The challenges of redesigning Wikipedia
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The challenges of redesigning Wikipedia

A questioner on Quora asked whether Wikipedia has ever considered a redesign. In response, Wikpedia designer Brandon Harris, has written the clearest explanation I’ve read of the challenges involved in changing the design of a large scale Web site. If there’s one universal truth that I’ve absorbed more and more deeply with age, it’s that change never comes easy.

Here’s one bit:

How about languages? We support around 300 of them. That’s a scale problem that most people forget. I’ve seen several unsolicited redesigns that may look pretty but nearly all of them ignore (or worse, downplay) what is arguably the greatest feature of Wikipedia: that you can get it in your own language. If we want to change a text label (say, from “Password” to “Enter your password”) it will require hundreds of volunteers to check and localize that text. It’s a daunting task.

That’s just one of many complexities that he catalogs.

Steve Silberman profiles Susan Kare
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Steve Silberman profiles Susan Kare

Susan Kare is the artist who created the original icons for the Macintosh. She started at Apple by designing proportional fonts but graduated to icon design. The degree to which her work made the original Macintosh software easier for humans to relate to can’t be overstated. The blog post features work from her original sketchbook, in which she designed icons on graph paper by using the squares as pixels.

The economics of raid lockouts in World of Warcraft
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The economics of raid lockouts in World of Warcraft

Interesting post from Greg Street, the lead game systems designer for World of Warcraft, explaining why they are changing the game so that you can’t do the same raid more than once a week.

Some of you guys are coming from the angle that players should take responsibility for not playing more than they want to. I agree with that of course, but I also think the game design should not be something that puts that kind of pressure on you. We don’t want to make a game full of traps or temptations that you should have to resist. It’s more fun, I think, if what the game asks of you is reasonable. Killing the same boss twice or four times (as in ToC) or an unlimited number of times (as in the “no loot” model) doesn’t seem reasonable. Neither does having to play Alterac Valley hundreds of times in a weekend to get a prestigious PvP rank. Neither does having to grind for consumables for hours every week before raid night. All of those things are theoretically “features” that players could have shown some common sense and opted out of, but realistically they were just boneheaded design decisions that we needed to fix.

It’s this sort of real systemic thinking about how games work that make Blizzard’s games the best.

Turning novices into experts through game mechanics
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Turning novices into experts through game mechanics

Danc has posted the notes to a presentation he gave, Why we turned Microsoft Office into a Game. It’s a great piece on the complexity of applications and how to manage it for users. In it, he gets down to the core problem that faces companies trying to build growing businesses around software — dealing with the fact that different users take advantage of different features, and that applications tend to grow more complex as their user bases grow. It seems to me that the fashionable answer to this problem is to claim to be an auteur of application development, and to only build the features that are appealing to you. But that’s not the way big software companies work, and it’s really not the way they should work. If you’re in the software business, this presentation is a must-read.

Universal design
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Universal design

In yesterday’s post about URL literacy a little debate broke out in the comments about whether it’s worth it to add usability features for novices if they make life more difficult for experts. On that note, last month’s Dwell had an article on universal design, a school which argues that designers should be trying to create designs that work for everyone, regardless of their level of experience or capabilities. This is the position I was arguing in the comments, and is an approach I’m fond of. I generally reject the notion that experts and novices require wildly different interfaces or devices, although obviously there are outliers in any group whose tastes may differ.

Assessing Apple’s revamped checkout process
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Assessing Apple’s revamped checkout process

Form expert Luke Wroblewski compares Apple’s revamped checkout process to their old checkout process. If you do any work designing HTML forms at all, you’ll want to check this case study out. I’m particularly interested in the pros and cons of requiring users to enter their city, state, and zip versus entering just the zip and looking up the city and state. Luke has looked at this issue before.

Links for August 28
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Links for August 28

What do you guys think of the new link format? Good? Bad? Should each link be a separate post?

  • It’s Snow Leopard day. Here’s a wiki for tracking which applications are Snow Leopard compatible. Here’s John Gruber’s upgrade procedure, which I will be following.
  • Ted Leung revisits the age old debate — is open source development incompatible with good design?
  • ComputerWorld tests free antivirus software for Windows.
Explaining the iPhone’s success
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Explaining the iPhone’s success

Every time a new iPhone is released, there’s a spate of articles that analyze the its success as a product. My friend Stephen O’Grady puts the success of the iPhone down to the apps. He’s got a point — the applications available for the iPhone are great. But the truth is that when the iPhone launched, the only opportunity for developers was to create Web sites that were optimized for the iPhone’s Web browser, and Apple was still selling a ton of phones.

Why? Because of usability. The iPhone offered a better experience than any other phone for making phone calls. Checking voice mail, conducting three way calls, and managing contacts are all light years better than they are anywhere else. The iPhone offered better Web browsing than any other mobile phone. Blackberry email is better than iPhone email, but the iPhone’s email experience is better than every other phone on the market.

That was the real secret to the iPhone’s early success, in my opinion. Apple spent a lot of time not only adding capabilities not available in other phones, but also perfecting the things that people were already using their phones to do. It made the wait for real applications tolerable.

Links from May 26th
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Links from May 26th

I have a number of Sonya Sotomayor links today.