Cut With Flourish is Ed Macovaz's musings on the web, music and design

Some edits to the Agile Manifesto

I’ve been spending much of my time lately articulating how one can do design in an Agile way and I think I’ve had things the wrong way round for a while now. It helps to stop thinking of Agile, Scrum and others as a set of principles for software development (as in writing code) – the whole thing gets much easier if you just think of them as ways of making things that are well suited to working in certain mediums and contexts (software being one of them). Making software is about more than writing code so…

Go to the Agile manifesto and follow these steps:

  1. Remove “Development” from the title
  2. Change the one instance of “developing” to “making”
  3. (optional) Find a new perspective on the phrase “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”

It requires a few more steps, but the principles behind the manifesto can be improved with similar editing.

Thanks to its use of the verb “build”, you can get away with no changes to Scrum.org’s definition of Scrum. I still think we selected the wrong part of the game on which to base this metaphor. Not only is it a more appropriate term, but I think we’d enjoy making Ruck jokes much more than Scrum jokes.

So in conclusion, I think too many people are finding out about these ways of doing things from sources that articulate them in terms of a particular expertise (software development). You shouldn’t be looking to make design work with Agile, rather you should try understand what Agile means in the context of design.

Hunting Unicorns

The discussion about “unicorn” designers has been running for a while now. While I realize the futility of entering a discussion to suggest that the discussion is pointless, I have some time on my hands. Also, I’m not actually suggesting the discussion is pointless, just trying to convince people of that once I’ve spoken so that I can have the last word.

I hear the discussion a little like this:

Unicorn-fanciers: “Designers should learn to code! Stop being hamstrung by your inability to make your ideas real and start building. Understand your medium, iterate, become a maker!”

Neighsayers: “Fools! Design is hard. Coding is hard. What kind of magical beast could be awesome at both these things? You’re hunting unicorns!”

Unicorn-fanciers “Not true. Unicorns exist! Some work at Github. Some make iPhone games that are better than Scrabble.”

I believe in unicorns, but they are magical beasts and in our world they’re hard to find, sometimes difficult to tame and likely expensive to acquire. So by all means keep your eyes pealed for Unicorns and if you happen to snare one, hang on to them. If you don’t, keep in mind that if you only want to work with strange creatures with horns you may end up sitting opposite a Narwhal. Or a Rhino.

For most of our purposes a couple of horses can be just as effective as a unicorn and if you slap an ice-cream cone on their heads most people won’t be able to tell the difference. 

On the benefits of spending time with visitors

Recently I’ve come to realize that one of the things I enjoy most about Berlin is spending time with visitors and newcomers to the city. Here I spend much more time with visitors and people that are new to the city than I ever did back in Sydney and I can’t recommend it enough.  

Visitors, travellers and new people to your city: they see it with fresh eyes, they don’t take anything for granted. They enjoy it because they’re not worn out or jaded about what hasn’t happened – they don’t get nostalgic about the way things used to be (and there’s more than enough of that in Berlin). You might find that some of it rubs off on you. They might call out a few flaws that you’ve learnt to gloss over, but more often they help you realize what’s there for you every day if you’re willing to invest a little time to enjoy it. 

Thanks to all the tourists, visitors and newcomers that have helped me to enjoy Berlin over the last four years. I hope there’s plenty more to come. 

Unconscious UIs

Timo Arnall has written an article No to NoUI where he argues against the calls for ‘invisibility’ in interface design. I think he makes some fair points – the ideas of ‘natural’ interfaces and affordances are seductive. If you’re not careful, you can forget that affordance and naturalness come from learning and culture. When you miss this you lose the chance to better use this understanding in your design.

There is one point I think Timo misses: I think when we say ‘invisible’ we’re talking about cognitive invisibility rather than literal invisibility. We want interfaces to be a point of interaction rather than a point of consideration or reasoning. Maybe ‘unconscious’ (‘intuitive’ has already been beaten to death) is a clearer description. To me this describes what we want: one only considers what needs to be done, rather than how a particular object needs to be manipulated in order to achieve it. 

Some more handy lists

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a tiny hobby of keeping lists of good places to go in cities/places I’ve travelled to. Here’s the latest crop from the last year: Riviera Maya (Mainly Tulum but also some other spots), Boston and Singapore.

I also updated my Sydney list after my last trip there.

They only contain places I actually went to (with a few exceptions where I’m sure they’re still good). It goes without saying that @Sarahlincoln probably found most of these places for us.

 

Effective vs Self-explanatory

Max Rudberg on apps like Clear:

These apps have chosen to reduce details to achieve a minimal UI, but in the process the UI has also become harder to use.

I think Clear is a good example for a UI that has become harder to learn, but in the end easier to use. More upfront cost to learn otherwise hidden gestures, but then more economical interactions through those gestures once you learn. 

Jon Gruber

A good rule of thumb is that the user should be able to figure out how to use an app just by looking at it.

It’s a rule of thumb, but not a rule.

Interaction design will often require a tradeoff between how quickly something can be learned against how powerful it will be once learned. I work with people who deal with the difficult task of making software behave like an instrument - something where, like a guitar, months or even years of training are paid off with a powerful and intuitive experience once mastered. 

There’s an important distinction to be made between being easy to learn, and being easy to use. You need to be careful that in your attempt to make something easy to use you don’t reduce how effective someone can be once they have learned it. 

Magazine-like

Daringfireball:

We’re reading, perhaps more than ever, but we’re reading on our screens.

When it comes down to it seems we’re reading, watching and listening more with our tiny screens, but in a more varied way. Despite this people are still pushing us to pick up old formats on a new medium, old formats that are the way they are because of limitations from print that don’t exist on the web.

I don’t need a magazine. I like good writing and good content, I have an interest in specific topics, but like many other people I have a feeling that a “magazine” may not be the best solution to this problem. I think when people are asking for a “magazine-like” website, or content what they’re really saying is: “I want a solution that feels like it solves this problem on mobile and the internet as well as magazines felt like they did for print”. They’re not asking for a magazine on the web.

Aesthetics

I’ve started another Tumblr to collect bits and pieces of design, mainly graphic, that I like. I’m doing as exercise to refine (or at least start to define my tastes), and I’m doing it somewhere else so that the rare moments these days where I have something to say, it doesn’t get lost in the soulless orgy of re-blogging FFFFOUND images.

You can watch it all live on Classic Fine.

Things to do in Prague. And other cities.

I’ve taken to putting a bit of effort in to compiling Foursquare lists of things to do in the various places I travel to. I thought they might be of use to others so I thought I’d post some. 

Here’s my latest list for Prague, compiled for our long weekend visit last week.

I’ve also put together some decent ones for Sydney, Hong Kong, Copenhagen and New York. I also have one just for food in Berlin.

Relax

Programming in the 21st Century:

Small, elegant building blocks are used to construct imperfect, even ugly, programs. And yet those imperfect, ugly programs may actually be beautiful applications.

I’ve seen plenty to back this up, but nowhere near enough to be sure. It’s difficult to convince yourself that your users don’t see all the things (design, experience or code) that drive you crazy.

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