Thursday
Jul142011

Bookmark your way straight into a specific Gmail account

Not happySwitching accounts in Gmail drives me frickin' nuts. If your company uses Google Apps, and you have a personal Gmail account, you switch accounts as often as a baby cr@ps its diaper.

Fortunately, there's a URL you can bookmark which will jump straight to a specific account's Inbox. This one leads to my default account:

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#mbox

In contrast, this one leads to my work account:

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/#mbox

You'll notice the only difference is a single, magical number. I had a personal Gmail account before starting my job, hence the lower number.

If you simply navigate to a particular Inbox in your browser, you should be able to bookmark that little sumbitch right there. But if you're a longtime Gmail user with existing bookmarks, you were probably too busy punching the drywall in frustration.

I hope this tip prevents you from goin' all stabby on something.

Tuesday
Jul122011

UX design lessons from high-end architecture

If you've been around software for any length of time, you've heard this old chestnut:

If we built bridges the way we build software, we'd all be dead. Outlook takes ten minutes to load and crashes every day!

Is it an apt comparison? Eh, maybe.

I'm more interested in the beginning of the process, so I decided to explore what architects do and look for parallels in what we call user experience design. (Spoiler alert: the two line up nicely.)

A trip to St. Barts

My exhaustive inquiry began at Barnes & Noble, with the most recent copy of Architectural Digest. The cover story described the building of a multi-villa compound on St. Barts for an unnamed (wealthy) client, starting with the architects visiting the site. They researched local building styles and materials, and discovered an odd local ordinance regarding roof design.

Did you catch the key word? Research. The UX pros out there know that research is a critical input to the design process. The architects hadn't worked in the Caribbean, and couldn't know about the regulations and what structures would feel natural any other way. Perhaps you've built software that was Section 508 compliant, or made allowances for Sarbanes-Oxley? Imagine the change orders if they would've cut corners in this phase.

In addition to research, there's the obvious input from the client on what they want/need. And indeed, the home is both beautiful and functional. An early sketch (shown in the print edition) depicts guest quarters on a lower level and the "master" separated above, since guest are likely to stick around a while. The master also contains an office space. I can feel you UXers nodding...sketching, appealing visual design and effective interaction design.

The article closes with a touching story about how the lead architect succumbed to cancer during construction, and his protégé saw it through to completion. Here's a quote:

...[T]he master's greatest lesson? "Charlie taught me that you design and refine up until the last minute," the architect answers.

Iteration and usability testing are analogous here in a way that's almost uncanny.

Let's do lunch

A longtime friend has a Master's degree in Architecture and works in construction management, so I met him for lunch to get his take on this.

He echoed these points in a more practical way, pointing out that a project like this effectively has an unlimited budget. Iteration on a construction project is much easier without those pesky concerns. We can be a lot more nimble with software...lucky us!

Tl;dr

Surprisingly enough, architecture and user experience design have the same three steps:

  1. Conduct research and get requirements
  2. Design something that meets goals and is beautiful
  3. Polish it to perfection

It's just that easy.

Monday
Jul112011

Gmail's upcoming makeover: Before and After

Gmail is ditching its Mom Jeans and getting a hot new look. (You can get more details on the team's blog.) And since the transformation is the hallmark of any good makeover show, I wanted to show some quick "before and after" shots.

BEFORE: The blue really jumps out, eh? AFTER: A breath of fresh air

Looking at the screens from this zoomed out, "aerial" vantage point helps see the forest instead of the individual trees. Right off the bat, you notice the blue in the old version highlighting some buttons and chrome. In the new version, the blue is reserved for Gmail's killer feature: search.

Also, the increased breathing room makes the new version more pleasant...less is more. If you count 'em up, you'll see the new version only has room for about half as many messages. (I took these screenshots with Google Chrome at 1024x768.)

I'll be holding onto this clients as an example for clients of what effective visual design brings to the table.

(Refer to the top layer of this diagram (PDF) from Jesse James Garrett's site for a definition of "visual design" as it relates to web sites/apps.)

Friday
Jun172011

The Mac OS X standard icon for a "generic PC"

This icon, built into Mac OS X itself, is used to depict a "generic PC."

Generic-pc

Seems accurate to me. You'll find this (and many others) here:

/System/Library/CoreServices/CoreTypes.bundle/Contents/Resources/

As Fraser Speirs points out, it's a gold mine for your slide decks.

Friday
Jun032011

Transparent justification for a price increase

App Cooker is an iPad app that helps you design other iPhone and iPad apps. Here's a screenshot from their web site:

Price-evo

I don't think I've ever seen a company do a better job of explaining why prices will be going up. They clearly chart out the increase in value at every stage.

I suppose it helps that they're actually delivering an increasing amount of value. Contrast this with the rising prices charged by wireless phone carriers, which delivers the same (or less) value as your costs go up.

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