Category Archives: information design

on #themeword

One of the highlights of LifeCamp was the discussion about theme words and what our theme word for 2008 would be. (Mine was “create.”) Chris Messina posted his to twitter, and thus a meme was born. See Chris’s recounting: Kicking off 2008 with a themeword

I wondered if there were any interesting patterns in the #themewords, so did a quick tweetscan search for themeword hashtags, scraped the data, and dumped it into Excel (with some nominal de-duping). I noticed that there were only a few words that were used by multiple people, but that the overall tone was amazingly positive.

I thought this would look interesting as a tag cloud (an overused visualization technique, yes, but still sometimes useful) so looked for and found a nice way to create an on-the-fly tag cloud at tagcrowd.com. The tagcrowd CSS got mangled by the WordPress template CSS, so I did a screen capture and posted the image to flickr.

#themeword tag cloud

Beautiful, eh? Here’s to a happy 2008!

Stop hassling me and just shut down already.

Why do I have to answer so many questions when I just want to shut down my laptop and go home?

Textpad: Do you want to save untitled.txt?
Me: No! If I’d wanted to save it, I would have.
Entourage: Do you want to empty your junkmail folder?
Me: I don’t care! Maybe I do, but why do I have to decide right now?
Firefox: You are about to close 10 tabs. Are you sure you want to continue?
Me: Yes! Why else would I be trying to shut down the machine?

Imagine if our houses were like this. (Error: you are about to leave the kitchen without emptying the dishwasher. Cancel | Yes | No ) We would not stand for it.

Why can’t I just turn off the computer? Is it really such a dumb machine that it can’t remember the last version of all open files? I wish I had a switch labeled “just turn off, I mean it, it’s time to go home and I don’t want to deal with you anymore.”

Is netflix.com the new CSS Zen Garden? (Which had been, in turn, the new amazon.com)

Another conference/seminar/meeting, another reference to netflix.com.

Many web eons ago, back in 2001 or so, amazon.com was brought up in every conversation of “what a website should look like.” Build tabs! Tabs are neat. They’re like file folders. People understand them. Just keep adding more tabs as you get or define new content areas. If you have more tabs than fit across one row? No problem! Add a second row. And a third. Amazon continued with the tab metaphor to the point where, because of the multiple rows of tabs, the structure became increasingly clumsy. So at some point the amazon.com designers scaled back to one row of tabs and had one of the tabs show, on hover, a big list of all categories. This felt like progress. Recently amazon.com was reborn with no tabs at all. This felt like an important moment in the trajectory of designing for the web.

In any case, my web-oriented discussions in meetings in 2001 focused on “What should a website look like? What is good navigation? What is amazon.com doing, and how can do learn from it?”

Fast forward, sort of, to a couple years later. Thanks to the efforts of Tantek and other smart people, the possibilities for page structuring using CSS were beginning to be understood, and navigation issues took the backseat to convincing Powers That Be that CSS was worth ripping apart and reassembling many thousands (in my case) of HTML documents.

Around this time a showy and fabulous grouping of sites known as csszengarden.com came on the scene. The CSS Zen Garden project was a chance for designers and CSS aficionados to prove to the world that CSS sites could be even more lovely than table layouts. From this point, in every meeting, in every discussion, in every utterance of web strategy-ness there came the inevitable “look at csszengarden.com! Look at what we can do with CSS!”

Somewhere along the way we, the CSS converts, won the battle over tabled layouts. CSS and XHTML are now standard. I’m not sure what role csszengarden.com played in this, but in my experience it was certainly significant in helping convince designers and business managers that CSS could help make stuff beautiful (as well as, of course, more easily maintainable). This started around 2002 and lasted until around 2005.

The discussion, particularly around 2002-03, was centered around “How should we build websites? What can we do with CSS?”

Since that time, web interactions have gotten more complicated and more important than ever for business operations — and the discussion has shifted to be more about ROI and customer experience. My conversations are less about how websites should be built, and more about what they should do.

And now, people bring up netflix.com to me on an almost daily basis, as the site does an exemplary job of explaining a complicated business process at the same time as offering a compelling and easy sign-up process; we are all thinking about the user experience in ways that we weren’t before.

I would say this is progress.

And I would say that the luster of the netflix.com experience will wear off fast. Until you sign up and provide personal information, the experience feels flat and disconnected. I predict that the next “brought up in every meeting” site will provide a rich and contextual experience before the sign up process is completed. (Maybe along the lines of upcoming.org?)