Thursday, April 30, 2009

Margaret Wertheim's Crazy Sexy Geometry

This TED presentation reveals some ideas about design patterns that I always knew, but aren't taken seriously by "academia" (or other, similar establishments). Note to UI designers, forget 2D, imagine the internet as spherical space!

Margaret Wertheim: The beautiful math that links coral, crochet and hyperbolic geometry

Friday, April 24, 2009

Why Drupal and Toolkits Like Drupal Suck

This software time-sucubus needs to STOP. I had a Drupal project last summer and it was a complete, miserable failure in so many retarded ways. The client was convinced that all I need to do was customize this already available code. They felt like the work was pretty simple (and hence cheap). There are glaring, obvious limitations to many of the pre-packaged UI elements, the "modules" in Drupal. You can't just customize the look of some module, if the UI is inappropriate, and it's not usable for your website. What's the point of changing the type and other visual styles in a template if people look at it but don't find it usable?

The worst thing about Drupal is that if gives non tech people this attitude that it's OK to cut corners and not think about User Experience or any of the practical realities of developing and managing a website. It lets people think that they can have some workable website in a day. At best you end up with a prototype of what you want, just a half rate design that doesn't connect with people. At worst, you can go down some tedious road of endless, costly iterations, just trying to make the software fit your need.

The other thing I hate about Drupal (and all freeware in general) is the fact that it undermines the entire design profession. Design IS A PROCESS. It's about thinking through your idea really thoroughly, testing assumptions, making sure something really works for the end user. I don't think that any product developer, or any entrepreneur for that matter, should inflict the world with their invention until they've really thought it out first. Drupal really just confuses and limits a lot of people who are new to the web. It enables tightwadishness. It allows people to think they can get away with being lazy. In reality all software, every single website, needs a fairly high degree of planning, budgeting, & ongoing maintenance. Always.

Strictly as a user, a consumer of websites and media, I freaking hate visiting a Drupal site. They are sooooo ghetto. They look bad. They read bad. They are usually not interesting. The cheap Drupal approach to web development just screams AMERATEUR! It's very insulting to ask the world to use half baked software products. I don't WANT to try out the next cool website. I have better things to do with my time.

I don't mean to sound bitchy, I can code very well. But I am a much better designer than a coder. Seriously, it would be better if folks just design something, and then go on rent-a-coder and get somebody overseas to implement a finished spec.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Green Dilema / The Omnivore's Dilema (A Book Review)

Happy Earth Day! I have been trying to wrap my brain around the Green trend for the past few years. I care very much about lasting sustainability. Indeed my entire career as a UX designer is all about trying to make the interfaces of software work well, for people, over a long period of time. When I look at the world around me I see a lot of UNsustainable systems which shout to me how obviously unusable they are, and suddenly I feel an urge to log a bug somewhere to get it fixed... before the software crashes... but there's no good place to log those bugs...

The truth about being green is that it's not very easy being green. Trying to be green is like trying to use Microsoft Word to edit a photograph. The world around me is just not set up to let me be green. Think about it, how many excuses can you come up with to NOT be green? Do you Recycle? Drive less? Compost? Use compact fluorescent light bulbs? Buy local? Fertilize your lawn organically? Save water? Purchase electricity from 'renewable' sources? Remodel with green building materials? Blah blah blah...

It took me, a foodie, a long time to figure out that being green starts with what you eat. The book, The Omnivore's Dilemma has brought to light for me the complete picture of how food is interconnected with the American environment. In the book Michael Pollan explores one simple question, "What should we have for dinner?", really extensively. I had no idea that the former Soviet Union had an underground black market for home grown produce, because their "highly efficient" industrial agricultural system just did not work. I never knew that spring mix salad was so resource expensive. I did not know that mushrooms live underground for decades. Nor did I know that pasture (grass) raised beef (and milk) literally has more nutrients in it than industrialized corn fed cattle. I feel like I've woken up after eating the fruit from the tree of knowlege!

The Omnivore's Dilemma is a fun, interesting read, but it does have some scary moments. The entire first section alone, the part about industrialized agriculture, is enlightening in a depressing kind of way. You are corn. Later in the book, Pollan describes a 100% sustainable, highly productive farm, Polyface Farms, in Virginia. I don't know why ALL American farms aren't like Polyface? Well, yes I do, Wall Street can't profit from farms like this.

Being green is way more than just what you eat, of course. It's really about economics and how one chooses to spend their money. The next time you hand over your money for something, you might consider where your food comes from, who gets your food dollars (Monsanto executives?), how food is produced, how far it travels, how it's stored, plus how and why it's marketed to the many. Everybody, the entire Earth, has to eat every single day. An entire economy built around ignorance of food is... unsustainable.