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Jacek Utko: Can design save the newspaper?

Jacek Utko is an extraordinary Polish newspaper designer whose redesigns for papers in Eastern Europe not only win awards, but increase circulation by up to 100%. Can good design save the newspaper? It just might.

It’s not the tool, it’s the mechanic

New York 2008 from Vicente Sahuc on Vimeo

This video is a beautiful, mesmerizing piece of work.  Objectively, it is little more than some candid, street footage (admittedly taken in Manhattan) spliced together and laced with a nice soundtrack. Tthose words technically do describe the video — which could easily instead have formed something banal and pedantic — but instead of a snore, the video is a work of art. The magic ingredient — the alchemy which transforms slo-mo candids of people walking down the street into a lush painting of a city in motion —  is the convergence of talent, determination, and vision. And the result is a work of art instead of 3rd-rate documentary filler.

The video is impressive not only as a piece of art, but as a vivid example of how an artist (or designer, or artisan) with vision can make great things with even a minimal amount of tools. Sahuc wasn’t using fancy, high-end equipment. He didn’t have a lighting crew or a budget. He took what he had and made it work.

In other words, as designers our work is not limited by our lack of a new G5 Mac, or CS4, or even our programmers’ (un)willingness to build AJAX interfaces with rounded corners. No. If we can mine our instincts and skills to hone a clear vision, even the crudest of tools can be used to create elegant, enchanting results.

The Dashboard is not the User Experience


It all starts here.

The eggheads over at User Centric published an academic analysis of the UI of the instrument panel and center stack on the new Mini Clubman. Despite in all their scientific vigor and application of UI expertise, though, they didn’t get it quite right. It all starts off on the wrong foot with the title of the post, “What’s Driving the Mini Cooper? Not the User Experience.” Oh really?

I don’t think User Experience means what they think it means.

The User Experience of driving a Mini is far more than the act of changing the radio station or customizing the tach’s digital display. It starts with the emotional appeal of the body design, the look of the oversize wheels and tires, and the diminutive dimensions of the car. It builds with the sporting mechanicals – the taut suspension tied to the thick, communicative steering wheel, the whir and throttle response of the high-tech 4-cylinder motor, and the snickety shifter. It settles in with the nostalgic dash design, the bucket seats, and the fine craftsmanship of the interior materials.

Speedo. Meter.

Speedometer. And Radio.

Then, we get to the dials and buttons. Are they important? Of course. Does their functionality play a role in the user experience? Absolutely. Are they faulty? Yeah. But taken as a whole, the dashboard buttons and readouts are a small fraction of the experience.

What about User Centric’s critique of those controls? They got a lot of it right, primarily the analysis of the radio’s relative disembodiment from it’s buttons, and the volume dial’s distant location. The radio’s dials – not just the buttons – though, are tiny. Why no remarks about that? Also not mentioned: the secondary controls at the bottom of the center stack – which are indistinguishable by touch, even though they perform a variety of tasks.

Speedometer over there, to your right.

Speedometer over there, to your right.

One key interface design decision that seems to be an obvious UI element worth examining, and yet  here merits neither comment nor  question, is the placement of the speedometer. Arguably the most important dial for the driver, the Mini’s speedo is mounted in the middle of the dashboard, rather than it’s conventional location behind the steering wheel, directly in front of the driver’s line of sight. This unconventional design choice is exactly the type of thing usability studies like this are meant to evaluate.

The old switcheroo.

The old switcheroo.

This study was worth doing. But based on the published report, it seems that the researchers got caught up in the details or their reportage and lost perspective on the bigger picture. Some important things were overlooked, while the relative significance of the UI is over emphasized. I think that’s too bad. I’m sure the researchers are capable fellas. But this piece doesn’t really do the field of user experience justice.

Making something from nothing

I love this story. This “graffiti artist”, Poster Boy, took his very limitation – no money to buy supplies – and from that limitation established his art form. I think there is a lesson there for everyone who works in a creative field. Often, when presented with a blank sheet, a huge budget, and to deadline, the result is stasis, wheels spinning and gears churning, but no true progress. Meanwhile, when faced with limited resources and a hard deadline, so often the result is inspired (though not always polished) work.

You can debate whether Poster Boy is defacing property or committing a crime, but you cannot argue that his work is creative, funny, and thought provoking. The fact that his only tool is a razor blade makes it all the more remarkable.

I’m sensing that tap is the new click

Kicker Studio designer and author Dan Saffer speaks about the designing and documenting for gestural interfaces. Kind of long, but worth a watch.

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