Start me up

Designer often gets far too close to the piece he is working on and it is not uncommon to see this causing unseen troubles down the line. The designer knows, or should know if he was actually the one who worked the piece, all the ins and outs of the designed product. This designer knows how the product is supposed to be used and in what conditions. Or rather, the intended use. In reality, products may end up with different uses in the consumers’ hands than what the piece has been designed for. It’s business as usual.

Nothing these, a person who comes completely outside the field can become invaluable assets in the development of the design. PC interface has seen changes throughout the years, and it can be argued that Apple’s GUI has been the forerunner in many ways. With Windows 95 Microsoft wanted to put their foot down on the market and make the definitive OS and needed a GUI to with it.

Danny Oran wasn’t a designer. No, he was something better. He is a trained behavioural psychologist, and was hired to work with Windows 95 to make it easier to use. See, like with engineer jokes, coders tend to think their customers are some sort of specially retarded and can’t figure shit out. Unlike with Windows 8 and onwards, before Win95 Windows was relatively hard to use, because its core design assumed the user would understand how it functions almost on the same level as the programmers and designers did. That, of course, is an impossibility. There’s a very good reason there are brick sized books how to use Windows, because there are incredibly useful tricks no common user ever would figure out.

I highly recommend reading how the Start Button came to be, because the rest of the post ties to it.

One thing behaviourists have over the normal folk is that they know why people act the way they do when and can make valid assumptions on expectations. It’s no wonder that System button didn’t caught up. System is a heavy word that doesn’t invite you to test it. Even worse, one could even think that it leads into the core components of Windows, and as certain people tend to be almost deathly fearful of doing anything with computers because they may mess things up, it’s understandable to see it go unused.

However, naming the button as Start is something that’s inherently natural to us. It’s a simple and friendly term. Windows is more or less globally universal user interface, and as it is it functions well enough. Start button, whenever localised properly, should function properly in any language and be as inviting anywhere.

It’s hard to top the Start button. Oran’s Start button is, at its core, so well designed for intuitive and easy use that it’s harder to beat than most realize. In addition, it’s been around in Windows for twenty years, and during that time it’s become something people are just absolutely used to. It would be wrong to say that Start button can’t be beat. However, now we have the trouble of people having used to the Start button to the extent that it’s become a second nature to people.

The first GUI interface I know I used was The Operating System on Atari 5200ST. It’s green background is forever etched to my mind, as is the fact nobody in our family could figure it out, so it was used as game machine mostly. My brother did some odd compositions with music maker here and there. While the basics of GUI hasn’t much changed since then, the few simple changes in the interface’s core design has dramatic impacts on how people approach them.

I’m interested to see what sort of future OS design will bring in the future. While Windows 8 failed with its attempt to revolutionise the Start button with Metro, the core fault in that was the fact it was designed mainly for tablets and other similar devices. Even if people are moving away from traditional desktops in increasing amounts, the fact is that you just can’t take one user interface and port it to another without fully adapting it. It was a halfassed attempt to force Win8 interface across multiple devices. Perhaps with Windows 10 Microsoft will put more emphasize on making their OS unique to that platform. While tablets and smartphones have inherently just a PC in your pocket you can call with, the tactile nature between a proper PC and your tablet is different.

Topping the Start button would require Microsoft to understand how their customers are using their operating systems. The modern problem modern Windows has is that it’s made to idiots, or rather to the idiots Microsoft designers think their customers are. You can keep the system complex in the background and give information to the user, but in exchange the interface needs to deliver a soft approach. Newly installed Windows offers guides, and while that’s nice and all, most of the design has gone into making everything look smoother rather than be more intuitive to use. Perhaps there needs to be some level of total separation again with next version of Windows’ staff, but that’s not going to happen.

Next time you wonder how the hell to work with something, try to think like the designer and approach the product from their point of view. It’s an awful thing to tell, but it seems this causes better products than when the designer underestimates their consumers.

Wii U’s not looking good, SONY’s junk and Microsoft is…

… in pretty damn deep trouble it seems. For some time now I’ve said that Microsoft should concentrate on their strengths on PC and allow XBOX to be their tertiary objective or abandon it altogether. Because Microsoft has done the same thing SONY did ie. concentrating on the damn video games rather than on what they know to do well, their nightmare might come true. Or rather, it might already be in some form.

Let’s go point-by-point.
Are the pads eating the PC markets? Yes, but only if we assume that the iPad and other smart devices are something else than PCs. Pads and smarthphones are not some sort of magical thing of their own, they’re as much PC as laptops. The proper way to put this would’ve been that non-Windows based PCs are eating away from Microsoft’s share.

Are employees really converting away from Windows based PCs? I’ve discussed this with people who work on government facilities, and they do admit that there’s iPads for certain purposes, but majority of the work is still made on machines that have actual keyboard. As such, while iPad is certainly taking its place in the work environment, it’s way too early to say whether or not it will completely replace Windows. Perhaps a sort of paradigm shift is happening, where we are going towards more LACRS devices from Star Trek.

I wouldn't really oppose those, but there will be a lot of people who will never get used to the lack of tactile contact
I wouldn’t really oppose those, but there will be a lot of people who will never get used to the lack of tactile contact. There’s also the position where you type, most of the time is awkward if you’re using two hands

Now the third point is completely true and Microsoft can only blame themselves. The GUI of Windows 8 has got a lot of hate for a reason. For one, it abandons a lot of functions that users expect from Windows. it doesn’t help that Microsoft has emphasized on the touch-screen function a lot, and if you’re a home PC users this functions becomes more or less completely useless. When I gave the retail version of Win8 a throughout testing, it was clunky, rather horrible and felt that everything sank beneath something. Microsoft should have looked back what worked and not remove whatever they liked. Will Windows 8 replace Windows 7 like all other versions have done previously? It’s hard to say, but I’ve heard rumours that this wouldn’t be the case in every institution.

Windows 8 is also the reason why loyal developers are moving away from Microsoft. Technically this point, and all other up to point seven, can be crunched into one sentence that sums it all up; Microsoft dedicated too much of their attention to XBOX and 360 that they forgot where their true business and strengths were. Because of this Windows’ development has taken a hit and clearly the company has lost their sight on what the hell they’re doing. You can see that a lot of Windows’ properties has changed since the XP for worse, thou there are truckloads of improvements as well. Still, we all can agree that something was never right with Vista or 7, and we call agree that as light and efficient as 8’s core might be, it’s functionality is pretty damn awful (unless you train religiously on it.)

It’s no surprise that as Microsoft is losing in their main front, the XBOX series is also suffering. XBOX doesn’t bring in any money and only spends whatever Microsoft has made in the 90’s and early 00’s. There has been some reports about Microsoft making loss with every 360 sold, so if Microsoft would lose their main pillar, ie computer OS monopoly, the company would be in very deep trouble.

If Microsoft won’t get their business together, the worst possible scenario is that Windows loses its place in the work environment and the next XBOX will bomb worse than the PSVita. It’s their third time trying it, and I really hope their get it right. However, the blowing winds tell me that this won’t be the case.

However, while we certainly can judge MS and SONY at this point, the earliest point we can say anything about the Wii U’s success is after the holiday season. I’d put that somewhere around February or March.

A matter of quality

There’s always a question of quality when it comes to products whether or not we speak of artists or craftsmen. Quality is the universal measure that ultimately decides whether or not something is going to become a success of sorts.

This isn’t really the case.

How quality is measured is up to the individual customer. As a rule of thumb we can say that a certain level of quality will always succeed, whereas far too high quality will sell less, as will too low quality.

Let me use VHS, LaserDisc and BetaMAX as an example of this. The VHS had the worst quality out of the three in sound and in picture. BetaMAX was superior, and LaserDisc was even better. VHS was good enough in quality, and offered other things that were better in quality, such as price and availability. Low price is always better in quality than high price, and larger stocks are better quality than small stocks. That, and all the best films and series was were released on VHS.

In portable electronicscustomers value long battery life. If a product consumes batteries in a slow pace then it’s considered to be pretty good in quality. WonderSwan, a handheld game console from Bandai, managed to last around 24-26h with one AA battery. That’s something to strive for. Naturally, WonderSwan’s quality, as with any game console, lies in the games provided.

For media equipment this is the measure of quality; can it do the job for you? Will it be able to fulfil what you want to do with the machine? This is a question that haunts anyone who is going to buy a new a computer. Should they go for a Windows based PC or a Macintosh? Should they learn Linux or some other other OS instead? What programs will be there for them, will there be a large software support for the OS and so forth.

Windows is regarded as a high quality OS because of its versatility and how standard it is. You can safely jump from version to version and get hang ofthe new versions safely. Sadly, Windows 8 abandoned this altogether and I can see a lot of people and companies jumping over Windows 8 if there won’t be any proper and fundamental changes in how it’s usability works.

Macintosh machines work well for what they’re intended for. Personally they do not allow me the freedom I want on any level, so for me a Mac has a lower level of quality. If you prefer Mac, then more power for you. Just don’t come up to my face and start spouting that it’s the superior choice.

In film and animation the quality of the product can be measured on many levels; story, visuals, sound, acting etc. Much like with design and other creative industries, the only way to get a better quality product is to go through loads of experiences. A simple example would be a steel table; you can’t make the welding seams good if you don’t train your welding, and weak welding means a weak table. In animation you want to have people who have experience in animation to ensure the best possible product, but even then you need to take in newcomers to give them experience in the actual industry. The finalproduct might not be the best because of this, but you won’t get the best quality product in the future if you only have people who never had any actual experience.

Locally this is actually a pretty bad thing; most workplaces only take in people with experience, and you can’t really get any experience if you can’t get a workplace. It’s a vicious cyclethat should be stopped everywhere. Taking in few new workers would serve everybody’s interest, really.

You can see that quality isn’t something that’s set to stone from the get-go. There are things that do have a set standard (like a welding seam) but things like shape are completely abstract and vary from product to product and from user to user. For some a scene of animation might be bad quality, and for some standard quality.

We’ll be discussing Total Eclipse soon enough

The above, for some, is atrocious cell of animation. For some it looks like your modern TV-animation scene. I personally dig the light effect that’s going on.

While there are certain standards that do exist and are used to measure whatever, they only apply if the user, ie. the customer has the same set of values. Rarely dothe standards of industries and customers meet, even if the industry standardsshould be those of customerson appearance. Still, when talking of quality we do need to have those set standards in order to have a common ground, but even then we always deviate from those grounds because we do see things differently even from the same point of view. Just visit any game forum to witness this first hand.

The industries do have to think the standard of quality differently as well. Money is always one ofthe issues as arethe demands of the customers. Juggling between multiple issues to achieve the best possible product is no laughing matter. Sometimes there are customers whose voices need to be discarded in order to get the best mean quality possible. Serving everybody is an impossibility, and that’s why you need to aim to please as many as possible, even if its outside your own comfort zone.

Still, the last point is used as an excuse to do trophy products far too often, especially in the creative industries. Just because you can’t serve the 4/5 of the possible customer group, it doesn’t mean that you should only serve one fifth.

What is true quality is really hard to measure. Universal standards don’t seem to fit when we take individuals in account, and if we discard the individuals then the standards do not apply. Perhaps if we were cold logical machines we all could have those same standards of quality. It’s a richness that we are so different, and that richness makes things a bitch to make.