Thursday, July 29, 2010

Perils of a gestural UI, part 2

Back in March I wrote a post about how I had discovered the source my discomfort with two-fingered scrolling on my MacBook. Basically, two-fingered scrolling goes in the opposite direction to what I experience when scrolling on my iPhone. In the end, I figured I could get used to it and make it work for me. I finished that post, though, by asking “how many more of these collisions will appear as Apple continues to build on its gestural UI?”

A new collision appeared this week, as Apple released a software update that adds three-finger dragging to the trackpad. That is, moving three fingers across the track pad will drag whatever is under the cursor (assuming that it’s draggable). The behaviour feels great when moving windows around, though moving icons around on the desktop feels slightly odd to me still. The collision, though, relates to my previous post.

With two-fingered scrolling, moving my fingers towards me on the trackpad moves the scrolling page upwards within the screen — my fingers are, in effect, interacting with the scrolling control rather than the page content itself.

With three-fingered scrolling, moving my fingers towards me on the trackpad moves the window (if it’s a window I’m dragging) downwards within the screen — the opposite direction to what happens with two-fingered scrolling. My fingers are interacting directly with the object that I’m moving.

I haven’t yet spent enough time with the change to know how this behaviour will feel for me in the longer term. My guess though is that I’ll find it more disconcerting than the contrast between trackpad and iPhone that I previously wrote about. And I do suspect that there are more collisions to come.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Designing, building, and sharing at kwartzlab

kwartzlab is a society and hackerspace that launched in the community last year. From all accounts the enthusiasm and commitment of its charter members got the group off to a great start and kwartzlab is thriving. After all this time, though, I hadn’t been able to visit the space.

That changed on Tuesday as I finally managed to make the trip to the Duke Street location, along with my three boys. My friend Darin was kind enough to give my sons and I a tour through the space, and everyone we met was enthusiastic and generous with their time. A highlight of the night was seeing a Dalek built by local Doctor Who fans Pete Nesbitt and Rob Green. I’d read about the builders previously, but seeing their creation up close was even more impressive. That’s Pete in the accompanying photo, while Rob is inside the Dalek.

What’s so cool about the denizens of kwartzlab is their passion for designing and building cool stuff, and their dedication to sharing what they know and do with anyone who’s interested.

A community that’s great to live and work in is built upon the initiative and energy of the people who live in it. Even though I’m unlikely to be able to devote time to kwartzlab, I know that Waterloo is that much better for its presence.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Camping! Leading! Scoring!

As I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks back, July is full of great events here in Waterloo (and nearby Guelph). Last week featured two of them and I’m happy to to have made it out to both.

Communitech held a day-long Tech Leadership conference last Wednesday, which I somehow neglected to mention in my earlier post. Highlights included a presentation by author and Harvard professor Clayton Christensen on business and product innovation, an engaging talk by Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor, and a variety of breakout sessions. There was also a Tech Expo featuring displays from several local tech start-ups. I was happy to see Alex and Chris from Snapsort there, as well the gang from Tiny Hippos. In fact, the tiny chocolate hippos from Tiny Hippos enabled me bring home a small part of the event for my sons to enjoy. Thanks, P.J.!

The ninth edition of StartupCampWaterloo was also held last Wednesday at the Accelerator Centre. Oddly enough, while the turnout was about as robust as at previous events there were only four demos. All were interesting, though the one that stood out for me was ReserveMe, a product that enables clients of salons to book their own appointments online. While they have a lot more work to do, they showed a polished initial version that solves a real problem and they appear to be off to a good start.

As an aside, milestone of a different kind was reached over the weekend in our family. As I wrote at the beginning of the summer, I’ve enjoyed three seasons full of soccer with my sons this year. My middle son wrapped up his soccer season with a tournament this weekend, and even scored a goal in their final game. As my youngest son had already finished his very first season some weeks ago, that leaves just my oldest son with remaining soccer games this summer. In addition to playing, all three boys enjoyed watching World Cup games on television back in June. Soccer makes for an interesting way to mark the passage of time this summer.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

You did WHAT with our product?!?

I wrote recently about the risks in listening to what users say they do rather than observing what they actually do. The bottom line is that people are not necessarily reliable reporters of their own actions or preferences.

Another reason to observe users is to discover the innovative uses to which they put a product, uses that may never have occurred to the product’s creators. The implications of such uses can be a great source of product or feature ideas.

I was vividly reminded of this during a bicycle ride this past weekend. I’m guessing that the designers of the Zoom Boom shown in the accompanying photo hadn’t conceived of it as a security device for construction sites. Here it is, though, providing protection for a trailer-based concrete mixer on a Sunday morning. It would be pretty tough for thieves to steal the mixer out from under the Zoom Boom.

While I design for user experience in software products, this kind of ingenuity obviously isn’t confined to that realm. Seeing examples out in the world is always fun.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Learning about cameras at

I worked with many engaged and thoughtful people at Primal Fusion. One of them was Alex Black, who left the company last summer to launch a new venture. The fruits of his and his team’s labour first emerged last January with a very simple initial release of, a resource for people who are shopping for cameras. Since then, they’ve continuously improved the product, incorporating feedback from their users and adding functionality that has pushed forward. Last week’s most recent release has taken the product well beyond what it was less than six months ago.

For example, visitors can now explore the similarities and differences among ultra compact cameras, among other types, with nice faceted navigation for filtering the presentation. There are also some fine learning resources for helping visitors understand how they might best think about a camera purchase.

The approach that Alex and his team took has made for a fine product, but is also a model for how to make progress with a consumer-facing software product: release early, listen to your market, and iterate often.

Congratulations on the new release guys!

Monday, July 5, 2010

July yields a bumper crop of local events

Speaking of events that exist due to a community of people who share generously, July is shaping up to be a month full of fun events. Here are a few that I hope to attend.

First up is StartupDrinksWaterloo tomorrow night at Chainsaw in Uptown Waterloo. The conversations are fun and it’s a great group. If you haven’t been before, do come out and see what you’ve been missing.

Update: And, of course, the third Ignite Waterloo event is this Wednesday evening, July 7! Thanks for the reminder, Joseph.

On Wednesday July 14 is StartupCampWaterloo at Accelerator Centre in Waterloo. The demos and discussions are always worthwhile.

Just a week later on Wednesday July 21 there’s DemoCampGuelph at eBar in Guelph. As with the Waterloo event, the demos and discussions are always worthwhile.

Every month the UX Group of Waterloo has an event lined up. This month it’s on July 22 at Accelerator Centre, and we’ll be getting European conference reports from a couple of members.

As ever, a great way to keep on top of this stuff is the Waterloo Tech Startup site, which includes a calendar among other handy tech-oriented resources. There’s more going on than I’ve highlighted here.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Waterloo designs, builds, and shares

Today is the July 1 Canada Day holiday where I live. Picking up from my post of last year, I’ll again celebrate Canadian achievements based on the design/build/share theme of this blog. This year I’ve focused entirely on those things here in Waterloo region.

Design: Sure, the Apple iPhone gets all the media attention these days, but Research in Motion created the market with its iconic BlackBerry more than a decade ago. Much of the design work is still done right here in Waterloo, in any of the many buildings that the company occupies.

Build: Speaking of mobile connectivity, tech behemoth Google relies upon a talented Waterloo team to build many of the cutting-edge HTML5-based Google Mobile applications (among other things). One of the reasons I enjoy my iPhone is that the mobile Safari web browser gives me access to these great apps.

Share: One of the things that I value (and write about often on this blog) here in Waterloo is the supportive technology community. DemoCampGuelph (@brydon), StartupCampWaterloo (@jrodgers, @sbwoodside), StartupDrinksWaterloo (@confusement) are just three events that I look forward to attending. All are organized by dedicated people who see value in building community and who generously share their time to make it happen. Thanks, all of you!