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.

Sleeping Kindles and designing for experiences beyond the web

I love Tom Armitage’s post Asleep and Awake, about the differences between the Kindle and the iPad. Here’s how he describes what happens when you wake each device up:

The Kindle blinks ““ as if it’s remembering where it was ““ and then displays a screen that’s usually composed of text. The content of the screen changes, but the quality of it doesn’t. Ther’s no sudden change in brightness or contrast, no backlight. If you hadn’t witnessed the change, you might not think there was anything to pay attention to there.

When the iPad wakes up, everything else in the room disappears; your attention’s been stolen by that burst of light.

He goes on to describe the Kindle as having a “quiet confidence” while the iPad constantly seeks your attention. The conclusion serves as a healthy reminder of the scope of true user experience:

The Kindle, much like a paperback book, is just as happy “asleep” as it is in use. It’s a reminder that the design of genuinely ubiquitous devices and products is not just about what they are like in use; it is also about what they are like when they are just present.

We need to remember that even on the web, we’re not just designing online experiences. All the touch points with users have to be designed. Yet we often don’t apply user-centred design principles to areas like customer support and logistics. Let the Kindle’s “asleep” state remind us to do so.

How to frame a UX project

Kelly Sutton provides a great reminder of what design thinking is all about in Your idea is terrible, a post about startups and the current obsession with “social layers”:

The problems that your project solves shouldn’t start with “Wouldn’t it be nice if”¦” Instead, they should always be phrased, “X sucks because Y and Z.” You may not even have a solution. Technology may not even be the right solution. But please stop adding social layers to social layers and raising 5 million dollarbucks.

Every UX project should be framed in the same way.

Don’t start with “What would happen if we move this button over here?” Instead, start with “Our checkout process sucks because our research shows that users are not seeing the ‘Pay now’ button.”

Windows 8, Metro UI, and why most people buy Windows PCs

Marco Arment recently wrote an excellent post about the differences between Apple and Microsoft customers. It got me thinking about Windows 8, Metro UI, and a slightly different theory on what Microsoft is trying to accomplish with the next version of their operating system. Here’s Marco:

People who aren’t willing or able to compromise on their needs regularly are much more likely to be Windows customers. The Windows message is much more palatable to corporate buyers, committees, middlemen, and people who don’t like to be told what’s best for them: “You can do whatever you want, and w’ll attempt to glue it together. It won’t always work very well, and you might not like the results, but we will do exactly what you asked for.”

He leaves out one important group of people who are also more likely to be Windows customers: regular users who don’t care about computers at all, and just want something to perform their daily email / browsing tasks on. Matt Gemmel sums up this crucial market really well:

The biggest (and most lucrative) set of customers is ordinary people, without a computing degree or specialist knowledge. These are people with no interest in specific technologies, but only in how easily they can finish today’s tasks without reading the manual. Apple caters to that market; companies who loudly proclaim their device supports CSS3 and MPEG4 and SDHC don’t even understand that it exists.

I agree with Marco’s (and Matt’s) main point: one of the main reasons for Apple’s success is their ability to compromise in the way that designers use the word: saying no to the right things. And that the Microsoft team will need to learn to compromise like that if they want to compete seriously on the tablet front.

Still, most people buy Windows PC’s not because they care about extensibility or because they have moral objections to Apple’s supposed walled garden. Most people buy Windows PC’s because they are just plain indifferent. It’s what they know, it’s what they’ve always used, and they don’t care enough about computing to consider other alternatives. This isn’t a good or a bad thing in itself, it’s simply the way it is.

The inventions that prevent information from vanishing

James Gleick provides a very interesting excerpt from his book The Information in the article How Information Became a Thing, and All Things Became Information. In the excerpt he discusses the inventions that allow us to record and preserve information (like the transistor and the “bit” as unit of measure), and how this fundamentally changed society:

The information produced and consumed by humankind used to vanish””that was the norm, the default. The sights, the sounds, the songs, the spoken word just melted away. Marks on stone, parchment, and paper were the special case. It did not occur to Sophocles’[1] audiences that it would be sad for his plays to be lost; they enjoyed the show[2].

Now expectations have inverted. Everything may be recorded and preserved, at least potentially: every musical performance; every crime in a shop, elevator, or city street; every volcano or tsunami on the remotest shore; every card played or piece moved in an online game; every rugby scrum and cricket match.

It looks like a great book. James, if you’re out there, when will the Kindle edition be available?


  1. The Wikipedia entry on Sophocles is fascinating.↩
  2. Speaking of enjoying the show↩

Why I write: noticing and sharing

Frank Chimero in Stand Clear of the Closing Doors:

Noticing is important, but what’s more important is sharing what one observes to define the edges of the experiences we share. This overlap bonds us, and the best part of paying attention is that it reminds us that we are occupying the same space at the same time as others. We are a part of the world, even in those in-between spaces.

I’ve read many books and articles about writing and why we write, but this is probably the statement that comes closest to my own feelings about writing. I want to share the things I notice in an attempt to find some of those shared experiences and the overlap that bonds us.

C.S. Lewis once said, “We read to know we are not alone.” I guess I write to know we are not alone – especially in an industry like ours that can sometimes feel very isolated.

Ok, that came out way heavier than I planned. In my defense, it’s a rainy Sunday afternoon. Anyway, here’s a video of a dancing cat to balance things out a bit.

Persuasion design in grocery stores

I recently wrote about persuasion design on the web. In How Whole Foods “Primes” You To Shop, Martin Lindstrom gives some great examples of how grocery stores use persuasion design tactics to get people to buy more:

Ever notice that there’s ice everywhere in this store? Why? Does hummus really need to be kept so cold? What about cucumber-and-yogurt dip? No and no. This ice is another symbolic. Similarly, for years now supermarkets have been sprinkling select vegetables with regular drops of water–a trend that began in Denmark. Why? Like ice displays, those sprinkled drops serve as a symbolic, albeit a bogus one, of freshness and purity. Ironically, that same dewy mist makes the vegetables rot more quickly than they would otherwise. So much for perception versus reality.

I get it, and I understand that businesses need to make money, and this helps them do it. I don’t have to like it though, right?


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