Tag Archives: Web design

The Future: Findability

We only noticed three months later, but we passed something of a milestone last December. I’m hoping it might, finally, wake us up to the real power of the Web: findability.

According to Ericsson, a mobile network company, in December we exchanged more data over our mobile devices than we talked on them. In short, we now do more email, social networking, all that stuff, on our mobile phones and mobile-connected laptops than we do voice.

Quite a turning point.

But a turning point of what, exactly?

Well, the conventional wisdom is that we will use our cellphone (or a netbook with a cellphone connection) to do all the things we used to do, or still do, on our desktop tethered laptop or PC. According to a report by Sandvine, another network company, released this month, one in five of us mobile data subscribers are using Facebook and video sharing website YouTube accounts for at least a 10th of all traffic.

But the conclusions they draw from this are wrong.

The thinking is that we’re somehow interested only in doing things that we did at our desk, even when we’re in the open air. Or on the couch.

Well, OK, but it betrays a lack of imagination of what we’ll do when we’re really untethered.

When we have access to everything the Internet has to offer–and when the Internet has access to us. Then we’ll have findability. By that we mean we can find the answer to pretty much every question we ask, from where’s the nearest 24-hour pizza place to what’s the capital of Slovakia. Or who was in that movie with John Cusack about a hit man returning to his high school prom?

We know that we know all this, even if we don’t know it. Because we have all this at our fingertips, because we have the Internet. No longer do we care about hoarding information because we know the Internet’s hoarding it for us, and Google or someone, is there to help us find it in a microsecond.

That’s one bit of findability. But there’s another bit. Connect all this to other bits of information about ourselves, drawn from sensors and other chips inside the device: where we are, what time of day it is, what that building in front of us is, who we’re with, what language they’re speaking, our body temperature, whether we’re moving or stationary, whether we’re upright, sitting or laying flat, whether our eyes are closed, whether we used voice, touch, eyes, keys or gestures to pose whatever question was on our mind.

All that adds extra layers of information to findability, by giving context to our search for information. Only our imagination can tell us how all these bits and pieces of data can be useful to us, but if you’ve used a map on your smartphone you’ll already get a glimpse of its potential.

Last December, we passed into this new era. The era when the potential of the Internet to move beyond the desk and lap, and start to mesh with our lives so that it is all around us. Where we, where everything,  can be found.

links for 2008-09-21

How Reliable Is Google Maps?

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Was looking for a Singapore hotel this morning on Google Maps, which would seem to be a good place to start, and was perturbed to find it flagged in five different places, most of them several streets apart (above). These are all links from companies advertising rooms. So you’d think they would try to get it right. (Amusingly, the sponsored link at the top is for a hotel of the same name in Vancouver, which is slightly further down the road and across several oceans):

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So, some ways to go, I suspect, before the era of ubiquitous searchability and and mobile findability, or whatever it’s called.

Catching The Surfer in a Blink

Interesting news for web site designers, bloggers and PR types: Web users judge sites in the blink of an eye.  An article in Nature (thanks, BBC) quotes a study by Gitte Lindgaard of Carleton University in Ottawa in the journal Behaviour and Information Technology, that “the brain can make flash judgements almost as fast as the eye can take in the information”:

Lindgaard and her team presented volunteers with the briefest glimpses of web pages previously rated as being either easy on the eye or particularly jarring, and asked them to rate the websites on a sliding scale of visual appeal. Even though the images flashed up for just 50 milliseconds, roughly the duration of a single frame of standard television footage, their verdicts tallied well with judgements made after a longer period of scrutiny.

This surprised the researchers but is perhaps not that extraordinary. First off, people like to stick with an opinion once made, even if they’re wrong or would prefer to revise it — what’s called ‘cognitive bias’. As Nature quotes Lindgaard as saying, “It’s awfully scary stuff, but the tendency to jump to conclusions is far more widespread than we realize,” she says. Secondly, people will tend to regard the rest of the web site favourably if their initial response was favourable — the halo effect at work, as first impressions create an enduring bias. And of course, anyone who has read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink will know about all this.

So what does it mean for web sites and web designers?

Most comment focuses on the need for a good first impression. Nature quotes Marc Caudron of London web-design agency Pod1 as saying users will quickly jump back to Google if they don’t engage quickly: “You’ll get a list of sites, click the top one, and then either say ‘I’ve engaged’ and give it a few more seconds, or just go back to Google,” he says.

Other comment focuses on the ‘increasingly savvy nature of consumers’: Internet marketing and design expert Pedro Sostre told the E-Commerce Times that he believes consumers “are becoming more and more design-savvy every day — and they may not even know it.. Just by interacting with various catalogs and Web sites, they are becoming design critics.” He cites an interesting example: the recent redesign of the Sprint web site to yellow, the same color as that of power tool maker Dewalt. This, he says, made users think they confused because they associated yellow with power tools, not with electronic devices.

It is no doubt true that certain colors are associated with certain kinds of products (although yellow is also the dominant site of Symantec, which despite the imagery on their product boxes, sells computer software, not power tools). Or perhaps it is more subtle than that. As Australian associate professor of psychology Bill von Hippel, quoted by Australian ABC as saying about the report that “this may be because we have an affective or emotional system that [works] independently of our cognitive system”, the point really is that we learn new environments quite quickly. We quickly familiarise ourselves with new menus, new shower heads, new traffic systems, new faces at parties. We shouldn’t be that surprised we’ve now gotten used to the web. Color is part of it but only a small one.

Several interesting points emerge from this. Web site designers and PR types still think about web site design in terms of “design” — filling a page with appealing colors, images and movement. (Check out the plethora of web site design books in a bookshop if you don’t believe me). But in fact the web is moving in the other direction — just look at how blogs have emptied the page of clutter and, because they focus on speed and content, have really caught on. (Google has also helped spur this ‘white space’ momentum.) So while a lot of designers are going to draw the conclusion from this study that they need to pack a lot in to make those 50 milliseconds count, perhaps they should take a lesson from blogs and head the other way.

Another interesting implication is for Google and search engines. There has been a move towards search engines that include small thumbnails of the web page itself (I can’t actually recall off the top of my head which ones, let me get back to you on that), allowing the user to preview the site before actually clicking on it. These haven’t really caught on yet, but this research opens up all sorts of possibilities there. Cluttered websites are not going to look as good in such thumbnails as clean, simple ones. But not necessarily blog-like structures, because they will all end up looking the same. There’s definitely a business opportunity there somewhere.

Finally, there’s one more implication that I can think of from this: Why are people learning to form impressions so quickly? Is the experiment something that doesn’t reflect normal behaviour — glancing at a site and forming an impression — or is it exactly what we do? My guess is that it is, and I think that has to do with three things: firstly, we still regard browsing (in the sense of looking at websites without any specific goal in mind, or only some vague idea of what we’re looking for), for the most part, to be a frivolous activity, whether we’re at work or not. So we tend to move quickly from page to page, as if that somehow reduces the overall time we’re wasting.

Secondly, I think reading on a computer screen is still not a natural or pleasant experience for most people, so we tend to move more quickly from page to page, If our subconscious is telling us anything, it’s “move on, I don’t enjoy reading at a screen and I want you to move on.” The fact that our hands are poised over the keyboard and mouse make this kind of decision an easy one to make, possibly bypassing all our smarter, more intellectual responses to what we see. It’s like holding a tennis ball in the hand: It’s virtually impossible not to try to juggle it, throw it, bounce it or otherwise play with it.

Finally, there’s a contradiction between what lures us somewhere and what makes us stay. We move quickly through the web because the bright lights that attract us to a page don’t encourage us to stay. Call it the McDonald’s Effect: Bright lights, yellow and red color all welcome us, but don’t encourage us to linger or relax. Same with a lot of web pages. What would be interesting to see is research that explores whether users are draw to those same bright colors in web sites or more soothing colors, nice fonts, quiet layouts, which may not catch the eye but are likely to encourage the user to stay.

Bottom line: Interesting research, but the conclusions to be drawn are more subtle than

Bubbler Goes Pro

Five Across, Inc., the guys behind the ‘blog and website creation service’ Bubbler, are going to start charging for the service now it’s about to come out of beta.

On May 16th, 2005, we will be launching Bubbler version 1.0 along with a paid subscription-based Bubbler Hosting Service, which will also include our innovative messaging and collaboration tool InterComm Pro.

I have to confess I toyed with Bubbler but couldn’t get as excited about it as I’d hoped. I’m with TypePad, and while it’s starting to creak a little through lack of new features (and introduction of some unnecessary ones, such as HTML comment notifications), I’m not about to switch without good reason. I couldn’t see one in Bubbler.

Bubbler is offering existing users a special deal, however: $50 for two years, but you have to sign  up by Wednesday. Given it’s more of a collaborating tool and a (simple) web design than just a blogging one, it might be worth it.

The Moleskine Report, Part II

Continuing to add material that I could not include, or could not include much of, in my WSJ.com, piece (which comes out today), here’s the second emailed reply that I thought might interest readers. It’s from Mike Rohde, a graphic and web designer, working for the international engineering and web services firm MakaluMedia, and I include his reply in its entirety because it’s very interesting:

I work remotely from home with colleagues in Germany, Spain, France and Ireland, helping design and building web applications, web sites for small & medium-sized firms and corporate identity work.

I manage projects with my colleagues and clients via email, IM chat, voice over IP, phone and web, from my home office. So as you can see I work pretty digitally during the day.

Personally I am quite digitally oriented as well, writing a weblog, reading many weblogs, using email, chat and VOIP with international friends. Specifically, I have text and VOIP chats with one friend living in the UK on a weekly basis via Apple iChat.

I was introduced to PCs and technology as a teen, when my dad explored his interest in computers. I now see this was critical to the way I work now, as my experimentation and use of computers then, reduced the fear of technology very early, and gave me the sense that I could bend technology to my needs.

My higher education was focused on graphic design. Following graduation, I spent 9 years as a print designer and system manager for a design studio, moving into web design in the late 90s. In 1998 I began working with MakaluMedia, remotely from my home office.

As you know I have an interest in sketching with Moleskines; I also use a Miquelrius sketchbook for generating ideas and layouts for my business activities, like design ideas, logo concepts and so on.

However, after some thought, I chose to use a digital approach for recording my business diary, which I have found works quite well. Further, I enjoy using paper diaries to record personal thoughts and observations, mainly because I enjoy the tactile feel of paper and pen.

So, I enjoy both digital and analog means of recording thoughts, depending upon the use and context. Hopefully that provides you with a good starting point about me and my approach. 🙂

Here are my answers to the questions you have posed:

What do you use, exactly, in digital and paper terms?
How do you use them?

Digital:
———–
1. Business Diary: I keep a business journal as a plain text document on my Mac Powerbook. There I record MakaluMedia related thoughts, web links and comments of clients and colleagues. I separate entries by date and archive each month’s diary to dated plain text files (Makalu-Diary-2004-12.txt). The current month’s diary is synchronized to my palmOne Tungsten E PDA via DataViz DocumentsToGo.

2. Project Specific Notes: These kept in DayLite, a networked Mac OS X business application very much like ACT! for PC (http://www.marketcircle.com/). Notes relative to projects recorded in my business diary and emails are copied into DayLite as notes for access by myself and my MakaluMedia colleagues.

3. Business & Personal Links: I store interesting business and personal web bookmarks at my del.icio.us account (http://del.icio.us/rohdesign) and also in the Safari browser on my Mac.

4. Personal Blog: This is my public forum for thoughts, ideas, reflections, designs, sketches and whatever else seems pertinent to my personal and business life. I try to be encouraging, inspiring, humorous, serious here, but the entries are definitely for public consumption. I do share personal details but have an internal gut feel for where the line ought to be.

Because I built a reputation writing the Palm Tipsheet for many years (it was sold in ’03), many of my longstanding blog readers are Palm users who came from that newsletter. I do like to discuss mobile tech, but intentionally explore other topics, because I think life is broader than technology.

5. Personal Notes & Sketches: I also occasionally write notes (Memo Pad) or make digital sketches (Note Pad) with my palmOne Tungsten E, which are then synchronized to my Mac Powerbook.

Paper (Analog):
———————-
1. Business Concepts & Sketches: Stored in my Miquelrius gridded notebook. This is the place were I start ideas going, work out concepts (visual or textual) and sketch layouts for websites or logos. Often my sketches will be scanned and presented to clients and colleagues to show concepts or direction before I flesh out ideas on the computer.

2. Personal Sketches: Small Moleskine sketchbook for sketching (e.g. proj: exhibition sketchtoons), and a small Moleskine gridded notebook for ideas and concepts I come up with (e.g. ideas for home or personal projects, dream tech concepts, etc.).

3. Personal Diary: Small Italian-made notebook for recording thoughts of the day, reflections and goals. Usually I enter thoughts at night in bed, or at the café over coffee in this diary. Entries are not regular (daily) but rather entered when I have the need or urge to get something down.

(Note: I can provide scans from my paper sources if they are helpful)

Why still use paper?

Refuge & Escape from the Digital World. Paper is a refuge from my very digital lifestyle. I spend quite a bit of time on my Mac (at work and personally), so time with a nice pen, rich black ink or smooth pencil lead on crisp paper, are very much an escape from bits and pixels.

Immediacy. The immediacy of paper is very gratifying. I can knock out several concept sketches in the time it might take to fiddle around with Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop on just one tight drawing. Further, immediacy and looseness of ink or pencil on paper lets me explore with more latitude. I find that once I move to the computer, my ideas naturally tighten up and loose their loose qualities.

No batteries required. I love that my sketchbooks require no battery or wall connection. If the power goes dead, I can still work with my sketchbook and pen. The simplicity of a book and pen keeps me from getting hung up on technical issues as often pop up carrying a laptop and peripherals to support it, or choosing which café has WiFi so I can remain connected.

Portability. When I need to be creative, I just grab my sketchbook and head for a local café or library — the ideas just seem to flow. I also like that a sketchbook can be kept in a pocket at all times, without regard to cold or heat, or location. Sketchbooks can also take a beating better than techy gadgets. 🙂

Any particular Eureka moment on using paper?

Probably about a year ago I started realizing that I was using sketches less that I had in the past for my business design work at MakaluMedia. I decided to focus on making sketching an integrated part of my work. Since integrating sketching I’ve noticed my creativity has improved greatly.

Are you alone, or does everyone you know follow the same practice?

As I work alone from my home office, I can only comment on my own methods directly, though the posts I have made related to use of paper sketchbooks and diaries have brought interesting comments from other digital folks who also integrate paper into their lives. Mane are Moleskine fans like me, others feel that paper offers them options not easily available digitally.

Do you get odd looks for using paper?

Quite to the contrary — people who see my business or personal sketchbooks are always interested in having a look at them, and comment how they wish they could draw. I encourage them to give it a try, because a paper sketchbook or journal are just tools to get your mind working creatively.

Do you think paper and digital might merge, a laLogitech’s io Pen, or is that the wrong way of looking at things?

I think there is an overlap. I have not used a Wacom tablet for some time, but am actually considering one now, to see what options it might offer me on the digital side of things. I do think there is a wide open market for digital tools which work in conjunction with analog sketching and notes, such as the IO pen. I would love to try the IO pen as well.

Thanks, Mike, for such a long and interesting answer.

Exploring The Phaeton Site Map

I’m sure this isn’t new, but I just saw it and thought it was worth noting: The VW Phaeton’s UK site has an interesting 3D Flash sitemap where the pages are viewed in slices, with different coloured dots representing different kinds of content (in this case factory or car):

Phaeton

Clicking on a particular page will highlight it; moving the mouse over a blob will bring up a particular item which you can then access by double clicking on it.

Strictly speaking this layout is too fancy, and the content too specific, for general use, but it’s intuitive enough to be a great way to show navigational information in three dimensional form. It might be a nice way to navigate back through old blog material, for example, with different colours for different categories?

Or does this go against the idea of trying to improve content and reduce complexity in design and layout?