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Category: design

No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail Better

Samuel Beckett

A link tossed in to the stream by Joe Tennis on Twitter, stirred up thoughts about failure. Joe’s pointer was to a blog posting on the process of creating computer games, and the ideal of setting up an environment where failure can happen faster and isn’t punished. That’s a unique idea in this day and age.

It brought to mind a quote from a late Samuel Beckett novel called “Worstward Ho.”

Ever tried.
Ever failed.
No matter.
Try again.
Fail again.
Fail better.
Samuel Beckett

If you intend to participate in a creative profession, whether it’s writing fiction, making paintings or plays, creating companies, products or software— you’ll need to learn to live in, and with, failure. In a sense, success is the failure that we’ve made an accomodation with. We shoot for perfection, and we always fall short. Dave Winer summed it up in 1995 in his motto for Living VideoTextWe make shitty software, with bugs. Software must ship prior to perfection, in that way it’s like life. We must live our lives prior to perfection. If we wait, we’ll miss everything.

Failure is tied to risk. If failure is not an option, risk is not an option. If risk isn’t an option, only a very small kind of success is possible. The principle is the same as an investment portfolio. You can banish risk, but you can’t expect a high level of return. Risk is a requirement of potential high return. The same is true in any creative pursuit, if you want a big success, you’ll need to learn to live with risk and failure.

And not just live with them, but to call them friends. Learning how to fail faster means learning how to succeed faster. Creating a safe environment for failure encourages risk taking and exploration. It gets you there faster. But just as with success, not all failure is equally successful. Failures need to be crafted just as carefully as successes. Just ask Samuel Beckett…

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The Horror Revealed on a ‘View Source’

Thinking of relation between surface to depth, surface to the underlying material. These are fundamental questions when thinking about visual design. The ink on paper designer has tremendous freedom to create whatever the imagination can conjure.

The fundamental materials are the printing process and the selection of paper type. Clearly a print designer can imagine things that can’t be produced in black ink on newsprint. Generally, an experienced print graphic designer takes print production methods into account when starting a visual design. It’s called designing into the production process. When you do this, things go smoothly when it comes to to fire up the presses and put ink to paper. When you don’t there’s panic at the press check.

Of course, the fantasy is that you can make the surface manifest just as it exists in your imagination— the physical world has no claim on the execution of design. This, to some extent, is the state of much of visual design on the Web. I blame photoshop. While it’s true that just about any visual design can be built for the screen— it’s not always a good idea to do so. The horror revealed on a ‘View Source’ tells you why.

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Industrial Design: Creating The Look of the DOM

For a long time now the visual design of websites has had no relationship to the underlying structure of the document. It’s as though the visual manifestation of the website had no relation to its material. There are lots of web production processes designed this way. It’s usually done in photoshop by publication designers who know nothing of HTML or the Document Object Model.

Traditional industrial design is all about understanding your materials and the purpose of the thing you’re designing. Putting the underlying structure of the document in sync with the visual design creates a flexible, powerful whole. It allows websites to serve multiple output devices, including meeting ADA requirements.

Like the effort to get web browser makers to adhere to standards, and the new effort to get HTML email readers to abide by the same standards— this effort needs to be directed at the Content Management System makers and the visual designers of websites. CMS’s should produce POSH (Plain Old Semantic HTML), and designers should create visuals that respect the structure of the document.

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QWERTY-based Amphibians

Jeff Hawkins and the Foleo 1.0

Palm killed Foleo 1.0. But the reason for the Foleo is QWERTY, and that’s the reason there’ll be a Foleo 2.0. It’s all about the keyboard. That absurd user interface that was originally designed in 1878 to slow typists down so that the mechanical keys of the early typewriters wouldn’t get stuck together. You’d think that would be as bad as it could get, but no—then we’re given 10-key interfaces to the alphabet through cell phones. The mechanical keyboard on the smart phone was considered a huge improvement and some people can actually type very quickly using only their thumbs. But, really, is that the best we can do? The Foleo was an attempt to at least get back to the full sized keyboard and the insanity that is QWERTY. (You can assume that DVORAK keyboards will never gain a foothold.) But it’s really just a terminal style computer that hooks up to the network through your phone (and probably WiFi). I guess the real question is why the phone? Why does Foleo need to be a companion? Why can’t it simply be a little laptop or a really big phone that doesn’t fit in your pocket?

Frog with 4 legs

As the Internet struggles to emerge everywhere, we’ll see the Darwinian process of various hybrid network devices attempt to adapt and survive. It’s a dog eat dog world, and many devices, like Foleo 1.0, will not survive. But if the ubiquitous Internet is going to be more than just consumption, the problem of input will need to be solved. It’s not going to just be photographs and Twittergrams, we’re going to need to input text as well. Apple is moving toward a virtual interface with QWERTY and Multi-touch created in software. I would imagine their next generation keyboard will incorporate this approach. But there’s a lot of work that needs to be done before a virtual keyboard will rival a mechanical keyboard.

Lots of people are thinking about how to get beyond the Keyboard/Video/Mouse input paradigm, and there are some beautiful prototypes out there. But there’ll always be a need for good old plain text and a way to make it flow from your thoughts out through your fingertips.

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