John Maeda

It’s great to get some insight into how some of your heroes think. This slideshow from the New York Times shows the step by step process that John Maeda went through to design a cover for their real estate supplement, Key magazine.

I’m a big believer in the use of intuition, letting your experiences and senses be your guide. Intuition has a down side, which is that in a process-oriented culture following your instincts can make it impossible for others to really understand, or participate in, the design process. But this slideshow has some simple examples where Maeda clearly just made decisions because it looks better. I like that. I like the crappiness but effectiveness of his thumbnail sketches, too. They’re unfinished and raw, leaving plenty to the imagination.


I seem to really pick up on heroes who are information visualizers at heart, and Maeda is another of those. His work is probably some of the more early examples that I ever saw of what he calls kinetic design. This stuff is more commonplace now, but he really pre-dated some of the guys who came later in the Flash scene, like Joshua Davis. His early work of calendars and greetings cards for Shiseido particularly inspired me. Most of his work is available on this site, although I’m having trouble running a lot of it because of Java plug-in issues.

Now Play It


Thanks to CoolHunting for pointing me to this awesome music tutorial site. Now Play It has video tutorials available for a bunch of modern music. They cover guitar, bass, piano and drums in a range of difficulty. The great thing is, though, that a lot of the tutorials are actually done by members of bands whose song is being covered. So, for example, Romeo Stodart, lead singer and guitarist for the Magic Numbers, steps through a bunch of their songs. It’s really interesting to get some insight for technique in the songs from people who perform them everyday.

You can preview the tutorials, then buy either Lite tutorials for £1.99 or full tutorials for £3.99. Might even inspire me to dig out my Fender.


We Are Tigers ’80

It turns out that Craig Robinson, he of the most excellent “minipopsimage fame lived in Lincoln, in the UK, at about the same time as I did (70s to early 80s). He seems to resent the fact that he was never in a gang when he was there, and so he’s put together a really great, fictional “gang poster“, imagining that it was written by a 10 year old around that time. The boy is a member of the Tigers. This is an old style gang, with the odd scrap against the other local kids. Not a modern, gun-toting, drug dealing one. At least I assume.


Lots of things resonate with me in this image, things that remind me of my time as a kid in Welton, just North of Lincoln. The phrase “Tigers are skill” particularly stands out. I’d forgotten that awesome things used to be “skill”.

Flip Flop Flying

Economist article on new user interface directions


There’s an article in this weeks Economist focused on how difficult technology is to use, and some new directions for user interfaces that may go some way to making them simpler. In addition to some of the usual suspects (Apple’s iPhone and the Minority Report UI) it gives the Microsoft Cambridge lab some decent mention, as well as emphasizing .

One quote from Ken Wood points out our investments within the Research division on user interfaces:
“Part of the problem is that programmers have traditionally had more power than designers. Programmers put in place the myriad features they want; interface designers then struggle to wrap them all up in a product that is simple to use. The results, all too often, are clunky interfaces. But the balance of power may now be shifting to the designers. Ken Wood, deputy director of Microsoft’s research laboratory in Cambridge, England, says his company is putting greater emphasis on interface design. Three years ago, he says, none of his lab’s budget was earmarked for pure HCI research. Today, a quarter of the lab’s budget goes on it.”

Another mentions the HCI 2020 event that we held earlier in Seville:
“What comes next? In March this year Microsoft assembled a group of HCI experts to discuss this question at a conference near Seville called HCI 2020. Andrew Herbert, managing director of Microsoft’s Cambridge laboratory, told attendees that interface simplification is vital if the computing world is to be opened up to new consumers such as the elderly, children and people with little computer experience.”

Expression around the Clock

For those that are interested, Microsoft is hosting a one day, worldwide event focused on user experience design, called Expression around the Clock. It’s less of a technology pitch then some of the Expression events have deliberately been in the past, and more of a chance for some open discussion of different design issues (sprinkled with a small amount of Expression stuff).

The events are happening in Mexico City, San Paulo, Toronto, Zurich, Milan, Cairo, Moscow, Bangalore, Seoul and Aukland. So all over the place. It’s good to see something like this going on that is less US-centric. Steve Balmer will be keynoting the Zurich event, but the rest of the locations will have talks from real Microsoft designers, like Bill Buxton, Manuel Clement and, oddly, me. I’m lucky enough to be doing the one in Milan.

My talk will focus on the changing nature of devices in the home, with examples from the work we’re doing in Cambridge and interesting things I see on my Trends blog. Hope to see you there.


Cats need to navigate an obstacle to remember it

Cool! A little home experimentation with our cat, Sidney, seems in order…

” In their experiment — pictured below — they had a cat step halfway over a small barrier, at which point they distracted it with food. They lowered the barrier while it was eating, but when the cat moved on, it still raised its hind legs, believing the barrier to still be there. This is the sort of behavior you’d expect, of course.

But then they repeated the experiment with a twist. This time, the cat was stopped at the point when it had seen the barrier — but before it had stepped its front paws over it. Again, they lowered the barrier while the cat ate the food. But when the cat moved onwards, it didn’t raise its hind legs high enough the clear the now-removed barrier.”
Cats need to navigate an obstacle to remember it

Targeting teens

Great quote from an interview of John Humphrys, host of BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program:

“He cannot understand why BBC executives obsess over attracting young audiences, as if they were chasing advertising revenues. “They see that the Today programme audience is old. Oh my gosh, how dare they be old! Many of them are over the age of 50, they will all die and we won’t have audience. Well actually, 20-year-olds get to be 21 and eventually 50. What happens when they get older is that they start to listen to the Today programme ? that’s the way it has always been. We are not a commercial station trying to sell iPods to people.”

The Today program covers news and current events in the morning slot. Humphrys is famous for giving the most grilling of interviews. Squirm-inducing questioning.

I totally agree with his point. You see teen-targeting everywhere, from music to movies to TV to games. See my previous rant on the programming of our local cinema. Targetting teens seems to mean dumbing things down, which insults teens and insults me. I’m an adult, approaching my forties, with a decent sized disposable income. I have 30 years of my working career left and then (hopefully) a life of leisure after that. I’m ready to spend. Target me, please.

John Humphrys: On the threat to ‘Today’

Imagine Cup

Some really nice work has come out of the years Imagine Cup, particularly the winner of the interface design category (video embedded below), a digital whiteboard with a very cool ‘spinner’ UI. 

The Imagine Cup is a massive student design competition sponsored by Microsoft that focuses on the development of technology solutions in a whole set of different categories. It’s in its 5th year, and the theme for next year is the Environment. You can see the list of 2007 winners here.