Monday, February 22, 2016

Present simple messages simply

The best way to visually display simple messages, is simply. 

In Sunday's Washington Post is an article on how Metro is trying to get its train drivers to stop at red lights. Through inattention, rote and sometimes tiredness, Metro drivers sometimes drive through red alerts. The mistake can be disastrous. 

As a reminder, Metro put a reminder sticker in the dark drivers  cab to remind drivers to stop at the red lights. About the size of a postcard, the sign fails as it breaks mobile device and design laws. As is, the sign is simply another distraction for drivers. 

I doubt the people at Metro are bad people or don't care about making good learning aids. However, they should probably talk to one designer and let that designer build one good sign. 

All caps, yellow and red, and bold. And underline. Don't forget bold. These are the simple rules non-designers follow.  In context, they're incredibly effective. Together, they're a circus.
  • All caps. Why? Because you're emphasizing what's most important? And every letter in this message capitalized? 
  • Yellow. A yellow background is really good with a contrasting color. Like green or black. And vice versa. In this case, the second thing your eye sees is the background.
  • Red. In small doses, red can make your heart lightly race. A little goes a long way. 
  • Bold. Bolding one or two words in a sentence draws the reader's eye and demands attention. Bolding all words tires your mind. 
  • Underlines. Since 2000, they mean hyperlink. Don't use it for emphasis.

Headlines. This medium offers space for one word. OK. Attention. That's what you want to tell a train driver as they're driving through a tunnel? You already have their attention. What is the one word you want the driver to think about? 

How about STOP.

Metro should start again. If they hired me, I'd start with two questions: 

  1. Who is your audience? I believe they're experienced train drivers who spend long shifts standing up. They're focused on what's directly ahead of them, and if they have time to read, would probably be while they're at a dead stop in a station.
  2. What is the environment? Any small sign will be on the driver's dashboard, near important gauges the driver is constantly monitoring. The dashboard is dark, and the train is most likely in a dark tunnel while moving.
A light background would draw the driver's attention to the words. My headline would jump off the dashboard: 

This is a learning aid, a simple reminder. The message shouldn't be teaching the driver a behavior but simply reinforcing something the driver already knows. Like good advertising, it should simply be a pleasant reinforcement. 

Imagine if a driver saw "ROCC permission" 20 times out of the corner of his eye over two shifts. They'll start thinking about ROCC permission each time they step into their cabs. 

Now, Metro can focus on keeping their drivers engaged on the tracks throughout their drive, stay on track, and continue to keep all of us safe .

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why I'm a Digital Ideaist

I was listening to an archived interview with Dr. John and Terry Gross in my NPR podcast channel. In the interview, Gross asked John how should she describe him: Singer, piano player, songwriter, composer?

Now I have been following Dr. John for a long time. Born Mac Rebinac, he started as a guitar player in New Orleans. He was (accidentally) shot in the hand, and he switched to piano. He’s a boogie woogie, Cajun, shaman bandleader. He’s diverse enough to be in The Last Waltz and Exile on Main Street. He has a call-and-response style with his background singers not unlike Ray Charles. He's recorded an album of nearly only piano that I listen to while coding.

So Gross asked him, how do I classify you? And John said, 'please, call me a musician. Whether I’m playing piano, singing, banging a drum, composing, writing or picking up my guitar, I’m making music. It’s what I do. I’m a musician.'

This made me wonder who I think I am. I have a wide circle of friends who see me wearing different hats: father, fantasy football despot commissioner, workout fiend, dog chaser. At work, I'm a coder, project leader, dreamer, realist, pragmatist, strategist.

So I say, call me a digital ideaist.

Because, if I don’t do it, somebody else well.

So who are you? 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Jared Spool in Action

Last night, I was lucky enough to see Jared Spool give his interactive presentation, “Anatomy of a Design Decision,” which reminded me a bit of Dale Earnhardt in his prime.

Last week in the Washington Post, Liz Clarke described Earnhardt’s racing genius as being able to "see the air.” He knew how to draft other drivers and see paths others could not. Like other usability consultants, Spool makes his living showing the rest of us the “obvious” paths, providing the rest of us the a-ha moments.

Last night, Spool helped us see the kind of designers we are (no, really) and what we should aspire to be.

written on Feb. 24, 2011

Friday, August 2, 2013

Bill Simmons, in his prime

I've talked about Bill Simmons in glowing light. He's a long-winded, online friend to many of us. Like that college friend, you haven't seen in a decade, you still know him and know well. To his core, because you both developed your cores together and at the same time.

Simmons is Mr. Interactive Media right now, and in his prime. I can't read his ESPN and Grantland columns -- they're too long and oh-so-specific. especially about NBA minutea. But Simmons and I still share our sweet spots: the NFL, some Olympics, video games.

I'm reveling in Simmons' podcasts now. He is rolling in fifth gear and who knows how long he can extend his prime. This year, he's had sit-downs with Barack Obama, Larry Bird, Mark Cuban, Magic Johnson. His Eric Mangini interview was tolerable (!)

Catch a wave and you're sitting on top of the world

When you go to Ireland, go first to the west coast to see why these fair-skinned peopled dress in full-length wet suits to surf an an ocean that's always in winter.

Look for the shock of hair and white faces poking out of the suit; that's Irish. Caps and hats are for foreigners, for the rest of the European Union.

The waves are small, fast, hard ... and relentless. To find a sweet swell, with some opportunity for adventure, an Irishman's got to paddle out a few hundred yards. You know, for it to be interesting.

The joy isn't riding a long wave, or a tall one. It's riding so many of them. Again and again. Until it's dark. The joy is being in the water because it fells grand. No one to say can't, no one to say no.

In Irish Summer, it doesn't get dark until 11 at night. It doesn't get warm, either. Water temperature is about 50 degrees F, but the air temperature is every bit of 55.

In a country that grows green grass, rain, cows and sheep, the Irish are always the small sister at the table in in EE talks. The Irish understand limited resources. They also appreciate bounty when they see it. In a fishing ocean split into quarters for the Spanish by the European Union, a frigid ocean wave is a gift from God that can only be taken with both feet.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Conflicting priorities

I thought this was an interesting paradox: one construction project trumping another construction project. Though both projects yield a permanent product, management prioritized the structure.

Prospective mothers will hopefully be inconvenienced for just one week.

What's another way management could've handled this conflict? Please comment below.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Having a good friend in your back pocket

I once took a course on television (!), culture, and their effects on each other.

We spent a lot of time on Marshall McLuhan and his messages of global village, electronic interdependence and how the medium is the message. Basically, he said electronic technology could shrink the world (slightly, and global audiences would learn how they were more similar in their expectations than dissimilar.

In that same class we saw different TV shows which had formed micro-communities, like Cheers, I Love Lucy, All in the Family and every soap opera. For the characters inside these shows, there was no world outside their communities. If the audience identified with the characters and grew an affinity for them, the show would succeed.

I've been making new friends lately. I'm working remotely on my own, and have befriended Tony Kornheiser, Terry Gross and Bill Simmons. I found them on iTunes and download their podcasts to my iPhone. While taking long dog walks or coding on my laptop, I listen to their stories, their conversations with interesting friends and gain a new perspective on the world. I keep them in my back pocket and listen to them on demand.

I'm not alone.

I met an NIH worker who moved his family from Bethesda to Hagerstown to save 70% on his mortgage payments. He commutes at 3:30 a.m. to drive 90 minutes (any later and the highway is filled). In 3 years, he's listened to 200 books on tape.

Judo Chuck at Penn State is raising three girls at home and wants to participate in a virtual party program, if only someone would create it. His idea: Have people around the world attend an online party, so isolated people like himself can hang with them online, dozens at a time. He wants more than a chat room, something in which he can connect with online friends – new and old.

I've turned Mike Barnsback on to podcasts; he listens to recorded episodes during his 30-minute commute and keeps his radio off. Mat Edelson is about to produce podcasts for an audience to learn more about the towns in which they live.

I've been thinking about the online communities I've joined through podcasting. I've sat in on online history classes on Cal-Berkeley, taken a New Media class through the University of Michigan – all through podcasting.

I'm addicted to my daily doses of Tony Kornheiser on local radio, and he's addicted to serving me. Previously, Tony's podcasts would be in iTunes about 24 hours after his daily, 2-hour show is done. Now they're available about 90 minutes after the show's over. The podcasts are in two parts for a total of 70 minutes – all the commercials are trimmed; it's all Tony and crew.

My iPhone staples are several shows from WFAN sports radio in New York. Because only the 10-minute interviews are posted online, they're still topical if you can hear them within a week. NPR's Terry Gross' Fresh Air show is evergreen, so I get to it when I can.

I'm intrigued by my own reaction to my new fifth-best friend, Bill Simmons, the Page 2 (columnist) Guy from His podcast is a rambling conversation with semi-interesting people on sports and some similar stuff. It feels like he knows his guests from past lives: growing up around Boston; college at Holy Cross; Los Angeles lifestyle; past jobs as sportswriter, bartender, comedy-show writer; family man.

On podcast, he's connecting and re-connecting with people throughout his universe. Do I care about his teams, the Celtics and Red Sox? No, and hell no, but I care that he cares. It's fun to listen to his passion and his friends' myriad answers and thoughts on UConn basketball, Clippers stars, movies with The Rock and Nicolas Cage, and comedy shows.

Sometimes, it sounds like the glory days of the Cheers cast where different people with different lives share a good time at the bar. Often they have little in common but for the walnut under their elbows and a good thirst. Individually, they're kind of losers; they're there so often because they don't have another place to be.

Simmon's podcast friends are kind of like that: one-trick ponies who know their topics very well, We're not asking them about other topics. Why should we? The guy who explains how the wise guys bet in Vegas broadens my horizon just a litte bit, and he's gone. Trent Dilfer offers his insight on what it was like being a quarterback on a Monday morning, and he's gone.

Bill Simmons hasn't become my best friend, but he feels like my fifth-best friend, and I hear a lot more from him than I do my extended family. He's available on my demand, in my pocket, when I'm ready for him. If I get busy and don't listen to him for a month, we can re-connect – on my schedule.

In a shrinking, global community, he's my old college roommate, available on demand.