This year, everything should go “Touch-first”

Happy 2017!

I’ve been considering buying an iPad Pro. I’ve always felt that the iPad is an "in-between" device that can’t fit my life well. But there is proof that the desktop is getting... deprecated. Here’s a good article from The Verge that talks about it.

Is it time to transition over?

By the end of 2016, many major websites saw traffic shift from desktop to mobile. Mobile has become the dominant form of computing for the every day consumer.

From a platform perspective, native apps started to transition over to web experiences. Hopefully, "Progressive Web Apps" will replace the generation of native content apps we have today.

What we didn’t seem to have gotten around in 2016 was to really question our approach to mobile and touch. Our approach remains primitive. We pick up interactions like "text editing" and try to retrofit mobile into it. We don't question the fundamentals to ensure the new experience fits well. I can’t help but feel that “keyboard covers” are a grave mistake.

Consider how someone uses a mobile device. He/she would be leaning back on a comfy couch, holding on to a tablet with both hands. Or, they may be standing in a crowded train, arm wrapped around a pole, trying their best to type with the two thumbs. The users' posture and environments above doesn't allow for a traditional editing experience.

We have to be more creative with the solutions we engineer. If we do transition well, these touch-first solutions should make us more efficient!

Also consider the change from a mouse to multi-touch. Direct manipulation of objects could be amazing. We see some of these interactions when we use apps for drawing, photo editing or maps. But more mundane tasks, like text editing, never seem to get much of a boost from touch. We seem to staying on safe ground with rows of buttons to carry out functions. We spend significant time manipulating and navigating between elements. Yet, these tasks tend to be not touch friendly; at least not enough to be more efficient.

It feels like we transferred the interaction to mobile, instead of converting the intent. We should be evaluating the purpose of every task and attempting to accomplish that in a "touch-first" way.

It seems that we have some ways to go before we get really good at mobile and touch. I’m hoping for a 2017 filled with ideas and techniques that shifts our thinking. I’m hoping we build products that are thought from a touch-first (or even touch-only) perspective.

Can diversity help your company?

ReplyAll is an awesome podcast from Gimlet. For those who listened to “Startup”, this is Gimlet’s second podcast. Couple of weeks back, they put out a show about diversity. There were some interesting insights shared during the show.

(start at 11:50 for the diversity story)

ReplyAll - #52 Raising the bar (more notes on the website)

The line that really stayed with me was:

“When you are stuck, talk to someone who keeps the ketchup elsewhere.”

That is a wonderful thought.

Few interesting notes from the show:

  • Startups do better with people from similar backgrounds. This is due to the lack of overhead in communication. The common mindset helps.
  • Silicon Valley heavily lacks diversity (despite building products for the world!). I think the show was particularly focusing on African Americans.
  • Diverse groups of people, or even algorithms, tend to be better at solving problems.
  • Diversity is not limited to gender or race. It can be people of different backgrounds.
  • Always ask “how did you get to where you are?” during interviews to discover a candidate’s background.

For a lot of these ideas to succeed, there has to be a couple of things in place:

  • People should embrace the differences. They need to understand that everyone in the team has a different background.
  • There has to be a strong focus on communication. To take a step further, learning about one another is important.

Find out how your team mates (or people around you) started off. Find out where they keep their ketchup; or tomato sauce. Make an extra effort this week.

Thought provoking remarks from Jony Ive

Found this great video on YouTube where Jonny Ive is talking about a modern design problem: 

It is quite interesting to think about how a fan looks like a fan, because it has to be, to fulfil its functionality. Or a chair, a bench, a cup etc. 

Devices that has an embedded microchips often doesn’t have to look a particular way at all. It’s function, “computation”, is completely hidden away. Other forms of digital interactions we design, like apps and websites, have similar difficulties. What happens on the inside is not what we display on the outside. It is incredibly challenging to create a design concept that is easy to grasp for users.

Don Norman covered a similar thought back in 1988:

I think all these ideas boils down to knowing the user well. “What are the objects and interactions our users are familiar with?” We have to consider whether our designs convert well to the user’s mental model

To get it right, we have to test over and over.
 

Further/Interesting Reading

My 21st century wedding proposal with Paper for iPad

Proposals. Oh man. So much pressure to get this right and it is filled with social expectations! Having dated Dinusha for 6 years, it was my turn to pop the question. I honestly just didn’t want it to be lame.

After months of back and forth with a jeweller, I got the ring. I wanted to propose in a secluded beach. I picked Kingscliff beach as the my winner (Cabarita would have been good too).

I just felt like this proposal needed something more. It needed something that really speaks for the occasion and reflects who I am. Plus, I knew the ring wasn’t going to be a surprise. Having an extra element would be a lot of fun.

No, not a flash mob!

So I turned to my iPad.

This is “Book” by FiftyThree

“Book” is an accordion style printed Moleskine book. First, you have to digitally illustrate the pages using the “Paper” app. Then all you have to do is to pick and arrange the order of the pages and hit "Print".

I've always loved drawing. While illustrating a whole book takes a while, I felt that using a little bit of technology would make this a lot more reflective of who I am. And more fun! So I decided to give it a shot. I used the "Pencil" stylus (as you may have guessed, also from FiftyThree as well, given the super creative names) to illustrate on Paper for the Book.

I started the project by brainstorming ideas on what life events I should illustrate. I included things like the first time we met and talked, our Europe trip, favourite hike, our ‘alter ego’-toys which kept company in our 3 years apart etc. And finally a place to pop the question and make this contract binding :).

I ordered 2 copies — one of her and one for me. The order arrived just 2 days before the proposal! phew

I managed to find a secluded part of the beach. We sat on a sand dune with two apple ciders and some Noosa chocolates and watched the waves. Afterwards, I pulled out the book and reminisced through the pages.

The book was a complete surprise. She took her sharpie out and wrote “Yes”. Yay!

It was a month long effort. Drawing, erasing, redrawing, colouring and editing. It took me a while to understand and work around the limitations of Paper app. Towards the end of the project, I had developed a certain style in the drawings. There was a common theme running across with the “heart strings”. This caused me to revisit some of my initial work and redo them.

The best part for me is that I produced a piece of work that was truely cherished by Dinusha. Hopefully, it is something she could, keep forever. I think it spoke a lot more than the ring.

The engagement book was unique and creative. It reflected my personality well. While it is very much an analogue creation, I was still able to back up the digital drawings to Dropbox and iCloud.


Time for a reset

I have been writing my Squarespace blog for about two years now. Yet, I can never achieve a consistent writing routine. Months go by without any posts. Over the Christmas break, I thought about why this was the case.

While the blog represents my thoughts, they do not belong to a topic or theme. I don’t have a strong goal set to break droughts, or to police pieces that are quickly becoming novels. I have many abandoned posts in my iA Writer folder that have simply grown too large.

I’m getting organised this year. I “started with why”, like Simon Sinek prescribes.

So why does this exist? 

I believe there is a practical and meaningful way to live a good, healthy, balanced life in this technology dominated world.

Given that I am working in the industry, I have a unique insight to this crazy tech world. I want to explore and tell people about products and ideas that help me achieve a balanced life. I want to talk about how technology influences what I do.

Therefore, I am renaming my blog. It is no longer “Android with an Apple shaped heart”. It is a little more agile, little more relevant and a whole lot simpler. It is going to set the theme for the posts from now on:

Incrementally Better

Yes, it is a reset. If Star Wars, along with so many other Hollywood franchises, can do reboots, so can my blog. It’s gonna be awesome!


Mobile First Design

If you are designing for many screen sizes, where should you begin?

Traditionally, most designers will start the design process at desktop size. This is where most content is going to fit in well. Then you figure out how to squeeze it down to a tablet, then a phone.

I believe this is the wrong path to take, when designing a mobile responsive page (or any website for that matter). Just because a desktop page can flow responsively on a small-width screen, it doesn’t make it suitable for mobile.

The best thing you can do is to start with a mobile design. Straight away, you are met with a conundrum: how do I fit all this content into the tiny screen? You can no longer just drop a matrix or a data table on to the screen — there really isn’t enough space.

You are forced to think about questions like:

  • what you are trying to do?
  • what are the most important elements a user needs to interact with?
  • what is the most important action that needs to be taken after viewing the content?
  • can the content/data be summarised and simplified?
  • can you offer a better way to drill down to your content?
  • can my data fit into an existing metaphor (like a map or a calendar)?

Once you are done with the design process, you might have a crazy realisation: all the questions you asked yourself, and the resulting design decisions you made — they apply on desktop too.

That’s right. A good design is already responsive.

Now, desktop design becomes more about enhancement over a lazy content dump. You’ve already made the decision up front on what is important and what is not. You no longer feel dirty, having to add ‘small-hidden’ css classes everywhere.

Start with a mobile design on your next project. Your design will be better for it. When you pick tools like the responsive grid, pick one that starts with mobile too. Bootstrap 3, for example, switched gears to do exactly this.

Responsive is hard. Mobile is hard. But the thoughtfulness and effort we put into what we build will delight our customers. And our customers are the reason we exist.