Links and articles about technology, design, and sociology. Written by Rian van der Merwe.

Designing for Google Glass

The small screens are coming, and we’re going to have to adjust our design processes accordingly. Emily Schwartzman does a great job of exploring how they worked through some of this complexity in Cooper, Augmedix and Google Glass: No Real Estate? No Problem:

Designing for Google Glass made us rethink the way we do software design. Many of our projects devote a significant amount of time to defining the framework of an application and developing the detailed design of key screens. When designing for Glass, we discovered that these phases needed almost no time, given the restrictive framework and visual language defined by Google. For future projects we might devote more time to refining personas and scenarios. We might even name the project phases a little differently—instead of “detailed wireframes” it might be “detailed scenarios.”

In general, Glass design projects will be focused more on flows than screens, and spending time on scenarios will help crystallize the flows.

The design process of Mark Boulton Design

Mark Boulton’s How we work is a great post about their design process. I particularly like his point about personas, a method that I have defended before as well:

The tool is not the important thing here, [what's important is] how you can use something to help people think of other people. To help an organisation to think of their customers, or designers to think of the audience they’re designing for, or the CEO to think in terms of someone’s disability rather than the P&L.

What I find generally useful about running a workshop like this is that it exposes weaknesses in an organisation. If a client pays lip-service to a customer-centric approach, it will soon become very evident in a meeting that that’s what’s going on.

I also like his view on agile in an agency environment: “We make things and then fix things as we go.”

Why are we building this app?

Jeff Atwood wrote a glorious rant about the proliferation of unnecessary mobile apps called App-pocalypse Now1:

The more apps out there, the more the app stores are clogged with mediocre junk, the more the overall noise level keeps going up, which leads directly to this profligate nagging. Companies keep asking how can we get people to find and install our amazing app instead of the one question they really should have asked.

Why the hell are we building an app in the first place?

He makes some other really great points about the current state of the app ecosystem as well.

  1. I really struggle with puns. I don’t like them. So publishing this title is a big step forward in my ongoing therapy. 

What happens when placeholder text doesn’t get replaced

One of the many things I do that proves that I need to get out more is collect examples of placeholder text that ends up in a final interface. But I’ve also noticed that the issue happens more and more in the offline world as well. As I looked through my folder this morning I realized that, in the interest of science, I should post some of my favorites here. If you have any other good examples, please let me know!

Let’s start with a very common one. Even though error messages are extremely important, they’re often forgotten about:

Computicket error message


I have a feeling that this was done very late one night:

PayPal content


Speaking of disgruntled employees:



Placeholder text shows up surprisingly often in newspapers. And another line.

Another line here


At least we know what the font size should be:

Cape Times headline


Pull quotes are optional:



I often feel the same way about sportsball:



Who cares about these people:

Not sure


But I think my all-time favorite is still this teaser that went up all over Cape Town one morning:

3-deck headline


And finally: here you go, have a glass of Lorem Ipsum-inspired wine:

Lorem wine


Yes, it’s funny, but these examples also prove a very important point: the consequences of thinking about content after the design process is completed can be pretty embarrassing. Content-first design is where it’s at.

The difficulty of expanding jobs-to-be-done

MG Siegler in Going Against The Grain:

We’re seeing over and over again now that the behemoths can’t simply add a startup’s funtionality into their own app as a feature and kill said startup. But it’s equally important to note that if you are able to establish your startup, especially those in apps form, it may be hard to get your users to do anything other than what they originally came to do. Especially if the new funtionality is against the grain in any way.

This comes back to understanding what job users hire your product to do for them, and realizing that it’s very difficult to convince them to use the product for a different job.

AI isn’t all bad

In The Dawn of the Age of Artificial Intelligence Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee talk about some of the good things that are coming out of the Artificial Intelligence community:

A user of the OrCam system, which was introduced in 2013, clips onto her glasses a combination of a tiny digital camera and speaker that works by conducting sound waves through the bones of the head. If she points her finger at a source of text such as a billboard, package of food, or newspaper article, the computer immediately analyzes the images the camera sends to it, then reads the text to her via the speaker.

There are a few more interesting, feel-good examples in the article.

Going responsive with large, established desktop-centric sites

Jeremy Keith writes about the challenges of turning large, established desktop-centric sites into responsive sites in Climbing Mount Responsive. This method remains my favorite:

Rebuild the mobile site, using it as a seed from which to grow a new responsive site. On the face of it, having a separate mobile subdomain might seem like a millstone around your neck if your trying to push for a responsive design. In practice though, it can be enormously useful. Mostly it’s a political issue: whereas ripping out the desktop site and starting from scratch is a huge task that would require everyone’s buy-in, nobody gives a shit about the mobile subdomain. Both the BBC news team and The Guardian are having great success with this approach, building mobile-first responsive sites bit-by-bit on the m. subdomain, with the plan to one day flip the switch and make the subdomain the main site.

I also really like Brad Frost’s illustrations of this approach in Planting the Seed for a Responsive Future.

[Sponsor] Campaign Monitor: create and send beautiful emails

Designing emails that look beautiful, render perfectly and drive strong response is increasingly difficult. That’s why Campaign Monitor compiled the top 100 emails of 2013 into a free eBook, alongside tips on design and content. The Top 100 Email Marketing Campaigns eBook features brands like Fitbit, SmugMug, Panic and includes:

  • High performing newsletters with open rates of more than 50%.
  • Examples of great layouts & responsive designs.
  • Emails that go against best practices and still drive top results.
  • Campaigns that saw open rates improve by 20% after A/B testing, and more.

Check out the free eBook at

Campaign Monitor makes software that lets you create and send beautiful emails. Today more than 800,000 designers, agencies, and amazing companies across the globe rely on Campaign Monitor to manage their email marketing.

MagicBands and the future of data science

John Foreman digs into Disney’s MagicBands in his article You don’t want your privacy — Disney and the meat space data race:

Disney World is like a petri dish for advanced analytic techniques because the hotels and parks are all tied together in one large, heavily controlled environment. If you ever wanted to star in The Truman Show, a trip to Disney is the next best thing — it feels like a centrally planned North Korea only with more fun, less torture and the same amount of artifice.

From the mundane to the magical, the fact is there’s probably an engineer behind the scenes at Disney who has thought through it. Disney has industrial engineers that work on everything from optimal food-and-beverage pricing and laundry facility optimization, to attraction performance and wait-time minimization (the vaunted FASTPASS system).

The article is largely a negative look at (legitimate) privacy issues with programs like these, but in Disney’s case, I just think it sounds awesome.

Startup growth, hiring, and culture

Great article by Zach Holman on startup growth, hiring, and culture:

I think a number of startups end up reaching some type of blindness as they grow and reach success. They are the same companies whose founders are college dropouts, but now that they’re a hundred employees they decide to follow Google’s model and recruit exclusively from top five-ranked schools. They are the same companies that hire a monoculture, not realizing that their success stemmed in part from the oddball founding crew that came together in the initial years. They are the same companies that miss out on the clever-but-unknown hacker because they’ve been in the spotlight themselves for so long.