Each year I work as a designer I devote less and less time to traditional ‘design’ work, like creating wireframes, aesthetic layouts or prototyping interactions. These days I spend most of my day establishing an environment for successful design to occur. For me, this shift has greatly accelerated in the past few years, partially due to specific needs at Kiva, but also, a general shift within Silicon Valley has occurred which has significantly broadened the role of ‘design’ within an organization.
Measured in web years, three years is a lifetime. Yet it’s been that long since I’ve done any serious work on my own website. Over that time significant shifts have occurred in the landscape – responsive design, retina displays and a mobile first focus have changed how websites are designed and built. Not wanting 2 Out of Three to fall too far behind the curve – and looking to scratch my developer itch (something that’s been gathering dust as of late) – I carved out some time to make the most substantial updates to the site since releasing version 2 in May 2010. While I don’t consider these updates a full redesign, there are some meaningful changes that address mobile usability, retina images and a renewed focus on my design work. Here is a full list of changes:
From Daniel Jalkut excellent post on Stagnation Or Stability?
He applauds the app for allowing him to do his work “frictionlessly.” How does a software developer achieve this level of performance? By first building a quality product and then working deliberately over months and years to address the minor issues that remain. Woodworking makes a reasonable analogy: after a chair has been carved and assembled the job is functionally complete. It’s a chair, you can sit in it. It’s done. But customers will gripe with good cause about its crudeness unless the hard work of detailing, sanding, and lacquering are carried out. Only then will it be considered finely crafted.
Personally I love the analogy of a chair to building software. The visual is so tangible – everyone can picture the contrast in quality between an unstained or unfinished chair and the one you’d purchase for your dining room. As software developers we should view our work through the same lens.
In a post earlier this week I talked about my six month blogging hiatus. In actuality it was limited only to this website. I kept my writing skills sharp (I mean sharp in the same way the thirty-year-old knives at your parent’s house are sharp) with the occasional post on the Kiva blog. These pieces have generally focused on changes to the website, but I wanted to highlight one that detailed how we do user research at Kiva.
At Kiva we’ve been watching our mobile traffic grow year over year to the point where our most recent numbers show us 9% of visitors are viewing our site on a smartphone. Seeing this trend, our development team has been itching to improve the mobile experience on Kiva for a long time, and with our most recent release, we’re excited to let you know we’ve taken the first step towards a mobile optimized site.
“The thing to remember is that UI design is like selling a restaurant, where you can’t just serve up good food in order to run a restaurant. You have to create an environment around the food that gets people in the mood to enjoy a really great meal: presenting the food really nicely, picking the right plates, the lighting on the table, the music that is playing. When you put all that together, it creates a much nicer experience than if you just were to serve up some good food.”
A former top Apple designer
Sometime around 2006 I discovered the blog of Aaron James Draplin and I’m a better designer for it. Draplin creates timeless designs and provides memorable commentary from his studio in Portland, OR. He’s had a hand in designing many of the products I love from the branding for Coal Headwear, to the creation of Field Notes, and even t-shirts for Patagonia.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.
Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
With our latest project Farmanac, an iPhone app for fruits and vegetables, 2 Out of Three dove headfirst into app development. We spent days reading through Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) and mocking up navigational models and screen flows. For the initial release of Farmanac we kept the feature set and navigation simple by using a basic list view which leads to a detail screen for specific items. But we’ve got a number of features we plan on implementing in subsequent versions that will require a more complex navigational model – which probably means introducing a tab bar. Luckily for us, Petter Silfver recently shared his thoughts concerning the do’s and don’ts of tab bar design in an article titled The iPhone Tab Bar, Lessons From Reality.
Wikia Labs, a new feature introduced by Wikia last week, was one of the most exciting features I designed during my time with the company. If you’re familiar with Gmail Labs you’ll understand how it works. Users (specifically admins) on Wikia can turn features on and off – the set consists of Top Ten Lists, Gallery Exhibitions, and Article Comments. This new ability gives administrators a greater level of control over their own wiki. Additional it provides a limited environment for Wikia to launch new features and gather feedback from users. For Wikia’s devoted user base, change can often be scary and invoke a backlash from the most passionate users comfortable with infrastructure currently in place. Wikia Labs serves as a bridge to acclimate users to new tools and gather feedback to ensure the the company is delivering features that are needed and wanted by the community.