Grudging non-hatred

Apple Pencil is OK, I guess

I hate to mar the pristine negativity of this blog, but Apple’s second generation Pencil is damn near perfect. I was just noticing how little I notice it, because it always works.

But is it as good as iCloud is bad? No.

Back to the regularly scheduled generalized hate.

Apple atrocities Dark musings Fuck you, Adobe TurdPress

Software on fire

I’m having a tough morning.

Last night I realized that a bunch of the contacts on my iPad that I thought had been added to iCloud were actually living in my Google contacts. I wanted all my contacts to live in one place.

So I dragged each of contact over into iCloud. After confirming each contact was, in fact, now living in iCloud, I deleting it from Google. Then I disabled the Google account. I had to do this because whenever you add a contact to Apple Contacts, the app gives no indication of where it is going. Nor does the contact view indicate where the contact is stored. Apple’s designers apparently believed this was irrelevant information, and decided to reduce cognitive load by not showing it. Back when “it just works” was a true marketing slogan, this kind of opacity was welcome simplicity. But now that things often do not work, it provokes anxiety. It is impossible to relax and trust that no news is good news. So even though I took pains to avoid mistakes, I was apprehensive.

And sure enough, this morning I discovered that the contacts I moved are all gone. They did not stay in iCloud, where they appeared to be last night.

I don’t know what happened.

I rarely know, anymore. I just know this is typical and that there is nothing I can do to make things better. It used to not be this way. These things used to work and now they don’t.

I have the same kind of problem with WordPress. I used to love using it. Now every single day, without fail, I’m trying to write something and something just idiotic happens, and trying to resolve the idiocy makes me forget what I was writing.

Today, for instance, I was trying to make one word in a block quote italic. I selected the word and tried to italicize it. When I hit the little italic I button, the entire text block selected itself and became italicized. Another problem is cursor placement. You place the cursor where you want to type. When you start typing, however, the letters appear on the line above. It is distracting and infuriating. And these are just a few of innumerable problems.

In all these cases, I just want to tell the company how frustrating it is that their entire design system is broken. The problem is not just isolated to that one usability issue, but rather, someone has treated the design system as a massive bundle of use cases instead of a design system.

The help desk is not trained for these kinds of complaints. They are trained to walk users through features they do not understand. They cannot take interaction design feedback. Least of are they equipped to take general UI design system feedback.

If 911 operators were trained like software help desk agents, here is how a “my house is on fire” call would go.

Agent: “This 911 emergency services. Thank you for your call. How can I help you today?”

Caller: “Help! My house is on fire!”

Agent: “Ok, I understand. Your house is on fire. Can you help me understand specifically what in your house is on fire?”

Caller: “The whole house is in flames! Help!”

Agent: “It sounds like many things in your house are on fire. Let’s walk through the specific items that are burning. When did you first notice flames in your home?”

Caller: “It isn’t just things inside my house that are on fire. I’m telling you, the entire house is burning to the ground. Can you send a fire engine, please?”

Agent: “I am happy to transfer you to someone who can talk to you about your house, which I understand is on fire. Please hold.”

Robotic Voice: “Thank you for waiting. Your call is very important to us. This is why we understaff our call center to save money. Estimated wait time: 37 minutes.”




Caller: “Hello…? …HELLO???”


So much established software that won market dominance through its superior user experience — has now become complacent in its dominance and allowed itself to decay into profound brokenness. No competitors have emerged to compete with them on user experience, because users — whole industries — are locked in.

I really miss being able to just use my software and being absorbed in my work. Now, invariably, I am interrupted and distracted by bugs, usability issues, unexpected UX “improvements” that require me to relearn stuff, and just trying to get the software to do what I am trying to get it to do.

And there seems to be nothing to do or say about it. These companies are just big, blank, subscription-sucking machines with nobody at home but ambitious young product managers. It would be better nobody were home.

Service malpractice

Amazon’s slimy dark patterns

An open letter to

Currently, if a user is browsing books and clicks an author’s name, the user is moved into the Kindle store.

Does this make sense? What about clicking an author’s name suggests an interest in Kindle content?

I do not believe this has anything at all about the user’s preference. It has only to do with Amazon’s preference. It is a blatant dark pattern — a behavioral economics “nudge” to get an extra fraction of percent of Kindle purchases, at the cost of user experience.

It is slimy. I wish y’all would respect your customers and rely on good service and honest persuasion instead of behavioral manipulation to maximize your profits.


The Design Grouch

Dumb ideas

Unhelpful helpfulness

It seems that most of my usability frustrations these days involve trying to prevent software from helping me in unhelpful ways.

Software wants to finish my sentences for me, correct my word choices, anticipate my formatting decisions, offer me a handy tip on how to do what I am doing.

The experience is like being followed around by a clueless, eager college graduate who just wants to be helpful, but has no idea how, but who somewhere picked up the idea that demonstrating an intent to be helpful is better than doing nothing.

Doing nothing is far better than constantly forcing me to undo unhelpful helpfulness.

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.