rob foster archives

Stockholm Syndrome

Ok, so it’s circa 2002 and I’m watching a new detective show on TV about a guy with OCD. As I ponder how a person can possibly function with so many issues, my mom calls.

“Hi, it’s your mom.”

“Hi Mom.”

“You busy?”

I glance earnestly toward the stream of electrons across the room. “Uh, I guess not.”

“Great, can you help me with a computer thing?”

“Oh, um, sure.”

“Well I just got ‘Word Perfect’ and used it to write a letter to your uncle Jim and now I can’t find it. I think my computer removed it.”

“Oh, well did you look in the recycle bin?”

“Where’s that?”

“It’s on your desktop.”

“On the computer?”

“Yeah. There’s an icon on the desktop called “Recycle Bin.”

“You mean the little picture of the trash can?”

“Yeah, the part of the computer that it sits on is called the ‘Desktop.’” Anyway, double click on the Recycle Bin.”

“Open it up?”


“Ok, it’s open.”

“Is anything in there?”

“Yeah, ‘The Internet’ and ‘Setup’ and two little pictures of paper.”

“Ok, does one of those pictures have the name that you gave the letter?”

“I don’t think my letter had a name. It was just a letter I was writing.”

“Mom, why aren’t you using the email I set up for you?”

“I don’t want to use it. It’s too complicated.”

“But I set up an ico… um, one of those little pictures on the desktop for you. All you have to do is open it and click ‘New Message like I showed you.’ I even set up all of your contacts for you. Uncle Jim is in there and everything.”

“I just want help finding the letter I wrote.”

Sigh “Ok, fine… Is ‘Word Perfect’ open now?”

“How do I know that?”

“Well, you know the bar at the bottom of the computer where the ‘Start’ button is?”


“Well to the right of it, is there another button on the bar with a picture of a blue circle with a pen in it?”


“Is there a button there at all?”

“There’s a picture that looks like a speaker.”

“Huh? No, I mean on the left side of that bar, right next to the ‘Start’ button.”

“What about it?”

“Is there a big button there?”


“Ok, what does it say?”

“Document one dash Microsoft dot dot dot.”

“Ok, try clicking on that.”

“Oh! There it is! Oh son, you’re so good at this stuff. Thank you!”

“You’re welcome.”

“Ok, goodb… Wait! One more thing. Could you tell me how to get a photo from my new camera into this letter?”

“Oh crap! Mom, I totally forgot I have to go pick up a friend of mine at the airport! Let’s talk later.”

“Ok, well thanks again.”


Hostage Crisis

At the end of my last article, Erik commented “We’re all suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.” I thought it was a perfect way to describe our relationship with computers.

Those us us who work in tech love our tools with all their complexity. We relish in the fact that we know all the keystrokes for doing every little task in our favorite apps. We are secure in our investment of so much time and energy and effort to learn all the tricks and nuances of our computers.

We fool ourselves by thinking traditional computing is easy.

It isn’t.

Those who malign the Apple iPad for not being more like the computers they’re used to are suffering from a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome.

*Disclaimer: My mother is a smart lady. She has a bachelors from a major university, she’s a leader in her community and now uses computers every day for her job. She’s pretty typical of most non-tech folks I know. And yes, she might read this at some point.

posted by foster on Monday, Feb 08, 2010

On iPads, Grandmas and

The darndest thing happened in the last five days and I was fortunate to be privy to it. Apple has gotten people excited about computing.

But this time, it’s not nerds or geeks and certainly not IT industry analysts. It’s everyone else.

I had a curious set of three conversations this week. One with a grandma, one with a technophobe and the third with a self-proclaimed luddite.


My mother-in-law walked in the door the day of the keynote and the first thing out of her mouth was “Did you see that new Apple iPad? That looks like it would work for me. Would that work for me?”

I was utterly flabbergasted. She NEVER talks about computers or technology. She tolerates them at best. Her attitude is typical of most baby boomers I’ve talked to regarding computers. She wants to benefit from them but is frustrated by the wall she must climb in order to do so. She’s learned how to use email and a couple of other things on the Internet and that’s about it.

Her bringing up the iPad was amazing for two reasons. First, someone in her office (she works with other ‘boomers) found out about it within hours of the keynote and shared it with her. That Apple news warranted attention from baby boomers at all is significant. That she then held her interest long enough to tell me at the end of the day is equally significant.

After learning a little more information about it, she has decided that she wants an iPad. It actually borders on technolust.


A good friend of mine is an attorney and reluctantly uses technology for his work. In age, he’s somewhere between my generation and the baby boomers. He recently lost his phone in the snow and then found out his company was moving to AT&T. He replaced his lost phone with a blackberry and when our group of friends caught wind of that, we informed him he could have gotten an iPhone. So on our recommendation, he decided to take the Blackberry back and give the iPhone a try.

I had never once seen him exhibit any excitement over technology but the next time I saw him, he could barely contain his enthusiasm for his new phone.

Fast forward to last Wednesday evening. I told him about the new iPad and his eyes grew wide. He blurted out “Wait, are you talking about an iPhone but with a bigger screen? A regular sized computer THIS easy to use? $15 a month for internet anywhere? When can I buy one?”

He had been won over completely by the user experience of the iPhone. It was amazing to watch and fascinating to see him project his good experience and excitement to the iPad.


The third conversation came from a completely unexpected source. I have a good friend and neighbor who works remodeling houses and who reluctantly agreed to have me design a website for his company after being pressured by his family. I don’t know anyone else who hates computers more. He has refused to get an email address. He doesn’t use his mobile phone to do anything other than make a call. And he often mocks me anytime I even mention computers. I want to make it perfectly clear that I’m not exaggerating his attitude. At all.

He stopped by my house the day of the keynote to talk about his new website and when he walked in I happened to have some iPad photos open on my laptop. He asked me what they were about and I casually described the new Apple “tablet” that had just been released. I didn’t spend a lot of time on it considering his historical lack of interest in computers. He asked me a couple of questions and then we discussed his site.

Three days later, he called me and the following exchange ensued. “Dude, I think I want to get one of those Apple tablets for my business.” “Really?” I said. “Yeah, I went and looked at them and they seem really easy to use. I think it would work great for showing potential customers my work and for doing bids on.” I was completely speechless.

The Point

After Apple released the iPhone and when the serious rumors started about the “tablet” a year or so ago I had hoped that this was where Apple was going. I’ve long felt that computers were too hard to use, that the filesystem should NEVER be seen by the user. That human-computer interaction should favor the “human” side.

As the Apple guys stood on stage and described the iPad, I knew I was seeing computer history being made. This new approach to computing and experience is as much a game changer as the ORIGINAL Mac. Heck, it may even be more so.

But honestly, before having these three conversations, I figured Apple’s vision would be realized in ten to fifteen years. Now I’m thinking five or less.

One More Thing

When the date for the announcement was set, I started hoping that Apple would release something like iWork for the “tablet.” I doubted they would so soon but the hope was there. As I figured, if they did, they’d be sending a clear message that this was the future of computing, not just for gaming, watching videos and reading books.

Somehow that message has been lost on people (so many iWork comments end with “meh”), but I consider the release of mobile iWork to be the biggest sign of things to come and the strongest message Apple sent regarding their vision for the future.

It’s amazing to watch all of this unfold.

posted by foster on Monday, Feb 01, 2010

“There is bad taste and then there is this. What was going through the designer’s mind? ‘I’ll scale it a little bit. Hmmm, maybe just a little more. More. More. I have so much power. I’m drunk in scaling power. More. More. Scale it more. Don’t stop. Do it. Okay, that’s enough.’”
Brand New commentary on the new Microsoft Bing logo

posted by foster on Wednesday, Jun 03, 2009

Two awesome modern details from the new Church History Library.

posted by foster on Friday, May 15, 2009

The best-selling powered vehicle of all time is now being sold in the US again by the company that manufactured it for 30 years. Up to 153mpg!

posted by foster on Friday, May 01, 2009

case study

Busting a Cap in the Status Quo

“Revolution is an idea which has found its bayonets”
- Napoleon Bonaparte

How my search for the right communication device for my disabled daughter led me to an upstart company that was rocking the boat with equal parts love and hate.

posted by foster on Monday, Apr 27, 2009

Dear Designer, You Suck

Fantastic article by Khoi Vinh. I couldn’t agree more with this.

posted by foster on Monday, Apr 20, 2009

case study

Accessibility to the Face

“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.” -Jack Handey

posted by foster on Tuesday, Mar 24, 2009

This is nifty.

posted by foster on Friday, Mar 06, 2009

For the uninitiated, Dieter Rams was the Braun company’s lead product designer for many years. Some of his work can be seen here. My favorite things he designed were his home electronics products.

posted by foster on Tuesday, Feb 10, 2009

Dieter Rams’
10 Commandments of Good Design

Good design is Innovative
It does not copy existing product forms, nor does it produce any kind of novelty for the sake of it. The essence of innovation must be clearly seen in all of a functions of a product. The possibilities in this respect are by no means exhausted. Technological development keeps offering new chances for innovative solutions.

Good design makes a product useful
A product is bought in order to be used. It must serve a defined purpose – in both primary and additional functions. The most important task of design is to optimise the utility of a product.

Good design is aesthetic
The aesthetic quality of a product – and the fascination it inspires – is an integral part of the its utility. Without doubt, it is uncomfortable and tiring to have to put up with products that are confusing, that get on your nerves, that you are unable to relate to. However, it has always been a hard task to argue about aesthetic quality, for two reasons.

Firstly, it is difficult to talk about anything visual, since words have a different meaning for different people.

Secondly, aesthetic quality deals with details, subtle shades, harmony and the equilibrium of a whole variety of visual elements. A good eye is required, schooled by years and years of experience, in order to be able to draw the right conclusion.

Good design helps a product to be understood
It clarifies the structure of the product. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory and saves you the long, tedious perusal of the operating manual.

Good design is unobtrusive
Products that satisfy this criterion are tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained leaving room for the user’s self-expression.

Good design is honest
An honestly-designed product must not claim features it does not have – being more innovative, more efficient, of higher value. It must not influence or manipulate buyers and users.

Good design is durable
It is nothing trendy that might be out-of-date tomorrow. This is one of the major differences between well-designed products and trivial objects for a waste-producing society. Waste must no longer be tolerated.

Good design is thorough to the last detail
Thoroughness and accuracy of design are synonymous with the product and its functions, as seen through the eyes of the user.

Good design is concerned with the environment
Design must contribute towards a stable environment and a sensible use of raw materials. This means considering not only actual pollution, but also the visual pollution and destruction of our environment.

Good design is as little design as possible
Back to purity, back to simplicity.

posted by foster on Tuesday, Feb 10, 2009

The Seduction of Simple. Fantastic article by Aza Raskin.

posted by foster on Tuesday, Jan 27, 2009

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Leap is one of the handiest Mac apps I’ve ever used.

Basically over the last two years, I’ve been throwing every file I want to keep long term (images, text, movies, whatever) into one big folder on my desktop and letting Leap help me find, tag, sort and filter all of it.

I’m up to over 1200 files in my Leap folder and I’ve never failed to find what I need using this fantastic program.

Five stars.

posted by foster on Thursday, Jan 22, 2009

Not many people know this, but our own Chris Mayfield was at one time the tambourine player for the swedish boy band “Gert Jonnys.”

posted by foster on Monday, Jan 12, 2009

Uncle Mark’s Gift Guide and Almanac. A yearly publication with great gift ideas and other cool information.

posted by foster on Tuesday, Dec 16, 2008

While reading an interesting interview with the designers of the logo for Obama’s campaign, I discovered a cool little UI element on the New York Times website. If you select a piece of text, a little icon appears. When clicked, a window opens with options to define, search and other actions. Very nice attention to detail.

posted by foster on Friday, Nov 21, 2008

New trailer just out for Pixar’s new movie “Up.”

The color palette and texture in this new movie looks nothing short of gorgeous. I was so taken by the look of the trailer that I had to play it again just to find out what it was about. I also had to wipe a little drool from the corner of my mouth.

I’ve posted some screenshots of some of the more luxurious shots here. Just look at the texture on that kid’s uniform. Man, that’s nice

posted by foster on Thursday, Nov 20, 2008

Google further cements its overlord status by making millions of LIFE magazine photos available for search. How about those Mormons?

posted by foster on Tuesday, Nov 18, 2008

posted by foster on Tuesday, Oct 28, 2008

posted by foster on Monday, Oct 27, 2008