The User is Drunk

User experiences and interfaces are some of my greatest interests. My love of design and technology fuels this, but even in everyday life I am constantly thinking of user experiences. Whether it’s using a self-checkout at a supermarket or driving through a round-about, my mind is always thinking of how it could be better or how clever it is. That’s why I really enjoyed this little video called “The User is Drunk.” It’s a humorous take on user interfaces, but it makes very valid points.

When I’m designing websites and other interfaces, I’m always trying to keep things simple, elegant and most importantly easy to use. The video points out imagining the user as drunk is one way to ensure your end user’s experience is a good one. My personal rule of thumb has always been, “Can my mom use this?” but “the user is drunk” works too. Either way, the point is the same. Interfaces shouldn’t be complicated. A user shouldn’t have to have a computer science degree to fill out your form. In the video, he brings up the point that a good user interface disappears  I couldn’t agree more. The less you notice an interface and just get done whatever you were trying to do, the better.

Enjoy this little video, and pay attention. There are some great points in there, even if the title is a bit funny.

Quick Review: NameChanger

NameChanger Screen ShotI’ve been using a great app called NameChanger for years now. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve saved by renaming files with its smart replace, append, prepend and series functions. The app is so simple and such a staple to my work flow, I often forget it’s not part of OS X. On that note, if you’re listening, Apple, buy this and make it so.

NameChanger Sequence Screen ShotBasically NameChanger lets you take files from the Finder and batch rename them with ease. There are options to replace first or last occurrences, all occurrences, prepend or append text and even remove characters. All this with just a few clicks. What’s even better is you can create a sequence like it’s nothing. Just imported a hundred images of a recent trip from your camera? Want them to be named my-trip-01.jpg and so on? Drag them to NameChanger and sequence and in a few clicks it will take care of the rest. Bam. Easy. Done.

It’s a really powerful little piece of software that will save you tons of time and increase productivity. The best part? It’s free. I do recommend throwing a few bucks their way via PayPal if you really enjoy it, which I’m sure you will.

Review: Gogobot


Gogobot bills itself as a social travel site. It is part reviews, part recommendations and part passport of your travels. I’ve been using it for almost a couple years now, and I love it. It is full of terrific information that seems much realer than Yelp or similar services.

I was originally drawn to Gogobot just before I left for Switzerland. I read about this new startup that was hooking up social and travel in compelling ways and thought it might be useful. One of the cool social features is its integration with Foursquare. I hooked up my account and now it auto imports places I’ve been right into Gogobot. On occasion, I go back through and look at my recent imports. This gives me a good place to start when I want to post reviews of recent places I’ve been.

You do not have to be a Foursquare user to take advantage of Gogobot. You can add other places via their website or mobile app. I went through and added a lot of trips I took before ever having Foursquare. After you have added a few places you have been, you start building your digital passport. It gives you a nice breakdown of the countries, cities and individual places you’ve been. Sometimes I find myself just browsing it to relive old memories.

Screenshot of a Gogobot passport page.

Like many other travel sites, reviews are part of Gogobot. You can add a star rating, a short text review and/or photos to any place on Gogobot. It is pretty standard stuff, but when combined with the other site features, it becomes quite handy.

One of the coolest features, and one that sets it apart from the pack, is letting users ask questions to the community. Let’s say I’m headed to Toronto for a weekend and want to know the best places to eat or how to spend my Saturday afternoon. I can head over to Gogobot and post a question. Anyone who has been to Toronto (or my friends) would automatically see my question show up in their feed. If my friends so choose, they can add places I should check out.

Something that makes Gogobot fun to use is its gamification. There are a number of badges you can earn for various things like adding photos or reviews and having other people like your reviews. Each time you do an action (even visiting the site once a day) you earn points. There is a site-wide leaderboard that you can compete to be on top of (I used to be in the top 100, but as the site grew and I explored the world less, I’m in the 300s now. Each year Gogobot chooses members with outstanding contributions and badges them as pros. I was a 2012 pro, and it was pretty cool to have that little badge on my avatar throughout the site. There are even pro meetups in major cities (SF, NYC, Chicago), but I could never attend one. Maybe next year.

I’ve watched Gogobot really grow in the last couple of years. When I first started using it, there was not a lot of content outside of some major cities, and there were not a lot of users. It has since really blossomed, and now contains a wealth of information. The site itself has added many new features like making reservations for hotels and restaurants right on the site. Overall I’m extremely pleased with it. I find it quite useful for planning trips, or even discovering cool places I want to visit someday.

App Review: Zite

Zite on iPadThere’s no shortage of news readers in the App Store but Zite stands out as one of the best. Think of Zite as a personal news magazine that scours the internet to find articles you’ll enjoy. After you link a few social media services and pick a few favorite categories, Zite gets to work filling your screen with articles it thinks you’ll like. It does a really great job too.

The longer you use Zite the better it gets. If you read an article you like, just give it a thumbs up to tell Zite it’s been doing a good job. Find an article you don’t like? A simple thumbs down will let Zite know. All of this data is used to continually improve the recommendations Zite pushes to you. If you’re social media accounts are linked up it uses articles that are posted by people you follow to also improve your results. The whole system is simple but creates a great news experience.

The interface is very clean and they’ve added some nice gesture shortcuts. You can easily thumbs up or down an article by a little swipe up or down on the square. To read an article in full just tap it and it brings it up. You can use the built in “reader” mode or view the full Web page. Sharing articles is extremely easy and incorporates all your favorite social media sites, email and even “read later” services like Pocket.

You can set up favorite topics so you can always keep up to date with the latest news on Google, hockey or whatever you’re into. Articles are tagged by categories and you can click one of those tags to see more about that topic. If you like it, just star it and it’ll show up in your favorite list so you can easily stay up to date with that type of content. Your favorites influence your “Top Stories” section as well.

Zite on iPhoneI started using Zite on my iPad at the suggestion of a friend and haven’t stopped using it since. After using it a while I wished there was a way to get that content elsewhere and it wasn’t long before they answered my desire with an iPhone app. The same content in a smaller on the go package.

If I had to give one complaint to Zite it’s that it doesn’t refresh content often enough. There doesn’t seem to be a way you can force a refresh and I’ll find myself flicking through articles I’ve already ready, longing for more. It does seem to randomly add articles throughout the day but I’d like a way to get more after I’ve read through them all and thumbed up and down the results.

Ok, maybe I have one more complaint or rather a request… I want a Web or desktop client. I spend at least eight hours a day at the computer and I want to keep up on my Zite reading. Sure I can pull out my iPad or iPhone but it’d be a lot nice if I could just have a browser window or a desktop app available. It’s a small thing but it’d be a great addition if you ask me.

Overall I can’t recommend Zite enough. It does more than just pull your feeds for reading, it actually learns what you like and don’t like and then presents you with a great selection of articles all over the Web. Go check it out in the App Store and let me know what you think in the comments.

App Review: Solar

Every once in a while I stumble across an app that truly makes me smile. Often it’s resulting from an out-of-the-box way of thinking about user interface and experience. Solar is one of those apps that brought an instant smile to my face.

Solar is, at its most basic level, a weather app. But that doesn’t do it justice. It’s like no weather app you’ve ever seen before. Screenshots won’t even do it justice, you need to experience it. This video will give you a basic idea but I’m telling you, until you have it in your hand and start scrolling through the hours of the day you can’t fully appreciate how cool it is.

In many ways it seems like Solar is the Clear of weather apps. It’s completely simple and doesn’t have all the bells and whistles other apps might boast. That doesn’t matter because it is useful. Very useful. And it does what it does very well. Not to mention it’s fun to use and beautiful.

If you appreciate good user interface and user experience design you should download this app. If you are looking for a simple, easy to use and fast weather app, Solar is the answer. If you’re looking for a weather app with radar and news, this one’s not for you. Check it out in the App Store.

Failed or Stalled Projects

At some point in your life you’re going to have a project that just doesn’t go anywhere. It’s as true in life (a bookshelf that’s half built) as it is in the design world (that sweet iPad app that ran out of budget). I’ve had my fair share of projects that fell into oblivion. Most of the time it just plain sucks. For reasons often outside of your control, a project you’ve put hours of work into will never see the light of day.

How do you cope with this? It can be extremely frustrating and somewhat confusing. What do you tell your friends and family (whom you’ve inevitably been talking up this project to for months)? Can it still go in your portfolio?

For me the worst part is feeling like you wasted your time. You can spend months on something and have nothing to show for it. In your next job interview you’ll explain what you’ve been working on for the past few months and when they ask to see it you’ll have that lame answer “well it didn’t get made.”

Hours iPhone mockupsA recent example for me was called Hours. It was an iPhone app I had designed screens for. The project was going to serve up business hours on top of the foursquare database. We were nearing launch when foursquare announced they were adding hours into their main database. The months of time and effort we had invested was all for naught. Foursquare had beaten us to the punch. Our spirits were broken and even though our standalone app could still be useful to non-foursquare users, it was never finished.

The reality is it happens. Much more often than anyone would like to admit. I think the best thing to do is try to move on. I hate that advice; it sound so simple but it’s very difficult. In the case of a designer, you are left with un-built screen designs or the artwork of un-printed posters. You’ve done the work, you’ve taken the time to think through the project but it was never put into production. Moving on for a designer could simply be taking the skills and experience you’ve gained and applying them to your next project.

I think it’s still appropriate to put in your portfolio. I have a couple of app projects that stalled out for one reason or another (like Hours) but I plan to put them into my portfolio. The screens were thought out and designed. The mockups were completed. My side of the project was finished, even if the other side wasn’t. Why shouldn’t I have at least something to show for it? Sure it might not be as valuable as a full-fledged running app but until I have those completed projects I want and need something in my portfolio demonstrating my interest and abilities in the app arena. Sometimes just having a few mock ups can be enough to demonstrate your skill and thought processes. In the end that’s what a portfolio is all about anyway, right?

Opinion: Google would be stupid to kill Sparrow

I’ve had a post sitting in my draft box about my favorite email client for months now. I never got around to finishing it and now it looks like I never will. I’m talking of course about Sparrow, the well-designed, simple and easy to use Mac (and iOS) mail client. I started using Sparrow when it was still in private beta, that’s why it pains me to inform you they’ve discontinued development.

According to their website, Sparrow has been acquired by Google. I know the end goal for many startups is to be eaten up by a big-time player but this particular case really makes me sad. They will make Sparrow available and continue to support it but they will be “joining the Gmail team to accomplish a bigger vision.” I’m happy for the team, really. I’m sure that’s a huge opportunity and if in the same situation, it’d be hard to turn down a job at Google. I’m sad for all of us users though, we’ve lost the best email client around. Sure we can still use it but it will never be updated and will slowly become less and less relevant.

Here’s what I think Google (and the old Sparrow team) should do… rebrand it. Make it an official Google product. The iOS Sparrow app is leaps and bounds better than the iOS Gmail app. The only complaints I’ve heard (and share myself) are about the lack of push notifications. Google can handle that, their Gmail app already does. They could easily add that functionality to the existing Sparrow app and package it up as the new Gmail app. It’s a win for everyone. Sparrow users will be glad their beloved email app hasn’t faded to oblivion and Gmail users will be pleasantly surprised by a new (to them) and wonderful replacement. Perhaps they should even consider porting it to Android. Why not share the wealth? It’s a shame to let such an innovative and beautiful product go to waste.

Most importantly, I’d like to see them do a similar thing with the desktop version. Like I said before, I’ve been using Sparrow for quite some time. I love the slick and minimal interface. It’s fast, easy to use and let’s me manage multiple accounts in one place. I love how well it handles Gmail labels and starring. It’s really the Gmail experience I wish the web had, but better because it’s a separate app. I know Google doesn’t have an official desktop email client and they probably weren’t planning to. That said, why not have one? The bulk of the work is already done with Sparrow. If you’re not going to continue developing the Sparrow anymore, at least re-visit’s interface. It’s gotten to be unruly and could use a little of Sparrow influence.

Overall I just hope the Sparrow team does well at Google. I’m cautiously optimistic they can influence the Gmail team for the better. On the flip side, I’m a bit irritated that development on one of my favorite Mac AND iOS apps is dead.

R.I.P Sparrow, you will be missed.

App Review: iDisc Golf Pro

As previously mentioned, I’m a new disc golfer. I’ve played everyday that I can. On Thursday and Friday I had planned to fit in a couple of rounds but the weather had other ideas. The pouring rain and cold didn’t seem like an ideal situation to play in so I went looking for a virtual disc golf experience. Enter iDisc Golf Pro. It’s a $0.99 app that replicates playing disc golf right on your iPhone or iPad.

iDisc Golf Pro Main Menu

I started by downloading the free lite version. It allows you to play three holes and by the second hole I knew it was worth the buck to play a full 18. You can play one or two players (it’s a local, pass the phone kind of two player) and there are blue and white tees for different skill levels.

There are six course to choose from, each with a unique locale and varying difficulty. They’ve done a nice job giving you a variety of landscapes. Wooded, beaches and even snowy courses are options. All of these are available at the start and as far as I can tell, there is no unlocking of content in this game. The graphics are 3D and reminiscent of a mid to late-90s computer game. They aren’t spectacular but they get the job done.

screenshot from iDisc Golf Pro

screenshot from iDisc Golf Pro

screenshot from iDisc Golf Pro

The game throwing is pretty simple. You cycle through your three disc choices—driver, mid or putter—and then touch the disc, swipe it up and release. Depending on what angle you swipe at the disc will behave slightly different, much like releases in real-life. I wish there were a few more disc choices. It’d be really cool to unlock other drivers that have ratings like real life discs to maximize power, distance, fade, etc. This would bring the game to a whole new level and increase its realism.

screenshot from iDisc Golf Pro

In my opinion, they’ve really missed an opportunity by not integrating with Game Center. I think a game like this is perfect for it. I’d like to see my best rounds on a leaderboard with my friends and most importantly, I’d love to see some achievements. Birdies, aces, finishing under par are all things that could easily lend themselves to the achievement system.

What is here, is a great little game. It’s fun, it replicates its real-life counterpart pretty well and there is enough variety to keep you coming back. Sure it could be improved but I’m just glad it exists and it’s affordable. It’s a disc golfer’s best friend on a rainy day. I hope the developers continue to work on iDisc Golf Pro and build on the great base game they’ve already created.

Instagram Goodies: Physical Photos

Last time I posted about Instagram I shared some web viewers to explore the Instagram world on your computer. Now I’d like to share a few sites that let you take your photos out of the cloud and into the world. Many of these will give you physical prints of your photos but each one has its own unique spin.

Instaprint: This is a really cool idea. They’ve created a system for printing Instagrams at events. You set it up with a hashtag and location, then all photos matching either of those will be printed out of a small little box. It’s super simple but infinitely cool. Your photos are also saved to an online gallery so you can view all the event’s photos in one place. They rent out their boxes for events but I hope they will be selling them soon. I’d love to own one.

Printstagram: As you probably guessed by the name, Printstagram prints your Instagrams. They have a variety of products from t-shirts to a mini prints, posters to stickers and my personal favorite, tiny books. There are lots of options to bring your favorite Instagrams to the physical world.

StickyGram: This site lets you pick 9 of your favorite photos and turns them into a 3×3 grid of magnets. It’s a great way to spice up your fridge with photos you’ve taken. My fiancé made one with pictures from her and her mom’s trip to Paris. They’re really great keepsakes.

Postagram: This one is actually a smart phone app available on both Android and iOS. I’ve used it and it’s a neat, easy way to send a postcard to someone with one of your Instagram photos. You can put a custom message on it and they take care of the dirty work of printing and mailing it off. All you do is a few taps on the phone and a buck or two later, it’s done. I think they’re even giving you 5 free cards right now, so go check it out!

CanvasPop: This service will enlarge and print your photos onto canvas. They literally turn your Instagrams into pieces of art, how cool is that? I plan on trying this one out soon myself.

Disc Golf (My New Favorite Thing)

disc golf discs on a picnic table

This week I started playing disc golf. It’s amazing. I’ve fallen completely in love with it. It’s laid back and gets you out in nature with your friends. It doesn’t take forever to play like real golf and it’s certainly much cheaper. I always thought it sounded cool but for some reason I never managed to play until this week. I played three times in the first four days of my disc golf career. I can’t get enough of it.

Of course one of the first things I did was find an app and some websites to help learn the game and keep track of my stats. I’ve found Disc Golf Course Review to be absolutely indispensable. They’ve got a huge database of courses with loads of info on each and many with reviews. You can really get an idea of what to expect and where to find courses near you.

You can’t talk about disc golf without mentioning the Professional Disc Golf Association. They have a lot of great resources on their website too. You don’t have to be an official member to get access to them all either, which is very nice of them for us n00bs.

My Disc Golf Profile at Discasaurus - Mobile Disc Golf Scoring Application for iPhoneMy favorite find has to be Discasaurus. After searching around the web and reading reviews in the App Store, Discasaurus seemed like one of the best iPhone apps to keep score of your games. It has nice graphics and an easy to use interface, it syncs back to their website and best of all, it’s free. I think it’s a really cool app and community. I like being able to look back at my scores and this makes it easy while giving me a great way to actually record those scores on the course.

If you haven’t tried disc golf yet, you should. It’s not hard to get started and even if you aren’t an expert, it can be a lot of fun just to be outside for a while. If you’re a seasoned veteran I’m sure you have your own favorite resources. What are they? Did I miss your favorite? Tell me about it in the comments.

Christopher Jones throwing a disc at a disc golf tee in the woods