Notes on Interface,
Communication & Design by
James Bowskill—Art Director at
A.C.O. in Tokyo.

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More Great iPhone Apps for Preschoolers

There's a whole load of new apps for preschoolers out at the moment — here are six that have met the ever-rising standards of my 3 year old son (all links to the iTunes App Store):

Oh, and if you missed it, don't forget to look through last year's post on Great iPhone Apps for 2–3 Year Olds, as there's some corkers in there too.

  • Animatch — a simple, beautifully done animal matching game, with great illustrations and sound effects. New animals via occasional updates keep it fresh. I particularly like this one for the sense of achievement it gives children each time they match an animal.
  • Itsy Bitsy Spider — a charming interactive song app from Duck Duck Moose, the makers of Wheels on the Bus. Dozens of hidden interactions to find, and the ability to record your own (or your kids!) voice-over.
  • Old MacDonald — Duck Duck Moose do it again with another interactive song. The dump-truck scene went down particularly well with my son.
  • Peekaboo Wild — remember Peekaboo Barn? Well we've moved to the African savannah for this installment. Same simple interface, more beautiful illustrations.
  • Monkey Preschool Lunchbox — this one's perhaps seen the most use in our house of the current apps. A looping set of fruit-based challenges, rewarding the player with cute stickers they collect on a board. A cute character, catchy soundtrack and engaging puzzles. Must buy!
  • Monkey Preschool: When I Grow Up — once you've exhausted Lunchbox, grab this and have fun dressing the monkey and watching him dance. More catchy music, great animations, and a good way to teach them new words. Current favourite combo? “Astronaut-princess-diver” I think.

I'm always on the lookout for more apps for my kids, so if you have any recommendations, please get in touch.

Also, whilst I'm at it, a shameless plug for my latest project — a super cute, year-of-the-tiger-themed Twitter app called TigerTweet.Me. If you like your interfaces cuddly with a little bite, I think you'll enjoy it.

Jan 20 2010 Permalink

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Radioooo: Twitter-Powered Social DJ-ing from Japan

The idea's simple, even if the execution is close to painful. Tweet your music requests via Twitter, and they're cued up to be played on a big jukebox in the sky. Lke what you're hearing? Give the DJ a clap, or even a standing ovation.

Here's how it works: Users post Youtube music videos via Twitter, and these are picked up by the Radioooo service. A downloadable application acts as the music player on your computer, showing the current music video and the next one that's cued up.

By "clapping" or "standing" to a track, the application posts a tweet to your Twitter account, including a link to the Youtube video, and a mention for the DJ.

Still following? Here's how you do it:

Step 1

Download and install the Radioooo application (it's Adobe AIR, but just bear with me) http://radiooofly.com

Step 2

Launch the app and log in to your Twitter account to hear the music currently playing. The two screens show the current music video, and the next one cued up.

Show your approval of a track by clicking the "stand" or "clap" buttons below the playing video.

Step 3

Make a request by tweeting the Video ID of a Youtube music video in this format:
@radioyoutube videoID #radioyoutube

For example, to request this Youtube Music Video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYn-2Q27z8o

Tweet this:

@radioyoutube YYn-2Q27z8o #radioyoutube

You can see your track added to the cue list by doing a realtime search for #radioyoutube.

It should start playing before too long, as long as the service isn't overwhelmed with Tweets.

OK, so it's not going to replace Last.fm or Spotify anytime soon, and is destined to become totally unusable in its current implementation if it ever gets popular, but a round of applause for the idea.

Oct 15 2009 Permalink

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Where's the Killer App for Web Design?

What application do you design websites with — Photoshop? Illustrator? Fireworks? We all rely on Fireworks here at A.C.O., but as Jon Hicks points out in his recent article, it's a love/hate relationship. For those willing to invest a little time learning its idiosyncrasies, it's clearly the best tool out there. Unfortunately that doesn't say much for the state of the web design application landscape.

Although many designers are busy defending their respective design app choice in forums and blogs, there seems to be very little dialogue on what we actually want and need from a web design app. Here's a few thoughts:


FROM STATIC TO DYNAMIC

Like most graphic design apps, Fireworks uses the canvas metaphor as the basis for its documents. But we’re not painting pictures here, we’re designing interfaces — scrolling, sliding, zooming interfaces. Scrap the static canvas, and build on the concept of designing dynamic screens.

Screens should facilitate liquid layouts and inline scrolling. They should facilitate fast prototyping of rich interfaces — I shouldn't have to switch from right brain creativity (design) to left brain logic (scripting) to develop an interface idea. Allowing designers to quickly create rich interaction prototypes before coding would smooth out the creative process, allow for instant demos and feedback on ideas and reduce costly mistakes later in production. Today's UIs aren't static — the design app shouldn't be either.


SEPARATE STYLE & CONTENT

The benefits of separating style and content with css and xhtml are clear — so why not do it during the design process too? Instead of wasting time copying and pasting from Powerpoint and Word docs, allow a text box to be linked to an external text file, and automatically populate the design with content.

The text can be edited by anyone — without knowledge or need of the design application itself. It could even be hosted on a CMS, and linked via a URL. It's not too hard to imagine the benefits of all the content being managed online in one place. No more mailing docs back and forth, no more confusion about which is the latest version. From initial writing, through to the final launch, all the content in the same place. Both designers and developers can use the same source of content, and the client/writer can edit it directly via their browser.


MOVE YOUR ASSETS

Anyone involved in the design of a large site knows the difficulty in maintaining consistency across multiple files — changing the header for example requires manually updating every file that uses it. The simple solution? Allow importing of linked external design files — update the linked file and all documents that use it automatically reflect the change. Of course Illustrator already does this, but don’t just stop with a local implementation. Allow this to work across via a web server so multiple designers can work from multiple locations, all sharing the same design assets.


DIVIDE & CONQUER

Although I’m always surprised to see how many people choose Photoshop or Illustrator over Fireworks as their primary tool for web design, they have undeniable advantages in their own areas. Harness their power by allowing the embedding of .psd and .ai files inside the design document and facilitate roundtrip editing of those files in their native applications. I don't think we need a Ps/Ai killer — give me an app that harnesses their strengths, and addresses the specific problems web designers face. One of the biggest issues I have with the Creative Suite, is that with each release, each of its components step more and more on the toes of its counterparts. At this rate we'll have a box of apps that all do exactly the same thing, only even slower and more bug-ridden than they already do.


CONCLUSION

Fireworks combines the best parts of Photoshop and Illustrator — it’s a hybrid that facilitates basic bitmap image editing, illustration and typography with layout across multiple pages. But from where I’m standing, the needs placed on web designers today would be better met with an application that took more cues from the DTP world of Quark and InDesign. A more systematic application that acted as an organizing vessel for the mix of media a web designer deals with, would bring the design process closer to the way a website works. Developed handling of linked artwork and content would enable more efficient workflows and collaboration, and rich interface prototyping would kick-start one of the most challenging areas of web design earlier on in the process.

But frankly, I'm past caring if it comes from the Fireworks team, or even Adobe for that matter. Why, with all the innovations in interface design online, are we left struggling with design software that's not only dragging it's heels, but getting heavier to pull along with each release? Where's the innovation? Granted, new indie apps like Drawit, Acorn and Opacity are showing Adobe up, but they are still essentially drawing/image editing apps. As good as it is to see them, they're not addressing the specific problems encountered whilst designing a website.

Fireworks is only the best because there’s nothing else out there for it to compete with. In an industry seeing the expansion that web design is, Adobe seem to be worryingly blasé in developing the only tool designed for the purpose. Through occasional stints in alpha and beta tests for Fireworks, I've had a chance to chat with engineers and planners, and they seem genuinely passionate about their product, and open to ideas. Yet in spite of this, yearly releases come and go and I'm left with a product that seems to be skirting around the big issue — that whilst the needs of web designers are changing, the design software is not.

I'd love to hear your thoughts &mdash feel free to mail or better yet, get my attention with a tweet by mentioning @jamesbowskill.

Further Reading:

Oct 13 2009 Permalink

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Great iPhone Apps for 2–3 Year Olds

Following on from last week's post on kids using iPhones, a quick list of Apps that have my son's sticky-fingered seal of approval (all links to the iTunes App Store):

  • Peekaboo Barn — a simple introduction to farm animals, beautifully executed with an easy interface.
  • Preschool Adventure — 6 interactive screens teaching colours, numbers, shapes, body parts, animals and farm animal sounds.
  • Wheels on the Bus — a nicely done interactive song with the option to record your own voices to the backing track!
  • Elephant Song — another interactive song, full of silly mistakes by the singer for kids to laugh at. Be warned, it has a nasty habit of getting stuck in your head though.
  • Hatch — funny how the simple ones hit the spot. Tap the egg until an animal hatches with a comedy “boing”. Hysteria ensues.
  • SmackTalk — a lineup of cheeky animals speak back via the mic and speakers. Endless fun.
  • Balloonimals — “blow” into the iPhone to inflate balloon animals which you can then play with. The hardest part is teaching your child that they don't actually have to force air up your iPhone's mic.

You can find even more apps in the second post on this series, More Great iPhone Apps for Preschoolers.

Oct 05 2009 Permalink

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Interfaces for the Next Generation (or What I've Learned Watching Toddlers with iPhones)

Anyone with little kids knows their interest in mobile phones—you can't tear them apart. There's much hilarity to be had as they make random calls, at unfortunate times to long forgotten contacts. It's been the same with my iPhone, but what I didn't expect was that my 3 year old son wouldn't just play with it, he'd actually figure it out, all on his own.

In the 3 months I've had it, he's learned how to:

  • Unlock it and browse applications
  • Scroll, swipe, tap and shake
  • Take and browse photos
  • Open iTunes to watch Sesame Street podcasts
  • Open the iPod, find videos and watch them
  • Play happily with the assortment of kids Apps I've installed for him
  • Check the weather in the morning (and promptly announce his findings—very handy indeed)

He's done all this just by watching me use it, then experimenting on his own. It won't be long before he starts running up a not-so-amusing bill as he freely downloads Apps and media. It's amazing to watch. He just… gets it.


Numb to the Complexity

It's becoming clear that multi-touch isn't just a fad, it's not only here to stay, it's (perhaps very quickly) going to replace analogue buttons. The iPhone is a sublime example of the future of digital interfaces. It's (quite rightly) heralded as an incredibly advanced piece of technology, yet at the same time is game-changingly simple.

What I hadn't appreciated until now is the quantum leap multi-touch makes in allowing previously excluded people the chance to interact with digital media. It wasn't until seeing my son using the iPhone that I realized how anaesthetised I'd become to the complexity of interfaces—the overwhelming nature of a keyboard, with modifiers and shortcut combinations. The ungainly mouse with its ambiguous buttons and spatially-quirky relationship with that oddest of things—the cursor.

We take all these things for granted, but for those growing up with multi-touch, the ability to directly manipulate the screen will become the de facto. We don't have a TV at home, and the first thing my son did when he encountered one at his grandparents' was to put his sticky fingers all over it—then very quickly lose interest in a device that was boringly, stubbornly passive.

Oct 01 2009 Permalink

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A Pocket-sized Portfolio with iPhone

We've almost finished the A.C.O. iPhone portfolio. It's a simple job—just format captures and photos of our designs to fit the iPhone screen, collect them in a folder and synchronize via iTunes.

What's great is the ability to make a quick presentation at any time—it's ideal for following up the business card exchange at parties and networking events. There's still the inherent wow factor of the iPhone to start off with, and it's much easier talking about your work when you have images to hand. Certainly beats lugging a printed portfolio around too.

Aug 07 2009 Permalink

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