Design and copy changes in the new Windows 8 “blue screen of death”

In a recent episode of The Talk Show, John Gruber and Dan Benjamin pointed out something interesting about the Windows 8 redesign of Microsoft’s well-known “blue screen of death”. First, here’s an example of what this screen currently looks like:


Notice how Windows essentially accepts the blame in this situation. The title of the page says “Windows”, and they give you the cold, hard facts: An exception occurred. The application will be terminated, and you have to restart. Sucks to be you.

Compare that to the redesigned screen for Windows 8:


Notice all the subtle differences here. The emoticon to put you at ease. The nice font. The assurance that they will restart the computer – you don’t have to do it yourself like in the previous version. But most of all, notice the copy changes.

Your PC ran into a problem that it couldn’t handle and now it needs to restart.” In this version Windows isn’t the culprit any more – your PC is. Your computer did something it shouldn’t be doing so it broke. “But hey,” they say, “don’t worry, Windows has your back and is swooping in to save the day!”

It’s a subtle change in design and copy, but credit where it’s due: this is pretty clever.

Designing for permanence

Jennifer Fraser brings up an interesting point in What I Bring to UX From “¦ Architecture:

As an architect, the implicit permanence of designing a building carries with it a sense of responsibility”¦ I can’t help but wonder if we would have better designed products if some of that responsibility and sense of permanence of architecture found its way into what we do as user experience designers.

We live in an environment where most web design is seen as variable. With A/B testing, Minimum Viable Products, and the prevalence of Content Management Systems, nothing is set in stone. If something doesn’t work, we change it immediately – and see the results of those changes immediately as well. This is a very good thing; optimizing user experiences is, after all, what we do.

But I do wonder what would happen if we felt the weight of responsibility a little more when we’re designing. What if we go into a project as if the design we come up with might be around for 100 years or more? Would we make it fit into the web environment better, give it a timeless aesthetic, and spend more time considering the consequences of our design decisions?

The role of UX in the future of products and services

Kyle Baxter in The Age of Insight, responding to a fantastic essay by Seth Godin called The forever recession (and the coming revolution):

We have to think about completely disparate fields””say, manufacturing, software development, design, and psychology””and combine them to make products that conform themselves to humans, rather than making humans contort themselves to the product in order to use it. We must think about big ideas””ideas that will change society and how people interact””and the little ideas that merely improve peopl’s lives just a little.

We have to think. This is an age where all of our gains will come from insights into what make products, services, processes, and structures fundamentally better for us. Whereas the twentieth century was about standardization and following a series of steps in a well-defined process, in this new century, there are no defined processes. Everything is to be questioned, re-thought, re-made, or even thrown out altogether.

I completely agree with Kyle’s view that we’re shifting from a world where users have to conform to products and services, to a world where those products and services go extinct quickly unless they conform to the needs of users. I further believe that the field of user experience design needs to be a central player in this shift. The theory, psychology, tools, techniques, and practice of user experience align perfectly with the type of thinking that’s needed to make things that work better for us.

One of the biggest issues holding us back from taking a leadership role in this space is the term itself: user experience design. There is so much not to like about it. “User” has a sterile, detached, almost robotic feel. “Experience” can mean absolutely anything, and opposition to the word is growing (and not just from Merlin Mann). And then there is “Design”, a word everyone wants to own – and despite some fantastic definitions out there, no one can completely agree on what it is.

But for better or worse, this is the term we’re stuck with. So we have a predicament. The UX community is fighting over semantics and who should be allowed to call themselves a UX designer. If we could just step out of that for a while and think about the larger implications we’d be able to see how perfectly positioned we are to drive this fundamental shift to better products and services.

We borrow from social sciences to bring ethnography to design so we can uncover needs by observing users in their natural environments. We borrow from psychology to design experiences that follow the principles of visual perception and emotion. We build on a very long tradition of graphic design. We use design thinking, product discovery, and all the tools and techniques that go along with that to come up with appropriate solutions to problems. The list goes on and on.

My wish is that, as a user experience community, we would move beyond the argument over what to call ourselves.  And that we would move beyond our focus on web design and take ownership of our ability to bring our skills to physical products as well as “services, process, and structures” (in Kyle’s words). Let’s be a big part of the coming revolution.

Breaking down silos is not *that* naive

Jason Mesut made quite a few waves this week with his presentation Truth and Dare – Out of the echochamber into the fire. It’s definitely worth your time so I recommend you click through and read it before you continue here. Ther’s a lot to like and a lot to think about.

Jason explicitly asks for feedback and counter-arguments, so I do want to address one slide in particular, shown below:

Naive silos?

Now, I might be putting the puzzle together wrongly here, but since these slides came out right after I published a two-part series on Smashing Magazine called “Breaking Down Silos”, I’m going to assume h’s talking about those articles. If my assumption is wrong this is going to be really awkward, but oh well.

So, let’s look at why Jason is calling this concept “naive”. I wasn’t at the presentation, so all I have to go on is his bullet points.

Organisations are complex

Of course organizations are complex, and if anyone tries to argue otherwise they’ve never worked in one. But I never said that this is simple:

There are no shortcuts to breaking down silos. You can’t fix the environment if the organization doesn’t understand the problem. You can’t improve the development process if the right environment doesn’t exist to enable healthy guidelines. You have to climb the pyramid brick by brick to the ultimate goal: better software through true collaboration.

I don’t propose “7 steps to a happier you” in the article. I propose a process of understanding the problems and unique needs of the organization, followed by a tailored solution that takes those unique needs into consideration.

People are better in small groups

I absolutely agree, and that’s why prioritization at an organizational level needs to take this into account and empower small teams to do the work without interference. Her’s what I said in the article:

[Once strategic priorities are set], projects would move to small dedicated teams, which would have complete ownership of the design and implementation. The product council sets the priorities, not the details of implementation”Š”””Šthose are up to the teams themselves.

I go on to talk about the importance of autonomy and the meaning people find in their work when they work in these small groups.

Change takes too long

I don’t understand the argument here, so maybe this is one of those “voice-over required” points. But if the argument is that change takes too long so we shouldn’t even try, I don’t buy it. Her’s how I end the article, again acknowledging how difficult it is:

Building collaborative environments is not easy, because change management is not easy. But the positive outcomes of doing this far outweigh the pain of making it happen. You’ll end up with happy, creative teams that feel a sense of ownership over what they’re building and a sense of pride in its quality.

I’d also like to point out that I wasn’t being academic in these articles. Everything I wrote is based on principles we’ve tried and applied in real life in the organizations where I’ve worked. There’s always room for improvement and growth, but this wasn’t a theoretical exercise.

I know this doesn’t matter that much in the bigger scheme of things, and I admit that the only reason I’m even writing about it is a slight irritation with the word “naive”. But if Jason is indeed referring to my article (again, this is going to be really awkward if he’s not) I at least wanted to clarify my viewpoint.

So there that is.

Authorship and the balance of science and art in design

I really like Adrian Shaughnessy’s view on design authorship and that constant struggle to find the right balance between art and science in design. From A Layperson’s Guide to Graphic Design:

As designers we are inclined to solve the problems of our clients, but we want to do it in our own way and in our own voice.

Of course, this takes us to the essential paradox at the heart of all types of design: the urge for a personal authorial voice is considered to be antithetical to rational objective design. To be truly objective, the designer needs to remove all personal feelings from the equation and zero-in on a rational solution “” or so we are told.

Yet there never was great design of any kind that forced the designer to eradicate his or her own voice, and all great design, the stuff that matters, has a strong personal signature which doesn’t impede functionality. Designers may not be artists, but they still want to “” metaphorically and literally “” sign the work they do.

(link via @justinspratt)

The implications of Amazon’s Silk browser

The most interesting part of today’s Amazon announcement is not whether or not they have an “iPad killer” (ugh), but the news of the new Silk browser that will run on the Fire. The details are getting lost among all the “Is Apple dead?” talk, so I wanted to point you to a couple of important articles about the implications of Silk. Here’s a recap of what it does, from their blog:

Instead of a device-siloed software application, Amazon Silk deploys a split-architecture.  All of the browser subsystems are present on your Kindle Fire as well as on the AWS cloud computing platform.  Each time you load a web page, Silk makes a dynamic decision about which of these subsystems will run locally and which will execute remotely.

Silk will use Amazon’s EC2 service to pre-cache web browsing, and in the process return heavily compressed images to the browser. There are two things that might not be immediately clear from their announcement and accompanying video.

First, this is not a new idea (and it can have pretty negative effects on user experience). Here is Mark Wyner in Amazon Silk. Just Like AOL Used to Make:

This is quite exciting news for the laymen. But does anyone remember AOL and their promise of accelerated browsing? They, too, elected to compress images and run a proxy server to deliver websites faster.

The result was horrible. Professional web designers take great care to build websites which are optimized for speed while retaining as much quality and visual integrity as possible. When ther’s a middle man degrading our work, it causes problems.

Second, the data mining and aggregation implications are quite staggering. Here is Chris Espinosa in Fire:

But what this means is that Amazon will capture and control every Web transaction performed by Fire users. Every page they see, every link they follow, every click they make, every ad they see is going to be intermediated by one of the largest server farms on the planet. People who cringe at the data-mining implications of the Facebook Timeline ought to be just floored by the magnitude of Amazon’s opportunity here. Amazon now has what every storefront lusts for: the knowledge of what other stores your customers are shopping in and what prices they’re being offered there.

I’m sure we’ll hear more about these issues (and of course the privacy implications) in the days to come, but for now these are two very interesting posts on the implications of Silk – definitely read through them both.

Slides: An introduction to user experience design

One of the talks I do at speaking events is a general introduction to the elements of user experience design. The slides are always evolving so I’ve been hesitant to upload the presentation to Slideshare since it will be outdated pretty much immediately. It’s also a presentation that relies heavily on the voice-over – it’s not really something you can just read from front to back.

Having said that, I think it’s time to put at least a version of the presentation online, with a bunch of disclaimers about how this is a simplified view of what UX is, that it requires explanation in a lot of areas, and that it’s definitely not exhaustive or the only way to think about UX. Here’s the summary:

In this talk I give an overview of the elements of User Experience Design, and more importantly, why you should care about it. The goal is to provide some baseline knowledge of the user-centered design process to equip anyone to take those skills back to their daily work and start applying it immediately. I discuss user experience research, content strategy, interaction design, and visual design, and how those elements work together to build great experiences.

So, here you go. I hope you find it useful.

Frictionless content sharing and the shifting burden of understanding

Frank Chimero reflecting on Facebook’s advances in “frictionless sharing” of content:

Any physicist knows that it’s impossible to exist in a frictionless universe, and that friction hasn’t been diminished with Facebook’s sharing model so much as transferred the work of making sense of things from the one sharing to the audience.

I recently mentioned that reducing the effort needed to share and communicate with others might be inching us closer to a post-literate society. Frank’s remark adds another consideration: the reduced effort required to share information places the burden of understanding much more on the audience than on the person sharing.

“Frictionless” sharing of what song you are currently listening to sounds interesting at first, and then it just starts to sound creepy. But even if you can get beyond the creepiness factor you’re faced with the fact that it becomes the audience’s responsibility to make sense of that information. How interesting is knowing what song I’m listening to without an explanation why I’m listening to it and what it means to me?

At what point will all this lazy sharing result in lazy audiences who can’t be bothered to go hunting for the meaning in the information? At what point does the audience become mere “consumers” of content in the true sense of the word – “to destroy or expend by use” – and end up in a similar situation as the obese passengers on the Axiom?

Coffee, sense of place, and designing whole experiences

Somehow my wife and I found our way to The Coffee Roasting Company at Lourensford Wine Estate on Saturday. We’ve never been there, and the experience was fantastic. I recently referenced an article on how architecture can be used to influence behavior, and this place is a prime example. The coffee shop is designed to encourage talking and not rushing.

You’re greeted with the almost-overwhelming smell of different coffees blending together. Next you notice the unpretentious, “we’re just here to brew good espresso” decor, followed by the rustic tables and stacks of well-read books about coffee scattered all over. This is how coffee should be enjoyed.

As my wife and I settle in to wait for our cappuccinos I pick up a book called Coffee by Claudia Roden. I read out loud to her:

In Turkey at one time, a man promised when he married never to let his wife go without coffee, and it was considered a legitimate cause for divorce if he neglected to do so. So important is coffee in Oriental life that it is common for beggars to ask for money to buy it. It is inconceivable that they should go without. Business and bargaining are always done over a cup of coffee served before the argument starts. Whether in a shop or a market stall it creates a bond and an obligation between buyer and seller.

Reading about coffee


Facebook Open Graph and the post-literate society

Here’s Mashable in an article with a title that sounds like it was created in a random buzzword generator: Facebook Open Graph Seeks to Deliver Real-Time Serendipity:

Facebook felt constrained by the Like button because it was an implicit endorsement of content. Facebook wants users to share everything they are doing, whether it’s watching a show or hiking a trail, so it decided to create a way to “express lightweight activity.”

So in essence they’re saying that clicking the Like button is too much of a commitment; the action is too heavy. We need something a little more indifferent and “lightweight”.

With the Like button you already didn’t have to use words. With Facebook Open Graph you grant permission to an app once, and then it silently and passively starts broadcasting what you’re doing. No thinking required.

By continuing to reduce the effort needed to share and communicate with others we seem to inch ever closer to a post-literate society.  In his essay Like, the Post-Literate Society, James Shelly discusses this phenomenon and quotes Bruce W. Power:

What happens to thinking, resistance, and dissent when the ground becomes wordless?

He goes on to say this:

Thus I ponder: do we become a post-literate society at the moment we manifest an incapacity to discuss our own potential status as such? If so, are we already there?

These are good questions on a day like today.


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