Dark musings Fuck you, Adobe

Moron’s Law

I’ve been using Adobe’s products since the late 80s, back when they were good.

The products all started out pretty lean, by necessity. The hardware could only support so much, and Adobe had to use what resources they had judiciously.

For awhile, as hardware grew more capable, upgrades were real improvements. We all upgraded enthusiastically.

Somewhere in the mid-2000s, the hardware got good enough that Adobe was able to do everything useful that a user could want. In an ideal world, this is where Adobe would have stopped adding stuff.

But this is not an ideal world — so this is exactly when Adobe’s product managers went into manic overdrive. They used up every resource at their disposal, to do something new — anything — even things few people needed or wanted. At that point, upgrades became mixed-bags. The toolbars and menus and palettes grew numerous and cumbersome. They were all over the place. Basic interactions were dicked around with and changed arbitrarily, requiring relearning and inflicting needless usability friction. But there was usually something there that we couldn’t do without. We grudgingly upgraded.

But it went further downward from there. The tradeoffs began to neutralize the benefits. Upgrades became entirely worthless. Then they became worse-than-worthless. Tradeoffs dwarfed the benefits.

Finally they were just flat depressing. There was no benefit. Everything was just slower, more burdensome, more confusing, more crappy. You just had to do it to maintain compatibility with those asshats who cooperated with the scam, and forced the rest of us to go along. It was insulting to pay for these “upgrades”, and we tried to postpone it as long as we could.

That is when Adobe went to a subscription model.

So now each time a user opens an Adobe product, they get to wait while the software checks to ensure the user has paid the extortion fee — slowing the software launch-time to late-90s speeds.

Looking back there is a clear trajectory to this story. While hardware has maintained its Moore’s law pace of miraculously doubling its speed every two years, Adobe has always managed to neutralize all gains with its own uncontrollable urge to add new processor-hogging, memory-hogging, attention-hogging nonsense to its feature set.

It might be that Adobe itself changed. But I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t Moore’s Law-like law at work. Think about it: what software hasn’t grown like goldfish to whatever size their hardware fishbowl can contain?

This phenomenon needs a name. And you know, I’m sure someone has already observed and named this phenomenon. But I’m too lazy to check, and besides, everything’s better when I invent it. So here you go:

  • Moore’s Law is “the number of transistors on a microchip doubles about every two years, though the cost of computers is halved.”
  • Moron’s Law is “the number of features in any software product doubles about every two years, and as the feature set bloats to ever more grotesque proportions, both the performance and the quality of the user experience is halved.”

I never claimed to be above venting my anger with the cheapest of cheap shots.

Anyway, this is partly why our digital lives get worse every year, not despite better hardware but because of it.

Dumb ideas

Another 2023 New Year Resolution

This year I am adopting a new rule: Every time I find myself yelling at an inanimate object I will stop yelling, and write a Design Grouch rant instead.

Apologies in advance for the avalanche of content this unwise resolution will unleash.

Dumb ideas

2023 New Year Resolution

This year I pledge to maintain a strict 2:1 ratio of people who like me to people who cannot stand me.

Any less than that, I’m probably misbehaving. Any more than that I’m probably being a wuss.

I’ll leave it to you to guess the current ratio.

Apple atrocities


Apple really ought to admit to itself that its so-called iCloud is not even approaching the cloud computing ideal and design to the reality of its technological limitations.

What do I mean by the cloud computing ideal? I mean that your files are simply available everywhere, simultaneously on any device.

iCloud very dramatically fails to achieve this effect. Its technological operations are front-and-center. It is painfully obvious that files are being synchronized across devices, and that the user must wait for the synchronization operation to complete before the files from one device are transferred to the new one.

This synchronizing files model requires a different kind of user experience design than a true cloud computing model, which permits a featureless simplicity. The process happens so invisibly and reliably that there’s no question of availability of data or files, or whether the available data or files is the most current.

Syncing, however, requires visibility and control so users know what going and and can do something about it. Because with syncing there is an obvious temporary discrepancy between what a user sees on one device and another. This is most certainly the user experience of “iCloud”. A user moving across devices must patiently wait for files, photos, contacts, etc. to appear, and there is absolutely no way to see what’s going on. You just have to wait and wait and wait and hope there isn’t another damn glitch requiring you to sign out and sign back into your iCloud account on one or both of the possibly malfunctioning devices.

But Apple seems to think its Jobsian Reality Distortion Field is still operational. It thinks that if it keeps pretending its botched syncing is a magically simple cloud experience — if it sings out “ta da!” insistently enough — its cult of uncritical boneheads will just believe what Apple wants them to believe. And you know what? Apple is 100% correct.

But I do not believe. I do not believe because I notice things and think about them. That is what smart people do. Stupid people copy the thoughts of people they think are smart, and then stupidly imagine that copying smart person thoughts makes them smart.

If, God forbid, I were the product manager of iCloud, I’d drop all pretense of cloud computing.

First, I’d rename the product iSync, to avoid accusations of false advertising. Just kidding: there are no such accusations. I’d rename it out of shame.

And then I would give users visibility into synchronization progress and manual control over the synchronization, similar to what Google Drive provides (except, of course, I would use UX best practices and do the design work right, instead of letting my tech team mangle the j0b, and consequently subjecting users to frustration and confusion, and then trying to unmangle the mangledness in real-time, creating yet more frustration and confusion, in the manner prescribed by Eric Ries — an approach that seems absolutely logical if you happen to be a typical omniscient techie sociopath who thinks “experience” is a glitzy synonym for “user interface”). That’s right: I’d have a damn progress bar with some info on what files are syncing, along with some kind of time estimate. And there’d be a nice fat “Sync” button on every screen, if only to function like a cross walk button placebo. The machine is listening and at least pretending to respond to my incessant button poking.

Then I would re-hire Scott Forstall, revert iOS to version 6 and try to pretend the last decade of iOS never happened. And anyone heard saying the word “skeuomorphism” in the halls of the Apple’s headquarters would be tased and ejected from the glass bagel into the artificial wilderness of Cupertino.

Happy New Year.

Dark musings


Well, I finally got Covid.

I haven’t gotten all the way through it, yet, but I’ve experienced enough of it that I think I have the basic idea and feel ready to write a review.

Covid is a totally slapdash, ill-conceived, feature heap of an illness.

There is no cohesion to it. It is just a stupid, random sequence of torments.

“Let’s make his skin hurt. No, wait, how about body aches? Wait, wait, let’s make his ears ring. Throw some flaming headache in there. How about dulling his taste? Ok, let’s do that. But what about his guts? Shouldn’t we make things go horribly wrong there for at least an hour? Yeah, sure, why not? But don’t forget about exhaustion — he needs to be really, really tired. Let’s keep him tired. Oh crap. Almost forgot. Aren’t we known for being a respiratory condition? Don’t we need to make him cough, just to maintain brand consistency? Naw, make his nose run. And profuse sweat, how about that? And chills, probably. Yeah, chills. No wait, we’re sick of chills. Overheat him, now. Eh, I liked chills better. Add back the chills, and torque up the aches.”

Don’t get me wrong, Covid is doing a solid job of making me feel like total crap. But that doesn’t even begin to make up for the garbage design of this disease. It is like Covid is making it up as it goes along. It clearly has no plan, or even a guiding theme.

I hope it was produced by human beings in a lab, because if it wasn’t, nature totally jumped the shark on this one.

1.5 Stars

Apple atrocities

iPad widget fail

Here’s me trying to arrange widgets on my iPad.

What I want to do is put the battery widget on the left, then the calendar widget in the middle, and the reminders widget on the right.

What the iPad wants is anything but that.

Backhanded positivity

My MacBuntu

I’ve switched all my writing activities over to a MacBook running Ubuntu.

I can’t say why exactly – maybe it’s just a honeymoon thing? – but I feel much better using this machine.

I think it might be this: I prefer suffering from awful design done by well-meaning coders who can’t design worth a shit, over suffering from awful design done by world-class design talents who use dark patterns to wring desired behaviors and dollars out of me.


The pitfalls of rapid, piecemeal design

When you design really rapidly, piecemeal, driven by the need to keep developers busy, it is impossible to design systematically. This means big glaring oversights wherever the design team fails anticipate a specific user need in order to design for it. The faster designers are driven, and the more they must focus on the details without reference to the system that gives the details a logical place within a whole, the more these oversight holes will riddle an experience. If the designer didn’t imagine you doing what you’re trying to do, you’re out of luck.

When designers work systematically, it is not necessary to anticipate every particular user need. Users might even find new uses beyond those intended or even conceived by designers. The tool has its own logic that is adaptable to many situations.

I hate the idea that the radical user-centricity I’ve championed for decades might have helped contribute to the degradation of user experiences.

Service malpractice

Feature idea for Notability

I just submitted a feature request for Notability:

I have an idea for a service Ginger Labs could offer to Notability users. Imagine this scenario: a user is experiencing some kind of technical issue. With the concept I’m proposing, the user could contact Ginger Labs and receive help resolving that problem. My hypothesis is that this would serve user needs more effectively than the current service, which consists of the user submitting a help ticket and receiving a message assuring them that “nothing is more important to us than helping you”, followed by literally months and months of apologies for not yet addressing the issue.

Organizational incompetence

Bullshit and chickenshit

Much of what happens in organizations can be classified under two categories: bullshit and chickenshit.

Bullshit is that class of lofty, uplifting, meaningful-feeling words and gestures that seem to promise something of enormous importance — but that important something can never be fulfilled through any practical action.

Chickenshit is that class of practical activities that seem like they ought to contribute in some way to some important end — but, in fact contribute nothing of any value to anything that matters.

Bullshit is meaning without practice. Chickenshit is practice without meaning.

Bringing together meaning and practice, so meaning inspires action toward a realizable vision, and practical actions contribute to realizing this meaningful vision — this is one of design’s key functions.

Another key function of design is to ensure the design is good, both in vision and execution: that it does something useful for people, that people find it easy to learn, use, and master, and that people enjoy using it. A good design will be chosen, used and recommended.

Design leads the conception and actualization of good, practical, visions.

When design is allowed to do its work, it helps groups of people align on a genuinely good, meaningful and achievable vision and helps them see the big, intricate picture of how diverse disciplines can coordinate their efforts and contribute to achieving this vision. Design then helps keep this alignment intact through implementation and subsequent release cycles, so that the meaning envisioned is realized and maintained in practice.

When design is not allowed to do its work, which is almost all the time, blathermouth executives give inspiring talks and emails, get their comms people to hang inspiring posters everywhere, and generally slather their organizations in bullshit, before disappearing into conference rooms to do very prestigious chickenshit all day.

Their subordinates ignore the bullshit and do their less prestigious chickenshit, which is laboriously measured and tracked for no good reason, except to provide other people the chance to do some chickenshit.

Sometimes employees are herded into rooms for bullshit workshops, while chickenshit accumulates in high acrid heaps back at their desks.

If, by some miracle, a good, practical vision is designed in this workshop, that vision is unlikely to survive what happens after. In subsequent meetings the vision gets divided into initiatives, then subdivided into work streams and hauled to far-flung silos, where the work is chopped and diced into chicken turd-sized tasks and poured into a backlog. The backlog is emptied, task by task, by people who have no idea how this important-seeming work will contribute to anything that matters.

And when all the bits of work are complete, it’s all globbed back together in a form that barely resembles the vision. That’s ok, though. The executives re-emerge from their conference rooms to do an all-hands where they bullshit on and on about how this chickenshit frankenstein is the realization of a vision that could never have happened without the dedication and leadership of everyone, especially of whatshername and so-and-so, and they hand out recognitions, promotions, layoffs and such. They then file back into their conference rooms for more very prestigious chickenshit.

A bullshit press release is issued.

Then there’s a major software release. Or maybe there is some change to core services. Or a new generation of product hits the stores. And all the customers and users who have to deal with these “improvements” get to figure them out and adjust their lives to accommodate them. They’re all inconvenienced, confused and frustrated, but there’s nowhere else to go, because the competitors are just as chickenshitty and bullshitty. Business as usual. Bullshit and chickenshit.

Moral: Organizations — entire industries, in fact — export their dysfunction to the larger world in the form of bad design: bullshit-coated chickenshit.