Reading Notes, June 2018

Article: “My Three Steps” by Ethan Marcotte

His wording was specific to CSS grid (which I’m also in the process of learning) but was a good articulation of how I also learn new technology:

  1. “I’m going to learn how to use NEW TECHNOLOGY X to produce something I’m already familiar with.”
  2. “Huh, I can produce this thing I’m familiar with using NEW TECHNOLOGY X way more efficiently than I ever could before.”
  3. “—okay, now I’ll try making something with NEW TECHNOLOGY X I’ve never even considered.”

Article: “What’s in a pattern name?” by Ethan Marcotte

Ethan commenting on the design exercise he often does at conferences and workshops of printing webpages then cutting up the UI into pieces in order to find patterns. An exercise in designing language before any exercise in designing UIs can be critical to success. Words have meaning.

the primary benefit to creating a pattern library isn’t the patterns themselves…But rather…the language used to name, organize, and find patterns is what allows [us] to use those patterns effectively—and that is what creates more consistent designs…the words we use to talk about our design are, well, valuable design tools themselves.

Article: “Chatbots are saints” by Nicholas Carr

Thoughts spurred by Google’s Duplex:

Although chatbots have been presented as a means of humanizing machine language — of adapting computers to the human world — the real goal all along has been to mechanize human language in order to bring the human more fully into the machine world. Only then can Silicon Valley fulfill its mission of capturing the entirety of human experience as machine-readable, monetizable data.

Article: “A Few Bullet Points on Design Criticism” by Frank Chimero

As always, great thoughts from Frank. Everything in this article is great. I could’ve copy/pasted the entire article, but instead I tried to practice some constraint and only copy/paste the stuff that really stuck out to me (honestly though, it’s all good, go read it). Emphases are mine.

On feedback being an art:

clients, co-workers, and bosses aren’t practiced in analyzing design, and designers, while well-versed in giving feedback, are often less experienced in how to productively receive it. Feedback should be a liberal art for everyone.

On gut reactions:

One particularly tricky aspect of criticizing design is that a lot of the work is meant to be quickly read (like logos) or intuitively understood (like interfaces and websites). Does this validate gut reactions or hot takes? I’m uncertain, but it can shift power towards the people who are the least invested in the process.

On design ridicule:

Any defining characteristic of the work will probably be the subject of ridicule.

On the need for specificity:

Praise is meaningless without specificity…A robust feedback process must be specific in its praise, because succeeding is enhancing good choices as well as fixing mistakes.

And a great quote from Michel Foucault on “scintillating” design criticism:

Criticism that hands down sentences sends me to sleep; I’d like a criticism of scintillating leaps of imagination. […] It would bear the lightning of possible storms.

Article: “Apple, Influence, and Ive” via Hodinkee

A few excerpts I found interesting from this extended interview with Jony Ive from Hodinkee (which touts itself as a “preeminent resource for modern and vintage wristwatch enthusiasts”).

First: Ive points outs the interesting parallels between the evolution of personal computing and personal time telling (which I had never noticed before):

I think there is a strong analog to timekeeping technology here for our own products and computational devices. Think about clock towers, and how monumental but singular they are. They are mainframes. From there, clocks moved into homebound objects, but you wouldn’t have one in every room; you might have one for the whole house, just like PCs in the 1980s. Then maybe more than one. Then, time-telling migrated to the pocket. Ultimately, a clock ended up on the wrist, so there is such a curious connection with what we wanted to do, and that was a connection we were really very aware of.

Ive made this observation on Apple’s mindset when approaching a product: it’s not just the destination, it’s all you learn along the journey (emphasis mine):

It was fairly clear early on that we wanted to design a range of products, without getting too convoluted, that would broaden how relevant we were. And working in gold and ceramic was purposeful – not only to expand who Apple is, but also from a materials science perspective. As you know, at the end of any project, you have the physical thing (the watch in this case), and then you have all that you have learned. We are always very mindful that the product not be all that we have in the end, and the Edition yielded much to us. We have now worked with ceramic and with gold, and our material sciences team now understands these fundamental attributes and properties in a way they didn’t before. This will help shape future products and our understanding of what forms make sense.

Ive’s respect for companies (and I think by extension, people) who are willing to buck outside pressures in order to be true to their inner compass, which leads to producing something fully unique to their specific characteristics and traits (which no one else in the world can authentically reproduce):

I have so much respect for many of those other brands – Rolex, Omega – because there is the remarkable longevity combined with such an obvious and clear understanding of their own unique identity. It’s rare but inspiring when you see the humble self-assurance of a company that ignores short-term market pressures to pursue their own path, their own vision. Their products seem to testify to their expertise, confidence, and quiet resolve. Their quality and consistency is rightly legendary.