29 Apr
   Filed Under: Announcement, IconResource, Personal   

Some doubted it would ever come. Some said it had been seen riding unicorns in misty valleys in the Scottish highlands. Others had seen it teaching design techniques to Duke Nukem, seemingly Forever. But today, the vapor has condensed.

Icon Resource 2 is actually here.

It’s great, because today is also my birthday. The best present I could give myself is bringing Icon Resource 2 to all existing members and welcome new members to the website.

As interest for techniques in iOS icon design has grown considerably, Icon Resource now has a small sibling in iOS Resource, which (for now) teaches you iOS icon design techniques, but will soon rise up next to its brother with full fledged tracks on scalable UI design and other techniques that are essential in designing for iOS.

If you are an existing members, you will get several new advanced level courses in icon design for free. You should get an email soon with new login information that gives you access to the member area. If you have not received an email by tomorrow, do drop me a line (twitter also works). I hope you enjoy all the new content, and I will update this new platform more this year with free new content.

14 Mar
   Filed Under: Drawing, Personal   

In the category of ‘mobile computing that never made it’ and ‘things the iPad utterly killed’, the UMPC is (was?) a term for very small PCs that can do everything your average laptop or desktop can, but in a small form factor. Since PC makers figured the small size and ‘cutting edge’ technologies they put in them (200+ DPI screens, fingerprint readers, 3G) demanded a premium, UMPCs were often a $1200+ market, which also explains why they never caught on.

Now that the smoke on the mobile computing battlefield has cleared, though, one can pick through the remnants and find a good deal on what is interesting technology. It’s easy to be discouraged by all the lemons and genuinely weird micro-PCs, but I’ve also found a little gem in there. And that bulky, funny looking gem is the Vaio UX.

Continue reading…

28 Feb
   Filed Under: Apple, Design, News, webOS   

There’s some discussion on Apple-centric and tech news websites about a video that’s doing the rounds with a new approach to notifications for iOS. While the system in the video is really nothing new (there’s been at least one alternative notification system in the App-Store-for-jailbroken-phones “Cydia” since 2010) it is getting a lot of attention, presumably because iOS users are quite satisfied with almost all the interactions of the OS except those dang stacking modal dialogs that interrupt your game of Angry Birds every time you get a text message.

And I can relate: when I am abroad, with my three email accounts, whenever I open Mail on my iPhone, I have to dismiss three ‘data roaming is off’ dialogs, and three ‘cannot get mail’ dialogs ( — that’s one per mail account). On an iPad, it can be even more jarring, with a tiny alert disabling the whole 9.7″ screen until you act on it.

This is a real issue. I have no doubt Apple is aware of this, like they were aware of copy and paste and multi-tasking.

This is not a post about what Apple will or should do to improve notifications on iOS. It’s a post talking about what solutions other platforms currently use to notify the user, and why Apple is (possibly, probably) taking such a while to create an optimal solution to the notification problem.

Continue reading…

11 Feb
   Filed Under: Interface Design, News, Unfiled, webOS   

It’s not a big secret that I’m a big fan of webOS’ design and premise. While my primary phone for daily use is an iPhone, I’ve used Android and webOS phones alike for extended periods of time and I always miss some of webOS’ interface polish. It’s simply a delight to use intensively.

Yesterday, HP (fare ye well, Palm) announced its summer device lineup, far in advance of release. Presumably, to let developers start working on apps early and show consumers they might want to hold out on getting that Android or iOS tablet. Leaving discussion about the (lack of) wisdom of announcing now and tea-leaf reading of when we might see the competition show up out of things, I want to focus on the new devices’ hardware and share some thoughts on their user interface.

The TouchPad:

Gesture Area / “Home Button”: The TouchPad actually lacks the familiar (and brilliant) Pre / Pixi ‘gesture area’, which lets you swipe left or right and up to respectably go forward or back in navigation or open the launcher for opening apps. Several employees familiar with the matter told me that in the development phase of the TouchPad, the gesture area (or having even four of them on each side of the screen) didn’t hold up as a usable solution. The real question for developers and interface designers is how going back and forth in apps is handled now. I suspect it would be a button in the UI, much like in iOS.

Panes: While some bloggers are quick to dismiss parts of the TouchPad UI as ‘rip offs’ of iPad’s, more study reveals there’s a lot of clever work in there. Personally, I never use my iPad in portrait because Mail, for instance, is barely usable without a list of emails to easily jump back and forth for triage.

The TouchPad solves this problem with ‘grabbers’ on the toolbars of each pane. The user can easily rearrange the UI layout, either showing the email content completely, or showing a both the source list and the content. Further scrolling the email content away reveals the Mail accounts, similar to the navigation stack of the emails column on iPad. It’s a clever solution that’s implemented in all multi-pane apps on the system and never locks you in to a layout.

Notifications: Obviously, the notifications UI is one of webOS’ core strengths. Not even Android handles incoming information and user notifications this elegantly. On the tablet, they settled with bringing them up in the status bar. Android (on phones) also puts notification icons in the status bar, and with the status (wifi, battery, network, alarm) icons, it quickly turns into a bar literally filled with icons and badges. This made me a bit pessimistic about the notification handling on webOS for tablets.

Fortunately, it’s actually quite great. Notifications slide in from the top, separate from the clock and status information: something like an email would come in, show sender and subject and then slide right and fade out into a subtle white email icon. The notifications get their own, clearly demarcated area in the status bar and some can even be swiped through from there:

Overall, a very nicely designed experience. Once again, iOS looks rather bad with either only using badges or tiny, yet modal dialogs interrupting your workflow.

The Pre 3: (image by Engadget)

The Pre 3 has an IPS LCD (valuable information I got loose yesterday) screen at 800×480. I am very happy that it doesn’t use (SAM)OLED technology, as in my opinion they’re a bad stopgap to solve the LCD pixel density and power usage problem. You start to wonder what kind of contracts Apple has with Sharp, considering only Sharp and Apple currently ship devices with 960×640 pixel IPS LCD displays. I bet some of the billions in cash they spend was used to buy a lot — if not all — of Sharp’s manufacturing capacity for these extremely advanced screen panels.

That out of the way, the panel on the Pre 3 is beautiful. Its viewing angles are great, the colors pop, and it has a great black point. Representatives from Palm were very pressing in letting me know the hardware wasn’t completely final, but I believe we won’t see changes to the display quality at this point.

Size-wise (I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of it next to my iPhone) it’s almost the same size as the iPhone. It’s slightly thicker but quite slim, which is a feat considering the built-in keyboard. The screen is slightly larger (3.6″) than the iPhone 4′s. There are no plans to enable an on-screen keyboard.

The Veer:

At the hands-on area it seemed the Veer is pretty much done. It’s an impressive device: it has absolutely no lagginess, the build quality is extremely impressive. Not much to say on designing for it, as it’s the device I am least interested in, but the display quality looked good: standard density (comparable to, say, the Pre / Pixi) but nice viewing angles. Nothing to write home about.

Miscellaneous Design Thoughts and answers to Twitter questions:

When you dock your webOS device (wirelessly), it goes into ‘Exhibition’ mode, which can show things like a clock, upcoming events, notifications and photo slideshows. It’s said webOS will include a feature to intelligently switch between what to show in Exhibition based on your physical location.

Touching a webOS phone and tablet lets them ‘push’ information to each other, like sharing a webpage. This is an impressive technology — I couldn’t get any answers on what is being used for this. Presumably NFC.

TouchPad can take calls and texts from webOS phones thanks to Bluetooth pairing.

No official word on it, but HP aims for ‘global availability’ of new webOS products.

No word on UI conventions for PC / Laptop webOS.

App dock icons (and dock height) for the TouchPad / Pre 3 are 63 pixels. They’re smaller on the screen of the Pre 3, obviously, due to the much higher pixel density, but an interesting bit regardless.

It seems current icon guidelines call for realistically rendered (OS X-style) app icons, glyphs in circles for toolbar icons and colored, more detailed icons for source lists and source panes.

Designing for various screen sizes is made easier through Palm’s development model and tools, which are obviously based on web technologies like CSS. With non-pixel units it’s quite easy to ensure widgets and text scale right. Apps can be built with Palm’s new ‘Enyo’ framework to scale a multi-pane tablet view to a simple one-column view on phones. Truly a ‘universal’ approach to developing applications.

And that’s all. Feel free to leave more questions in the comments.

27 Jan
   Filed Under: Interface Design, News   

When Sony presented its “Next Generation Portable” device (which I’ll refer to as ‘PSP2′ for the rest of the post) and other plans for portable gaming yesterday, they proudly started their presentation with a bold slide: (images courtesy of Engadget)

Now, when Sony does a bold claim like this, I get very excited. The interface they introduced in 2003 with the mediocre “PSX” product and later used as the main UI for their flagship consoles like the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable was known as the “XrossMediaBar“, and despite its awkward — ‘X-treme marketing’ — name, it was (and still is) an amazing piece of work. In fact, Sony managed to innovate in the stale and extremely unfriendly gaming console interface and create something that was devoid of useless flashy crap, extremely scalable, discoverable, elegant and intuitive.

That’s why it’s no surprise that Sony has decided to outright kill the XMB in its PSP2 console and replace it with an absolute train-wreck UI that shows they lost all sense of what a good interface looks like.

Continue reading…

10 Dec
   Filed Under: Apple, Personal   

I own a Mac Pro, the beefiest and most user-serviceable of all Macs, and I love it for a multitude of reasons. Out of all the reasons, my favorite thing remains being able to replace parts of it myself like you would with a tower PC. And when my second Apple-sanctioned Nvidia 8800GT died, I did just that: I took out the old card and stuck in the then-best shipping graphics card that works with Mac OS X: the ATI Radeon HD5770. I got a lot of questions from people on how well it performs, how silent it is, and more, so here’s a little post about the card that can.

Gaming on the Mac is certainly not as common or well-supported as it is on Windows, but the HD5770 handles whatever you throw at it quite well. I still have to adjust to it, though: the HD5770 is not a brand-new top-tier graphics card, like the card I use in my Mac Pro for gaming under Windows (the HD5970), and can sometimes have issues with the latest games at 30″ monitor resolution (2560×1600 pixels -are- a lot to push around).

As for the PC enthusiasts that often sneer at the Mac GPUs ( – “What, doesn’t STEVE want you using *illegal* cards in your Mac? Sniff! Why buy the expensive Apple card?!” ), I have to explain that Mac OS X compatible GPUs require EFI / EBC firmware on their ROM chips to be initialized for use under OS X. This is not something you can just ‘hack together’: the cards’ ROM chip needs the extra space to have a (Windows) BIOS-compatible and (Mac) EFI-compatible firmware on there, and even then Apple has to make drivers that lets you use the card to perform well. Apple would, of course, love it if everyone could just drop a good GPU in there, as it’d just make the Mac Pro more attractive to consumers. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. On the bright side: you can do that just fine with hard drives, eSATA controllers, USB cards, firewire cards, most audio cards, and so on.

Despite that, it performs great. Fortunately for Mac owners that enjoy gaming, most titles that run on Macs can be shown in full detail on 30″ / 27″ displays using the HD5770. And best of all: it remains almost perfectly silent. You won’t be hearing it rev up the fans like the old 8800GT, completely nullifying Apple’s care to acoustics in the rest of the computer (my Mac Pro nary makes a sound).

It’s easy to connect; the card has my requisite dual-link DVI (for all ‘typical’ LCDs and the 30″ Cinema Display I use) and two mini Displayport outputs, for the LED Cinema Display and other DP monitors. It uses a single 6-pin cable from the Mac Pro motherboard to supply extra power, which is the same as my old Nvidia 8800GT, although the HD5770 is far more efficient: it draws far less power when idle, for instance.

The only two issues I have with the card are the price, as it’s about 75 dollars above the ‘street price’ of a PC HD5770, which is unacceptable for a larger ROM chip and some firmware and the requisite Mac Pro motherboard cable. I understand ATI may have to produce these cards in smaller runs, but it’s a big chunk of cash on top of what is normally 135 dollar card. The packaging sort of makes up for it:

(yes, that’s a little Sony Vaio UX UMPC. With OS X on it. Blog post coming? Hell yes!)

The other issue is grapical glitches in Minecraft. Somehow, despite having excellent performance, Java OpenGL graphics are a terrible mess. I suppose this isn’t as much an issue with the card as it is a matter of the Java runtime, but the artifacts are awful.

Overall verdict:

8/10. If you’re in the market for a graphics upgrade, I’d check out how well the now-finally-shipping HD5870 compares in terms of pure bang for your buck. If you’re using all the extra power pins on your Mac Pro motherboard already (check!), and need an affordable replacement for Nvidia’s horrible, unreliable cards and crash-prone drivers (especially in Photoshop – check!), this is a no-brainer. And you can use the box for… well, I don’t know. Storing cats.