Archive of posts with tag 'design'

Monthly Reading, August 2023

August 29, 2023 • #

This post appeared in issue #36 of my newsletter, Res Extensa, where I write about the intersection of product design, bottoms-up systems, innovation, and what we can learn from the history of technology. I’d love it if you subscribed.

💡 Good Decision, Bad Decision, Indecision, and Fake Decision

The older I get, the more I appreciate two fundamental skills in every line of work:

  1. A respect for and ability to assess...

37signals Live Design Review

March 22, 2023 • #

This is an interesting look into how an effective team works through the weeds of a product design review. I love how it shows the warts and complexities of even seemingly-simple flow of sending a batch email in an email client. So many little forking paths and specific details need direct thinking to shape a product that works well.

Miter Spline Jig Design

October 7, 2022 • #

On my to-build list, I want to make some simple floating picture frames for a few canvasses we have in the house. Those are simple enough to build, but I also want to add reinforcement splines to the mitered corners, for both the structural support and as a design detail.

Using a few examples I found (especially this one from Woodcraft by Suman), I drew up this design that’ll allow it to be reusable, support using hold-down clamps, and stop blocks for batching out cuts. Jigs like this can make somewhat complex cuts dead simple and...

Architecture from Every Country

September 12, 2022 • #

This was a fantastic thread from The Cultural Tutor — so simple, but had me on an epic Wikipedia / Google Maps rabbit hole.

Some of my favorite examples:

Kind of sad to see so many overbearing modernist structures in here, but some of them are nothing if not impressive, at least.

His newsletter, Areopagus, is full of great tidbits on art, history, classics, architecture, rhetoric....

Scenes, Pattern Languages,and Nested Systems

August 22, 2022 • #

Last week I picked up Scene and Structure on a recommendation I saw from Nat Eliason. I’ve seen him mention experimenting with writing fiction, which this book is about — the process of narrative structure, staging scenes, the balance between scenes and “sequels” to maintain coherence and tension through writing novels, which is the author’s background. I’ve thought about testing the waters with fiction writing, even if I never publish it anywhere. I think the NaNoWriMo happens in November, so maybe I’ll make a plan to give it...

Hard Edges, Soft Middle

January 2, 2022 • #

Have you had that feeling of being several weeks into a project, and you find yourself wandering around, struggling to wrangle the scope back to what you thought it was when you started?

It’s an easy trap to fall into. It’s why I’m always thinking about ways to make targets smaller (or closer, if you’re thinking about real physical targets). The bigger and more ambitious you want to be with an objective, the more confidence you need to have that the objective is the right one. What happens often is we decide a project scope — a feature or product...

Weekend Reading: A New Web, Future of Higher Ed, and a Ford Concept Car

August 22, 2020 • #

🔗 A Clean Start for the Web

Tom MacWright with some ideas for cleaning up ever-creeping morass of web technology:

I think this combination would bring speed back, in a huge way. You could get a page on the screen in a fraction of the time of the web. The memory consumption could be tiny. It would be incredibly accessible, by default. You could make great-looking default stylesheets and share alternative user stylesheets. With dramatically limited scope, you could port it to all kinds of devices.

And, maybe most importantly,...

A Nomenclature for Low-Code Users

July 7, 2020 • #

The low-code “market” isn’t really a market. Rather, I see it as an attribute of a software product, an implementation factor in how a product works. A product providing low-code capability says nothing about its intended value — it could be a product for sending emails, building automation rules, connecting APIs, or designing mobile forms.

What are termed “LCAP” (low-code application platform) software are often better described as “tools to build your own apps, without having to write all the code yourself.”

This post isn’t really about low-code as a marketplace descriptor, but about refining the nomenclature for...

Weekend Reading: American Production, On Bikeshedding, and Glyphfinder

May 9, 2020 • #

🏭️ Why America Can Make Semiconductors But Not Swabs

Dan Wang on American industrial production:

Learning to build again will take more than a resurgence of will, as Andreessen would have it. And the U.S. should think of bolder proposals than sensible but long-proposed tweaks to R&D policies, re-training programs and STEM education.

What the U.S. really needs to do is reconstitute its communities of engineering practice. That will require treating manufacturing work, even in low-margin goods, as fundamentally valuable. Technological sophisticates in Silicon Valley would be wise to...

Weekend Reading: Readwise with Roam, WWI Naval Intelligence, and Interaction Density

April 4, 2020 • #

📖 Readwise2Roam

I’m liking so far the process of manually typing notes in Roam from highlights in my books. Something about it feels more efficient and leaves me with more meaningful, succinct notes. This could come in handy, though, if I want to pull all highlights directly from Readwise (which I’m still loving, use it every day).

How computational power—or its absence—shaped World War naval battles

How the battlecruiser in the early 20th century gave the British a birds-eye view of their fleet before the...

Weekend Reading: Figma's Typography, Xerox Alto, and a Timeline of CoVID

February 29, 2020 • #

⌨️ I Pressed ⌘B, You Wouldn’t Believe What Happened Next

An entertaining talk about the complexity of typography, from Marcin Wichary at Figma’s recent Config conference.

🖥 Restoring Y Combinator’s Xerox Alto

An technical piece on restoring Alan Kay’s Xerox Alto he donated to Y Combinator. Amazing piece of technology history, and inspired so many future developments in computing — graphical user interfaces, WYSIWIG text editing, bitmapped graphics, the mouse, and Ethernet for connectivity.

Xerox built about 2000 Altos...

Weekend Reading: Figma Multiplayer, Rice vs. Wheat, and Tuft Cells

November 23, 2019 • #

🕹 How Figma’s Multiplayer Technology Works

An interesting technical breakdown on how Figma built their multiplayer tech (the collaboration capability where you can see other users’ mouse cursors and highlights in the same document, in real time).

🌾 Large-Scale Psychological Differences Within China Explained by Rice Versus Wheat Agriculture

A fascinating paper. This research suggests the possibility that group-conforming versus individualistic cultures may have roots in diet and agricultural practices. From the abstract:

Cross-cultural psychologists have mostly contrasted East...

Balancing Power and Usability

November 18, 2019 • #

This is another one from the archives, written for the Fulcrum blog back in 2016.

Engineering is the art of building things within constraints. If you have no constraints, you aren’t really doing engineering. Whether it’s cost, time, attention, tools, or materials, you’ve always got constraints to work within when building things. Here’s an excerpt describing the challenge facing the engineer:

The crucial and unique task of the engineer is to identify, understand, and interpret the constraints on a design in order to produce a successful result. It is usually not enough...

Weekend Reading: Signaling, Busyness, and Magic Ink

September 28, 2019 • #

👏🏼 Applause Lights

This is from 2007, but is still a very astute observation in how politicians and activists use rhetoric to signal rather than recommend a real, actionable way forward on issues:

The substance of a democracy is the specific mechanism that resolves policy conflicts. If all groups had the same preferred policies, there would be no need for democracy—we would automatically cooperate. The resolution process can be a direct majority vote, or an elected legislature, or even a voter-sensitive behavior of an artificial intelligence, but it has to be something. What does it...

Weekend Reading: Ted Chiang, Renewable Energy, and ColorBox

September 21, 2019 • #

✍🏼 Ted Chiang Uses Science to Illuminate the Human Condition

I enjoyed this interview with author Ted Chiang. It covers his recent short story collection Exhalation: Stories with nice context and background on the ideas behind each one. I just finished the book last week, and would have to say that The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling was my favorite. A story about the fallibility of memory and what it would be like if our memories were recorded...

Weekend Reading: tracejson, Euclid, and Designing at Scale

August 24, 2019 • #

🛰 tracejson

An extension to the GeoJSON format for storing GPS track data, including timestamps. GPX has been long in the tooth for a long time, but it works and is supported by everything. This approach could have some legs if application developers are interested in a new, more efficient, way of doing things. I know I’d like to explore it for Fulcrum’s GPS-based video capability. Right now we do GPX and our own basic JSON format for storing the geo and elapsed time data to match up video frames with location. This could...

Weekend Reading: Terrain Mesh, Designing on a Deadline, and Bookshelves

August 17, 2019 • #

🏔 MARTINI: Real-Time RTIN Terrain Mesh

Some cool work from Vladimir Agafonkin on a library for RTIN mesh generation, with an interactive notebook to experiment with it on Observable:

An RTIN mesh consists of only right-angle triangles, which makes it less precise than Delaunay-based TIN meshes, requiring more triangles to approximate the same surface. But RTIN has two significant advantages:

  1. The algorithm generates a hierarchy of all approximations of varying precisions — after running it once, you can quickly retrieve a mesh...

Weekend Reading: Tissot's Indicatrix, National Park Fonts, and Starlink

June 8, 2019 • #

🌐 Tissot’s Indicatrix

This is a neat interactive tool to visualize distortion due to map projection using Tissot’s indicatrix, a mathematical model for calculating the amount of warp at different points:

Nicolas Auguste Tissot published his classic analysis on the distortion on maps in 1859 and 1881. The basic idea is that the intersection of any two lines on the Earth is represented on the flat map with an intersection at the same or a different angle. He proved that at almost every point on the Earth, there’s a right angle intersection...

Wireframing with Moqups

May 16, 2019 • #

Wireframing is a critical technique in product development. Most everyone in software does a good bit of it for communicating requirements to development teams and making iterative changes. For me, the process of wireframing is about figuring out what needs to be built as much as how. When we’re discussing new features or enhancements, rather than write specs or BDD stories or something like that, I go straight to a pen and paper or the iPad to sketch out options. You get a sense for how a UI needs to come together, and also for us visual thinkers, the new...

A Live Experiment in Disassembling a Map

February 7, 2019 • #

This was a cool idea from cartographer Daniel Huffman. He live-streamed a walkthrough taking apart one of his map projects in Illustrator to see how he puts it all together.

I love this idea and am excited to see him do more like this down the road.

The Incredible Inventions of Intuitive AI

January 2, 2019 • #

This talk on “generative AI” was interesting. One bit stuck out to me as really thought-provoking:

Dutch designers have created a system to 3D print functional things in-place, like this bridge concept. Imagine that you can place a machine, give it a feed of raw material input and cut it loose to generate something in physical space. As the presenter mentions at the end of the talk, moving from things that are “constructed” to ones that are “grown”.

Weekend Reading: Railway Logos, Meditation, and the Next Feature Fallacy

December 8, 2018 • #

🔩 The Next Feature Fallacy

The vast majority of features won’t bend the curve. These metrics are terrible, and the Next Feature Fallacy strikes because it’s easy to build new features that don’t target the important parts.

This certainly rings true for me from experience over the years. It turns out that a single feature itself is far from the main problem halting people part way into on-boarding with a product. This falls into the category of focusing on what we know how to do already, rather than what’s important to do. What’s...

Designing Mapping Apps for Mobile

September 6, 2012 • #

For the Geo DC September 2012 meetup, I talked about our design process at Spatial Networks developing Fulcrum, and how we build highly-functional, easy-to-use mobile features for mapping work.

A Never-Ending Train

April 25, 2010 • #

An amazing train station design — the trains don’t have to stop.