design

Newline after each sentence

A few days ago MR posted an XKCD comic that mentioned that some people put a newline after each sentence. And the way the comic is drawn seems to suggest these people are outliers.

I had a lot of problems with that comic. For one, being XKCD, the artist should have known that this style is favoured by many programmers, because to do otherwise would mean havoc when diff’ing. This third group of “outliers” is actually much bigger than the artist believes.

In any case, it turns out that putting a newline after each sentence has an unexpected benefit: If the text contains sentences that are too long, they literally stick out and shout at you. If your xterm is 200 columns wide and you’re still seeing tons of line wraps, you know you’ve got a major problem.

This got me thinking: We really need to make it easier for people to edit tagged text, and I don’t think the current breed of “programmer’s editors” is cutting it. We need a new paradigm where distracting details can be hidden, so that the benefits of “newline after each sentence” can be exploited.

An invalid question in the census. Seriously?

Statistics Canada is giving us a web survey. It actually looks good, but I’m less than impressed with some aspects of it.

I’ve never seen a survey with a hashed code that does not have the ability to save progress. If you try to log out (such as… you need to find out something you don’t know, or your computer is forcing you to restart, such as how Windows Update often does) you’re told “Any information entered will be lost.”

Not even the hack job I did for my thesis did this. If they didn’t trust their “secure access code” enough to store progress, how much should we trust it? Sigh.

And we were asked whether people can speak “well enough to conduct a conversation.”

What does that even mean? “How are you? Fine, thank you”? or does that mean a real conversation?

If even the short survey has an invalid question like this, how is the long survey giving us valid data that can help us plan social programs? Don’t they test their questions at Statistics Canada? Sigh.

Forgot how to make a book

Almost a year after I printed a copy of my thesis (intending to put it on display at GradEx, but shelved the idea when I thought the print shop didn’t print it), I finally took a few hours to gather all the signatures, sew them together, and glue them together into what vaguely looks like a book. It’s still not in book form only because my X-acto is with my box of tools in the studio and I forgot to print the cover.

Half-finished book, opened flat

Yes, of course this was going to be in the form of a real book, because that’s how all the process books at GradEx look like! :-)

Anyway, while I was doing this, I kept thinking things like “I’ve forgotten what the signature size was”, “I’m supposed to know how to do this”, “too many signatures!” and “I think I did this wrong,” A year after I did the Student Press’s bookbinding workshop I have already forgotten how to sew signatures together.

I still managed to bind the whole thing together. I’m going to get my X-acto back tomorrow and do a layout of a front cover and print it out somewhere… (Hmm… that will have to be printed at 12×18…)

(Oh yeah… and don’t bother to use staplers. Thread and needle is actually easier because you have more control. And awls… they make holes that are too big; I actually like pins better…)

Ubuntu disappoints, and software tweaks are what makes Macs usable

Months after the thought came up and my first failed trials, I have finally managed to install (so to speak) Ubuntu on my Mac, and I have to say Ubuntu disappoints on many small details. Coming from a pre-GNOME traditional Unix background, that’s some major disappointment I’m talking about.

My major disappointment is with the trackpad. With Ubuntu the Mac’s trackpad is barely usable. Right-clicking doesn’t work, even with the ”Accessibility” option turned on. Heck, even single clicking often doesn’t work because the system would register some tiny, stray vertical movement so you would end up clicking the wrong thing. The system also often registers stray horizontal movements (so that, for example, when you’re scrolling through a page the browser would suddenly switch to a different tab, or even a different app). So it seems that the Mac’s trackpad isn’t actually any better than what Windows laptops have; all the perceived usability is in the software drivers and Apple has done a lot of work making sure the drivers are tweaked to screen out stray movements.

Keyboard input also disappoints. The ”English (Macintosh)” mapping does not map the non-breaking space, and Chinese input does not seem to work. (Maybe Ubuntu is trying too hard to be “smart” and I need to disable all the modern stuff and go back to xkb and scim… or maybe it’s debugging and bug report time….) It’s also a major surprise to see that Emacs-style editing keys work on MacOS X but not in Ubuntu.

With more than one input method installed, simply clicking the input menu would often, inexplicably, switch to a different input method.

The Character Map is completely writing-script-based so you can’t pick out punctuation marks and other non-letter symbols; I had to resort to using printf in the terminal to get the symbols I need.

All in all a disappointment, and in the meantime I’ll need a bigger (and hopefully faster) USB stick.

A few things we should have done (not my program, but OCAD as a whole)

I thought I liked this year’s map. At least the sale is on the map. But people have asked UH enough weird questions that she suspected the map isn’t showing stairs or elevators or how to get to other buildings.

But I just checked the map and these things are all there. Yet people aren’t finding this information. This is a failure of the graphic design.

And the app? Sorry, it might have been a cool idea, but people aren’t using the app as far as I can see. People are asking me where to find the paintings. People aren’t using the app; they’re using the printed maps. And 21 colour codes with neither alternate text nor icons is non-inclusive design.

Last years I thought the signs were bad. This year’s signs are no better.

And showing at GradEx certainly changed my views of just how bad our signs are. People don’t know where they can find more things on the first floor. We have no directional signage.

All this is embarassment for a design school.

A few things we should have done

Someone asked me a seemingly-random question this morning: The two chairs, are they just random, or have they been designed to be placed there so something looks better when I sit on them?

Not so random really, is it? They should not have been just placed there randomly, and once I thought of that it’s obvious where they should have been placed: In front of the monitor.

Every exhibition where films are shown have benches or chairs for people to sit on. We have a short film. The only logical place chairs should be placed is in front of the screen, so that people can sit down and watch the film.

Also, I tried changing the lighting. If we turned off two thirds of the lighting it’s more obvious that we’re showing a film, but then the posters wouldn’t get sufficient lighting. This means two things: Posters should have had their own lighting, and where we’ve had put the screen isn’t really the best place the screen could have been placed.

And people don’t realize what’s on the wall are lyrics. Maybe we should have had better signage. No, we definitely should have had better signage.

And of course if I knew I would be doing lighting for my shelves I would have made a wooden box or something to house the messy cables.

Everything have been placed in the room piecemeal, without regard to what the whole should look like. People are confused because our program has no personality, but also because we have not designed the space to create more coherence. We could have done better—at the least as well as MAAD.

PS: Oh yea, we probably should have had a book for people to sign and leave comments too.

OCADU deploys new identification system for its buildings — but it’s STILL a weird system

I just read an announcement on Facebook that OCAD has just started deploying a new system for identifying buildings on campus. Gone is the old, weird building-numbers-encoded-into-room-numbers system; replacing it is a system based on short alphabetic building codes, just like you would expect to see on any other Canadian university campus.

What makes this new system bizarre, however, is that instead of basing the codes off the buildings’ names, it’s basing the codes off the names of the streets the buildings are on. So instead of *MSC (a hypothetical code for “Main building and Sharp Centre”) you get MCA (for “buildng 1 on McCaul”), or instead of *RSP (hypothetically a perfectly good code for the “Rosalie Sharp Pavilion”) you get the impossible-to-remember MCD (for “building 4 on McCaul”).

Instead of less than ten building numbers to memorize, we now have to memorize 13 random-looking three-letter codes.

This is just one problem. For the Annex building we also get two separate codes, SPA (“building 1 on St. Patrick”) for the first floor and MCC (“building 3 on McCaul”) for the upper floors. Technically the Learning Zone isn’t in the Annex building, but experientially it is. This is the same experiential situation as the Main Building vs the Sharp Centre, where both buildings get only one code because experientially they are one; so by analogy SPA and MCC should also be merged into a single code — and of course that code should be abbreviated from the name “Annex Building” and should not be “building 1 on so-and-so” or “building 3 on so-and-so.”

The new system is still a much-needed change: It is still vastly superior to the old system, where even students get confused. (Just last September I was in what was until last week building 7 and a new student missed her floor because she thought her floor was the 7th floor — despite the fact that an explanation of the room numbers was posted right beside the elevator.)

The new system is, however, still a weird, counter-intuitive system that requires students to memorize random-looking codes. Not a good design.

And why do this kind of work mid-February, around midterms, instead of doing it at the end of the semester, after finals? No one said it but I bet it has to do with getting ready early for Grad Ex. In other words this is probably marketing work. But if we’re still getting a weird system people are still going to feel we don’t know how to design wayfinding systems. The feeling wouldn’t be as strong as before, but it would still be there. Not good marketing.

Which really begs the question: Who designed this bizarre system? Don’t tell me again that such an important system hasn’t been designed by a designer.

Design and social change

I went to the “Navigating the World of Design (w/ Zahra Ebrahim)” forum today, without really knowing what it was before I went. So it was a really good discussion (not really a “presentation” in the usual sense of the word), and Zahra turned out to be really friendly and approachable. Too bad I have never been good at coming up with good questions to ask.

But in any case, the career related stuff aside, two things really struck me: how much her vocabulary overlaps our program’s (“disability” and “social impact” in particular, and probably a couple more, but I bet she’s unknown in our class), and her assessment on the state of graphic design.

A few days ago—in fact last week after that class that “accidentally” happened—Brandon was talking about graphic design being “dead.” I was not convinced. But today Zahra also mentioned the fact that traditional design firms—even large firms—are failing, and this is something I was not aware of. Her conclusion—if I am not mistaken—the value of designers is in design thinking and our process. (Ok, am I allowed to say “our”?)

Which is exactly what AIGA has been saying for the past two years. (And Ric Grefe calls it “craft.”)

So, there, perhaps this is why we have such divergent views: Brandon views graphic design as print; print is “dead” (or so they claim) and so graphic design is “dead.” But I view graphic design as more than print: My idea of graphic design includes print, web design, environmental grapic design, and video, and I was never convinced that graphic design is “dead” because even though people might argue that print is dying, web design, EGD, and video are obviously not dead.

But the essential question remains: Can I say I “get” the process? Can I say I “get” design thinking? I really don’t know but I suspect I might not like the answer.

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