A little too simple?

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending time in several bookshops, just browsing. One of the stores I visited was Kinokuniya, in George St. It’s a great store (if at times a little over-priced), with a huge range of books. But because the shop is so large, they try and help shoppers with a touch-screen kiosk that searches for your book, and prints out a map of where the book is located (if it’s in stock).

Kinokuniya kiosk

As you can see, it’s a very simple interface. In fact, this is the second screen. The first screen lets you choose what items you want to search on, author name, book title, etc. And the results are very accurate. But this screen in particular, while it may look simple enough, it’s perhaps a little too simple. Why?

Yes, Qwerty layouts might not be as optimised for performance as Dvorak’s, but it’s what we know.

Standard Qwerty Layout
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I put it to you, that when presented with a keyboard-esque layout for entering text, our brains, which are now so used to the standard qwerty layout, have great difficulty swapping to the unrelated visual order of the Kinokuniya interface. Sure, it’s simple, but it’s been overly simplified.

Did I miss something?
Funny enough the thing I missed – which you might have on first glance as well – is the button “PC Keyboard mode”. Sorry, but im not using this kiosk to set my personalised options – there is no ubicomp going on here, I just want to search for a book. So as far as im concerned, my brain is like “this button doesnt even exist”. Especially when im standing on an angle to the screen, AND my focus is on the keyboard, and not in the bottom right corner.

While the time difference between using Qwerty or not wouldn’t be measured even in minutes, it just bugs me they dont use Qwerty by default, AND that I have to choose to use it. I dont want to have to learn another layout. Ive already got to deal with mobile phones, pda, dvd’s, security locks… my brain just wants to enjoy the browsing experience. I want to find a book.

Interestingly, I initially had the same reaction (but for different reasons) to the use of the Qwerty layout on the iPhone.

iPhone qwerty
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

After using Nokia mobile devices for such a long time, with their predictive text and limited 12 button interface, I thought that using the qwerty layout for sms was too complicated, and perhaps it is (I haven’t had a chance to really play with the SMS capabilities of the iPhone – not having one of my own!!), but at least Apple didn’t attempt to come up with a new layout.

The Kinokuniya kiosk may be helpful, but from an interface design point of view, I find it ignores the user and their use-case. It is (for want of a better term) undesigned. And although undesign can be found everywhere and is a legitimate approach to interface design, ignore the user at your own peril!

Tags vs Text

Over at my work blog, we have just uploaded a post about how we created a Flash Text Cloud for one of our recent clients.

Bottom line, if you are in need of a faux tag cloud made in Flash, there is both a download and example for you to enjoy. And if you’re interested in tossing up how to go about creating your own tag (or text) cloud, we’ve also outlined the reasons we used Flash and not CSS.

Hello Facebook!

So, at work we are currently doing some testing out of the Facebook API, and short of coming up with the next best idea on the web, I decided to re purpose a version of Solitaire I made a few years back in Flash.

So here is is for everyone to enjoy :


Online news done the right way

If you haven’t had a chance yet, go check out the redesign of ABC news. It is a shiny example of what can be achieved when you embrace some of the cool new HTML/CSS/Javascript techniques, while maintaining accessibility and increasing useability.

Even better, it doesn’t have banner ads.. (yet). Oh but it’s pretty!! Homepaged already.

EDIT – Also noticed that ABC news has it’s own twitter feed : http://twitter.com/abcnews/, and that RSS feeds from the site are totally customisable (if you like), based on your keywords.

Read the newspaper online… literally

SMH.com.au has started showing the entire print version of their daily newspaper online : SMH News Paper Direct.

online paper
Screenshot taken from smh.newspaperdirect.com

Im not sure what I think of this idea yet – mainly I think it’s a waste of time, but there are parts that could be good from an accessibility point of view. Like the ability to hear an audio transcript of a story… but surely screen readers et al can do this for the existing website?

It was also pointed out to me that producing this type of online version is reasonably easy for them to do – in that they would have the paper in roughly this format already… but does easy make it useful? Not sure about that…

EDIT : ive had a little bit more of a play with it.. and there are a few cool things it can do – like translating content to various languages, skipping through content in a “webby” kind of way… but again, surely this is all done with the existing site? I guess the only thing I really like about it is that there are no banner ads!! Anyway…

How do you RSS?

18 months ago, my fiance gave me an iPAQ 6365 PDA. I was over the moon – the first PDA i’d ever owned, it played music, took photos, and to boot had a mobile phone built into it. Even better, it had all these awesome wireless technologies built right into it… I couldn’t even begin to think of all the possibilities my new friend was going to open up for me.

I gave Skype Mobile a go, but the 6365 uses a low consumption CPU, and wasn’t powerful enough to run it. I’m forever dabbling with wireless IM, but there is no way that I could ever write as fluidly or without errors using a stylus as I can with all 10 digits. I’ve written small apps in Flash for PDA consumption – like the TV guide, but in this example finding a reliable XML feed of Australian TV has been at times frustrating and non-reliable. I’d thought that surfing Google Maps on my PDA as I hunt for a place to buy in Sydney would be novel – but it turns out that my Nokia 6280 mobile does that better… albeit at a higher cost. And along side all of these disappointments I’ve maintained my contact list, appointments and personal email via Outlook, even though i’d prefer to move to Thunderbird (thanks Windows CE).

Needless to say, I had almost given up hope for my PDA, and it started to become ill-used… and this just so happened to coincide with my whole-hearted adoption of RSS as a means of news gathering. Firefox began to use Live bookmarks, and poor PDA got left to the side… used as a glorified contact list and events manager (which I might add, my mobile also did).

Well, we all know what happened to RSS – it’s matured, and now I more often than not get my daily dose of any given blog / news source / forum / entertainment channel via this incredibly powerful new way of interacting with the internet. Of course, to traverse this new internet, Live bookmarks are not enough, and so I was introduced to Google Reader. I could have used any number of RSS Aggregators, but I like google interfaces, and I like the integrated sign in of Network Google.

An awesome tool, Google Reader allows me to continually add more and more RSS feeds. It is insatiable! At first, I tried to maintain the pace, every day opening up Google Reader, and – using the unread email paradigm – clearing my inbox. But as more and more of the internet becomes RSS-ified, there are constantly more and more sites I want to add, and every day my unread feeds keep growing and growing and growing. And no matter how much id like to, there just isn’t enough hours in the day to read every new Boing Boing post that appears.

Last year, this reached critical mass. I could no longer even pretend to keep up with my reading, and im sure my list of feeds is modest in comparison to others. So I began to read books again. One book after the other – I almost welcomed with relief the confines of the printed page. I knew where it would end, I knew that given an hour I could get 5 chapters out of the way, and that was great.

Soon though, life demanded I get up to speed with some new technologies, and so I opened up Google Reader once more… ignoring my clusters of 100+, and added another link to the mass. I played around with a Live Bookmark of all my feeds, I guess a limited window of all the bits I like the best, a list of lists. This certainly made life much easier, because now I only cared about what was in the list… I didnt have to open Reader up and know how far behind I was. If I had time, I could read a story (based on it’s headline), no pressure. This was a revolution, but the best was yet to come.

These days, I’ve cracked open my PDA again, but not to develop games, or applications, or attempt to sync it with Thunderbird (though this is something I may do in the near future). Instead, now I use Google Reader Mobile, and read my RSS feeds at leisure, at home, as i’m falling asleep, just like my books. And im really quite pleased with it! At last, a reason to love my PDA again!! And better yet, if I read a tidbit that I like, I follow the “See Original” link, and Google re-translates the original website into a mobile-specific format! Noice!

Now, not all users on the web are happy with this service, and I can see valid reasons why re-translating a site into an alternative structure can blow completely, but for the content that I read, it is soo much better than trying to load up css and images and flash.

This is how I RSS these days, and the reasons why. How about you?

Of Stacks and Heaps

OK, so I may not be a hard-core programmer like some in th room (you know who you are), but there are times when I really enjoy understanding just that little bit more about the (computer) world we live in today. So it was a very pleasant time spent on Kirupa this evening, learning and understanding (I think) about how memory is allocated based on my hacked together code. All very interesting, and perhaps someone can tell me if it’s all correct?

Stacks and Heaps

labs.shiftperception.com/ soft launch

Announcing the (playstation-style underwhelming) launch of labs.shiftperception.com/ (NOTE: there is currently no way of accessing the content in this directory, but there will be soon). I wanted a place for unfinished experiments to live on my server, and all / the / cool / guys / seem / to / have / one, so I decided, to make myself cooler (than I already am), I needed to get in on the action.

So as I get new things to show off, i’ll be adding them to the lab. Come back and check soon!

Download simulator

OK, so this isn’t so amazing or new or anything other than what it is… which is a very simply Flash tool I made today at work to help describe to clients how long something takes to download on a 56k dialup vs a DSL connection.

Props to OJ for the functions to calculate the speed, as I was suffering from lack of coffee, or lack of sleep, or both. Either way, let’s call this our first collaborative widget!! Hehehe!

[kml_flashembed movie="/blog/swf/download-simulator.swf" width="350" height="200" fversion="8" /]

SWF and UFO holding hands

The popular Flash javascript embed techniques SWFObject and UFO have joined forces to create SWFFix. Still in it’s alpha stage, this is a development to keep an eye on.

They have already created this very useful test suite which highlights the complexity of making a generic and graceful embed technique for Flash content.

Really, it shouldn’t be this hard to embed Flash cross browser cross platform, but unfortunately it is. So hopefully we see even more improvement on the already very good SWFObject techniques in the near future…