Would you pay a premium for simple & flexible?

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I would. It is hard to find things that combine simple and flexible these days.  There are plenty of “single purpose” web services and apps these days, but they sacrifice flexibility. And anyone that’s used Ebay lately will tell you that the other end of the spectrum is the only thing worse.

Recently it was hard to find what I would define as a “simple” wordpress theme and most applications I see aren’t simple and flexible enough.  Yes, the two can go together.

I spent a lot of time on  http://themeforest.net/ and countless other sites looking for something like this blog theme.  I would have paid $50 to $100 for something even simpler instead of the $20 I paid for this theme.  Yes… I would have paid more for less done really well in a flexible way that would enable me to do something like this. 

I classified 90% of the themes I found as unusable. Everything was image heavy, rounded,  3d scrolling , cufon font having, etc.  Let me translate these “features” for you into what they mean: 

  • image heavy = not easily flexible.
  • Rounded = Poor browser support
  • 3D Scrolling = Bad Performance. 
  • Cufon Fonts = Bad Performance and sacrificed simplicity

The other day someone left a 2-star review of GoodDay on iTunes that read:

“This is about as simplistic of an app as you’ll ever find.  For what it does it should be free.  There are other apps that are free or cost $1 that have way more features…”

I took this as a compliment. The goal was to create a flexible app that was so simple I could open it up, rate my day, and close it in < 30 seconds with as little need to forward, back, click, or swipe as possible.  Adding a bunch of features that the competitive apps he mentioned contain would have made it take more than 30 seconds to rate your day. This person was clearly not someone that believes what I believe and, if I could, I would get him his $1 back in iTunes.

How about you… would you pay a premium for simple and flexible?

Skip the splash screen in your apps

Someone reported a “bug” in GoodDay that they “didn’t like the splash screen” I used:

And I admit that I’m not a designer, but I thought this was a clean screen to show while the app was loading.  Until…

I started playing with the built in Apple apps and realized they don’t use a splash screen.  Watch the iPod app open if you want to see what I mean.  They basically load a shell of the UI and then the UI renders on top when it’s ready.  So I set this as my goal.  I built the following “Splash” screen.

In my opinion:

  1. It makes your app feel like it’s loading faster than it is.
  2. You’ll fit in more with expecations that have been set by the default apps.
  3. You don’t have to design a splash screen. 🙂
  4. Apple’s style guide recommends this approach as well… and Apple is never wrong… right?

Now, if you are using PhoneGap to build your application for the iPhone you’ll notice a bug loading the default.png file where it “jumps” 20 pixels right before your app loads as shown here:

If you want to fix this issue you’ll need to tweak the main PhoneGap library code in the following way:

1. Open PhoneGapDelegate.m

2.  Roughly around line 188 you’ll find:  imageView.tag = 1;

3 After that line add: imageView.frame = [[UIScreen mainScreen] applicationFrame];

Hopefully future versions of PhoneGap fix this issue, but for now this will have to do.

Enjoy!

Design the little things that stand out

image Good products tend to pay attention to the little details. Not all the details, but enough to make you notice. Lately I’ve noticed that the list of supporters or fans or whatever you want to call them on Facebook pages seems to always show a few people that are in your social circle, or friends of people in your circle if needed. 

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This way, when you are browsing the page it says to you “It’s ok, look, your friends are here too!”.  They could have chosen a random set of people here, but I think it’s a nice touch.

Lost and Found – Mint.com: Why Design Matters, Too

Not important to the story, but just an interesting side note is that I found this through a friends facebook update since they had shared the link with google reader -> feedheads in facebook -> facebook news feed -> me ->you.  Not important, but interesting how things travel now.

 

Mint.com: Why Design Matters, Too « FoundRead

1. Good design implies credibility
You only get one chance to make a first impression. When people visit your website, most won’t go through a fact-finding expedition to figure out your Series A numbers, who your investors are, and what your story is just to decide if your company can be trusted. Initial trust is a gut-feeling. The easiest way to put your company on that path is via well executed visual design that shows you put some effort, and money, into delivering a first-rate and satisfying experience to your customers. They will notice. Ignore design and you risk creating distrust of your business from day one, and driving up that bounce rate…

Shameless plug – This is one of the things I love about the Graffiti project at Telligent.  The design of the templates shipped tell a great story.

Anti-Permission Marketing – Why I stopped using Windows Live Mail

About 9 months ago I stopped using Windows Live Mail completely.  I switched to gmail.  I actually liked WLM a lot better at the time.  Having been a lifetime outlook/OWA user the swanky new interface they had rolled out was comfortable and worked great. Kudos to their development team.  Why did I switch?

I switched because the Windows Live Marketing team stopped respecting me as a customer and started abusing their power to grab my attention.  They send "Important Updates" at least once a month that can’t be blocked despite my junk mail settings. 

I loved WLM because of the ability to set mail filters so that only people that new me got to my inbox.  Sort of like facebook messages before app-spam went crazy. My settings were as follows:

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This meant that only people I wanted to could grab my valuable personal attention.  Regularly scan your junk mail and add someone you may have missed. I could also use the address to sign up for things online without worry. Life was great. 

Then I started getting dancing Lepricons in my inbox…

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I can tell you now that communications_msn_enus@microsoft.msn.com is not on my safe list and can’t actually be blocked or added to a junk mail list.  So I looked for the option to remove myself from these urgent updates.  If you do you’ll find this note at the bottom:

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There are so many things wrong with this text. Lets start with the first sentence

"As a Windows Live member you have received this e-mail to inform you of updates, changes to the service, or special news and information vital to the service."

Now let’s scan this particular newsletter for information that is vital.

As shown above the top of the mail is an ad for Window Live One Care… what if I’m on a MAC? You also see tips and tricks that include "Inform Others"… otherwise known as let us help you spam your friends so that they will join WLM. I don’t consider tips vital

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Get WLM and MSN on your phone! It’s another ad!

"Use Windows Live Mail to Stay up to date"… aren’t I already doing that? It’s basically an ad to use WLM!

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I had lots of hope for the "Tell us what you think" section. Maybe they wanted my feedback on Hotmail.  Maybe they wanted to improve the service… no, I get asked to vote in a ridiculous poll and shown that everyone’s favorite game is "Chicktionary" – How did I live without this vital knowledge before?

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At the bottom there is a touch of human to the newsletter.  This part probably should have been first as it’s actually the most useful (still not vital ) content.

The final insult from the text above is how I, as a formerly loyal customer, could remove myself from getting this junk mail. 

If you do not wish to receive these letters you may discontinue your participation in the service and close your account.

I love it… if you don’t like it… leave.  Thanks. I’ve done that. 

I guess what’s infuriating about all this is that there are hundreds of better ways and designs that could be used to inform me with tips, new service announcements, and polls like this without disrespecting my explicitly set chosen user settings.  Lets look at the same messages on google that don’t ignore my settings or force me to delete mail I didn’t ask for.

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Get gmail on my phone! Its the same ad from the WLM newsletter, but in text and not in my way.  Plus they could rotate this and it’s shown every time I log in.  Naysayers will say that now I’m forced to see an ad, but it’s always there and consistent. So I could choose to not look at it.

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Gmail uses webclips, and this space above my inbox for news, ads, and stories that are interesting to me based on my mail. Creepy… maybe, but I’ve actually clicked on them.  No messages about "Chicktionary", but if the WLM team wanted to they could put the silly polls there. 

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Here is Google’s way of pulling me into new features.  A link clearly labeled "New Features" and a "New" icon next to one of the new features.  All very visible, in context, but not in the way.  Great design IMO.  Plus, they have a dedicated product blog to let me know about their new features.

Not that anything in the WLM newsletter was what I would call "Vital", but what if there was a vital notification.  Lets pretend, in a really bad case, that my private account information leaked on the service.  Would an e-mail I delete really be the best way to tell me?  I’ve now been trained by the WLM team that this mail is junk. Please don’t put anything vital in it.  If there is something I really need to know put it in my face when I log in with a pop-up.  Of course I shudder to suggest this becuase of what else it might be used for. 

The point is that I can’t trust that mail to be vital, I didn’t ask for it, the information is not relavant to me, it actually ignores my settings, and there are really better ways to give me this information in this day in age.  

Respect your customers, give them information they want, and only interrupt their workflow with truly vital information.

Disclaimer: The above statements are my opinions and do not in any way reflect the plans, thoughts, intentions or strategies of my employer.