ted boren archives

The End of the Asterisk?

Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox today proclaims that we we should Stop Masking Passwords. He claims the usability costs are too high, especially on mobile devices where typos are more common.

I was skeptical, but he has some great points, the most important being that the greatest security risks when you are entering a password are really electronic—someone snooping your password through an unsecure connection. Someone watching your screen can just as easily watch your keyboard to see what keys you tap. But most of the time this is irrelevant, since you are at home and not really being stalked by an over-the-shoulder snooper.

And to cover the occasional Internet kiosk scenario, he suggests providing a checkbox that will let users decide whether they want to mask their password. I like it! Virtual equivalent of cupping your hand around the keypad at an ATM.

Now that I think about it, I have recently noticed that when I type a password on my mobile phone, it briefly shows the last character I typed before replacing it with an asterisk. (Is that an Opera Mobile feature?) That seems to be a concession to some of Nielsen’s points regarding mobile password entry. But I wonder whether it really makes sense either. If it’s visible to you briefly, then it’s visible to a snooper briefly too. But what are the chances that someone can see that teeny tiny text you are taptapping on your phone anyway???

So I guess he’s convinced me! Death to the Asterisk!

posted by ted on Wednesday, Jun 24, 2009 · 7 comments

I’ve only listened to the first podcast so far, but the Mormon Channel’s series on creativity seems really promising. Looking forward to the next episode on my commute!

posted by ted on Tuesday, Jun 23, 2009 · 0 comments

“Three lessons on what’s really important,” from Good Experience:

  1. “How important are you? Just ask a customer.” Great anecdote about Google asking people what a “browser” is…
  2. “Accept your unimportance. It may help.” If you believe you are the center of the universe, then you’ve just created a very small universe for yourself.
  3. “When people start believing their own hype, run.” Cites those “in the know” before the financial meltdown… who appeared to be in the “not-know” after all.

posted by ted on Wednesday, Jun 17, 2009 · 6 comments

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill.
They want a quarter-inch hole.”
Theodore Levitt, quoted in The Innovator’s Solution, sequel to The Innovator’s Dilemma, both recommended to me by John as I’m in the early stages of defining what a proposed product should do.

Timely reminder that customers “hire a product to do a job,” not to fill a slot on their shelf reserved for an artificial product category. (Of course they don’t really just want a hole; they want to build something, drain something, see through something, etc. We need to get down to real intents and desired outcomes, or we’ll never understand what we should build to meet real needs.)

posted by ted on Tuesday, Jun 09, 2009 · 1 comment

“How important is the voice of the customer? Very. But discerning the difference between what customers are able to say and what they want, and then acting on those unspoken desires, demands that companies learn to go well beyond listening.”
Dorothy Leonard, speaking of the importance of focusing on observation and desired outcomes rather than specific customer-proposed solutions, in “The Limitations of Listening,” Harvard Business Review, January 2002.

posted by ted on Tuesday, Jun 02, 2009 · 0 comments

“Something is elegant if it is two things at once: unusually simple and surprisingly powerful.”
Also from the same article by Matthew May.
What, in your experience, fits this definition?

posted by ted on Wednesday, May 27, 2009 · 4 comments

“Complexity isn’t the enemy to a chessmaster—without it they’d be playing checkers. But there’s times when we look at the stuff we buy or experience and we swear that the design and engineering weren’t even playing checkers.
They were playing Whack-A-Mole.”
A memorable image from a great article on elegant design by Matthew May. (Via Good Experience)

posted by ted on Wednesday, May 27, 2009 · 0 comments

Reflections After the Flood

No, I’m not waxing apocalyptic, just thinking about some things after a minor workplace disaster this morning.

I walked in to our work area this morning and found several boxes of my stuff shoved into the middle of the floor and Frank’s desk looking like a tornado zone, with posters and papers stacked haphazardly on the floor, instead of on the desk near the wall where he usually has them.

Apparently an air conditioning unit exploded over the weekend, several floors above us. The water coursed down the inside wall of the building, flooding workspaces on several floors.

This little adventure has caused me to reflect on a couple of things:

That’s all. Nothing too profound, just gratitude that things weren’t as bad as they could have been, appreciation for some people that I never met being generous enough to put their expertise out there for others to benefit from, and some timely reminders that there are things I can do now to prepare for disaster later.

posted by ted on Monday, May 18, 2009 · 3 comments

“In the competitive and sometimes rather commercial world of design, the novel and startlingly different can sometimes stand out and be acclaimed purely for that reason. But being creative in design is not purely or even necessarily a matter of being original. The product designer Richard Seymour considers good design results from ‘the unexpectedly relevant solution not wackiness parading as originality.’”
Bryan Lawson, in How Designers Think.

posted by ted on Monday, May 11, 2009 · 0 comments

I found the silver lining to my new phone…
It’s been a tough adjustment to lose my Blackberry (sorry Joel, that’s the facts), but I do like having a decent camera (for a phone cam anyway) ready on-hand to catch the occasional sunrise. This one is over American Fork Canyon, snapped by my son as I was driving him to school. (Hope that doesn’t violate Church policy :-)

posted by ted on Wednesday, Apr 29, 2009 · 5 comments

Bring Up a Design in the Way It Should Go

Some people talk as if you can make a product “without designing it.” That’s silly. You can’t make a product without designing it any more than you can raise a child without parenting him or her. You may parent poorly or well, but only in cases of extreme neglect could it be said that you didn’t parent at all. Same thing in making products; you either design haphazardly or deliberately, well or poorly, carefully or slothfully—but you can’t avoid Designing.

Designers are often compared to protective parents, watching over “their baby,” reluctant to take criticism of “their baby,” being proud of “their baby.” That’s all well and good—as long as you don’t spoil the child. Good design, like good parenting, requires discipline.

In parenting, one of the biggest risks is that you indulge your child’s every whim under the guise of “loving him or her.” It makes you feel good in the short term. It makes you feel liked. You may enjoy feeling like you’re a good provider because your kids “have it better than you did.” But if you overdo it, you end up with kids who can’t work for themselves, don’t respect you, and are very demanding. Not good for you, not good for them—because you won’t be there in a few years to defend and provide for them. They need to be able to stand on their own merits. The same applies to your design babies.

There is little risk that your design will start making demands on its own, but your own whims (and sometimes even good intentions) must often be curbed. Every time you add a feature, a decoration, a “little something extra”—does it really advance the design functionally or even aesthetically? Or are you “spoiling the child”? Are you adding bells and whistles in order to “keep up with the Joneses,” or are you really just building what’s needed?

Disciplined Design means knowing your audience and their needs.

It means prioritizing and setting limits (to scope, to budget, to resources).

It means saying, “No, you can’t have that right now. Maybe when you’re older.”

It means having a vision of what a product will be when it grows up, but having the patience to realize that it will take time to mature and reach that potential.

It’s saying “No” to some Good things to make room to say “Yes” to the Best things.

It’s applying tough love when your child goes astray, reining in when the design wanders off the straight and narrow path of meeting audience needs and out into the ever-shifting mists of fad and fashion.

So here’s to bringing up a design in the way it should go. Be kind and thoughtful, but also provide discipline, and maybe your “children” will bring you honor and joy, in good Biblical fashion.

posted by ted on Monday, Apr 27, 2009 · 1 comment

My favorite talk from General Conference was Elder Holland’s Easter message “None Were With Him,” now edited for length and supplemented with additional video on YouTube.

posted by ted on Saturday, Apr 11, 2009 · 0 comments

Sun rising over Mount TImpanogos this morning, as I drove to the Sunday morning session of the Church’s semi-annual General Conference with my son and daughter. Photo by my son.

Most of the talks are already posted in at least MP3 format. Nice work AV Department!

posted by ted on Sunday, Apr 05, 2009 · 2 comments

“Unlike the artist, the designer is not free to concentrate exclusively on those issues which seem most interesting. Clearly one of the central skills in design is the ability rapidly to become fascinated by problems previously unheard of.”
Bryan Lawson, in How Designers Think.

posted by ted on Wednesday, Apr 01, 2009 · 0 comments

Interesting Alertbox from Jakob Nielsen finding that “non-profits would collect much more from their websites if only they’d clearly state what they are about and how they use donations. ... Sadly, only 43% of the sites we studied answered the first question on their homepage. Further, only a ridiculously low 4% answered the second question on the homepage.” In other words, content usability and message design are as important as functional usability, especially if you are asking for money!

posted by ted on Monday, Mar 30, 2009 · 0 comments

“New technology + same old thinking = same old outcome with a buggy interface.”
Mark Hurst, in his latest Good Experience newsletter. Some important thoughts here about how a change in technology without a change in commitment to customers simply results in more efficient ways to annoy, frustrate, and exploit people.

posted by ted on Tuesday, Mar 24, 2009 · 0 comments

I was pondering whether to replace an Options dialog with a beefier-than-normal dropdown this very morning, when up pops Jakob Nielsen’s latest Alertbox. In it he argues in favor of “navigational mega-dropdowns” like the one above. This surprised me, given his past disapproval of the simple kind.

But he says the beefier versions actually overcome the deficiencies of the simple ones. Worth a read. He discourages their use for more robust interactions, though at least one of the positive examples he cites (Office-style ribbons) is used for a simple interaction like selecting a style, not just purely for navigation. So… hopefully that gives me the wiggle room I need to justify my “Options” mega-dropdown…

What do you think? Have you seen success with this kind of thing? Especially for more than basic navigation?

posted by ted on Monday, Mar 23, 2009 · 7 comments

Google’s logo today for the first day of spring is also a tribute to one of my 2-year old’s favorite books, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Love it! (Apparently, it’s also the book’s 40th birthday. It wears its age very well.)

posted by ted on Friday, Mar 20, 2009 · 1 comment

Bea-utiful Flickr set from Bea Rigby’s sabbatical in Bolivia and Peru. I like the thumbnails as a set almost as much as the individual photos.
We missed you Bea— welcome back!

posted by ted on Wednesday, Mar 11, 2009 · 0 comments

“Because design problems are so multi-dimensional they are also highly interactive… . It is the very interconnectedness of all [of the relevant] factors which is the essence of design problems, rather than the isolated factors themselves. In this respect designing is like devising a crossword. Change the letters of one word and several other words will need altering necessitating even further changes… .

If there was one single characteristic which could be used to identify good designers it is the ability to integrate and combine.”
Bryan Lawson, in How Designers Think, which I am now finally getting back to finishing. I am encountering this almost every day now. Tweak the background, up the contrast of the text. Up the contrast of the text, fix the associated icon to match. Fix that icon, tweak this icon to better distinguish it. Etc., etc., etc.

posted by ted on Tuesday, Mar 10, 2009 · 0 comments