Category Archives: crticism

The Limits of Good Design in Software Production (or Dreamweaver CS4 still sucks)

My first job was as an hourly doing LAMP development for my undergrad university. I remember very clearly my fellow developers complaining about how our users were idiots. When things went wrong, the normal course of action was to blame the user.

Fast forward four years and now I’m on the cusp of holding a masters in HCI/d. We are trained to never blame the user. Even when the user is doing something grievously unintended with the digital artifact, it’s “emergent behavior” – and if even that user is getting frustrated, we blame the design. HCI/d is a humble discipline, always ready to take responsibility.

Having been now on both sides of the spectrum – from the blame-the-user developer to the blame-the-design – I would like to propose a new group of people to blame our digital troubles on: developers. Yes, those hapless geeks who just do what their told when given design specs. 

But, why would I be so mean?

Well, let’s looks at the latest version of Dreamweaver, CS4. Below is an animated GIF detailing the troubles I’ve been having with it this morning.


So I will be in a web browser window (not uncommon for someone working with Dreamweaver) and use expose to get over to Dreamweaver. In the first frame you can clearly see that Twitter is still showing through where the Dreamweaver tab menu should be.

So, I click again, and still no dice. The tab menu does appear, along with two(!) menu bars, but my code disappears. I guess you’re paying extra for the second menu bar considering how expensive CS4 is.

And, finally, on the third(!) click I get what I actually want. Now repeat this a thousand times, and that’s how annoying it is.

But who can we blame? Maybe it is my fault for using Dreamweaver,  but Adobe certainly wants a user base, so we can’t generalize that to the blaming the user.

It’s not the fault of the designers. The tab navigation and tool bar there aren’t great works of revolutionary design, but they’re not bad. I understand them easily enough and they do what they look like their going to do.

So, in this case the only person really left to blame is the developer. Adobe charges enough for their products that you’d think they’d be able to hire some decent code writers, but apparently not.

The larger point I want to make is that while UX is  great buzzword right now – and one I’m happy about, considering I’m in HCI/d – designers can only do so much. Developers actually have to follow through well on any design, or else the whole experience with that digital artifact will continue to suck, just like with Dreamweaver CS4.


Garden of Eden – Organic data visualization of G8 capitals’ pollution levels

The Garden of Eden is an interesting project  that uses lettuce planted in air-tight capsules with the pollution levels of the G8 capitals simulated inside. It think it’s an interesting attempt on data visualization in that it uses the Internet to gather the data and reflect it with the lettuce in a literally organic way.

[ via VVork ]

The Creatulator

picture-2I’ve been working on this concept for a while, but today I finally completed a function prototype. Basically, The Creatulator combines semiotics and ambiguous computing. It prompts the visitor with three random images and two (somewhat) logical operators, and asks them to make meaning of it. Users can then rate these meanings. It’s not suppose to be an example of human-centered design, but rather a piece of design criticism itself to see how these ideas can be used.

A Reply to The Television-ization of Newspapers on the Web has got to be one of my favorite blogs. Their commentary on design issues is incisive and original. The most recent post is titled “The Television-ization of Newspapers on the Web“. In it they claim that 70% of the screen real estate on web newspaper sites are wasted with advertisements, titles, etc. I think this criticism of online newspapers is a bit harsh overblown.

Look at the Sunday edition of any main newspaper form a decent sized city in the US. How much of that page space is wasted by similar things? Granted those ads don’t move around, block the text until you touch them (which is frickin’ annoying), and the like, but still they take up a lot of page real estate. This is how newspapers stay in business. Not everything can be given away for free and newspapers probably won’t last long with a Long Tail business model approach. If I can get the NY Times for free online, but 70% of the web site is “wasted”, that’s still better than paying.

lmgreen & Dragset : Drama Queens

Here’s a goofy little video of sculptures talking about how they’ve been critiqued.

[ Found via VVork ]


I ran across Schtock yesterday, a site where this “amatuer designer”, showcases the images he has created from the images that cross his desk at his job. He works cataloging stock art. I’d like to take the time out to offer a couple thoughts I had in relation to this site.

The top navigation for the main part of the site – used to go back and forth between images, and show the stock images used in that piece – is very natural and unobtrusive. I find the “about this image” particularly modern and a great use of John Maeda’s SHE principle. But, I think there are some serious problems with this site that go beyond simple heuristics evaluation or discussion of usability.

Also, let me state that while the site creator self-refers as an amateur designer, the author is assuredly neither amateur nor a designer, but a fantastic artist.

First, the “about this site” link should not go to a blog. When clicking “about this site” I expect to go to a page whose main content is explaining the site. Yes, that content is on the blog, but in the upper-right, a place for tertiary content at best.

Second, the simple image navigation interface is nice, but unless there’s an implied sequence to images (and sometimes even if), a browse by thumbnail option should be provided. This is a fairly common mistake I find in sites. Simplicity-in-design is no excuse for adopting a simple solution.

Third, and this relates back to the blog, going to the blog gives the sensation of going to another web site. I tend not to look at the URL bar much, and I had to go back and forth between the blog and main portion of the site a coupe times to be sure belonged to the same site. Yes, the gray colors match (and it’s a serious-designerly gray), but there has to be more there for the blog and the site to really belong together.

All in all though, this images on Schtock are incredible, and the art belongs more in a museum than on my silly little blog.

Mountain Dew’s Green Label Art is a catastrophe

[ I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while. I had some great conversations this past weekend, which almost inspired me to create it last night. Today, however, I ran across Mountain Dew’s Green Lable Art and it pushed me over the edge into bloglandia. ]

I like that the word green is used to describe environmentally-friendly products and services. It links environmentally sustainable economic and design practices with a strong, efficient economy. Plus it’s much more friendly and less hippy-fied than “environmentally-friendly”, “Earth conscious”, etc. But what I don’t like is that is can so easily be used to greenwash items – or at least imply that something is more green than it really is.

Mountain Dew’s Green Label Art advertising campaign – while making no claim to being environmentally conscious in any way – is just another case of co-opting environmentalism to push obsolete products like high-fructose corn syrup-saturated fizzy water. There is nothing wrong with soda (especially if it made with natural sugars and you recycle the can), but there is definitely something wrong with calling a campaign directed towards less-than-contentious teenagers green. It can be no coincidence that they choose that name and base this campaign around urban artists (who generally fall towards the true green crowd).

On the plus side of the situation, it is nice to see a campaign by a soft drink company sponsor creative expression, though I’m sure no dissension will be tolerated. It’s just unfortunate Mountain Dew didn’t link this with release of a healthier version of its product.