communication

All posts tagged communication

Practice, Practice, Practice

When I am consulting with a client, and navigating on my machine they are absolutely stunned at the speed of me using just the GUI. I have to remind them: I’ve been using GUIs for 30 years — starting from the very first Macintosh, and using various OSes since then (from BeOS to X-windows and back again). Given my use “cross-training” and approximately 40,000+ hours (conservatively) of using practically every type of app, I’d think I would be an expert at efficiently navigating almost any app. As a side effect, I have also gotten very good at spotting good and bad UI. If I don’t know how to do something: I usually know the magic words and the search terms to use. If even I cannot find info quickly, then something about either your apps and/or your documentation is lacking.

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Dear all you great companies making awesome products,

For most of you, I like to be informed of new products, and some I already bought your product and really don’t NEED to know about promos for gadgets & software I already have. So, If I were running the communications for the company, I would do what I have done on my blog, but better. Read on for my idea of how to make the most of your communications.

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While I have often said that a lot of UI changes are simply eye candy, and add nothing important other than “bling” to a design, not all UI changes fall into that category. However, looking back, I noticed my posts have beat around this huge unaddressed important distinction of UI design that pretty much no company and very few active designers today seems to completely understand, judging from the latest and “greatest” products that are just as confusing for experienced users as they are for newbies.

While, we all seem to inherently understand some form of graphic design language, few aside from UI designers are conscious of it. And even fewer of the professionals understand this graphic design language has rules and conventions based on solid interaction principles. They seem to take for granted, that this control is a certain way without question, and either they use it improperly or worse, they break the convention. Both of these problems are caused because the UI designer does not know the reason behind the convention. I am sure many UI designers will rebuff me — and know the reasons behind certain choices, but not all. The problem is, if the designer has read literature or learned UI from someone else that omitted the explanations and reasoning behind the conventions, they only have half an education.

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This post was written in 2 hours, and is very “stream/speed of thought” (read “rough”), but I wanted to share it enjoy…

When I meet other WebDevs, one of the questions I am often asked, after showing them a web project, “What Frameworks/CMS do you use for the backend?” When I say, “None.” Every time I say that, the look I receive is often multifaceted. The look simultaneously says: he’s nuts (Why the hell would any Dev in their right mind do that?), that’s a ton of work, followed by, the realization, “OMG this guy wrote all this stuff from scratch.” The question, “Why?” often comes out. The tone ranges from bewilderment to indignation depending on how set a dev is in their ways and their level of experience.

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I have been silent since about the beginning of the year thanks to an old project that is restarting and being revamped (and hopefully finished). So, the focus the next month will be doing that. I’ve intensified my efforts at learning more AJAX and refining both my PHP and MySQL abilities. As I continue to work on one project I find myself using more and more advanced techniques that I simply didn’t use very much before.
It is funny that while working on what I consider prototypes I code a bit “sloppily.” I am often guilty of not commenting my code and only writing about what I did in my dev-log I keep.

Also, even though I plan out the overall architecture of a site, I tend to build things organically from there—only referring to the plan after each component is fleshed out. I know this is not the way pro devs work, and that this practice would be unacceptable in a team development environment. But this approach works for me because I tend to learn faster that way. When I look back at the original files, I can see my evolution as a scripter.

During second pass, I tend to add comments and refine the scripts further. Sometimes I rewrite old blocks of code or methods to use fewer lines and run a bit faster. But most of the time I just pretty up the code and double-check my indenting, method names—making the classes and declarations follow a consistent pattern, etc.

Aside from that I have been delving into other designer’s and developer’s blogs, and have found some of them worth more than just the coding knowledge they have in them. I have found a few programs to track how I spend my time. One of them, RescueTime is a neat one that I wish I could afford/justify the paid version. Just using the free version, my past 3 weeks efficiency ratings have been kind of insane. Last week’s rating was 1.26 (where 1 = 100% efficiency). I owe this to my quickly switching apps and RescueTime double-logging (I think). Either way, I am working between 30 and 60 hours a week.

Also, I have downloaded a ton of free apps using AppAdvice.com’s AppsGoneFree iOS app. Almost everyday there’s a neat app to try in addition to the free games. One app: aTimeLogger, I started using to see how much time I was wasting each week. After a few weeks I can safely say that I do not waste as much time as I thought. This month, I have spent around 30% of my time working (including learning and staying current), 20% of my time sleeping, 20% socializing, 10% absorbing TV, Movies, Music or Books, 8% on maintenance (eating, bathing, chores, record keeping), 5% on traveling, and the last 7% doing miscellaneous things. 30% of a person’s day is about an 8 hour workday. So, I guess working outside an office actually does work for me. What I didn’t realize is that I spend an average of 1 hour traveling each day. If I lived in a place where I could take public transit, I could reclaim at least some of that and use it for reading and learning more.

About learning: The more I learn the more there is to learn. Hopefully I can finish up the revisions to the site and get it to a state were I am happy showing it off. CSS3 is a lot of fun, and I want to play with some of the newer features. My older layouts depended on CSS 2.1 sleight of hand. CSS3 is another step in the right direction, but still not “there.” Good thing there are plenty of trailblazers with helpful blogs about CSS3, PHP and AJAX. Stack Overflow is becoming more and more useful as I try to find the “magic words” to learn how to do things better, smarter, faster.

Last, I have been slowly working on the Communication Series. As I said, I want to finish it and look it over for overall consistency and make it something that flows seamlessly (while also hyperlinking the hell out of it). It is still about 30% written, but that might change, because I also write organically. DiceNews is still on the back burner, but they seem to be backed up a lot. Hopefully my latest revision will make it through the editing process unscathed.

BTW: I just realized today is the 12th anniversary of my first personal web site! Add another 4 years to that and your go back to my first hand coded sites—oh how I hated kludgy table layouts. Add another 4–5 years to that and that’s how long ago I was using dial up to connect to BBSes to connect to the Usenet and argue with people about the Sci-Fi books I was reading. Heh. How times change.

Until next time.

The guiding principle of technology is, technology is supposed to make our lives better by alleviating the drudgery from our lives and letting us have more time doing what we enjoy. But there is a dark side to technology, and I am not talking about surveillance this time. This dark side is perpetrated by people who create it and use it. I’m going to talk about two things: design/process failure and computer etiquette “netiquette” because they have the same basic root cause.

There are many failures in use of  technology by companies that should know better that I wonder how the people in charge manage to keep their jobs. Now it is easy for me to sit here atop my perch and take pot shots, insulated from all the conflicting pressures of making products that both please the management’s bottom line and customers. However, I have always been of the opinion that there is a way to do both. There are solutions that can actually deliver more satisfaction to both company and customer.

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I have a bit of time so I’ll post an observation. I’ve been reading reviews for various apps and items in various places. And the most helpful and informative reviews look at both the positives of an item and the negatives. The open discussion of what you like about something and what you do not like add to your credibility. What makes reviews even more helpful is when a person makes suggestions on possible ways to improve the product. They help both the people considering the purchase of something and the creator improve their product.

I’ve been doing this a while (reviewing on places like Amazon, B&H Photo, MacUpdate, Apple’s iTMS and AppStore, etc.) and this is the most helpful format I’ve noticed and followed myself in whole or in part. If you have any questions why it is structured this way or why certain topics are suggested please post a comment. Thanks. Now the suggested review format:

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Over the course of the next few weeks or months, I will be rolling out articles about the use of Computers, Interface Design, How People Function, And Setting Product Goals During Design. However, I am not going to use the standard perspective of someone that knows so much about technology that they forget what the whole point of it is. I am not going to c0me from a completely user-centric perspective either. I am going to approach this using Communication Theory, that is not taught to many in the Tech Field.

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