Shared backend for native apps and html apps with angularJS

When creating a digital service today, there are various options to bring it on the devices of the user, that is various OSes for desktop computers, tablets and smartphones. And there is the web – as a platform. However, developing native as also for the web raises the question how to get your data to the user. Using a native app, you build the app and just load the data with API calls. With a web app or site you create the page on the server and send it to the browser. If you want to support both “platforms” you have two implementations to get data to the user.

Thanks to angularJS you don’t have to do that anymore. With angularJS you can also load the data via API to “construct” your page. So, let’s look at an easy to understand example: expandable FAQs. Usually you can send only the question and the answer via JSON to an app. On the web you would have created server code that renders the faq page and then sends it to the user. Using angularJS you can also load the faq from your backend and dynamically create your HTML page.

Good example of Design Principles at MapBox

At the beginning of any (re-)design project there’s always a time, when it’s all still fuccy, you don’t know exactly what you want to make differrent, or just have a list of requirements. Leah Buley has written about it in her post “how to recover from project failure” and shows some good examples for that.

When mapbox.com, a web-based design tool for creating, sharing, and embedding maps went out to redesign their app, they’ve also gathered some design principles.

Interaction is the basic unit of design. Begin the design process by identifying the user’s origin point, their goal, and the steps in between. A successful design makes every step along the way clear while keeping the user focused on their goal.

Transitional interfaces are easier to learn and more pleasant to use. Take advantage of animation and conditional visibility to guide users between steps and to add rhythm and momentum to interactions.

Interactions should be delightful and surprising. Design these interactions so that they’re enjoyable to perform again and again. Minimize the effort required to complete tasks, enable users to recover from mistakes, and ensure that they receive feedback after taking any action.

Focus the user on one primary action at a time. Avoid sidebars, widgets, and multi-column layouts. Rather than confronting the user with a multitude of possibilities, use visual hierarchy to help users make meaningful decisions and allow actions to unfold across multiple steps. At the same time, be sure to make it easy for the user to move efficiently between primary actions in case they need to change gears.

In my view, these are very well thought through and well written. Thanks to MapBox for sharing them.

 

Future perfect people

In his post about “the person the’ll become“ Jason Fried from 37signals writes about how important it is to look for potential when hiring new people. He argues that many people may just not have been in the right position to do their best work and or didn’t have the opportunities.

There’s also another view to look at. As a company, would you like your employees to have their best work done already? Shouldn’t they be at your company just in the moment they have their best time. This doesn’t necessarily mean at a certain age, since some jobs may require lots of expertice.

And in addition, people should apply for your company not because they’ve done good work, but because they want to do even better at your company. A couple of years ago, Oliver Kahn, the former goal keeper of FC Bayern Munich, said: if you are going to play for Bayern Munich, it’s not because you’ve been a good soccer player, it’s because you will be an even better one. You are expected to imporve and not rest on one’s laurels.

The kindle, really a reading device for articles?

About a year ago I bought my first kindle. Since then I have been reading a lot more books than in the previous years. I was quite happy with the reading experience on the display. Over the last 3 months I used my kindle in a new way. As I have to commute every day, I also tried to read web articles on it. Therefore you can use a couple of browser plug ins, also one from amazon. And now there’s even a plug-in for websites that allows you to send the content to your kindle.

So, after 3 months, my results are: Don’t use the kindle for common web articles that take up to 5 minutes to read. The details:

No real action possible after reading the article
If you like to share articles or bookmark them for later retrieval, this isn’t possible on the kindle. You have to open the article again on a PC or smartphone and then do that. Or, you bookmark the article first, but then you haven’t read it yet. Especially sharing is a problem, since you might have forgotten to do that when you go back to your PC.

Management of article on web view not very good
The kindle account pages are not very helpful if you want to delete or categorize your articles. You have to delete one by one. So, if you let amazon save a copy when you send the article and then later want to delete articles, it’s lots of work. One workaround is not to have amazon store content you send over whispernet.

No multiple screen support
When I find an article on the web that I can’t read immediately, I’d like to store it on a read-it-later-list. So far, this list has been the kindle. But this imposes the problem that when you happen to sit at the PC when you have time, you can’t read the article on it. One workaround to this would be a second read-it-later-list, but that’s not very helpful.

With those problems I didn’t really enjoy reading articles a lot, so I switched my tools. Now, I’m using Pocket and read most of my stuff on my Google Nexus smartphone. It works very fluid. My kindle is still in use for books and longer articles or PDFs.

Is Google missing user goals by closing Reader

Google announced closing Reader by July 1st because it’s not that used that much anymore. So did our reading habits really change that much over the last couple of years? There’s already a lot of discussion on Twitter and other sites including finding new alternatives. What puzzled me most was the fact that it seems that we don’t need a news aggregator anymore and thus a change in user goals?

Reading, bookmarking, sharing, likes

Sure, RSS is ‘old’ in terms of web history and Google Reader is around since 2005 – that’s 8 years now and still younger than Facebook – and did evolve over the years (although not anymore since 2011). Besides some also good competitors, Google Reader made it really easy and fast to read RSS feeds, better say read online news from specific sites. User who wanted to stay informed about a lot of sites enjoyed using Reader.

Then came social sites and changed the way we interacted with news. First, Delicious introduced social bookmarking. You bookmarked a page for archiving and it was also shared it. Then came Digg and made sharing more important by aggregating most shar articles. And then Facebook who combined likes and sharing a page. This was good because it helped drive more traffic to the page and thus more prominent.

What are the user scenarios?

Looking at that evolution puzzles me. Did I just not evolve with the way of consuming news or is there something wrong… So, let’s use some ideas of user scenarios and goal directed design by Cooper.

There are IMHO different goals a user might have regarding online content, i.e. news article.

User Goal

Action

Subject

Tool

Know about it and read it

Read

Me

Read site or with Google Reader

Keep link for later retrieval

Save

Article

Online-/Browser-Bookmarks

Tell the author that she likes the article

Inform

Author

Comment, Like-Button, +1

Share it with friends

Distribute

Social circle

E-Mail, Share-Button, +1

So, if we look at these four goals and especially the related actions and subjects we see that there’s a different action and subject for each of those. And even more important, the first two goals are personal where the latter two relate to others. That doesn’t mean that these goals only exist solely, very often users have two goals, such as read and share, read and like, or even read, share, and like.

However, each combination of goals always requires the user to read first. Unless this isn’t done you can’t achieve the other goals. And that’s exactly why Google Reader was so important to many people. It made it so easy to read online content because it made accessing the content so easy. And especially a user had control over the news since RSS gives you all the news of a site (usually).

Sure, sharing a page and likes are important has good reasons (especially if ads are involved). But closing Reader means Google doesn’t care about this user goal anymore or in a different way and wants users to use other tools for that – Google+ streams or Google currents (although this is not available as a web version) but they don’t help achieving this goal very well.

Windows 8 vs. iOS – switching modes vs. switching devices

There have been many comments about the new Windows 8 user interface, with the range from being it a great, unique design while others think it confuses the user. Especially when it comes to the new tablet PCs, which are compared to the Apple alternative with Macs and iPads, many say that Microsoft will have a hard time. Well, I don’t think that way and would even say that Windows 8 tablets are the future. Here’s why.

The iPad way – choosing and switching the device and the mode, keeping the OS.

Over the last several years I’ve used a MacBook, iPhone, iPad, Windows 7 and, since the preview, Windows 8 on a PC and a tablet. And I’ve used those devices the way they were meant to be used. The iPad is the device you take to enjoy media and browse the web on the couch or out of home. If you need to do real work you would use a MacBook. Apple did a good job recently to align the iOS on Macs and iDevices and thus you can use both settings easily. However, when leaving my home or even my desk always had to make a choice between the iPad and the MacBook. Quite often I’ve taken both devices with me since I’d wanted to quickly surf but then also write some more. And sometimes I’ve seen me using the iPad on the couch and five minutes later walk to my desk to continue.

Choosing or switching devices became a routine to me but also bothered me. The thing tha bothered me even more was the fact that I bought two devices selling for about 1500 Euro and 800 Euro. That’s 2300 dollars without the accessories that you also had to buy seperately for each device. That’s a great strategy to make lots of profit for Apple and accessory manufacturers.

The Windows 8 way – keep the device and OS, switch the mode.

Since Windows 8 I do have the big hope that this will change. Instead of buying and switching two devices I can now buy one device and switch modes. The former called “Metro” apps mode and the desktop mode depending on my current situation. This is possible because the new tablets will have enough power and features to do both modes very well  – for the price of one device and with the ability to use your current accessories.

 The Android way – switch the device, OS, and mode.

Some do argue that switching between those two modes is a problem for users. If so, everybody using a PC or Mac in addition with a Kindle fire or any other Android tablet may have a problem as well. Not only do the have to switch the UI of an operating system it’s also a different operating system with other mental models. So switching modes on a tablet should be somewhat easier.

Tablets replacing the desktop.

I don’t think Windows 8 tablets will replace iPads very soon, it’s just such a good device. But since the iPad doesn’t replace the PC they will eventually need another device that allows to do the things they can’t do on the iPad. Sure, there’s Pages, Numbers and Keynote on the iPad and the Mac. But it seems they haven’t got a lot of attention byosin Apple in the last two years. Using a Windows 8 tablet might then be just the right choice for many people. If only manufactures take this opportunity and create devices that really leverage that opportunity.

“Distraction free mode” in OneNote 2013

Over the last couple of years we have seen some apps for Mac (iA Writer) or Windows (FocusWriter) and even WordPress that gave us a new writing UI – well, almost no UI at all. Compared to the well know Microsoft Word with it’s ubundance of features and icons this was the complete extreme. This new approach was called “distraction free writing”. Many apps do have some basic formating using special syntax or shortcuts. iA Writer even has a feature to highlight only the current paragraph and dimm out the others.

Well, Microsoft had an almost distraction free mode already since Office 2003 – by using OneNote in full screen mode (just hit F11) you could have quite the same experience. Even though OneNote is part of the Office suite since 2003 it didn’t get much attention until version 2010. And that mostly because of competitor products such as evernote. In my view OneNote is the best note taking app out there due to it’s versality and integration into Outlook (I’ll cover that later)

So, going back to distraction free mode, this is how it looks in version 2010.

Distraction free mode in OneNote 2010

Now, Microsoft did go even further to reduce even more elements in OneNote 2013 preview and I’d say this is a great improvement. And fit’s well into a OneNote based workflow.

Full screen or "distraction free mode" in OneNote 2013 preview

For those already familiar with Office products or even OneNote, there should be no need than to buy/install another app for distraction free writing if you don’t need the special features such as dimmed paragraphs.

On changing perspectives

Last year I switched position in my company. After several years of being in e-commerce I’m now a concept developer for various topics within the whole company. With the change I also had to move to another desk within the building. Although this wasn’t the first time I moved within the company this was the one that affected me the most – but in a positive way.

What happended.  My first desk was in a room where I could see every sunset, well, as long as the sky allowed me to see the sun. This wasn’t something too special for me since at home I also have the change to see the sunset everyday. I really liked working there as I do like sunsets very much. After some time my department had to move from the third floor to the first floor. The view was very limited there – the parking lot and a building. We did have the same sunlight every day, but no more sunsets, no more special moments that let you pause for a while and reflect. A short but important moment.

Then, my switch to the other department let me move to another desk in the office. Back on third floor, but not back at the first desk. Instead I was at the opposite side of the building, with a view  to the sunrise. When I came to the office the first time last winter before the sunrise I was flashed. I sat down and didn’t even start my computer. For a couple of minutes I sat down and just watched the sun rise. And did nothing else. No talking , no thinking, just enjoing the moment. And it reminded me of something really important I had forgotten: Chaning perspectives.

There’s almost always two (or even more) views to look at a task, a problem, a topic. And there might not be one right or wrong way, good or bad. Every perspective has it’s unique features, circumstances, advantages, problems, etc. It’s important to always remember that and search for other perspectives. Only by looking at something from a different angle you might get all the different issues that are important.

Since then I remembered that situation over and over. Especially in my work, when I have to create solutions for designing web pages and creating concepts. Whenever I’m stuck I’ll try to find a new perspective.

The new Google Bar introduces logo based navigation

In the process to unify all their web apps Google has now introduced a new way to navigate all their web apps – the new Google Bar. If you hover your mouse over the logo, it shows a menu with links to the main Google apps and a submenu for the rest. To me, that looks very exciting since it’s a whole new way to navigate. Here’s the video from the blog.

Over the last years, people came to expect that the website logo is always a link back to a websites’ homepage. It’s a standard now that helps lots of users go “back to start”. The Google approach goes even further and is not only a link to the homepage but also to other important areas (in case of Google – web apps). That saves space and also makes the logo the first stop for the navigation.

However, as new as this seems, if we look at operating systems we see something similar. A button to access the systems apps and functions. And now there’s the Google operating system button. Looking into the future I’d expect that lots of other websites will use that feature.