Strategic Planning @ DDB | Design Analysis | Visual Curation.
I write about design, tech, Apple, UI/UX analysis, and interesting stuff going on in Madrid.

☞ The thinking behind Monument Valley →

The people from ustwo, the studio behind the amazing Monument Valley, released a statement when the game came out which sheds some light on the creative process and the reason for the game’s aesthetics and the sensations it produces:

  • The game would be so simple it needed almost no instruction.

  • The game would appear friendly and engaging. If Escher could make artwork that was both beautiful to behold and geometrically fascinating to a wide audience, perhaps we could achieve a similar feat in the interactive medium.

  • Players will appreciate quality play time over quantity of play time. Instead of creating as many levels as possible, we would only add levels when we had something new and unique to say. Keeping the experience short would allow more players to see the story through to the end.

  • Challenge is not the focus of the game, and difficulty is not the central arc. The feeling of discovery and the joy of exploring a new world can be just as powerful and stimulating.

  • We wanted to earn the player’s emotional engagement. The art, sound, text and animation are restrained and subtle, designed to permit empathy, not force it.

These are not only interesting but also true to the facts, because that is exactly what the game achieves. It’s a wonderful experience in which gameplay itself, going through every level, is truffled with wonderful little details that makes you want to stop and contemplate every scene instead of rushing to the finish line. If you haven’t tried it yet I can’t but recommend it, it’s easily the best 3€ I’ve spent on a piece of software in a long time. Go grab it!

☞ The Right Way to Ask Users for iOS Permissions →

Brenden Mulligan, co-founder of Cluster, makes a detailed case of the worst and best practices when prompting iOS users for system-wide permissions:

We’ve all seen it. You open the app for the first time and *POP* “Can we send you push notifications?” then POP “Can we access your camera?” Then “Can we access your contacts?”

Unless the user is already familiar with the app — WhatsApp probably doesn’t suffer from this problem, for example— they’re probably going to tap “Don’t Allow.” It’s like walking up to someone on the street and demanding they go on a date with you.

This approach, used by the vast majority of devs, turns out to deliver terrible numbers. According to Mulligan, only 30 to 40% of Cluster’s users accepted, which leaves more than half of their user base with a crippled app. If you ever took those permission dialogs for granted this is well worth a read.

☞ Phil Schiller Exploded On Apple's Ad Agency In An Email →

Phil Schiller, responding to the suggestion made by Apple’s ad agency that 2013 Apple was somewhat similar to 1997 Apple:

This is not 1997. Nothing like it in any way. In 1997 Apple had no products to market. We had a company making so little money that we were 6 months from out of business. We were the dying, beleaguered Apple in needing of hitting a restart button that would take years to get turned around. Not the world’s most  successful tech company making the world’s best products having created the smartphone and tablet form factors and leading in content distribution and software marketplaces. Not the company that everyone wants to copy and compete with. 

Phil has always struck me as an energetic man, increasingly so, but these emails indicate not only energy and passion but a real, heartfelt belief in his work and in Apple’s place in the world. Looking at the latest Apple ads, specially the extraordinary "Your verse" iPad ad, I daresay things have improved in the relationship between Apple and their ad agency. Let’s hope even more amazing stuff is coming from this fruitful relationship (no pun intended. Sorta).

Gorgeous study on brand minimalism. There’s a fourth, more radical approach but I think it goes over the top and gets rid of too many characteristics:

Alt text

Justin Wilde, a commentator on Disqus, makes an excellent point on what’s wrong with the fourth progression:

Most of these feel more utilitarian than minimalist. Stripping away any key identifiers of the brand seems counter-active to the point of minimalist design. The 3rd Variants are what you should be intending if you’re going for the starkness of minimalist design. The 4th variants are what you would see in Communist East Berlin in the 60’s, or the generic “Brand X” foods of 1950’s America.

Either way, fantastic work. I wish brands didn’t feel the constant need to populate their packaging with crap.

☞ WWDC '14 →

This year’s announcement of WWDC is a love letter to developers:

Over the past six years, a massive cultural shift has occurred. It’s changed how we interact with one another. Learn new things. Entertain ourselves. Do our work. And live out daily lives. All because of developers and the apps they create.

For five days, one thousand Apple engineers and five thousand developers will gather together. And life will be different as a result.

Write the code. Change the world.

Does anybody have 1,000 bucks to spare?

☞ Apple: destroyer of fragmentation →

Jan Dawson makes an interesting point on Google’s approach to wearables vs. Apple’s rumored strategy:

You can think of Google’s approach with Android Wear as being “smartphone-out” – i.e. extending smartphone functionality out to wearables, and Apple’s rumored approach as “wearables-in” – i.e. using wearables to add functionality to the smartphone. This makes good strategic sense for each company – Google’s interests are best served by extending its services to all possible categories of devices, while Apple’s are best served by making its devices in key categories as compelling as possible.

He goes on to explain why he thinks Apple may not be entering the wearables games, at least not directly:

But I continue to think it’s possible that Apple won’t release its own wearable device at all – at least not yet. And I think its major play here may be acting as the glue to bring what is presently a very disparate and fragmented set of wearables ecosystems together.

He also sheds some light on the wearables market:

Meanwhile, the wearables market is made up of so many fairly small niches that it’s almost impossible to imagine how Apple could drive significant revenue (in the context of its existing $174 billion a year business) without launching at least a handful of different products.

I couldn’t agree more. Wearables as of today are an extremely niche market. Sure we’re hearing constantly about them right now but how many people are buying them? Not to mention Apple has never been about niche markets: the portable music, cellphone and tablets market (even back in 2010) were far from small when Apple entered them.

He then takes a turn to suggest other areas where Apple could divert to:

The other obvious area for Apple to apply the theme of bringing order to chaos is payments, where there’s at least as much fragmentation at present. (…) Apple’s huge user base and the installed base of Bluetooth LE-capable devices it has in the market are an enormously strong starting point.But the play here would be a different one: creating its own payment system rather than aggregating third-party efforts. (…) Tim Cook has already indicated that with hundreds of millions of credit cards on file and the Touch ID system introduced in the iPhone 5S, Apple already has a great starting point for payments.

That last bit got me incredibly excited. Imagine paying for something just by pulling your phone (which has already been detected thanks to iBeacon’s proximity technology) out of your pocket and simply scanning your finger via Touch ID. Secure, fast and painless. Sounds like something that would make Steve Jobs go “boom”.

[UPDATE]

It pains me to include this, but Samsung has already taken the first step towards this possibility.

☞ John Maeda: 3 Principles for Using Design Successfully →

1. Start with design, and don’t just end with it: Design is most potent when seen as a competency that is built in at the very beginning and throughout the evolution of a technology-based product. 

2. Let designers code, and engineers design: In the early stages of a company, when roles are more fluid, there’s room to blur the definition of a designer as someone who can also code, and an engineer as someone who can make design decisions. Such people serve as unique “bridges” that can accelerate design and technology development. 

3. Don’t view business as an anathema to designers: Although it’s not uncommon for art schools and university design departments to view commercial success as “selling out,” there are scores of designers who see business as a vital constraint to reconcile

John Maeda's article on the WSJ is truly insightful. Even more interesting than his 3 principles is this bit at the end: 

The problem with design is that it doesn’t obey something like Moore’s Law – in other words, there’s no way to double the quality of design every 18 months at the same price. Design is a human skill that, for now, even Google can’t automate. Why is that so?

It’s because design addresses both rational and irrational needs that we all have. The rational part is difficult, but doable; it’s the irrational, human part that is hard. The rational part can be engineered and prepared to perfection; the irrational part needs to be engineered with the same kind of precision, but must also be timely and relevant to how the consumer feels.

Automated design sounds as scary as it sounds promising. In a way, it could make design more prevalent and affordable, which is always good news considering the amount of ugly we are exposed to on a daily basis. But I hope we never lose sight of the human side of if, the emotional involvement that design allows. In a way, paraphrasing Jobs, design is no longer so much how it looks nor how it works. Design is how it feels.

☞ Minimally Minimal - 11+ Sound 1 →

Andrew Kim on the 11+ Sound 1 speakers: 

I love it when a product creates an excuse for the user to perform a little ceremony. Whether it be brewing a pot of tea or wrapping a speaker, it forces you to slow down and appreciate the small details you’d normally overlook.

Spot on. We’re so used to stuff in general that we usually go through packaging without even stopping for a second to consider that amount of work that was put into it. Also, I just love the way Andrew reviews products. You can almost see him slowly unwrapping every piece, taking every last detail into consideration. An educated eye indeed.

☞ Jony Ive on design, copying, and Apple's future →

"We’re surrounded by anonymous, poorly made objects. It’s tempting to think it’s because the people who use them don’t care — just like the people who make them. But what we’ve shown is that people do care. It’s not just about aesthetics. They care about things that are thoughtfully conceived and well made."

Jony Ive recently gave an interview to The Sunday Times which is, as always, quite interesting. The previous bit is a pretty good summary on one of Apple’s main motives: creating things that are thoughtfully conceived and well made. The part I find most exciting though is this bit about technology and the future: 

"We are at the beginning of a remarkable time, when a remarkable number of products will be developed. When you think about technology and what it has enabled us to do so far, and what it will enable us to do in future, we’re not even close to any kind of limit. It’s still so, so new."

I just can’t wait.

[UPDATE]
John Gruber has commented briefly but accurately about the interview on his blog, Daring Fireball:

Occam’s Razor suggests it’s no coincidence that a lengthy, rare interview with Jony Ive does not appear just before Haunted Empire hits shelves. This is Ive’s way of saying Kane’s book is nonsense. He knows what’s coming.

He knows what’s coming. Made me shiver.

☞ New York Magazine: The Wonderfully Mundane New iPhone 5S →

Matt Buchanan for The New Yorker: 

The new look like the old iPhones. They sound like the old iPhones. This might seem disappointing, but this is an ideal state of affairs.

There are so many interesting bits in this New York magazine article I simply can’t understand how I missed it when it came out back in September.

The original iPhone, released in June, 2007, gave birth to the modern smartphone era: browsing restaurant menus on a sidewalk, watching a movie on a bus, tweeting from the subway and posting photos of a newborn to Facebook the second it opens its eyes. What we can do now, six years later, has not fundamentally changed since then. It’s easier or faster—forty times faster, according to Apple—or higher resolution, or all of the above. 

It’s nothing short of amazing how fast we’ve grown used to this new state of things, to being able to do pretty much anything, pretty much anywhere. I do think, however, that the way we do it has changed pretty radically since 2007. Remember the original Facebook app for iOS? It sucked big time. Or the extraordinary evolution of maps on the iPhone. I marvel at the Google Maps app efficiency every time I use it. What we can do may not have changed, but it has never been easier, faster and more beautiful.

Photo by Andrew Kim (Minimally Minimal

☞ Fong Qi Wei compresses dawn to dusk into animated time tunnels →

Singapore-based photographer Fong Qi wei has visualized ‘time in motion’ — a series of short animated gifs, which compress a full day into a single, looped gif.

Wow. Just. Wow.

GI Jens: The most epic self-promotion ever made:

While the action figure was the most essential part, it was important to have a package that enhanced the brand. It needed to be raw, simple but in the same time beautiful. We decided to design a box made of cardboard, with a one-color print on the outside. Since we wanted the cool people we reach out to to keep the box visible in the office, the logo and brand name was priority one on the front page.

This is absolutely brilliant.

☞ The natural evolution of user interface design →

Luis Vieria for Medium:

If we compare the history of architecture and industrial design, with the history of user interface design, we can establish a relationship and see a similar evolution. All of the design disciplines mentioned above, evolved from a very basic form, that due to improvements in manufacture and technology suffered from excess and careless use of the tools available, and from that excess a more pure and honest form has risen.

Fascinating comparison between the evolution of industrial design and user interfaces. Quite enlightening.

Cinematics is Pier Paolo's latest delight, a timeline of classic films and characters using a simple but charming stye and wrapped in gorgeous animation. The lettering is also made by Pier, who says to be working on the complete font family. You can check the complete project, including a charming set of GIFs, right here.

☞ Apple’s adventures in plastic →

iPhone5c_Backs-Cases_PRINT

Ken Segall, the man behind Apple’s Think Different campaign, makes a very interesting point about the alleged flop of the iPhone 5c:

Apple is a company that doesn’t do “cheap.” It makes products for people who care about design, simplicity, quality and a great experience — and are willing to pay more for these things.

For Apple to compromise in any of these areas would be a violation of the Prime Directive.

He also drops a few priceless remarks about the essence of a good ad which as an Strategic Planner in training I couldn’t agree more with:

Contrary to what most people think, an ad isn’t just good or bad. An ad is the execution of a strategy — and that strategy can be strong or weak.

One of my former agencies (the agency for NeXT) used to cite this fact in its new business pitches. The agency claimed that 90% of the failed ads in this world failed before the creative team even got the assignment — because the strategy wasn’t good enough.

This bit sounds particularly fitting considering the iPhone 5c campaign seemed to lack a clear strategy, at least at the beginning. The first ad, Plastic Perfected, carried on with the now famous “unapologetically plastic” line dropped by Jony Ive in the product’s introduction, but was soon taken over by the main campaign which defined the iPhone 5c as being "for the colourful" with a wonderful TV ad that I love.

The iPhone 5c flopping can either mean that Apple customers aren’t all that colourful after all or simply be an indicator of the obvious: that Apple customers want the best, and a “mere” 100 bucks isn’t reason enough to keep them from getting the all-new, fingerprint-reader, gold-infused iPhone 5s.