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Archive for the ‘Innovations’ Category

Designing From A Fresh Perspective

As a designer, its easy to fall into patterns that conform to established models. But to truly innovate, you must bring a fresh perspective to every design challenge. I was recently reminded of the value of a fresh perspective, when my 7 year old daughter took on the challenge of making a computer for her American Girl Doll. Because we all know that any self-respecting doll, has gotta be connected.


American Girl Doll Using Her Laptop

However, this was not an ordinary computer. It was a Mac, which was already enough to make me proud. But it was also customized to her doll’s very specific needs. First of all, it was purple, which is the doll’s favorite color, it was also sized perfectly so that it could fit into her purse and it even had a rear facing camera to take pictures of the other dolls while she was on “Facebook.” But what amazed me the most was the keyboard layout. Yes it included most of the typical numbers and letters that you’d find on a keyboard. However this keyboard was also personalized. It had special keys for her email address, zip code, and Facebook username “in case she got tired of typing.” This really made me realize how much I hate typing in my email address all the time, especially on mobile devices. Wouldn’t it be great if I could have a single key that take care of that for me? Yes, I know most web browsers retain email inputs to support an autofill function, however mobile browsers typically don’t support that capability as well. And in mobile interactions, that capability would have most value.


Personalized Keyboard

In designing her computer, my daughter never considered the limitations that come with a standardized physical keyboard. In her mind, a computer should be customized to meet the needs of the user. And in today’s world of virtual keyboards and personalization features, there is the opportunity to make that reality. It might even change the way we think about our personal devices. So in your next project, try injecting a fresh perspective and you may be surprised with the results.





Flex that Box Model!

The CSS Flexible Box Layout Module Level 1 (or Flexbox) is a box model specification in which the children of a flex container can be laid out in any direction, and can “flex” their sizes, either growing to fill unused space or shrinking to avoid overflowing the parent.  In other words, it’s a neat way for front-end developers to layout content in a way that isn’t just “left to right, top to bottom”.

Flex that Box ModelBut I’m not here to tell you what Flexbox is, nor am I here to tell you how to use it.  At the end of this post are a few links that can cover that for you well enough.  No, what I’m here to tell you is that right now you in fact can use Flexbox.  Go ahead!  Use it!  Before vender prefixes were added, browser support for Flexbox had been sporadic and not very well adopted.  It was possible to use Flexbox on any project you wanted, but the problem was it wouldn’t work on a majority of browsers and mediums.  Now (looking at this Can I Use chart), adoption is so widespread it’s almost universal.

The only problem is (say it isn’t so!) Internet Explorer.  Trying to use the flex box model on anything earlier than IE10 just isn’t going to work.  This is the main issue, and unfortunately it’s a pretty dang big issue.

The solution? Go ahead and use Flexbox, just be sure to contain it to mobile devices (or progressive enhancements).  Most uses that I’ve had for needing to adjust the box model layout in a way that required Flexbox were design changes from desktop to mobile devices. Say you’ve got a two column layout with your main content and a right-hand sidebar.  If you wanted that sidebar information to float to the top of your page on a mobile device above the main content, you were going to have a difficult time. With Flexbox however, it’s pretty simple. And if used in conjuncture with media queries or Modernizr, keeping any usages of Flexbox limited to mobile device should be simple as well.

At the time of this posting, I’m not aware of any shims or polyfills to make Flexbox work on IE9 and earlier, so it’s not looking like widespread adoption of Flexbox in Internet Explorer will be happening anytime soon, but never say never!  And regardless of that, it is now finally a good time to start use Flexbox on mobile devices!

If you’d like to learn more about using and implementing Flexbox, here are two links from Chris Coyier of CSS-Tricks:

Invitation from Google to become a Glass Explorer

Earlier this year, Google had launched +Project Glass contest and offered a unique opportunity to experience Google Glass in-person. I entered into the contest as well and my submissions can be found here. Approximately eight thousand winners were selected and I was not one of them.

Recently, I received an email from “Glass Support” with an invitation to become a glass explorer! See email below:

Google Glass Invitation

I have not yet decided if I will join the program and purchase the Glass Developer Kit which has a price tag of $1500. Trying to figure out business value for Google Glass; from an enterprise IT perspective, I’m not sure how we can use Glass currently. In addition, I don’t think any of our largest partners are working/developing for Glass – example: IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, etc.

Since I am a technology enthusiast, I would like to get Glass for personal use anyway; it would create nice blog posts to share my experiences with especially how wearable tech is transforming user experience.

I would like to hear your opinion – Should I invest in Google Glass? Why or Why Not?

The CIO and CMO Imperative: Collaboration

Because technology is now a key tool that enables marketing, the CMO – CIO worlds have collided, requiring enhancements to collaboration not only among those two groups, but also across the organization. But what is it that has changed, and what are these new challenges that we face?

What’s changed?

  • quote_cioThe business is directing the technology budget. CIOs are no longer just managing an IT budget, but also a “business technology” budget – the costs of those technologies that support the customer, drive insights for the business about the customer (business intelligence), and more.
  • Big data is critical to competitive advantage. This is the “Age of the Customer”, which means that, according to David Cooperstein in an article for Forbes, “the strategies that matter most are those that don’t start with the channel, i.e. mobile-first or digital-first. Marketers need to put themselves in their customers’ seat and define the marketing activities they take on from a customer-first perspective.
  • Consumerization of IT has an impact. According to Andrew Reid, Founder & President, Vision Critical, “BYOD (Bring Your Own Device to work) is making enterprise IT cheaper and less relevant.”

What challenges do we face now?

  1. Clarity around responsibility is becoming an issue
  2. Changing allocation of budgets means that it’s no longer clear who, exactly, is responsible for investment in things like big data and enterprise social networks.
  3. As the technology trends and social business world change as fast as they are, business objectives are also changing rapidly, making it difficult to align objectives against common goals.
  4. CMOs and CIOs have to “get with the times.” According to Anne Park Hopkins, Client Partner in Korn Ferry’s Global Technology Markets, old school CMOs “are non-analytical, shy away from data, and focus predominantly on advertising and promotion while old school CIOs are back-office technologists who don’t engage in the broader business.” This causes conflict as the two leaders of the function fail to see the bigger picture. Read the rest of this post »

Turn Your Tablet into a Navigation System with a Mobile Day Pass

I am currently in the middle of the car buying process. The one upgrade that stops me every time is the navigation system. I love the idea of having it integrated into my car, but the $2,000 price tag that often comes with this upgrade seems utterly ridiculous given where we are with technology today.

My mobile phone maps are fantastic and they are updated on a regular basis…for free. The drawback is that the screen is small and it’s not integrated into my dash. I also don’t need wireless service on my tablet because I would only need it occasionally.

Today, AT&T announced a $5 day pass for mobile data service and a $25 prepaid plan for 1GB over three months.

Enter the mini tablet + mobile day pass navigation & entertainment device.navigation

A mini is about the size of an in-dash navigation system. When going on vacation or taking a road-trip, you will be able to pay $5 a day to use mobile on your tablet. The mini will become your navigation device. You will still need to determine a way to mount it on the dash, but I’m sure that solution is coming. Cars in the future may not even include electronic devices, but have a space for you to place your own device.

The mini navi/ent device can be used for maps for mom and dad or streaming Netflix for the kids. It’s the ultimate travel device at a very, very affordable price.

What do you think? Would you participate in the AT&T Day Pass?

Smart App vs. Stupid App

Have you ever asked yourself why my work applications can’t be more like my mobile phone apps? My Smartphone is just amazing. I asked my phone “where am I” and it pulled up a map and showed me. I didn’t have to learn a new command. It was just an intuitive question and I really did expect the phone to tell me. I start to do a web search and it figures out what I am looking for before I am finished typing. I like one piece of music and it plays other artists with similar styles.

Then I use my work applications and they just seem as dumb as a rock. I think it’s time for a wakeup call. If IT and commercial software vendors cannot improve their user’s experience expect them to bolt in droves to smarter apps. We have a generation of kids that are growing up with tablets and Smartphones. The applications we build today will be around a long time. It’s time to stop building applications without solid user experience design! This is an opportunity for real competitive advantage.

Event Processing and Predictive Analytics

II had a conversation with a product manager for a product labeled Complex Event Processing (CEP) but when I looked at the actual product implementation I asked why the product was labeled CEP versus Event Stream Processing (ESP). The product uses continuous queries and does not support Event Condition Action (ECA) rules. They responded that the use cases for CEP can be solved with ESP – i.e. they are essentially the same. Then they agreed that the product really was ESP but the distinction is lost on potential customers.

This technology is difficult enough for potential users to understand that confusing the products not helpful. The vendors also tend to talk about features versus use cases. And, when they do talk about use cases they often overlap – for example fraud detection is listed as a use case for CEP, ESP and predictive analytics.

At high level these products can accomplish the same use cases but in very different ways. Let’s look the use case of predicting product failures, a use case listed for all three products.

With predictive analytics, this use case could be solved by analyzing outages historically and predict future potential outages based on statistical models. These models can be applied against near real-time data to predict the likelihood of an outage. ESP could execute a continuous query against sensor data looking for a set of events that indicates a potential outage. CEP would similarly examine a set of events but apply rules to those events to generate a complex (or logical) event that is an outage alert. Read the rest of this post »

Google to Stop Using Webkit as Browser Rendering Engine

Yesterday Google released a statement on their Chromium blog that they are creating a new rendering engine based on Webkit called Blink. I encourage everyone to go and read the big news. This is clearly big news for web developers, as another rendering engine on the market means more browser variance to keep in mind when testing.

They say that for the time being, we won’t have to worry about any major changes.

In the short term, Blink will bring little change for web developers. The bulk of the initial work will focus on internal architectural improvements and a simplification of the codebase. For example, we anticipate that we’ll be able to remove 7 build systems and delete more than 7,000 files—comprising more than 4.5 million lines—right off the bat. Over the long term a healthier codebase leads to more stability and fewer bugs.

Adam Barth, Software Engineer

Once they do start the ball rolling in making Blink what they want it to be, it should prove to be a great step for Chrome.  The Developer FAQ on the Blink project page in Chromium sheds some light on the major questions we all undoubtedly have like will we be getting a new vendor prefix (e.g. -blink-box-shadow)? Looks like the answer is no to that, thankfully.

This news will definitely stir up the web dev community, but hopefully we’ll see that it’s a change for the better.

Email Design for a Smartphone Era

Smartphone penetration in the United States has reached 55% of the general population* and and the number of email opens on smartphones and tablets have increased 80% of the last six months**. These two facts have serious consequences for companies and organizations, and their communication platforms. Beyond the obvious need to build email to appear well-formed and structured for viewing on smaller screens, consumers are viewing thier email devices in a much wider variety of environments than just five years ago, so email needs to be responsive to get our clients messages opened and read wherever they are when they are scrolling through their inboxes, and the design itself needs to be simple and direct.

The first step is to consider the user flow, and the content structure in particular. On a mobile phone, the first piece of information that they will see is the From Name. From there, they will see the Subject Line, the Pre-header – a small snippet of text from the top of the email as a preview – and then once opened, the first few inches of the full email (AKA the viewport). So, step one is to plan the content flow to start with the most captivating and enticing headlines possible, and summarize the body content to draw the reader to open the full email. The time-honored principals of Journalism (and perhaps Tabloid Journalism in particular) will serve you well as you construct an inverted pyramid of messaging.

Once you have the content that you’re sure will draw the reader into the body of the message, it’s time to work on the design. A full technical discussion on how to build a responsive email is a subject for another time, but the primary considerations to keep in mind are as follows:

  1. Contrast. As the creative needs to shrink to smaller screen, those elements need to be clear and stand out. So maintaining a good contrast is important.
  2. Text size. The general consensus is that 13px is the minimum size to be easily readable on a phone. It’s recommended that you start larger, around 15-16px and find a nice balance between text and whitespace.
  3. Imagery. Big, bold, beautiful and immersive will garner the most attention.
  4. Layout. Through a web browser or a desktop email client multicolumn is a good way to go, but keep in mind in a responsive design when the email is viewed on a phone, the content needs to flow into a longer single column. Think though the hierarchy of information and plan how the content will stack.

The last point is about the context of the environment in which the user will open the email. If they are in line at the ATM or sitting quietly in a meeting there will be distractions competing for their attention. Therefore you have to keep everything simple and direct, be very clear with the call to action (big, bold buttons) and assume that there is no time for reading long paragraphs of information, so cut down the copy to the bare minimum.

* Exact Target, “Designing for the Mobile Inbox
**Litmus, “Email Client Market Share Stats

SXSW Round Up: A Robot in Your Pocket

SXSW is a great place to be exposed to new ideas, but perhaps even more valuable are the sessions where you reconsider ideas you’ve grown accustomed to, and seeing them from a brand new perspective.

One session in particular this year that has resonated with me for the week and a half since leaving Austin was entitled “A Robot in Your Pocket” with Amit Kapur, formerly of MySpace, and currently the CEO of Gravity, and Jeff Bonforte, the CEO of Xobni.

In their session they discussed the advancements of Artificial Intelligence in our quest as humans to create digital personal assistants, or in otherwords, technical entities which can work on our behalf.

At the heart of the matter is the idea that we should be able to leverage digital tools to improve our lives, in either small but noticeable ways, or in innovative and revolutionary ways. Kapur and Bonforte made a very clever distinction in the kind of data sites and devices are collecting to try and improve our lives, AKA our experiences, and they defined a split in data collection into two main categories: explicit and implicit.

Explicit data is the settings that we manually set, or the customizations that we explicitly make to change an experience for the better. I remember the original customizable homepage on the web, which Yahoo introduced with My Yahoo in the mid-to-late 90s. It was a lot of work to set up, but once you did the experience was definitely improved.

Implicit data is the data that is collected without our having to put any effort into triggering or managing the experience manually. It’s a “robot” working in the background, to collect user data, and then offer changes to the experience based on conclusions made from the data itself.

As is so often the case, the speakers used an iPhone in their example. Explicitly we (currently) customize the iPhone with our email login, calendar events, and contact information. We also manually login to sites, or we change the background either by selecting from a default list of files, or uploading our own. These are all explicit acts that change things for the better.

However, the power is much more in the implicit side of the split. The iPhone 4 comes with five on-board sensors to track and collect data behind the scenes, making adjustments without us having to do anything. The iPhone has a proximity sensor that knows when the phone is on our ear, and it pro-actively disables the buttons on the screens so we don’t interrupt our call. The iPhone also comes with an ambient light sensor, so the screen brightness can adjust depending on the level of lighting in an environment. So we can clearly see how, without really even realizing it, “robots” are hard at work improving our lives without any extra effort on our part.

In the brave new world of our future, implicit data collection should evolve to be even more predictive, or as they the speakers were concluding, pro-actively making all of our experiences suit our unique requirements. And that’s all good for those of us who expect technology to improve, rather than distract us from, our lives.

Explicit data allows us to work less, and it incrementally improves our lives by saving time and effort. In the future, implicit data should be able to skip the work of entering our preferences and pro-actively work on our behalf.

I, for one, welcome our implicit robot sensor overlords.

Posted in Digital, Innovations, iOS