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

[Sponsor] Shopster: a new groceries list app

Thanks to Shopster for sponsoring Elezea’s RSS feed this week — I’ve been looking for something like this for a while!

Shopster is a new kind of groceries list app that learns what you purchase and where, so it can remind you later on.

Whenever you check an item as purchased, Shopster learns the location where you got it. The next time you look for the same thing, a geofenced alarm will be triggered when you are near the location.

Features: – Autolearning of locations when checking items as purchased. – Geofenced reminders for your products, based on your prior buying history. – In-place editing table, for quick corrections and editions. – Unique ruler to quickly enter the number of items you need to buy. – Smart autocomplete, to assist you entering frequently purchased products, based on your previous history. – Reorder items with a simple tap and hold.

Check out Shopster on the AppStore, it’s only $0.99

Sponsorship by The Syndicate.

Giving users a way out of a responsive design

Jordan Moore wrote a very level-headed post about giving users the ability to switch off the breakpoints of a responsive design to show the “desktop” site1 instead. From Claustrophobia:

This is my overriding concern — there’s no way out. There’s no way out of a bad design, an incompatible plugin, a browser bug, missing content, the endless list of potential issues someone could potentially encounter with a website whether it is responsive or not.

That’s an excellent point, and providing a “way out” echoes one of Nielsen’s 10 Heuristics for User Interface Design, written in 1995:

User control and freedom. Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked “emergency exit” to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.

Jordan argues that giving users that control and freedom on a responsive site might feel like a cop-out, but it could be necessary:

The last thing I want is to lead users into a mass exodus from a responsive design I have put so much thought and effort into. I just think if it helps the odd user out in doing something they happen to find more comfortable in a pinch and zoom environment for whatever reason then we should probably do it rather than prevent them from doing it.

That’s a very sane, user-centered approach. It’s also worth noting that if the mass exodus does occur, it’s a clear sign that something is wrong with the responsive site. That’s valuable data.

But it all comes down to execution, of course. Users shouldn’t be asked to choose between entering the building or going straight for the emergency exit the minute they arrive at the site. It’s ok to make the exit visible, but forcing a deliberate, upfront choice between the mobile/responsive site and the desktop site puts an unnecessary burden on users.

In short, this kind of placement is ok (although the “Full Site” language is problematic):


This is not ok:

Not ok

  1. Whatever that means these days… 

Accuracy vs. precision in the context of product decisions

Kenton Kivestu defines the difference between accuracy and precision, and then discusses what it means in the context of product decisions:

There is a significant opportunity cost in consistently prioritizing precision over accuracy. Accuracy is about launching what the market needs, precision is about optimizing and delivering relentlessly on it. Unless you’ve nailed the former, material effort on the latter is going to be wasted because you’re optimizing something too far from the true north (the accurate goal) you should be pursuing.

This is an important point. Any call for data-driven design (in the quantitative, 41 shades of blue sense of the word) needs to come with a disclaimer that it’s an extremely useful approach to get closer to the middle of a target (precision), but it’s useless if you’re shooting at the wrong thing (accuracy).

(link via @ixhd)

Introducing two Flipboard magazines on UX and technology

Flipboard 2.0 was just released for iOS, and with it came a feature called Flipboard Magazines. From the blog post announcing the new version:

For the first time, you can collect and save articles, photos, audio and video by organizing them into beautiful magazines. These can be private, or if you want to connect with like-minded enthusiasts, you can make them public and share them on Flipboard and beyond. Now everyone can be a reader and an editor.

I’ve been playing around with this feature a bit, and I like it so far. It’s definitely an early release, so there are a few things missing. For example, you can’t edit the title of an article you’re adding to a Magazine, and you also can’t move articles around to be in a different order. But I’m sure those features will come. For now, it’s a great way to organize1 content — and the timing is particularly good with the impending demise of Google Reader.

I’ve created two magazines so far, which you’re welcome to follow on Flipboard. UX Design is all about design and related disciplines. Technology and us desperately needs a less cheesy name, but it’s a collection of articles about the various ways technology impacts our lives.

Flipboard magazine


  1. We’re all so desperately trying to avoid using the word “curate” since Matt and Marco spoke out about it, but that’s really what this is. Anyway, I’ll stick with “organize” so as not to offend anyone’s Internet sensibilities. 

Gadgets that adapt to our skill level

In The Next Big UI Idea: Gadgets That Adapt To Your Skill Philip Battin applies some existing ideas around progressive disclosure and Flow to tech gadgets:

User experiences are subjective and dynamic, but by and large, interactive products are not designed to take people’s changing capacity and experience into account. But they could. Here, I present a model for how designers can use the fundamentals of video games and the psychological principles of flow to design enhanced user experiences.

Philip proceeds with an example of how such a model could work for a Samsung E8005 SmartTV. We’ve applied these principles in traditional software design for a long time, but it’s interesting to think about how it could be used to improve the design of physical gadgets.

We’re talking about hashtags again?

Hey, it’s time to argue about hashtags again! The Internet got all revved up about it this week when Daniel Victor published Hashtags considered #harmful:

In most searches, the quantity of tweets is overwhelming and the quality underwhelming. It’s worth questioning how many users find hashtag searches useful, but it’s hard to know, since Twitter doesn’t provide such data.

He goes on to make the argument that most blog posts and tweets about the article focused on:

I believe hashtags are aesthetically damaging. I believe a tweet free of hashtags is more pleasing to the eye, more easily consumed, and thus more likely to be retweeted (which is a proven way of growing your audience)

Sean Sperte followed up with On #hashtags1:

Hashtags actually do increase engagement. It may be tough to recognize through subjectivity, but the reality is, hashtags provide a mechanism for easier discovery, encourage brevity, promote a single key binding for disparate data, and even help inject tone/personality.

Whatever your personal thoughts on the use of hashtags2, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the American Dialect Society voted “hashtag” as the word of the year for 2012. So for a bit of history on our volatile relationship with the thing, have a look at these articles.

  1. Link via Kyle Baxter

  2. I agree with Daniel that they’re ugly, and I wonder if @beep is on to something

The gaming industry’s move to digital goods

Mitch Lasky wrote a very interesting analysis of the gaming industry’s move from packaged goods to digital goods. From EA and the Future:

In my experience, the incumbent packaged goods companies clearly see mobile, digital distribution and free-to-play models as inevitable. They know what’s coming and have known for some time. But within the senior management ranks of these companies there is still a lingering perception that digital doesn’t, in their words, “move the needle” sufficiently — meaning that the revenue generated from existing console franchises still far exceeds the revenue that can be generated, even in aggregate, on new platforms and through new business models.

Mitch goes on to show how this thinking is wrong, and then explains how being caught between the promise of new consoles and the possibilities of digital revenue puts game manufacturers in a situation where they’ll have to make some very tough strategic decisions.

(link via @hunterwalk)

The future will have only two kinds of jobs

In How the internet is making us poor Christopher Mims asks a chilling question about what he calls the “hollowing out of the middle class” — the phenomenon where knowledge workers are being replaced by computers:

Like farming and factory work before it, the labors of the mind are being colonized by devices and systems. In the early 1800′s, nine out of ten Americans worked in agriculture—now it’s around 2%. At its peak, about a third of the US population was employed in manufacturing—now it’s less than 10%. How many decades until the figures are similar for the information-processing tasks that typify rich countries’ post-industrial economies?

The article also quotes this thought-provoking statement from Marc Andreessen:

The spread of computers and the Internet will put jobs in two categories: People who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.

It might seem like the usual doom-and-gloom “technology will kill as all” refrain, but the article reviews some very interesting historical (and current) data, so it’s worth checking out.

Book review: Lean UX — Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience

Lean UX cover

Our beloved industry is pretty wary of buzz words. And by “our industry” I mean User Experience Designers — although we can’t even agree on what to call ourselves, so that’s another problem, I guess. Anyway. Debates over terms like skeuomorphism, flat design, and “No UI” have given us a strong skepticism for fancy words. That’s mostly refreshing, but it can also be a handicap if we end up dismissing valuable ideas because we don’t like the terms that describe those ideas.

I would argue that the term Lean UX fits into this last category. It’s easy to dismiss as just another bandwagon fad, but now that I’ve read through Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden’s Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience I believe that it’s a valuable framework to help us understand where the UX industry is headed — and how to do our jobs better.

Whether you want to call the theory and techniques discussed in this book “Lean” or just “How we work” doesn’t matter as much, in my opinion. What is important is that we understand the benefits of moving towards a more iterative, outcomes-based design approach, while letting go of some our reliance on classic design deliverables. In the introduction to the book, the authors sum up the main reason for this proposed change in design approach:

But the fault is not with the designers, or the engineers, or even the executives. The problem is the systems we use to build companies. We are still building linear organizations in a world that demands constant change. We are still building silos in a world that demands thorough collaboration. And we are still investing in analysis, arguing over specifications, and efficiently producing deliverables in a world that demands continuous experimentation in order to achieve continuous innovation.

The book then describes how to build better products through real collaboration. I say real because Jeff and Josh don’t just say, “you should work together!” They detail a number of practical techniques for working together better, as well as case studies to show how it works in real-world situations. And underlying all of this are the three principles of what they define as Lean UX:

  • Removing waste from the design process to move away from heavily documented handoffs to a process that creates only the design artifacts needed to move the team’s learning forward.
  • Improving the efficiency of the “system” of designers, developers, product managers, quality assurance engineers, marketers, and others in a transparent, cross-functional collaboration that brings nondesigners into the design process.
  • Shifting mindsets away from relying on “hero designers” to divine the best solution from a single point of view, in favor of using rapid experimentation and measurement to learn quickly how well (or not) ideas meet the company’s goals.

Some UX designers will read this book and say that this is how they’ve always worked. That might be true — it’s true for our agency as well, to some extent. But I still found it extremely helpful to have a concrete framework for the work we do, combined with solid reasoning about the benefits of this approach. I also picked up some great execution ideas for techniques we use already — like persona templates and design studio facilitation.

The only part of the book that might be a bit controversial is the discussion of how Lean UX fits into Agile development. Jeff and Josh argue that the long-accepted idea of Sprint 0 or Staggered Sprints (making sure that design is always a sprint ahead of development) doesn’t work long-term:

However, this model works best as a transition. It is not where you want your team to end up. Here’s why: it becomes very easy to create a situation in which the entire team is never working on the same thing at the same time. You never realize the benefits of cross-functional collaboration because the different disciplines are focused on different things. Without that collaboration, you don’t build shared understanding, so you end up relying heavily on documentation and handoffs for communication.

They propose a very interesting alternative that makes a lot of sense (I won’t spoil it for you), but some of the concerns I’ve raised before about Agile UX remains. I’m not sure if any Agile UX techniques allow for enough leeway to test/research different variations of a product idea, or if it just streamlines the iteration process to get you to a local maximum faster.

In summary, Lean UX is a great overview of what an effective UX process should look like. There’s a good balance between theory, practical advice, and case studies. This makes it a valuable resource for those new to the field, but it also gives experienced UX practitioners a framework to structure and communicate the work they do every day. Highly recommended.

Buy Lean UX on Amazon.

Binge-watching and the future of TV

Willa Paskin wrote a really interesting article for Wired about the future of television. The most interesting parts of Netflix Resurrected Arrested Development. Next Up: Television Itself are about the rise of “binge-watching” — the behavior of churning through multiple episodes at a time in one sitting. Netflix found that designing shows to allow for binge-watching is good business:

The more that ­people binge-watch, the more attached they become to the show. “Binge-watching is a behavior that really started for us back in the DVD days. The way ­people were returning the discs, they weren’t watching one a night or one a week,” Sarandos says. “As we got into the streaming business, it became more trackable. What we saw was that the ­people who did this were much more attached to the shows. And because they were more attached to the shows, they reported more value in watching them on Netflix.” In other words, the more you binge, the better for Netflix.

This is why Netflix released all 13 episodes of House of Cards at once, and why those who say it was a stupid decision will likely be proven wrong.