Tate Modern’s multimedia guide – a review

 I am voraciously hungry for knowledge. My (almost) 40 year old brain has likely had enough of the input, given how hard it is to remember anything these days. Yet, I still keep trying to feed it more, usually in vain.

This hunger is what lead me to try out Tate Modern’s multimedia guide last weekend; I like hearing more about the context in which art happens. I’m a big fan of behind the scenes content too, like ‘Classic Albums‘.

I’ve come close to working on similar products, and when I’ve tried them in the past I felt disappointed. When I used the Dynamo exhibition app in Paris last year, I felt frustrated enough to imagine throwing my phone against the wall. I tried hard to get some benefit from the app by following the instructions, but in the end it just detracted from the gallery visit.

Why write this review?

The Tate guide is much better than what I saw in Paris; but I still learned a lot about what I would and *would not* do in a design. I’m going to try and identify which elements would add something to the gallery experience rather than take away from it. Has anyone in the sector cracked it? Based on two experiences, I’m guessing not. This might change soon, now that there are new possibilities with detecting location and proximity (more on that later).

The multimedia guide

The Tate guide is an android device on a lanyard, connected to a set of headphones.

Tate’s multimedia guide device

I rented the device for £4 at a desk outside one of the exhibitions. A helpful guy gave me some instructions which, in my ignorance, I immediately forgot.

Multimedia guide kiosk

Helpful guy who rented me a guide. The rack charges the devices on the left.

Initial experience

I wondered into the busy Poetry and Dream exhibition. I took my first look at the introductory interface (I don’t remember whether it prompted me or not). The audio guide took me through the controls one by one. Have a guess at what these controls do in the image below.

Multimedia guide interface

Multimedia guide interface

The toolbar at the top from left to right contains: back, home (the word ‘Tate’), maps, enter codes, and volume. The audio guide told me what each of these did in turn. I’m not sure this was good use of my time: if the icons were clearer (or included wording) I probably wouldn’t have needed to be told what each one did.

Entering codes

My first attempt to get something from the app was also  a failure: I punched a code into an app next to a painting to learn something about it. You can see the result of this interaction below: N/A.

My first attempt to use the guide

My first attempt to use the guide

This error message isn’t the result of a mis-entered number. I was punching in codes that I saw on the panels that weren’t part of the guide. Later on, I spotted the usable codes for selected works, see below. At first though, I was none the wiser: there are numbers on all the panels. The feedback on the device wasn’t helping me find the content.

Usable guide code

Usable guide code

It was at this point in the first room, after a couple of failed attempts, that I gave up with the codes. Experience wise, I was giving my attention to the device, and none to the art.

Maps and orientation

My next move was to use the map option below. I tapped the pink area marked ‘Poetry and Dream’. This didn’t get me anything other than the ‘magnify’ icon. I then needed to tap that icon, a small tap target which I missed two or three times, still thinking that the entire pink region was tappable.

Map screen

Map screen

Below, I had found the correct map. First problem: where am I now? Standing in a smaller room that lead to a larger one, and facing into the gallery, I assumed I was in room 7, when I was in fact in room 1.

Exhibition map

Exhibition map

I think by this point I had wondered into room 2. I started to hunt around for the works 586, 583, and 102. I realized later that I had completely ignored the other art, pretty much everything in room 1. Thankfully though, I started to get something back from the guide.

Adding context to art

The Fig Leaf, Francis Picabia

Painting: The Fig Leaf by Picabia. Guide: Oedipus and the Sphinx by Ingres.

In the above picture I’m listening to audio about the ‘The Fig Leaf’. The touch target for this content about this painting was too small (it’s the 583 circle in the map above; much smaller than my thumb!). Once I got there the guide gave me a rich background to the painting. It also showed me:

  • another painting that influenced this one
  • the original painting on the canvas (this work was a protest against censorship of the original)
  • an image of the technical diagram that the artist was accused of copying

Its at this point that I start to feel like the £4 might be worth it. Small thing: I couldn’t take a zoom in to the extra images, or rotate the device for a closer look. Now that I was in the swing of things, I also learned about Smith’s ‘The Home of The Welder’, shown below.

The Home of the Welder

Sculpture: The Home of the Welder, David Smith. Guide: Smith welding in his studio.

Hearing this artist and seeing him at work added a rich layer to the gallery experience. Smith would sometimes throw random objects onto the floor of his workshop and see what might be nice to weld together. The thought of the artistic possibilities in mess, randomness and chaos sparked my imagination.

Highlighting details

A few rooms later (you’ll see in the maps that few of the works have guide content) I encountered a new depth to the guide. It could tell me more about specific details in the works. You can (just about!) see this in the image below.

Lightning with Stag in its glare, Joseph Bueys

Lightning with Stag in its glare, Joseph Bueys

This wasn’t all plain sailing though: some of the objects weren’t in the same place as shown in the guide. You could manage without the screen shown above as the excerpts were quite short. I would have just reduced it to one clip about the objects. I’m not a fan of interaction for the sake of it – see  Bret Victor’s Magic Ink.

The human alternative

Later on in the visit, my wife and I happened to stand next to a guided tour. For a few moments we enjoyed the way the tour guide contextualised the art for everyone. In thinking about which I preferred (the multimedia guide or the human), I realized I’d like the freedom to move around the gallery in my own time without a crowd, but with the depth and passion of a human showing me the objects. The audio content in the multimedia guide was useful, but it didn’t quite have the enthusiasm of a human guide. This is presumably because it’s scripted, and read by a narrator.

Something else occurs to me about the social aspect of putting on the headphones and using the guide. Listening (and not looking at the screen) increased my immersion in the exhibition. It provided insulation from the swathe of tourists, but it did mean my wife and I drifted apart. I wasn’t about to talk to anyone with those headphones on.

In summary…

Although some of the above points may seem like nitpicking, the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ principle applies to this product as much as any other. By analysing smaller details we can understand how they add up to pleasure or pain. I saw a lot of possibility in this product; here’s what I’d keep and what I’d change.

The Good

  • Immersion is *everything*
    Having the headphones on was a new experience for me in a gallery, rich with possibility. I want a mixture of context, sound design (like Radiolab), and music (Brian Eno’s 77 million paintings comes to mind). Relying on audio alone allowed my other senses to focus on the art itself.
  • Content
    The content did add something, particularly as a replacement for staring at labels. I sometimes find myself reading labels before I’ve had a chance to take in the art. I would like the audio to take a few more risks, and be a bit less formal.
  • Lanyard
    One thing struck me using the rented device: if I had to use my own phone it would have been in and out of my pockets every few minutes. With the device hanging around my neck for the occasional glance (when prompted) it was far more convenient to look at.

The Bad

  • Finding the content
    Neither the map or the codes worked well at first; I saw others struggle with this. This might be solved by new technology like iBeacons or Estimote (which we’ll be playing around with at clearleft). We might be able to detect location and proximity in a way that reduces unnecessary interaction.
  • Navigation
    The menu is something of a guessing game. I’d use more generic icons that people will recognise in an instant.
  • Touch targets
    Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines recommend a minimum size for our fingers to tap on. I’d refactor the interface to meet these by making the targets much bigger than the icon itself (e.g. on the map). This should be far less error prone.
  • Too object focussed
    The guide had some content that contextualised the exhibition, rather than the objects themselves. I wanted more of this: how is x movement connected to y? Did these artists know each other? Why did the curator put these together?
  • Attention cost / benefit
    Far too much of my attention went to the device instead of the art. I would use it again, but only because I now know how to use it to get to the good stuff. I wouldn’t, for example, recommend it to a family member.

Thoughts on the future

I left the Tate Modern inspired to think about how I wanted this to work. It’s an area rich with creative and technological possibility. I wanted more immersion, less formality. If the curators will allow it, the experience could be an artistic endeavour – think music that reacts to your location.

Most of all I wanted freedom from the tyranny of the device. If iBeacons works well, the device could detect when I’m standing in front of a work, and automatically provide me with audio. No screen distractions or interactions unless they have something to add.

If the effort to get to the right content could be minimised (by something like iBeacons) – then my final thought is that the user be offered optional layers of experience within the application. This would allow the visitor some say in what kind of experience they want: educational, immersive, or both. Perhaps map physical modes to each layer:

  • Audio context
    Audio guides to the content, triggered by the room you’re in or the work you’re standing in front of. I would broaden what is currently considered content. For example: I’d like to hear a conversation between two people about the works, more informal Q+A, less lecture (just like a guided tour does).
  • Related works / images / video
    Hold up the device at any point in the experience to access visual media that’s related to what you’re looking at
  • Music + ambient sound design
    Music from the same era or movement, like minimalism, could add context. Or, enhance the emotional experience in the same way a film director uses an instrumental soundtrack.

Better experiences with art and culture in a physical space seem just around the corner; ones that inspire, educate, and immerse, all at once. If we can focus on the experience of use, rather than the technology itself, we could make something wonderful in the near future.

This was also posted on on the Clearleft blog.

Posted in art, culture, customer experience, design, ergonomics, technology | 1 Comment

Pastry Box article: on the importance of theatre in my career

In July I wrote my second article for the Pastry Box project; re-posting here for posterity.

At my secondary school, the head of drama was Peter Maric, a fiery Northerner with Slavic roots who would shout, spit and swear his way through the day just to keep the spirit of the theatre alive. I loved it. 20 years later, he’s still there.

Anyone who was lazy or who he didn’t like was ‘a shower’. Maric would beat Stanislavsky, Chekov and Gogol into disinterested South London kids with his sheer force of will. I was inspired by his passion and attitude; it wasn’t something you saw in many teachers.

His ‘department of one’ was constantly on the verge of being shut down, so once a year he would stage plays like ‘The Government Inspector’ or ‘Hiawatha’. The big song and dance left the parents feeling warm and fuzzy about seeing their kids on stage, gave the management something to show off, but it was ultimately a survival tactic for theatre education itself.

As I reflect on where I am now, I’ve come to see theatre as one of the most important things I did in school. Given the current climate, I wonder if we’re going to lose something if academic subjects have to prove their economic value, when what you learn is rather intangible.

Drama gave me the confidence to stand up in front of anyone and do anything ‘in the name of art’. I’ve done a fair bit of performance since leaving school, including what I consider to be one of life’s ultimate lessons: appearing naked on stage (my character lost a game of strip poker… but that’s another story…).

When you’re performing, you enter a zone where the normal rules don’t apply. The trick about it is telling yourself that it doesn’t matter what people think. Performance forces you to be free of your social inhibitions, to improvise.

Why might this be so important to design? Our work is useless in a vacuum. You can have the best ideas in the world, but if you can’t tell the story, if you can’t stand up and be passionate about your work, it is far less likely to survive. Presenting your work and ideas may only be a tiny fraction of your work time, but it’s often the most critical.

In my work as a UX designer at Clearleft, there are times when I have to walk into a room full of people I don’t know (sometimes with little or no preparation) and tell them an engaging story. Doing this with confidence is the principal way that I can help a large organisation to change what it does for the better.

Performance is not new to design. Think about Steve Jobs and his habit of unveiling new products from a bag on stage. He loved to create mystery for an audience; pure showbusiness. If you’re a designer who struggles to sell your ideas, I think amateur theatre might be useful career development. Anything that gets you in front of people and forces you to be something different, something more than you are in everyday life.

There’s also a strange paradox in being a confident performer. Once you get there, the script ceases to matter as much. You can just flow, be natural, be more yourself. It becomes less of a performance, more like real life, like you’re just talking to someone.

If you want to hold their attention, there’s no reason to be showy (or even naked!), just work on being authentic. Strangely, learning how to perform a theatrical role is good start.

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My Pastry Box article on the speed of our industry and how we treat clients

Back in February(!) I wrote this article for the Pastry Box project; re-posting here for posterity.

When I think about what it means to be a craftsman, I think about my friend Jon; he builds houses. He’ll probably do that the same way for the rest of his life.

Thinking about his craft led me to a question about our industry: have humans ever had to change up what they do as fast and often as we do? Our craft exists in a never-ending state of flux. It won’t settle down for a while, if ever.

If you work on the web, and you’re not changing it up constantly, you’re probably not doing it right. This can put a barrier between us and others we work with. Who’s not encountered a client who’s uncomfortable with <insert latest web trend>? Who’s not had a colleague who just can’t see how something will change their work?

It’s not that I think we’re superior; far from it. Sometimes I dream about being able to master something without the ground constantly shifting under my feet. The status quo feels like a warm blanket sometimes; who wouldn’t want their world to act more or less predictably?

With this thought in mind, I’d like to propose a new attitude to our clients and colleagues who struggle to keep up; they need us to keep them going sometimes. Thinking about them empathically, as we would our users, offers us a more collaborative mindset.

What are they feeling? Fear. Uncertainty.

What are they needing? Knowledge. Reassurance. Safety.

Give them these things, unconditionally. Walk into those meetings with no expectations that people should ‘just know’. That is the price of being comfortable with a never-ending headwind of change, rushing into your face.

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Combining compassion and honesty: my talk at Dare 2013

Back in September I spoke at the Dare conference (‘people skills for digital workers’) about my communication style and how I’ve been learning NVC (non-violent communication) as a way to improve it.

The video of my talk can be found on the Dare site

Dare was a wonderful opportunity to have honest conversations about the struggles we face in our industry, and I strongly recommend checking out all of the talks or attending the next event.

My slide deck is below.

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A monologue for the disheartened UX designer

I built a bridge once.

If you ever need a reminder of why we do UX, and the cumulative impact that making things usable has on people, this is it.

In this scene from 2011′s Margin Call (concerning the day in the life of a Wall Street firm facing financial collapse) Stanley Tucci’s character reflects on his previous career and the impact it had on people’s lives.

It’s a stark reminder of how some industries create value, and some transfer it.

Posted in art, culture, customer experience, usability, ux | 1 Comment

Do computers cause dead parrots?

At a train station a few weeks ago I hit a wall of bureaucracy that enraged me beyond my usual breaking point. I had booked a ticket on the web, and at the collection machines, I was issued only half of the tickets (no, this isn’t my breaking point…).

At the ticket office, a Southern trains employee was initially helpful – he gave me the missing tickets. However, when I pointed out that I didn’t think they were the right tickets,  he told me that web bookings were handled by a different company, so he couldn’t help.

If that’s true, how could he even issue the tickets?

The problem I encountered may be twofold:

  1. as a customer I unknowingly used different legal entity when I booked on the web (confused by the use of an identical brand!), and….
  2. the employee may be boxed in by software, so that he cannot help even if he wanted to.

This incident has made me think about how customer experience worked before employees and customers had computers (mostly before my time then…). A few questions….

  • How rigid were the rules for employees regarding customers? If rules were on paper or communicated verbally, were they more or less likely to be followed?
  • Were interactions slower? Presumably. Did customers even expect speedy responses?
  • What about the quality of the interactions? I wonder whether working from a computer means that employees are less empathetic (because you’re referring to a binary system, rather making qualitative judgements yourself).
  • How does computerisation change the motivations for employees? If interactions are recorded in binary form, does it change the way they react to customers?

The cynical me is tempted to think that whoever codified the rules governing the issue of tickets in software saw an opportunity to reduce the chance of employees giving them away. In my case, there are unintended consequences; the honest customer is being punished at the expense of risk avoidance.

It may even be that this risk has been calculated; who knows. The only thing I can say with certainty is that the anger I felt would have instantly killed any prospect of future purchases were trains a free market (but of course, they are not).

Despite the cynical thoughts, I’m left with a feeling that computerization may be inadvertently narrowing the way employees can think and respond to customers. I wonder what Kafka would have to say about our modern digital life. I’d love to see a study about it (I couldn’t find one…).

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Hands on! My experiences usability testing a printed booklet

At UX London this year Jon Kolko talked about using our UX skills to solve problems beyond the commercial, digital world. I think he’s tapping into a common desire in our industry to work outside of our typical domain.

I got lucky in this respect a couple of months ago; I usability tested a booklet that teachers use. I wish I could claim responsibility for this idea; however, it came from a rather smart client of mine! He recognised some potential issues with the booklet, and he wanted to test it and use the results to advocate internally for design changes.

When googling I couldn’t find much about anyone testing print products, but I am vaguely aware that marketers do use A/B testing (quantitative). When doing direct mail campaigns they will test the response rate from two different designs. I don’t know if I’m the first to do qualitative testing on a print product (I’d guess not), but if anyone wants to do this in future, I hope this post proves useful.

The setup

I did my best to replicate the standard recording tools when usability testing a digital product; i.e. two cameras – one on the participant to capture emotional reactions, and one on the booklet in their hands (ala silverback - full disclosure – I work for clearleft!). I didn’t manage to create a rig that captured a readable version of what the participant was looking at on the page, but it was certainly good enough to make a reasonable judgement about what happened during analysis. With a bit more hacking I’m sure you could get closer to a mobile testing rig. Here’s what I managed to achieve.
I used my macbook pro with the iSight camera on the participant, and an external USB camera on the booklet in their hands. I mixed the video together using camtwist studio (its free) in studio mode, sending the combined video to quicktime, which recorded the output and audio.
A few ‘gotchas’ I encountered:
  • the setup was fairly temperamental with two cameras. I’m told by the experts that its best to have one on firewire and one on USB – so its likely that there were hardware complications with both on USB. A third of my sessions were conducted with a single camera when the twin camera setup failed to work.
  • Quicktime runs in 64-bit these days, and doesn’t recognise the video coming from camtwist in this mode. You can make Quicktime startup on 32-bit mode by going to ‘Applications’ > right click on ‘Quicktime Player’ > ‘Get Info’ > check ‘run in 32-bit mode’.
  • camtwist prefers having the cameras use the same resolution – check the defaults and change as required.

The test script

Broadly speaking, I made no significant changes to the usability testing method. I tested mostly with new users: I interviewed them about their domain experiences first, and used their story to create a realistic scenario in which they would encounter the booklet. At this point I handed them the booklet (or a competitors), and gave them a task to complete, asking them to think aloud as they go.

The results

We had already suspected that the booklet was difficult to use, and the sessions confirmed this from the word go. The first participant got lost immediately when she mistook the distracting inside cover for the table of contents (which was visible on the facing page!).

Assumed knowledge: The traditional use of this booklet has required that users know a lot of things up front to get anything done. This problem raised it head very quickly – the terminology was confusing even to those domain-savvy participants. This problem wasn’t clearly visible to the organisation as the market is steeped in very old traditions that are rarely questioned, and new users are rarely encountered – the booklet is introduced to a teacher perhaps once in a lifetime.

Visual design: The typography, visual hierarchy, and layout were clearly very problematic, easy page scanning was near-impossible. We could all see this problem without testing it, but we needed actionable evidence so that stakeholders could clearly empathise with the users.

Navigation: The navigation of the booklet also proved interesting to watch: the participants spent a lot of time jumping back and forth between sections, and in a couple of cases searching in vain for an index at the back. It’s hard, in retrospect, to gauge how much of this was the booklet design, and how much was typical print-consumption behaviour. The booklet is not designed to be consumed in a linear fashion (and probably couldn’t be – as the sections would then contain huge amounts of repetitive information).

What was different?

Print behaviours: because I don’t have a history of watching how people consume print, it was harder to distinguish between genuine problems and common print use, although some of the flicking back and forth was clearly the result of a design issue. In the digital world we call this pogosticking – when a user is forced to click back and forth repeatedly to find information. We’ve observed enough behaviour to spot these common patterns – I’m sure there is research out there for common print behaviours, but I didn’t check beforehand.

The feel: users commented on the way the paper felt in their hands: “its like bible paper” and how the transparency inhibited readability. Perhaps the tactile nature, and the use of additional senses made it easier for people to express their relationship to the product.

The use: teachers who already use the booklet showed me their annotations in the margins. Seeing this made me wonder more about how limited digital products might be in other respects – you can’t just do what you want with a web page, but you can cut/rip/write on/bookmark paper in any way you like. Unexpected use might be easier to spot/guesstimate in the print world.

Emotional responses: when testing digital products, we know just how inclined people are to blame themselves for the problems they encounter: “I’m terrible with computers“. Although the frustration was at least partly caused by the design of the booklet, the negative emotional responses were expressed far more clearly than when I observe people using digital products. It was the first time I observed people sighing loudly in frustration, and at one point shove the booklet away!

I’m inclined to believe that people expect more from print because it is not historically perceived as complicated – and so they are much more critical of the product when having a problem.

Because of this difference, I’m inclined to do more of this kind of thing in future, particularly  to capture reactions to brand – it seems from this project that its easier to discern the reactions when the user is holding your product (and not a mouse)!

Next time

  • Setting up camtwist with quicktime is pretty easy now I’ve worked it out, but the camera issues need addressing. I might use a firewire-connected video camera next time as the second camera.
  • I will look for research into how people consume print before conducting testing.
  • I think this might be interesting to combine with emotional response testing for a clearer assessment of a brand.
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Apple’s Keynote… needs more testing?

At the end of last week, Steve Jobs (RIP) made me look like an idiot. In front of a large group of people. OK, I’m exaggerating (I knew a bunch of them personally!), but Steve had a close hand in Keynote’s design (apparently) and he wasn’t into usability testing, so he can take the blame. Boo Steve (well, really, yay Steve. Thanks for Keynote. And Apple.. etc. Ahem…)

So I was doing a short presentation/discussion to a department on UX and how it can help the organisation. I was ushered into the room (everyone’s waiting…) and shown the projector (never touched it before). Things were running a little late from a previous session.

I then proceed to make an idiot of myself for several minutes, trying to show the presenter notes on my laptop, and the slides of my presentation on the projector. When I plugged in, I just could not get it the right way round. Everyone in the meeting got a good look at my presenter notes and slides in advance. Way to spoil the fun!

Now in my rush to get started, here’s where I went to in Keynote to adjust the settings:

I played with the first checkbox, closing the preferences window several times to play the presentation, to see if I had corrected the problem. I di this a few times. No luck. So I start playing with ‘Customize Presenter Display’ – again no luck.

Now here’s the thing: I have set this up correctly many, many times (but probably always without the time pressure!).There are actually three places that you have to go, and I knew this already:

  1. System Preferences > Displays (to set which screen is the primary one)
  2. Keynote > Preferences > Presenter Display Preferences (I got fixated on this one, see above)
  3. Keynote > Preferences > Slideshow (completely forgot about it, see below)

My cognitive abilities to solve this problem were severely reduced under the pressure of having twenty people staring at me. My view of the problem narrowed and my memory disappeared – I thought that minor changes to ‘Presenter Display’ settings would fix it. All of my experience and problem solving ability flew out of the window. I know I’m not the only one; I’ve seen people struggle with exactly this problem at conferences.

Two thoughts then….

  1. Why the *hell* are all these display-related settings not grouped in one place?
    I think it would be totally legit to put that ‘Alternate Display’ setting with the slideshow preferences. Yes, you can argue the grouping both ways, but hey, *three* different places to set this up?
  2. Would testing have uncovered this problem?
    Not sure. If you were looking to simulate the pressure of this situation perhaps, but that’s not something we simulate often (if ever) in usability testing.I guess the only way you would know about this is customer feedback (i.e. this blog post). And we all know how Apple feels about customer feedback…

    *bush rolls through windy desert…*

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Apps…. extinction ahead?

A couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune to attend the first designpush - working with some designers and some developer folks from chrome+mozilla. Our chosen topic was the emerging standard for webintents (follow that link for a better summary of it than I could give) – a standard for connecting applications based on what the user is intending to do. “Oh you want to share? Just press this button and your browser will find the service you use for that.”

With webintents, the pain of a developer needing to know which services to present to users goes away (how many variations on the share button are there in the world??), as does the idea that developers have to build in lots of functionality themselves. If it takes off (a major strategic/design challenge in itself), the impact would be huge. Developers could add an awful lot of value to an existing app without much effort.

For users the (not-so) interesting part is this: you might no longer need to remember what you use to solve these little first-world problems. Perhaps I could edit a flickr photo using photoshop.com right within flickr, instead of having to download, upload, edit, save, and upload again. Or more interestingly, I could pay for something without having to have an account with *insert abusive, monopolistic payment gateway here* as the site owner requires me to.

One thing that occurred to me during the opening talks was this: if that pain-point is gone, and services can plug-in to each other at will, then what exactly is an app any more? When I use my iphone, I’m often forced to remember which app I’m supposed to use for a task.  My iphone doesn’t have ten screens of apps (unlike some geeks I know!), yet I still struggle… “where is that thing again… what’s it called? What does the icon look like?”.

This is, of course, the problem that Siri is trying to solve, with decidedly mixed results. I think the interest in the Siri API is instructive: if Siri could take care of which app you use to remember the milk, or which one tells you your bank balance, then we’re not really caring about the app any more, are we? Maybe never even need to look at it. Install once, then….. forget?

My tired little brain got thinking about this after more ‘open web vs apps’ hand-wringing at the end of this article (warning, YASJA). From my point of view, the future is likely to make the ‘app’ as a recognisable, branded, marketed, identifiable concept somewhat redundant, if Siri is any indication of the future. Certainly the way we think of them now is feeling old already: apps might be in the background of whatever we’re up to in future.

This idea isn’t new. In The Humane Interface - Jef Raskin proposes the idea that stand-alone desktop applications should die – “every software package should be structured as a set of tools available to users on any document”. A less pessimistic way of thinking about it is this; there might be destination services (get them eyeballs, future facebook!) and then tool apps which simply facilitiate anonymously between them.

I have no idea what the commercial future is, but here’s my (probably broken) analogy: imagine our future use of the internet somewhat like the way an open source operating system currently works – lots of independently written bits of opaque code working together to produce a whole. It will require some incredible API code-fu (go developers!), and some magical interface/platform thing that changes how we interface with technology (go designers!), but hey, we all know it’s coming, right?

When, not if.

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Apologies readers, my blog images are toast: the wordpress theme was hacked!

I’ve been dutifully keeping my wordpress up to date, but I had no idea that wordpress themes were also vulnerable.


This hack allowed someone to delete all the uploaded images on my blog, but fortunately is fixed now and was no threat to the server. Time to go through my hard disk and find all those images again!

I’ve not been really happy with this theme anyway: perhaps its time to focus on a simpler, more typographical-oriented them; watch this space.

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