Week 173

At the stu­dio, cof­fee brew­ing in the french press, El Guin­cho on the stereo. Last week I felt over­whelmed, this week I just feel aller­gic. Lit­er­al­ly. I have a head full of anti­his­t­a­mines, hope they kick in soon.

One thing I decid­ed to do about the over­whelm­ing bit is block out more time in my cal­en­dar for work. Not say­ing how much, but I already had some time blocked for a while now, and I have dou­bled that. It just won’t do to have hard­ly any time to do actu­al design. I guess I’ll just need to to talk to few­er peo­ple. If you do not push back, it is easy to lose all your time to meet-ups. Peo­ple are reck­less in the ease with which they impose on other’s time. Myself includ­ed.1

We played a card game last night at the stu­dio. An insight I’ve had after review­ing the past peri­od with my interns. To become bet­ter design­ers, we need to make a lot of games, this is true.2 But it also helps to play games, many games, of any kind. So we’ll set apart an hour or so each week and we’ll play a game that some­one brings in. I kicked it off with Domin­ion, which is inter­est­ing for the way it has built upon trad­ing-card-game deck-build­ing mechan­ics, like Mag­ic the Gath­er­ing. In stead of it being some­thing that hap­pens before a game it takes place in par­al­lel to the game.

What else is of note? Ah yes. I attend­ed Design by Fire 2010 on Wednes­day. It is still the best con­fer­ence on inter­ac­tion design in the Nether­lands. And I real­ly appre­ci­ate the fact that the orga­niz­ers con­tin­ue to take risks with who they put on stage. Too often do I feel like being part or at least spec­ta­tor of some clique at events, with all speak­ers know­ing each oth­er and com­ing from more or less the same “school of thought”. Not so with Design by Fire. High­lights includ­ed David McCan­d­less, Andrei Herasim­chuk, m’colleague Ianus and of course Bill Bux­ton.

The lat­ter also remind­ed me of some use­ful frames of thought for next Tues­day, when I will need to spend around half an hour talk­ing about the future of games, from a design per­spec­tive, at an invi­ta­tion-only think-tank like ses­sion orga­nized by STT.3 The orga­niz­ers asked me to set an ambi­tion time frame, but as you may know I have a very hard time imag­in­ing any future beyond say, the next year or two. (And some­times I also have trou­ble being hope­ful about it.) But as Mr. Bux­ton points out, ideas need a ges­ta­tion peri­od of around 20 years before they are ready for prime­time, so I am plan­ning to look back some ten years, see what occu­pied the games world back then, and use that as a jump­ing off point for what­ev­er I’ll be talk­ing about. Let’s get start­ed on that now.

  1. Mule Design had an inter­est­ing post on this. Part of the prob­lem is peo­ple, but part also soft­ware, accord­ing to them. Imag­ine a cal­en­dar you sub­tract time from in stead of add to. []
  2. Tom wrote a won­der­ful post on games lit­er­a­cy. []
  3. The Nether­lands Study Cen­tre for Tech­nol­o­gy Trends. []

Collaboratively designing Things through sketching

So far, Ianus, Alexan­der and I have announced three of the four peo­ple who’ll be speak­ing at the first Dutch This hap­pened. They are Fabi­an of Ron­i­mo Games, Phi­line of Super­nana and Dirk of IR labs The final addi­tion to this won­der­ful line-up is Wern­er Jainek of Cul­tured Code, the devel­op­ers of Things, a task man­age­ment appli­ca­tion for Mac OS X as well as the iPhone and iPod Touch.

When I first got in touch with the guys at Cul­tured Code, I asked who of the four prin­ci­pals was respon­si­ble for inter­ac­tion design. I was sur­prised to hear that a large part of the inter­ac­tion design is a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort. This flies in the face of con­ven­tion­al wis­dom in design cir­cles: You’re not sup­posed to design by com­mit­tee. Yet no-one can deny Things’ inter­ac­tion design is sol­id, focused and cohe­sive.

Things touch still life by Cultured Code

Wern­er and his asso­ciates col­lab­o­rate through vig­or­ous sketch­ing. Some­times they pro­duce many mock-ups to iron out appar­ent­ly sim­ple bits of the appli­ca­tion. A prime exam­ple being this recur­ring tasks dia­log. Just look at all the alter­na­tives they explored. Their atten­tion to detail is admirable. Also, take a look at the pho­tos they post­ed when they announced Things touch. I’m sure that, if you’re a design­er, you can’t help but love care­ful­ly exam­in­ing the details of such work in progress.

Wern­er tells me he’s been busy scan­ning lots of sketch­es to share at This hap­pened – Utrecht #1. I can’t wait to hear his sto­ries about how the design of both the desk­top and mobile app have hap­pened.

Wern­er com­pletes our line-up. Which you can see in full at thishappened.nl. There, you’ll also be able to reg­is­ter for the event start­ing this Mon­day (20 Octo­ber). I hope to see you on 3 Novem­ber, it promis­es to be a love­ly filled with the sto­ries behind inter­ac­tion design.

Super short Nozbe review

Nozbe is a web app that allows you to organ­ise your to-do’s Get­ting Things Done style. This morn­ing I spent a lit­tle while giv­ing it a spin. I decid­ed to sit down and enter a bunch of actions I have in my Hip­ster PDA (a Mole­sk­ine Memo Pock­ets and a bunch of blanc index cards) into Nozbe. First impres­sions:

  1. Nozbe is a cool con­cept. I have real­ly been wait­ing for a mul­ti­di­men­sion­al pro­duc­tiv­i­ty web app. They got this part right! (Projects and con­texts are includ­ed.)
  2. I like the book excerpts that explain the dif­fer­ent GTD con­cepts such as projects, con­texts and actions.
  3. I’d real­ly only con­sid­er using Nozbe if it’d include a mobile vari­ant (oth­er­wise my actions are only acces­si­ble when I’m online behind a com­put­er).
  4. Nozbe forces you to enter each action in a project up front. This is, I think, a mis­read­ing of Allen’s ‘gospel’ and increas­es the cog­ni­tive load when quick­ly enter­ing an action. I’d have actions be forcibly linked to a con­text but give the user the option to add it to a project. (I worked around this by cre­at­ing a ‘No Project’ project and adding actions to it before reor­gan­is­ing.
  5. Con­texts are fixed, which is a shame. Please, please, please let me cre­ate my own con­texts, tag­ging-style. So I can have actions linked to mul­ti­ple con­texts (which again reduces cog­ni­tive load).
  6. Don’t show the dura­tion menu by default when enter­ing an action, keep it clean. I’ll add dura­tions when I want to, but don’t force me to.

Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty apps are hard to get right because every­one has such a per­son­al work­flow. A good app takes that into account and offers many ways to do the same things. So again, Nozbe guys: the app is a good start, con­grat­u­la­tions on the good effort! How­ev­er it could ben­e­fit from some more user-cen­tred think­ing and design. Try to get a feel for the con­text of your users and tweak the inter­face accord­ing­ly!

Update: For those who hadn’t noticed, I found this tool via the excel­lent Life­hack­er blog. Nozbe have their own spar­tan blog too.

Anoth­er update: The excel­lent GTD blog Black Belt Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty does an in depth review and comes up with some of the same points as I did plus a whole bunch more.