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.

Service malpractice

“Your call is very important to us”

Hey, companies, please listen. When you put people on hold for long stretches of time, or when you take days and days to respond to a help ticket, how about dropping that bullshit about how important this call or this help request is to you? Because it is not important to you, and your blather does nothing but add another redundant drop of cynicism into the infinite bullshit ocean we’re all drowning in. 

The cliche is true, far truer than your marketing blather: Actions speak louder than words. The fact that we have all learned to expect long waits, says very loudly: “We know you’ll put up with this.”


OK, customers, now I’m talking to you.

These companies who claim to care so much about your very important call have calculated exactly how long they can make you wait without losing your business. They track it carefully. They know who drops off and they know the bottom-line consequences of drop-offs.

Shortening your wait time would require hiring more customer service personnel. That is expensive and most companies don’t want to spend money to make you any happier than they have to. They want to spend the least amount possible to keep your business and they want to pocket the rest.

Sadly, that customer service representative (CSR) who finally does speak to you after that long, infuriating wait might very well care how you feel. Many of them dearly want positive interactions with the people they speak with all day every day. But they are “the throat to choke”. Yelling at the CSR is yelling at the company. And so they are yelled at, harangued, bullied and threatened all day. Customers ask their names and address them by name frequently in an oh-so-savvy attempt to signal how they will be held accountable for how things go.

These CSRs are tracked closely and scored. They are supposed to keep your call as short as possible, so they can move on to the next pissed-off customer, and the next, and the next — as many as possible, to squeeze the most value out of them. The call centers are understaffed, so it is important to keep prodding them snd keeping them trotting as briskly as possible through their endless call queue every minute of the day.

CSRs are also scored on how much they can upsell and cross-sell to these customers, who are very much not in the mood to be upsold or cross-sold after sitting on hold listening to “we care” bullshit for the better part of an hour.

And then when it is all over, the customer evaluates them on how satisfied they are. Good luck, CSR.

And, understand: these CSRs are surrounded by posters and banners and huge screens that assure them that Our Employees Are Our #1 Asset. We Appreciate Our Employees. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. And So On. They too are subjected to empty words belied by the most conclusive demonstrations of the emptiness of the empty words — but your bullshit sentence time lasted 20-40 minutes. Theirs is every minute of every day.  

Meanwhile, the folks creating all this misery are far, far away, hiding behind data dashboards, business intelligence applications and spreadsheets and totally out of earshot of your complaints. The only thing they hear from you is your complacent sticking around for more abuse, always almost, but not quite ever, willing to tell them to fuck off.

Moral: Most customer misery is produced backstage, far from view of customers, and the same misery affects everyone you’ll ever be allowed to talk to. So be nice to those poor front line people trying to help you. Instead, quit. If you can, discontinue your service online, so you don’t make that poor CSR’s day worse by putting a cancellation on their scorecard.