type faster on iPhones. Blackberry users faster on Blackberries, etc. No single system was “walk up ready” though… Each one required novice users some time to get acquainted with them. It was interesting though, that users familiar with specific devices tended to make more mistakes on those devices than on the others. That same familiarity breeds sloppiness, I guess.

The very entertaining Corey Pressman was up next. And though he was shown up by the very smart and well informed Judy Brown on a couple minor facts, there is no denying he may have been the most entertaining speaker of the event. his roots in anthropology showed as he talking about monolithic techonlogy and the progression into micro-monolithic (read flints and arrowheads)… in his words “a whole lot of animals died”, speaking about the boon to humanity that the mastery of the first mobile tools were. Very fun parallel. He played it up and was a real treat to listen to.

After that, the day was done for the official agenda and thing moved on to the planned networking event sponsored by Motorola. It was de rigueur but not a bad time either. Some good conversation with various speakers and others ensued. This was one area that Design 4 Mobile was really nice. The event was small enough that the speakers were approachable and the attendees seemed to all be interested in learning and sharing. Very cool indeed. I finished the eveining with some tapas and a nice draft Goose Island Sofie. Delicious. ;-)

The next day was pretty much taken by Microsoft. Their new Windows 7 Phone was the superstar of the day. Beautiful UI. Wow. I have been an iPhone user since day 1, but this is a tempting platform. I’ve been looking for something past the standard homescreen full of apps. Windows Phone seems to do that. various designers, evangelists and other were on hand to demo devices and talk about the tenets of the OS’s design. Really, it was a very informative and very grassroots style approach to build support. And they got it. The place was really abuzz after Albert Shum, Paula Guntaur, Chris Bost and Chris Bernard gave their talks. Biran Gorbett was there to field questions too. A really well planned approach and their polish paid off. I think they built a lot of support that day.

The last non -MS session I attended was Nick Finck’s. I have to say I wan’t blown away. He gave a good presentation, and perhaps to some it was new stuff, but an introductory session on wireframes and paper prototyping wasn’t what I expected from someone as sharp as him. I follow Nick on Twitter and enjoy his commentary, I just may have expected more.

After lunch, I was out… I had to go teach, so I couldn’t see more, though I anxiously await hearing more from the other attendees that may have been documenting the afternoon sessions. Anthony Hand and Jason Grigsby had some great sessions as I could tell from the tweets.

In conclusion, I think you couldn’t have asked more from the event or the organizers. Great speakers, sessions and sharing. Awesome. Little Springs deserves a well earned break. I hope that the event can live up to it the next time it is scheduled! Nice work everyone involved.

BTW, it was nice to attend to cover and take notes… and not speak. That said, come see me at Adobe MAX in October!

Headed to Design 4 Mobile!

I’m headed to a great conference… “Design 4 Mobile” From the site:

“Design For Mobile is the first and only North American mobile user experience conference. The focus is on strategy and tactics for user research, product definition, interaction and other design, and usability testing.”

I’m looking forward to a week of discussion and presentations from industry leaders from Microsoft, Motorola, Google, eBay, Northwestern and Little Springs Design.

I’ve had some discussion with people from UX Magazine that are going to be at the event and the organizers themselves. This looks to be a really solid event in a great venue.

Exciting stuff.

Does HTML5 need JavaScript2?

More Cowbell
As a long-time web designer, I have had lots of love affairs with various technologies over the years. GIFBuilder, BBEdit, Photoshop image-slicing, tables, HTML and CSS, Quicktime, VR, Shockwave, JavaScript, Flash 4, Flash 5, Flash MX2004, Actionscript 3, Flash Video, JQuery, DOM Storage… the list goes on and on.

Some of these have been long forgotten and swept under the rug of ancient things in my brain like stuff I learned in my chemistry classes or college psych 101. Other things churn, get their lives extended and get refreshed again and again. With our recent foray in mobile, one of those things for me right now is JavaScript. Often maligned, sometimes heralded, it’s obvious people have lots of opinions on what is one of the most widely deployed programming languages on the web.

After leaving my first job at Rollingstone.com (which consisted of making a lot of Flash minisites and games using Flash 4 and Flash 5), I renewed my interest in JavaScript and the dynamic DOM (I think it was called DHTML at the time). I was very concerned about SEO and machine readability around this time, so I stopped doing a lot of Flash for a couple years. Finally, around the time that Actionscript 2 came out, I started to like JavaScript less than I had previously and also started doing a lot of freelance game development for the web using Flash. Browsers were somewhat inconsistent in their rendering/parsing of it, it lacked the basic OOP and syntactical sugar of AS2 or even PHP for that matter, and debugging it was tough (Firebug wasn’t around yet). Shortly thereafter, JS frameworks like Prototype and JQuery began to emerge, making writing JS a lot less painful. It didn’t really help you get around some of the advanced development issues like true OOP or native data types like JSON, but it was certainly better than writing raw JS.

After AS3 hit the scene in 2006, it was tough to get me to want to develop anything of real complexity with JavaScript given just how awesome it was finally having an ECMAScript based language like AS3 that used strict typing, offered true OOP and provided compile time errors. Add to that, the fact that IE6 made dependable JavaScript a crap shoot compared to Firefox and there is no wonder why Flash enjoyed its heydays from 2004 to 2009 or so.

Fast forward to today and the constant bickering between anybody on the web about the slow death of flash or the rise of HTML5 or need for standards or whatever the tech press or bloggers will have you believe about what is going on behind closed doors between Google, Adobe, Apple and MS about the web’s next steps in media design and development tech and you still have to wonder… how will games, deep experiences and the like be built in HTML5?

Most demos of the tech are pretty frivolous or only prove that yes, you can play video without Flash. Who cares? Could I use HTML5/JQuery to build Sliderocket? Gmodeler? A top tier experience site for the latest blockbuster movie?

The answer, ‘possibly’… but would it be as easy to build and debug or render as fast as using Flash/ActionScript? Most likely, no.

Some of that has to do with the tools. Flash is made to create rich spectacles complete with detailed animations, rich interactions and precise graphics. It’s over 10 years old and is pretty mature. CSS (even CSS3) and the average rendering engines in a browser just can’t match up to it in power, speed, display uniformity across platforms and overall flexibility. But furthermore, building rich apps in JavaScript 1.x is still a pain. Some IDEs are better than others at it, but the language is still pretty much crap for heavy duty coding. Runtime errors galore, esoteric debuggers, a lack of strict typing and advanced data types in general, no formalized approach to MVC/ design patterns… the list goes on and on. Why are we going back to what many developers would call an inferior technology to Flash or even Silverlight. The drive is largely mobile, but there are some other politics at play as well.

When you look at the press coming out, or get phone calls from clients requesting HTML5 apps, alarm bells start going off in my mind. How are we going to handle this transition to a post Flash world when device manufacturers like Apple seem to be forcing us to use a hammer and chisel to produce pale imitations of sites that we built two years ago using great tools? Is the Flash platform perfect? No, but it’s better than pretty everything else we have tried so far for building examples like the ones I pointed out above.

What are the next steps? Well, to see some of the docs coming out of the standards crowd and the browser developers, not much. Ugh. If my tools of choice (Flash and Flex) are really going to lose ubiquity in the player realm, marginalizing their effectiveness due to lack of ubiquity, then please at least give us some tools to build JavScript apps in that are at least as good as what we already have. Get JavaScript 2 out there, please and make it good, not hobbled like the next gen of ECMAScript looks to be. And please, bring hardware accelerated SVG rendering to all browsers, not just IE.

This is not meant to be a “HTML5 sucks” or a “Flash rocks” post… there are plenty of those already. I am interested in hearing what you think though… Does HTML5 need a better DOM scripting partner if it is going to take over for Flash? What does an ideal HTMl5 authoring tool look like? Do these questions matter as much as I think they do to the average designer/developer?

The Vendor Client relationship – in real world situations

I hope yours isn’t like this. But wow… when you get hit with comments like this, it’s rough.

The Flash Mullet

By now, everyone has either dabbled in Augmented Reality, or chosen to abstain… for those of you just now picking up the familiar black and white Marker and FlarToolkit, beware…

HTML Vs. Flash – In Pixton Format

So here’s an interesting thought… could you create Pixton in HTML5? Could you make as good of a webcomic as RobotBeach in Pixton? Hmm.

The tool does not dictate the quality of the output.

Your Web/Social Media Resolutions for 2009

Everyone makes resolutions for the New Year, right? Quit smoking, eat better, be nicer, be more productive, etc etc. How about resolutions for your web presence and activity? What things should be considering doing, or STOP doing online to maximize 2010? After all, it is the year we make contact, so when the monolith comes calling, you want to be ready! Here’s what I am planning on working on:

  • Understanding Twitter/Facebook/Linkedin Technical integration points better and using them! – Yes, all these sites can speak to each other. But should they? And should they always be talking to each other? Probably not always. I need to explore a more friends and family friendly approach to sharing my statuses via Twitter and Facebook. I frequently leave my non-geek friends scratching their heads. Hmm.
  • Building out some more web-service based mashups – In 2008 I built a lot of mashups. Some for clients, most for fun. In 2009 at Iona, we’ve built a few site features out for clients leveraging various web services, but by and large it was pretty quiet for me personally on this front. I need to get back into it!
  • Reskinning my blog – I’m coming on year 3 of this design. Time for something new.
  • Refining my following list on Twitter and building some more lists – I think I over followed when I joined Twitter and I’m working to rectify that. Too many auto replying bots, too many marketing feeds, on and on. Also in the second half of 2009, Twitter launched lists. I have made a couple of them so far, but as they continue to build out this feature I intend to use it.
  • Using Social Media Better When at Conferences and Events – Nothing is more annoying in a Twitter feed or your Facebook newsfeed than seeing a constant bombardment of updates from someone at a conference that feels as though every utterance coming from the speaker they are watching needs to be shared to all from the mountaintops. I have done this more than once. Not happening this year. For a great list of other things you should stop Twittering about, check this out.

So what are you focusing on this year? May I make a few suggestions, if you have chosen any? Here we go.

  • Build Something – For Real – Stop being a flapping head social media douche and really make something! Some videos, a real website without your stupid grinning mug on it, an app, a mashup, an experience. Sure, maybe this sounds cynical, and maybe it’s a little bit much, but I’m just so tired of seeing the same old tired routine by “strategists”. Nearly all of ‘em just parrot whatever Seth Godin, Gary V, Chris Brogan or Jason Fried say and virtually all of ‘em are actually contributing very little to the conversation or the larger landscape.
  • Stop Talking About “Maxmizing Your Personal Brand’s Reach by Microblogging”
    – Or whatever other crap your inner social media kissass self thinks will get you some sucker to part with their money. At this point, major corporations have “social media policies”. Little companies either get it or they probably never will. Where does this leave you? Well, if you were a “web designer” before all of this, you probably still are now. If you were a talentless hanger-on-er before… well, you can probably guess.
  • Strongly question or reconsider what your “SEO Expert” is suggesting.
    - Do they Have your web copy looking like it was written by a 3rd grader? They are doing it wrong. With properly written markup and a decent product message, you don’t need to Google bomb your way to the top of the rankings. Certainly, writing repetitive boring copy may have its advantages (it’s easy and doesn’t take much creativity) and can sometimes get you higher rankings, but at what cost… You ultimately devalue your organic search results by not giving the user and deeper content once they visit your site.
  • Don’t Build a Microsite without a Media Buying Plan and determing the Metrics Package and how it’s going to be implemented. – You would not believe how often new microsites sites pop up for products and services if you are not involved in this industry. Weekly, there are dozens featured on Marketing and Advertising blogs. So often when you visit the site and poke around the source code, you notice there is not an analytics package in place. Unreal. What a waste of money. Make a pledge to your budget to not launch a site without measuring how it’s working.
  • If You Don’t Have a Business Twitter or Facebook Account, You Absolutely Need One – With these sites drawing the type of traffic they do, if your business is not on them, you are really missing out. Even if you are a straight up B2B services company and do very little public marketing, you can find value in being on these sites. If nothing else, you should be there in order to at least protect your brand name in the space and prevent it being hijacked.
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