How to build great collaboration software

Productivity software has changed a lot over the past decade. With the rise of cloud computing, software to handle documents and calendars has shifted from desktop-based, single-user to cloud-based and designed for sharing. At the same time, the Internet has ushered in the rise of social media. As a result, productivity software has converged with communications software to give us the collaboration software we know today. At best, collaboration tools make it simple and delightful to communicate, plan, and build things in groups. But I still see lots of websites and apps still making basic mistakes that get in the way. So fundamentally, what makes a collaboration tool work well? Here are some rules I follow when building out the user inerface for collaboration tools, starting with the core architecture of a service and continuing with how to get the details right. Allow multiple accounts to access each workspace Many ...(Read More)

Design quality applied to apps, dating, and clothing

What do designers at software companies do? They don’t just make the product look good. They do the broad task of planning out how to make the product work for its users, both in its appearance and interactions. In the book Emotional Design, design expert Donald Norman breaks down design thinking into 3 areas: visceral, behavioral, and reflective. A well-designed product will be high-quality in all these different areas. To illustrate these three separate concepts within design, I’ll apply them to the tech-industry scenario of designing a mobile photo-sharing app, and the everyday scenarios of going on a date and buying a shirt. Some designers work across these three areas, especially when they’re the sole designer of a product, while others specialize in just one or two. Visceral design Visceral design refers to the aspects of the design that we respond to viscerally. It concerns itself with the immediate impression ...(Read More)

Best Practices for Dialog Box Interactions

The interactions between a user and a computer interface ideally should feel natural and delightful. The theory of The Media Equation states that people subconsciously tend to treat computer interfaces as if they were real people—thus, comparing personal interactions with user interface interactions is a useful sanity check when designing user interfaces. In this post I’ll apply these comparisons to dialog boxes. Dialog boxes are a crucial component of complex user interfaces—they help you through decisions and prevent you from making mistakes. Based on the Media Equation, most interactions with a computer interface should correspond to the feeling of a casual, relaxed conversation with another person. Dialog boxes, on the other hand, correspond to a serious, urgent conversational tone: sometimes necessary, but often jarring and awkward. User interface designers and developers should be judicious in their use of dialogs in order to delight, rather than frustrate users. Prefer an Undo ...(Read More)

User interface interactions I like

I’ve found that it’s much easier to criticize bad user interfaces than it is to celebrate good ones: when a UI has usability issues you get frustrated; when a UI works well, you carry on with what you were doing. So I’d like to take the time to recognize a few interfaces with interactions that I find delightful. Cameras with helpful error messages I have an Olympus Pen E-P3 camera that I use a couple times a month. There are a variety of mistakes I commonly make when quickly taking out my camera for a photo, like leaving the lens cap on, or starting off in the wrong camera mode. These mistakes take valuable seconds of fumbling to recognize and correct, which often means missing the opportunity for an action shot, or making people in a group pose wait around awkwardly. Another mistake I make is leaving the 14-42mm lens ...(Read More)

Tech products and services as rooms of a house

I moved to New York about 2 months ago, and I’ve been trying to learn as much as possible about the tech and software industry here to orient myself. Part of that process has been reading the book Tech and the City, which I found about about through Fred Wilson’s AVC blog. The book quotes entrepreneur Chris Dixon, who compared development of the Internet industry to construction of a house: “Imagine the Internet as a house. The first phase — laying the foundation, the bricks —happened in the ‘90s. No wonder that Boston and California, heavy tech places with MIT and Stanford, dominated the scene at that time. The house has been built, now it’s more about interior design. Many interesting, recent companies haven’t been started by technologists but by design and product-oriented people, which has helped New York a lot. New York City has always been a consumer media ...(Read More)