Archive for September, 2011

9 Essential Resources for User Interface Designers

16 Sep

The Web Design Usability Series is supported by, an easy way to instantly share your screen with anyone. lets you collaborate on-the-fly, put your heads together super-fast and even just show off.

Designing a great user interface can be a challenge, even for the most seasoned designer. Countless factors need to be taken into consideration and the difference between a good UI and a great one often boils down to paying close attention to the smallest details.

SEE ALSO: 7 Best Practices for Improving Your Website’s Usability

When undertaking such an important and often complex task, it’s helpful to have some handy resources for both education and inspiration. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorites below. Since we can only scratch the surface of the wide variety of UI design resources available, we invite you to share yours in the comments.

Design Inspiration

Let’s start off by taking a look at three great galleries for UI design inspiration.

1. MephoBox

MephoBox is a design showcase that catalogs sites with beautiful interfaces and also collections of common site elements, such as login forms, headers, pagination, and so on. If you’re looking for ideas or approaches to designing specific page elements, MephoBox collections can be a great source of inspiration.

2. UI Patterns

UI Patterns showcases user interface design patterns – com-only recurring trends and best practices in UI design for a variety of elements. Providing more detail than a basic gallery, UI Patterns showcases design patterns, discusses their usage, and the problems each pattern aims to solve, and in what way.

3. Pattern Tap

Pattern Tap is one of the more well-known UI design showcases and is similar to MephoBox in its design pattern collections. Unlike MephoBox, though, the collections are a bit more varied (the site currently baosts 45 collection catagories to MephoBox’s 16), including a showcase of elements like modal windows, slideshows, comments, adevertising design and placement, and more.

Reading up on UI Design

Sometimes it’s not enough to simply look at a design showcase. Often, you’ll want to read about a particular design pattern or approaches to a problem, as well. So here are three great educational resources for boning up on UI design.

4. Inspire UX

Inspire UX is a user experience design blog that features articles, quotes, case studies and explorations into the world of user experience and interface design. A great resource, Inspire UX articles cover a broad range of topics from book reviews to helpful tips and well-thought explorations into existing design patterns and implementations.

5. UX Magazine

UX Magazine is a user experience and design publication dedicated to “elevating user experience, one article at a time.” With plenty of original content as well as technical and inspirational design roundups from around the web, UX Magazine explores the details that make a great user experience. If you’re looking for information on best practices, creative problem solving resources or a better understanding of those problems, UX Magazine is chock full of great articles to assist you.

6. UI Scraps

This blog by designer Jason Robb showcases interesting and insightful user interfaces. The great thing about UI Scraps is that the site isn’t simply a showcase of great work. Robb brings you the bad along with the good, making it a great resource for learning what not to do. The tone of the blog is conversational and casual, but Mr. Robb’s remarks are spot-on and UI scraps is a fun, interesting resource for UI design practices.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Still what more? Looking for something a little more technical? UI design isn’t just about making a pretty picture. There’s a lot of science behind the methodologies and patterns we use every day. Here are a few sites that delve even further into the technical and scientific aspects of UI design.

7. Web Design Practices

If statistics are what you’re after, Web Design Practices is the place to be. The site showcases and describes several common web design elements, practices, and patterns and discusses frequency of use and effectiveness of each. Many examples are also provided and, wherever possible, links are provided to relevant research data, so you can take a first-hand look at the study yourself.

8. User Interface Engineering

UIE is a professional organization for user interface designers and UI experts. UIE provides education and training to its members and the public at large through conferences, articles, virtual siminars, and other publications. On the UIE site, you’ll find a plethora of great articles covering a variety of UI and UX design topics, many of which have plenty of scientific and research data to back them up.

9. Boxes and Arrows

Boxes and Arrows is another great online publication dedicated to exploring the art and science of UI design. It has articles and research materials on best practices, techniques, and user behavior and expectations. There are also a number of case studies, interviews and product reviews, as well as a podcats. If you want to truly understand UI design, Boxes and Arrows is an invaluable resource.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, violetkaipa

Series Supported by

The Web Design Usability Series is supported by, an easy way to instantly share your screen with anyone. lets you collaborate on-the-fly, put your heads together super-fast and even just show off. The possibilities are endless. How will you use Try it today.

More About: features, UI Design, web design, Web Design Usability Series, Web Development


How Airlines Have Taken Flight With Social Media [INFOGRAPHIC]

16 Sep

The Social Media Infographics Series is supported by VocusSocial Media Strategy Tool, a free, six-step online tool that lets you build a custom social media framework tailored to your organization’s goals.

Thousands of flights each and every day transport millions of passengers all over the world. As we all know, traveling can make one irritable, and delays or lost baggage prompt many consumers to complain. Before social media, these complaints might dissipate in the ether or be left on hold for 30 minutes. Fortunately, the airline industry has taken note of the social web as a customer service tool, fielding complaints, inquiries and yes, even compliments, on Twitter and Facebook. Never has the airline industry been so responsive, helpful, compassionate and human.

But aside from customer service, airlines use the social web to build their brand and grow a fan base, whether that’s via YouTube webisodes, special Twitter-only fares or offering free entry to a terminal lounge for an airport’s Foursquare mayor — the mark of a frequent traveler.

Check out the infographic below to see what some of the most social airlines are doing to reach new heights with social media.

Series supported by Vocus

This series is supported by VocusSocial Media Strategy Tool, a free online tool which lets you build your own custom social media framework in six easy steps. It helps you determine your organization’s goals, explore the latest MarketingSherpa research data, and create your own workbook packed with the strategies, tactics and resources you need. Try it today!

Infographic design by Lorena Guerra

More About: Airlines, features, infographics, Mashable Infographics, Social Media, Social Media Infographics Series

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Is It Time to Rethink E-Books?

16 Sep

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The father of the e-book passed away last week. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, died Tuesday, September 6, at the age of 64. Considered by most to be the man that jumpstarted the move toward digital books, Hart created the first fully digitized public document by hand-typing the Declaration of Independence into a University of Illinois computer.

That was back in 1971, and Project Gutenberg has arguably paved the way for what we now know as e-readers and, most importantly, e-books.

Project Gutenberg aims to digitize and make freely available a wide array of books. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

But back in Hart’s Gutenberg days, the main purpose of the project was to provide wide and free access to information. It made sense for these digital archives to be simply that — electronic replicas of the books they were representing.

It seems that even though e-readers are everywhere, the publishing industry, editors, and writers seem to have forgotten that they’re working with an entirely new, quite powerful medium.

No wonder there are so many lamenting the fall of The Noble Book, an artifact that smells like everything that’s good in the world. The gritty pages turn with a pleasing swish, and on each page are margins within which you can make your notes.

You can leave a physical mark in the physical world with physical book. And now, here comes this electronic doppelganger that attempts with its page-turning and bookmark metaphors to be just like what we’ve all come to know and love, The Noble Book.

What we have now is an imposter.

Hyperbole aside, e-book dissidents dismiss largely based on nostalgia and sentimentality of the time that once-was, much like what happened when the television moved into the living room, crowding out the Wholesome Radio.

But the arrival of the e-book is not like that of the television; televisions offered an entirely new dimension to radio. The vast majority of e-books offer little more added value than an ability to carry more books at once than ever before.

What We’ve Got Now

The e-book is falling short of its potential. Perhaps this is because innovation takes a long time, and adoption rates for new experiences are painfully slow. Whatever the reason, it’s time to take a long, hard look at what e-books are, what they should be, and what they can be.

Instead of waiting around for the publishing industries to create the Next Big Thing in terms of experiences, I can think of no better pool of minds to address than the growing troops of user experience designers.

With only a few exceptions (see below), e-books are facsimiles of print. Not much more, not much less. Most of the innovation in the industry is heading toward making e-books even more like printed materials, like improving refresh rates and producing better e-ink.

But why bother, when print is by no means on its way out? While I’m not writing an article to discuss why print will be around for at least several more decades (and I’ll eat my neighbor’s hat if I’m wrong, of course), this likelihood is important to keep in mind.

Imagine if the quality of music on cassette tapes and CDs were of equal fidelity. Also figure that people had been listening to cassette tapes for decades, had historically sentimental feelings toward them, and spent hours upon hours holding them in their hands.

If CDs really had nothing more to offer than cassette tapes (other that the fact that they were thinner and could hold more information), what would be their justification?

Rethinking the Direction

There are minds out there, slightly crazy minds, taking up this discussion with the academic communities, but we all know where that ends up — in trade journals that only a select few read.

The future of the e-book is a very exciting issue to many a futurist and thinker, and many are advocating the push away from the paper-doppelgangers.


Ted Nelson is one such man. A visionary and, some say, quite quirky, he’s like the Kurzweil of documents. Nelson coined many important terms that ushered us into a new age of technology: hypertext was his, as was virtuality. So was teledildonics. Nelson was also the first person to actually try to build out what the Internet is, in essence — a series of hyperlinked documents. He failed, of course, but many of the big names in the Web’s history credit Nelson as an essential player in the game.

Ted Nelson firmly believes in a bright future for electronic documents, and fights for their innovation. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Nelson, now in his 70s, has a lot to say now about electronic formats of documents. For instance:

"A document is not necessarily a simulation of paper. In the most general sense, a document is a package of ideas created by human minds and addressed to human minds, intended for the furtherance of those ideas and those minds. Human ideas manifest as text, connections, diagrams and more: thus how to store them and present them is a crucial issue for civilization."

While he’s not talking specifically about e-books, shouldn’t the same ideas apply? Nelson further outlines what he proposes happen to the medium for electronic books, and each proposal takes advantage of the technologies at hand, all the while taking into account more literary issues, such as narrative, structure, and experience.

Programming Languages Must Evolve

Someone a little lower profile but arguably just as visionary is Nick Montfort of MIT. As an associate professor of digital media, Montfort has his fingers deep in the missed-potential-of-e-books pie.

He works heavily in the future of books — particularly interactive poetry and fiction. Montfort and his team are trying to make not only the concept of the electronic book medium evolve, but the concept of the art as well (narrative, in this case).

He proposes that programming languages must evolve before e-books move beyond simply simulating the traditional paper reading experience.

Most importantly, Montfort discusses and stresses the storage and processing capacity of computers (and e-books) and how they can transform the idea of what we call a book, a story, a poem, and so on. This is the spirit Montfort’s academic work embodies, as well as most working in digital media.

None of this is to say, however, that there aren’t a few bold newcomers to the e-book scene taking chances.

The Future of E-Books

Not all e-books are created equal. There are a handful of designers, writers, and publishers that have caught on to the idea that the e-reader allows for new possibilities.

They’ve understood that in order to create a more autonomous e-book (one that’s divorced from its paper predecessors), they have to start creating unique experiences. By doing so, they’re demonstrating the simply awesome potential of what the future of the electronic book looks like.

Bundling Multimedia Content

Observe first Enhanced Editions, a small but significant step in autonomy’s direction. Founded by James Bridle (one of the most influential people in publishing, according to the Evening Standard), this company bundles an e-book’s text with lots of extra content, such as author interviews, notes, and audio book accompaniment, read by the authors themselves. There are commentaries included, as well, just like with DVDs.

While Enhanced Editions aren’t available for most e-books, there are a number of popular titles available, such as Stephen King’s beast Under the Dome, Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, and The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama. Check out the links to see the various features the different books offer; not every Enhanced Edition offers tons of extra content. It is, rather, catered to the specific book. With Under the Dome, for instance, there are only excerpts from the full audio book, but there are little commentaries attached from characters living under said dome.

Cinematic E-Books

The move toward a more cinematic electronic book is also being explored.

The Atavist, a new long-form article platform, recently made a great trailer for one of its authors’ pieces.

Following that trend, there’s even an app that attaches sound effects and soundtracks to whatever book you’re reading, given the book is one on the Booktrack Bookshelf. Granted these soundtracks have very proprietary functionality at the moment (there are only a few titles this close to their recent launch), but the effort to more fully immerse readers in their stories is clear and tangible.

The Atavist pairs one of its long-form articles with a theatrical trailer.

Interactive, Immersive E-Books

Some endeavors take immersion to the next level, and many of these contenders are children’s books. Take The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, for instance.

The storybook is immersive with a haunting soundtrack, moving narrative, and excellent visuals. This book probably turned out so well because it accompanies a great little short film (and that it deals directly, in the narrative, with the sentimentality and nostalgia that come along with books), but it still successfully walks the balance between interactivity and readability. After all, past a certain threshold of interactive features, you no longer have a book. You have a video game.

A screen from Morris Lessmore, from Moonbot Studios.

Morris Lessmore handles it well, as do several other children’s books. Alice for the iPad, for instance, takes elements of the classic story and draws special attention to them, employing the tech of the iPad to do the narrative justice (and does so brilliantly).

Alice for iPad takes advantage of the iPad’s sensors to encourage fun bits of interactivity while reading.

But interactivity and immersion aren’t just for kids. The most immediate and relevant example is a perfect illustration of what reference books may become.

The Elements is simple enough — it’s a periodic table, in essence. But rather than just be a series of textbook-like page simulations about the periodic table’s residents, this Theodore Gray table allows readers to virtually interact with the elements on the iPad’s touchscreen, manipulate them, and even make calculations based on the element’s information; the app connects to Wolfram Alpha to gather the most up-to-date information about whatever element the reader is asking after — the current price of gold, for instance.

Not only is Theodore Gray’s Elements visually gorgeous, but it’s interactive and surprisingly immersive, too.

As you can see, as publishers pump out digital copies of bestsellers, there are out-of-the-box thinkers pushing the technology to the appropriate next level.

Why We Need to Rethink the E-Book Format

When I write, I like to create my own little reader persona, and edit according to his response of my article.

In this case, I hear him sitting on my shoulder, prodding me incessantly with short sharp pokes to the neck: "Who cares if you think e-books aren’t what they should be? They’re sellin’ just fine, so what does it matter? Why does any of this matter?"

Well played, little shoulder-man.

But it does matter, because every day, I see editors and designers scurrying with their focus groups to figure out what the secret is to electronic content, what exactly people want from an e-book or magazine.

When no immediate answers present themselves, the process (generate content, send to press, squeeze into iPad format and tack on some extra videos) simply repeats itself ad infintum.

Presently, the e-book is in the wrong hands — it does not belong with the publishing industry at large. It’s a new medium, not an amendment to an existing one. Or at least that’s how it should be.

Print’s going to be around for a while (and this is why):

  1. Print, in most cases, is more accessible and inexpensive. In order to enjoy e-books, you have to be able to afford an e-reader. And that’s simply not everyone.
  2. Corporate and governmental behavior, aside from that of the consumer, is a huge driving force in large-scale technological change. Sociologists and analysts explain a dependence on hard copies: the so-called paperless office has been predicted for decades. It’s nowhere near close.
  3. Sentimentality is a powerful force in sales (think about holiday commercials and diamond ads), and can easily oust logic.

So instead engaging in the battle of print versus electronic books (and there are battles everywhere), we should instead be asking what justifies the e-book, if it’s only a paper simulator?

It’s arguably less accessible (and I’m talking on a grand scale, not just middle-upper class Americans). Sure it saves trees — potentially — but book production hasn’t decreased enough to make a difference, and the environmental cost of e-readers is still up for debate; after all, with new versions of Kindles, Nooks, and iPads coming out incessantly, e-waste will build.

In the words of the futurist and Harvard man John Naisbitt, "strategic planning is worthless unless there is first a strategic vision." There has been too little vision in the way of the e-book, for all its financial success.

E-books shouldn’t just be a facsimile of what they may one day replace. With all the technology they’re riding on, e-books have the potential to take the narrative experience to new heights.

Related Content

About the Author

Kristina Bjoran is a science writer based in San Francisco, California. She works in editorial at Wired magazine and is a managing editor at UX Booth. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.


World population densities mapped

16 Sep

World of Seven Billion

National Geographic has a look at where and how we live:

The map shows population density; the brightest points are the highest densities. Each country is colored according to its average annual gross national income per capita, using categories established by the World Bank (see key below). Some nations — like economic powerhouses China and India — have an especially wide range of incomes. But as the two most populous countries, both are lower middle class when income is averaged per capita.

It's interesting, but the map is a little wonky, because the income levels and population densities differ in granularity. It kind of works. Kinda doesn't. There seems to be a lot of missing data — or does population density in northern Africa really drop off that quickly (it is desert land, albeit)? A little more explanation in the description or the legend would have been useful.

There are also three other slides that follow the map (like the one below), but they're mostly just run-of-the-mill list of facts with cutesy icons to show percentages. Not a fan of those at all. Actually, they kind of bother me.

I dunno, I'm on the fence here. What do you think?

[National Geographic | Thanks, Laura]


How Google Warps Time to Keep Its Computers Running

15 Sep

weirdclock150.pngIt would be nice if time just marched along in an orderly fashion, one second after another, each of equal length, 31,556,926 times per year, but that's not the way the world works. Years are actually a bit shorter than we pretend they are, so we invented little tricks - algorithms, if you will - to compensate. The Gregorian calendar adds an extra day to its shortest month every four years to adjust for the discrepancy. My native tribe, however, also uses a lunisolar calendar, which we fix by adding a whole extra month seven times every 19 years.

Simple enough, right? Well, actually, the Earth is still too wobbly for these simple equations, so we lose and gain a few milliseconds here and there. Atomic clocks occasionally have to use a leap second to keep things lined up with astronomical time. Doesn't matter much to us, right? But imagine you're not just trying to keep your appointments straight. Imagine you're trying to keep all of Google's computers from crashing. Then what do you do?



If you're Google, you can't just repeat a second at the end of the day whenever the IERS announces a leap second, because you're running too many time-sensitive operations. What happens if two delicate processes happen one second after another, but the computer thinks they took place at the same time? Kablooey, right? Well, believe it or not, Google has solved the problem.

The Google Site Reliability Team just published a fascinating and in-depth post explaining how they solved the leap second problem. They call it a "leap smear." It involves gradually "lying" to the computers by a few milliseconds over the course of the whole day. After a leap second hiccup in 2005, when some Google systems stopped accepting work, the team devised this solution.

Check out the post on the Google Blog.

Photo 1 credit: Cornell University Library Photo 2 credit: Smithsonian Institution



NASA: "We've Discovered the First Tatooine-Like Planet" [Video]

15 Sep
One of the most iconic scenes in Star Wars was of the two setting suns over Tatooine's dusty plains. Now, after years of searching, we've discovered that such a vista could exist outside science fiction. Scientists at NASA today announced the discovery of what they're describing as the very first confirmed, unambiguous example of a "circumbinary planet," orbiting not one, but two stars — just like Tatooine. More »

Trove of Dinosaur Feathers Found in Canadian Amber

15 Sep
<< Previous | Next >>

An extraordinary collection of ancient feather fragments preserved in amber has opened a window into a lost world, one that now appears populated by dinosaurs covered in plumage as rich and varied as that of modern birds.

The feathers date to the end of the Cretaceous, about 85 to 70 million years ago. At that time, the forerunners of birds were well on their way to taking wing; dinosaurs like Epidexipteryx and Limosaurus, discovered in China in the last decade and dating to approximately 160 million years ago, possess relatively bird-like bone structures and hints of what might have been feathers.

Those hints have been interpreted -- and given life in eye-popping artist renditions -- as feathers, an interpretation that was plausible but still inconclusive.

But the latest fossils, found in Alberta and described Sept. 16 in Science, leave little doubt. The age of dinosaurs was a feathery one.

"These lovely specimens of significantly older, smaller dinosaurs from China have got some sort of covering about them. But you can't tell if it's hair or feathers because the fossils have undergone the ravages of time," said paleontologist Alex Wolfe of the University of Alberta, a co-author of the new study. "Those fossils don't preserve the kind of detail that we have in amber, which doesn't fossilize but entombs an object."

On the following pages, looks at the new trove of feathers.


Feathers in Amber

Image: McKellar et al./Science

<< Previous | Next >>

See Also:

Citations: “A Diverse Assemblage of Late Cretaceous Dinosaur and Bird Feathers from Canadian Amber.” By Ryan C. McKellar, Brian D. E. Chatterton, Alexander P. Wolfe, Philip J. Currie. Science, Vol. 333 Issue 6049, September 16, 2011.

“Fossilized Feathers.” By Mark A. Norell. Science, Vol. 333 Issue 6049, September 16, 2011.


1926 This shot from the movie The General is the most expensive…

15 Sep


This shot from the movie The General is the most expensive shot in silent film history. It was filmed in a single take, that had to be perfect, with a real train and a ‘dummy’ engineer (notice the white arm hanging out the conductors window). Some of the locals who came to watch the filming, thought the dummy was a real person and screamed in horror; supposedly, one person even fainted.

(via Jaeger Amzallag)


before & after: wood paneled accent wall

15 Sep

If anyone is looking for fall home-decor inspiration, look no further than this amazing wood paneled wall by Lindsay and her husband, Drew. Using planks of beautiful alder wood and a combination of wood conditioner and a dark stain, Drew created an incredibly rich, dramatic accent wall for their bedroom. I love the combination of the tan houndstooth headboard with the warm wood, and I think I could just sit and stare at that beautiful wall all day. Wonderful job, Lindsay and Drew! — Kate

Have a before & after you’d like to share? Shoot me an email with your images right here! (Low res, under 500k per image, please.)

lindsay_before lindsay_after lindsay_after3 lindsay_afer2

Read more about Lindsay and Drew’s gorgeous wood accent wall after the jump!



BBC Knowledge

15 Sep

This is totally sunshine and lollipops, but it has a good flow to it, and well, I totally wanted to know more about BBC Knowledge. Too bad it's not available in my region that is America.

[Video Link via datavisualization]