Polytechnic

The personal brain-dump of Garrett Coakley

Archive of: design

  • Solving problems

    Too many people think graphic design is not a specialty, but something anyone can do, because the tools to make decent-looking Web pages, newsletters, books, and the like are readily available. But design isn’t putting stuff on a page. It’s about solving visual problems through an iterative process of decisionmaking, which may involve consultation, or may happen in private. If you can’t master that process, you can’t work in the field.

    Glenn Fleishman on Yahoo’s logo redesign.

  • A launch of sorts

    It’s been over a year since I joined WDCS, and to coincide with the 64th International Whaling Commission, you can now see a small piece of what I’ve been working on.

    Say hello to dev.wdcs.org.

    Over the next fortnight, our team will be busy posting news and blog posts from the IWC, offering us a great opportunity to ensure that the structure, work-flow, and multilingual nature of the new site all work as we hope. And in what I think is a brave move by everyone here, we’re doing it in the public eye. If GDS can do it, well so can we (seriously, the GDS team has been, and continues to be, a massive inspiration).

    It’s a bit shabby round the edges: the theme is bland and temporary but hopefully very readable, there are some bugs in the internationalisation framework that I’m still fixing (“Ray, when someone asks you if you want to build a multilingual site, you say ‘NO’!”), and you might find yourself in a bit of a navigation dead-end if you follow the wrong link.

    As I said, it’s a bit shabby, but it’s our shabby.

    If you’re interested in the background of what led us to this point and where we’re going in the future I gave a talk to the Oxford UX group a couple of months ago that fills in some of that.

    Thanks to everyone at WDCS who’s been helping on this project. As a web geek you couldn’t ask for a more passionate and committed bunch to build for.

    And now, some sleep.

  • Thoughtfulness

    If you can’t draw as well as someone, or use the software as well, or if you do not have as much money to buy supplies, or if you do not have access to the tools they have, beat them by being more thoughtful. Thoughtfulness is free and burns on time and empathy.

    From a wonderful, thought provoking post by Frank Chimero. Read it, absorb it.

  • Pencils

    That little pencil…the tool aspect…is this little gateway to a million ideas. I think about that kind of stuff with each one I crack into. In a world where things are more and more compacted, complicated, sped up and digitized, a regular old wood pencil is always there for you. Never needing to be recharged, you know?

    Aaron Draplin.

  • A multiple discovery moment

    The time has arrived that three communities–the business, design, and technology communities–have independently discovered the same thing. That the best way to build new technology products, services, and the businesses that deliver them is to work in small, cross-functional, highly collaborative teams. To use lightweight, informal methods. To use rapid cycles of designing, making, and validating in order to test and learn and improve. To focus on the customer.

    Josh Seiden in Agile UX? Lean UX? Customer Development? A multiple discovery moment.

  • Skeuomorph

    A skeuomorph or skeuomorphism (Greek: skeuos—vessel or tool, morphe—shape) is a derivative object which retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original. Skeuomorphs may be deliberately employed to make the new look comfortably old and familiar.

    Skeuomorph on Wikipedia. Bookmarked because I’m always forgetting the word and have had need to refer to it twice in the past week.

  • Keyhole, improved

    Why the hell hadn’t anyone thought of this before? The keyhole, immeasurably improved. A genius piece of design, intuitive and elegant.

    Hat tip: John Gruber.

  • Frank Lloyd Wright

    A wonderful shot of Frank Lloyd Wright. It looks like a still from a movie.

    Hat tip: 37 Signals.

  • Edward Tufte at The Royal Geographic Society

    Yesterday I was lucky enough to see Edward Tufte speak in the gorgeous surroundings of the Royal Geographic Society in London.

    The talk was based around his most recent work Beautiful Evidence and his theories around information presentation, including of course an examination of Charles Joseph Minard’s famous flow map of Napoleon’s Russian campaign (of which we all got a free copy) and his own invention of sparklines, harking back to Galileo’s observations of Saturn.

    There were a lot of nuggets to take away, but I’m going to share just a few of my favourites.

    He made the observation that there are only two industries that refer to “users”. The chuckle from the audience, meant that he didn’t have to elucidate any further. I’ve wrestled with this issue myself, but having experimented I’ve found that words like “visitors” and “viewers” don’t capture the interactive nature of the web, they’re too passive. I think this is a discussion that is going to run and run.

    He outlined some of the work he’s been doing for the Obama administration. Citing news sites such as the New York Times and the Sunday Times (here in the U.K.) and examples of what he likes in current web design. He’s aiming for 91% content in the sites he’s currently advising on, and as he said himself: “navigation is not content”.

    91%! It’s an interesting target to aim for, and I’m tempted to go for it in the upcoming redesign of this place.

    Whilst musing on the topic of news sites, he pointed out that these sites had hundreds of outgoing links and got tens of millions of hits a day, in his opinion disproving the “seven, plus or minus two” rule of thumb when it comes to navigation schemes.

    I’m not sure whether that’s entirely true. I do agree that it’s a rough guideline and very much depends on your audience (there I go, trying to avoid the word “users”), their technical abilities and familiarity with your site, but even those big news sites have their hundreds of links chunked together in easier to digest subsets.

    Another observation he made at this point was between good and bad copy writing for the web and how he disliked it when content went from reporting to pitching, and all of the tricks of the marketing trade that that entailed. I liked this point, don’t we just want our clients to tell the truth about what they do instead of pitching all the time and getting mired in sales speak?

    It’s not often you get to see someone of Tufte’s stature speak in person, especially this side of the pond, all in all a great night which supplied a much needed recharge of the grey cells.

  • What it's like to fly the SR-71

    One day, high above Arizona , we were monitoring the radio traffic of all the mortal airplanes below us. First, a Cessna pilot asked the air traffic controllers to check his ground speed. ‘Ninety knots,’ ATC replied. A twin Bonanza soon made the same request. ‘One-twenty on the ground,’ was the reply.

    To our surprise, a navy F-18 came over the radio with a ground speed check. I knew exactly what he was doing. Of course, he had a ground speed indicator in his cockpit, but he wanted to let all the bug-smashers in the valley know what real speed was ‘Dusty 52, we show you at 620 on the ground,’ ATC responded.

    The situation was too ripe. I heard the click of Walter’s mike button in the rear seat. In his most innocent voice, Walter startled the controller by asking for a ground speed check from 81,000 feet, clearly above controlled airspace. In a cool, professional voice, the controller replied, ’ Aspen 20, I show you at 1,982 knots on the ground.’

    We did not hear another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast.


    More aircraft porn I’m afraid. Major Brian Shul’s recollections of flying the SR-71 Blackbird.

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