Sep 5, 2012

Voyage to the Darkside: My New Galaxy 3S

I arrived at work Tuesday morning to find a new Samsung Galaxy 3S on my desk. With my new role on Intel's Smart Devices Innovation team, I need to familiarize myself with the Android OS. The best way to do that, in my experience, is to just dive in.

I remember when the first iPhone launched. I was enamored immediately. I wanted one, but what I wanted more was to design for it. Unfortunately, I wasn't at a point to get one so I set about sketching, thinking, designing, trying to create the next big app.

Try as I might, I couldn't come up with the next Angry Birds. Day after day, new cool apps hit the iPhone and I wondered how they came up with the ideas.

When the iPhone 3g came out, I made sure to get one. As I began to play with it and then depend and augment my life with it, I found the ideas began to flow. Looking at screenshots and reading about the iPhone experience wasn't enough. I had to experience it to design for it.

I applied the same logic to my job at Webtrends. I got an Analytics 9 account and set up my sites with Webtrends tracking. When we were designing campaign tracking, I set up campaigns with my Twitter and Facebook accounts and tracked them with our products. One of my main design tenets is, the best products are made by people who use them.

Living with the Galaxy 3S hasn't been delightful, but it has been revelatory from a design standpoint. Although I marvel at how a design team could miss such basic interactions, at least now I know what not to do.

The biggest surprise is how much the little things really do matter. I mean, every one always says, "The devil is in the details." But it is so SO true.

A good example is in the out of box experience. My Galaxy was an unlocked world phone so maybe you get a different experience if you go to AT&T but my OOBE sucked. The biggest thing was that the battery was not installed.

It seems like an inconsequential thing, I guess but it lead to a pretty dismal OOBE. First, it meant that the first thing I had to do was pry off the back of the phone. It was like if someone showed you their new car by opening the trunk and pointing to the tire iron. It also revealed how cheap the materials are on this $200 phone. Thin plastic peeled away to show the undesigned innards of the phone.

Second, the battery wasn't charged. You'd think that the ability to immediately use your device would be a no brainer. The dealerships near my house go fill up the tank of the cars before their new owners pick them up. A replaceable battery is about them most inane feature of all Android phones. They make it seem like it's a huge problem but I've never had an issue. My battery usually lasts about 12 hours. Maybe less if I am using it more than usual. I've never had to replace a battery. Even if you want to allow the battery to be replaced, just charge it and pre-install it.

Once the battery was installed and charged, the experience did get better. I enjoy Samsung's poorly named Android flavor, "Touch Whiz". Nothing to write home about but decent. I LOVE the widgets. Having a whole home screen devoted to email is great. Being able to start a run from the home screen is even better.

But why 2 email apps? Isn't this a google phone? It asked my for my password for Google in the beginning but the integration has been lackluster. Samsung has it's own Kies system for syncing and such. That was a mistake. Why duplicate something that already exists. It may be that I just don't know what it does, but that is a problem in itself.

There are lots of nifty features that kind of work. Supposedly, if I leave the device face down on the table, it will go in to silent mode. At least that was the promise of the annoying modal window that asked me if I wanted to enable it (if you have to ask, don't do it). However, in a meeting my phone buzzed annoyingly on the table. I thought it was in silent mode. Guess not.

Picking it up off the table when face down reveals one of those detail devils too. It's an understated design element of the iPhone that I didn't really appreciate until now. The curvature of the Galaxy make it difficult to pick up. You can scoop it up if it is face up but it doesn't work the other way. Sure, I am nitpicking but it bugs me. I see it as a sign of respect and courtesy when someone puts their phone face down. It means, I am paying attention to you.

And there are many more details missed. Try shuffling your icons around. You can simply drag one icon on to another to make a folder. And you know that annoying game of dodging icons on the iPhone? Well, icons that don't move is more frustrating. Nobody paid attention to this stuff.

I'm going to put Jelly Bean (chuckle) on it and see what the default experience is. Hopefully it will be a little more well thought out.

Jul 31, 2012

The Chick-Fiasco: One Follower's Perspective

I've been involved in a couple good discussions about this whole Chick-Fil-A thing the last few days and saw some similar thoughts crop up. I thought I would take a moment and share some of them here.

Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy raised the ire of LGBT organizations by his public statement of his belief in the definition of marriage, by God, as between one man and one woman. He said:
“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.” 
—Dan Cathy, CEO Chick-Fil-A 
This statement alone, is perfectly fine in my opinion. I mean, I don't agree with it, but it's fine if other people feel that way. What I don't like, and why I wouldn't eat at Chick-Fil-A if there was one here in Portland, is that the company funds anti-gay organizations with it's profits. I don't want my money going toward funding hate and discrimination. That's strong language, but I don't know what a law against certain people being married is. It's certainly not love. 

For similar reasons, I don't do business with I've moved all of my sites off their servers because of their CEO's hobby of shooting elephants in Africa. CEO Bob Parsons says he is helping local farmers but I think there is another answer and I think the locals make a lot of money off killing the animals. You may feel that Parson's extracurricular activities shouldn't mean you have to pay more for a URL, but I do.

A couple of friends who are athiests/agnostics asked for my perspective as a "Christian". In order to understand the issue from a Biblical perspective, I did some research. I found a lot of elements that contribute to the rhetoric that is coming from the conservative side of the conversation. The one that seemed to point directly to the set of values, captured by Dan Cathy, is Leviticus 20. This is God's Law given to Moses for the people of Israel. 
The LORD said to Moses, “Give the people of Israel these instructions, which apply both to native Israelites and to the foreigners living in Israel. —Leviticus 20:1-2
The following list of laws is pretty straight-forward stuff. Most of it is really easy to follow and that is a good thing because most of it is punishable by death. There aren't any ifs, ands, or buts. Do these things and be put to death. 

Included in the list in verse 13, is homosexuality:
“If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense." 
—Leviticus 20:13
It also covers beastiality, adultery, incest, communing with spirits, and divorce. Oh, and eating unclean animals and birds (not exactly sure if the last one is punishable by death). 

In the end, that list of Moses's is pretty long and if we were to follow it, a lot of us would be going to the gallows. The whole idea of earned forgiveness is not what Christianity is founded on. This all or nothing view of faith is just the same sort of dogma that fuels Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other fanatical groups around the world. 

There are many people in this world, including Christians and heterosexual people, who would fail to abide by God's law for Moses. Should we put them to death? In light of Jesus's commandments, should we put these people to death? I mean, why mess around with banning gay marriage? Why not ban divorce? Is that far enough? Where do we stop?

I know that nobody is saying we should put gay people to death (well, I guess some people might be). But what should we do with them? The Bible says homosexuality, among other things, requires the penalty of death. If you're going to base laws off the Bible, not the Torah or the Quran mind you, then you can't go half way. Dan Cathy, and others like him, are saying that we are asking for the WRATH of GOD if we allow gay marriage (!). Don't half-ass that one, guys.

Is it open to interpretation? If it is, what else is?

How do we, as followers of Christ, reconcile these laws with the worldly views of today. We can't ignore them, right? It's the Bible... with a capital B. Written by the hand of God and all that. 

Thankfully, there other parts of scripture that give us a stronger directive. This little gem is one of my favorites that is somehow absent in the rhetoric of anti-gay organizations:

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 
—Matthew 22:37-39

Even if you believe that homosexuality is a sin and that marriage is between one man and one woman, as Dan Cathy does, it is not right for you to cast judgment on these people:

God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor? 
—James 4:12
Which commandment should I follow? I guess, since I am a follower of Christ, I'll go with His commandments. This doesn't mean I won't follow the other ones. It just means that I'm not going to pass laws against any people for their beliefs. I'm not going to support the death penalty. And I'm not going to support organizations or businesses that do. Not because I am protesting them or I want you to believe the same way I do. I don't want them banned (which isn't technically possible) and I'm not saying anything derogatory about Dan Cathy or his family or about you if you feel the same.

Just don't pretend it is because you are a Christian. You're kind of ruining it for the rest of us (remember, we're trying to convert these people!).

"Nobody knows what we're for only what we're against when we
judge the wounded 
What if we put down our signs crossed over the lines and love like
You did" 
—Casting Crowns, Jesus, Friend of Sinners
This verse was quoted in one Facebook conversation (a really good and rare religious/political discussion on Facebook, BTW) and it captures the real issue I see with this. I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and I am for gay marriage. Moreover, I have been commanded by God to love Gay, Lesbian, and Transgendered people. Not to mention, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, sinners, and the whole lot of you. I even love Dan Cathy. 

It's how God loves me and He says to love you the same. Can I get an Amen?

Jul 19, 2012

Following Fedoroff

7.75 Miles. 7'04" Minutes per Mile.

That's pretty good for me. I felt like I was going to die half the time and at times I wanted to slow down and just coast in. But I didn't. I didn't give up because of the jerk in front of me. 

That would be Nick Fedoroffgliding along like a gazelle, effortlessly churning out sub-seven minute miles. He is my running partner and one of my best friends and although about mile 5 I hated his guts, I am blessed to run along with him.

We've run together for about 4 years now. We've trained for 5Ks, halfs, and marathons in the rain, snow, and extreme heat. We paced each other in the Eugene Marathon in our first attempts at that distance. He pushes me, I push him. We both get faster. 

When I  run alone I rely on running apps like Nike+ GPS, Runkeeper, and Adidas MiCoach to give me feedback on my runs and they have been an integral part of my evolution as a runner. However, they fail in comparison to the value of trying to keep up with Nick. A running partner is real-real-time. Running too fast? They will tell you. Running too slow? They will tell you and not with words but in a physical way that is immediate and compelling. If your running partner is sputtering, you're running fast. If they suddenly drop dead, you're running too fast. 

One of my favorite things when Nick and I are running is when our casual conversation stops. We have a lot of funny and/or deep conversations on our runs but when the chatter stops I know we are pushing each other. 

Of course, this isn't a post entirely about the bromance that Nick and I have. It's also about the importance of having a good running partner. I've learned it is an essential ingredient to becoming a runner. 

For a beginner, a good running partner is someone who will knock on your door at 6AM and wake you up or at least give you a hard time for bailing on a run. If you are training for a race, looking for speed, or want to go further, a good running partner will help you set goals and show you how well you are doing.

Finding the right running partner can be difficult. I am asked a lot to go running with people and I have to admit, I'm not a good running partner for a beginner. I'm going to go too far or leave you behind. The key is to find someone who is about the same level as you are or maybe a bit more advanced. If you are running twice a week, find someone who is running three times a week. If you are training for a 10K, team up with a person training for the same distance or even the same race. 

The important ingredient here is to start running. Don't wait to find a running partner. You'll probably meet your running partner in the locker room or out on the trail. It's sort of like finding a date. You're not going to find Mr. Right sitting on the couch watching Big Brother. Many races have group runs with coaching. Fitright Northwest has great events every week that are full of people at all levels. 

So go run and keep your eyes peeled for a running partner. You'll be a better runner for it and you just might make a friend. 

May 25, 2012

The Toilet Paper Roll

I told this story a couple weeks ago at my church, Sunset Presbyterian. It got some laughs and I think it made people think. Hopefully it will have the same affect online. At the very least, you'll understand why there are people who call me, "The Toilet Paper Guy".

One of the most important things in my life right now is finding a new house for my family. We are 6 people, plus a dog and two cats living in a 3 bedroom, 1 bath home. Luckily, we have a huge backyard.
One of the issues that crops up when you have 6 people sharing one bathroom (plus the dog) is a constant shortage of toilet paper. 

There are three states of the toilet paper roll:

The ever-present empty roll. Which says, I am an uncivilized monkey and I do not know how to refill a toilet paper roll. 

The three square roll. It says, it’s not empty! I saved you this tiny bit of toilet paper!

The empty roll with a full roll on top. This says, I made an effort, see?

And finally the elusive and rarely seen full roll. Love this one. Never seen it, but I hope to someday. 
I’ve spent many years reviewing this dialog in my head and muttering profanity under my breath, and then shouting the name of the suspected culprit at the top of lungs. 
There a million things like toilet paper rolls in my house. A million little things that any civilized person would just be outraged by. And when you let each one of those things determine the interactions you have with your family, the result is well, kind of dire. Suddenly, 95% of your interactions are negative. “You did this wrong” “Why can’t you figure this out.” The relationships you have start to erode.  
I’ve spent the majority of the last 18 years of marriage and parenthood finding things like the toilet paper roll to be angry about. The result is that anger has dominated my life and the relationships with the people I love most for almost 20 years. I am a nice guy. Someone you enjoy working with, fun at parties... Definitely not someone who would bully his wife or his young children. I came very close to losing everything I have to my anger. 
I sought counseling, I took deep breaths, counted to 10, I tried so hard to deal with the anger that was affecting my life. But I was just dealing with the symptoms. The surface. 
My anger flowed from an empty space in my heart. I had turned away from God and towards the things of this world. I did not guard my heart against the evil things of this world. They filled my heart and drove my words and actions.
It was not until I let Jesus in to my life, praying that He purify my heart, that I began to feel peace. Nurturing my relationship with Jesus, through prayer, bible study, and serving has done more than suppress the symptoms of my anger. His love has filled that space in my heart and now that love flows from it. 
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
The most important way you can serve your family is to be a whole person. Seek out the love of Jesus Christ and embrace it with all your heart. Go for a run, take a class, read a book. Find out what your problems are and seek help. Find out what is amazing about you and make that better. Focus your life on being Christ-like, following his command to love God and love others as He does. Purify your heart so that only love flows from it.
Oh, and if you notice someone has left the toilet paper empty... Just refill it.

Feb 27, 2012

Usability Week Report: CRUD is Cruddy

I'm in the middle of the Mobile UX Design session at Nielson Norman Group's Usability Week. We're talking a lot about best practices for Mobile apps. One of the things that stood out was designing forms for mobile. In the compacted world of mobile the pain of forms is made even more excruciating.  But it's not just about mobile and it's not just about forms.

It's about CRUD. 

For all the beautiful things in the world we design, user experience designers spend an enormous part of our day creating CRUD. 

There are many definitions of the acronym, but this is the one I know:

  • Create
  • Read
  • Update
  • Delete
I can't tell you how many hours I have spent designing workflows for entering contact information. And like some sort of sick fetishist, I have totally oohed and ahhed over some slick new error message or country drop down. It kind of makes you wonder if you're still human.

It is all for not. It doesn't matter how awesome that order form is. It can be beautiful and have slick transitions, but it's still a form. It's still another data entry task for your user to complete. Even with autocomplete, a form is still a barrier to what you want your user to experience. 

Anytime you introduce a piece of CRUD you are assigning a task to your user. They want to access data or content, buy something, play a game, etc.  You are asking them for their name. Even if it is essential data, like a Zip Code for a store locator, it's still not what they want to do.

I'm not saying we can't ask people for their Zip Code. In this case specifically, there are a couple options. First, do we know where they are? We probably do. If they are on a smartphone we have GPS. If they are on a WiFi network we may be able to get their location from their IP address. Of course, there are all kinds of reasons why these may not work. If we're designing defensively, we can handle this case.

Beyond the information we can gather from the user's device, we can also tap in to the social networks they belong to. Many sites are using Twitter and Facebook OAuth to get user information. The results are creepy in a spectacular kind of way. Dribbble, Nike+, LinkedIn, etc. use OAuth to get your information and get you signed up quick. Click the button, sign in to Twitter (hopefully you remember your password or are logged in) and you are done. It's not rocket science. 

Facebook "Take This Lollipop Video"
Recently, an interactive video made the rounds. After  logging in or liking with Facebook the video rolls with photos and information from your Facebook account, right down to psychotic killer looking at a Google map of your house. 

Some people might blush at their "private" information being shared with an app or site. Of course, if it's on the web it's not private (don't tell anyone) but that is just my opinion. Moreover, if you take my information and put it in to a truly epic video I am more than willing to give it to you. If you use it to send me a really crappy newsletter, I will complain (and unsubscribe). Think about how many times you've given up your email address for a simple coupon code or a "chance to win an iPad 3"? Your Facebook isn't any more precious and users aren't hesitant to part with it. 

If you have to make your users work, it better be for something good. If I give you my information, give me something great in return. Remember it later too. Don't make me enter it twice or three times. Show me something cool about myself, even if it isn't necessary. I love it when an app brings in my Twitter avatar and updates it later when I change it. Upload an image? I already did that with Twitter. Make my life easier.

And you know what? Maybe you don't need to get that email address RIGHT now. Maybe it can wait. Maybe you don't need any information at all. Many sites incentivize users to enter information to complete their profile even though they can use the site without giving any information at all.

Enterprise apps aren't exempt either. Just because you are some big huge corporate app made for serious enterprise people doesn't mean you can force them in to labor. In fact, it means that any task you give them is compounded by each user.

So, think twice before you add any CRUD. Design it well but realize that pretty and slick don't mean less work. Give your user a reward for their hard work even if it is just a little shiny picture for their universe. And in the end, if you can get by without it, do that.