Getting Simple

52weeksofUX.com has an article called, “What Does It Mean to Be Simple?“, published in 2011. The goal of the article is intended to help clarify what it means to be simple, when it comes to user experiences. It lists 3 main points:

  • Have a single core idea (not several ideas, or a partial idea)
  • Improve clarity over time (don’t overwhelm with inappropriate details)
  • Use consistency (avoid using unnecessarily unique interfaces and messages)

The author subdivides each point into more specific points, such as:

Be consistent through…Occasionally breaking the rules – know when an interface is genuinely unique–it’s probably not as often as you think.

I’d say that a lot of this advice is helpful and similar to concepts found in Don’t Make Me Think and in cognitive psychology. It’s a short read and I’d recommend the few minutes it takes to read it.

Shortly after reading the article, I came across a related question on Quora, “How to make my life simpler?” Having recently read the UX article, I wanted to see if I could extend the points in the article to other aspects of life. What I liked about doing this idea, is that 3 tips on keeping a simple life is incredibly to remember. Once you get to 5-7, even though those are easier to remember than, say 20, it’s still a lot to apply to all aspects of your life. I also liked the idea that repurposing these UX ideas would require them to become distilled down to basic points, that would possibly relate to day to day life, as opposed to just UI design.

Here is my response.

1. Focus on making your decisions binary. For example, President Obama said he chooses either a dark gray suit or a navy suit. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” Why Obama Doesn’t Pick Out His Own Suits: Decision Fatigue and How…

The goal is to reduce the amount of time you spend deciding on simple tasks, so that you have a greater cognitive reservoir for more important decisions.

2. Refine your life over time. As apparently many people have been doing, I recently read the book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. This process of tidying is something that is part of Japanese culture. There are actually a few Japanese authors who have written books on this topic, but the book by Marie Kondo is most accessible to English speakers. The main point is of this book to only have items around you that “spark joy”. In practice, this means pick your best gray and navy suits, and toss those other suits that you don’t really care for. This process involves a lot of introspection and reflection on your lifestyle and your needs. Once you do it, however, you will have a good idea of how to manage your life.

The goal is that by practicing this over time, you will eliminate items you don’t care for and only buy or keep items that bring you joy. I’ve been practicing this for a few months, and it’s so much of a relief to only keep items I truly love. (I also save money because I only shop for what I need or what I truly love.)

3. Focus on a routine. Basically, do the same thing every day. For instance, even my iPhone has started suggesting that I go to sleep at the same time every day. (I’ve actually had an alarm, for this purpose, for years.) Some people eat dinner at the same time every day, or workout early in the morning. Find your good habits and repeat them every day.

The goal is to find a pattern that works for you and that you’re comfortable with. Sometimes you’ll need to break your routine, or even change your routine, but the fact that you have one will keep your life simple.


I thought it worked, but there was still something missing. I thought about what the core message was: introspection. Understanding what’s important to each person…because having the best advice in the world means nothing if it’s irrelevant.

Several years ago, I saw a documentary film called Enlighten Up! at the IFC Center. The documentary is a skeptics take on the world of yoga. (Actually, it’s the filmmaker’s vicarious and voyeuristic film project.) Eventually, the skeptic ends up in India where he meets a guru, and is determined to get the guru to tell him which form of yoga is best for him to achieve enlightenment. The answers from the guru were enlightening:

“Everything depends on you. Hangs on you. You should feel the importance of yourself. You are the most important person for any decisions, all the decisions…

[Q. How to achieve happiness?] This is a good question. Let me put a little stress on it: [Look at how hard you are working to achieve your happiness.] Is there any happiness [in that]? You will have to question yourself. Where is it? Where can I get that happiness?

[Q. I am not a religious person.] If you don’t like [something], don’t do it. But you can still be a religious person.

[Q. How can that be?] Be yourself. Be your true self.

[Q. How do I do that?] As much as possible, try to get rid of what you are not and what you are unnecessarily wearing on yourself.

(Emphasis added.)

The guru’s final statement is what led me to add the following to my Quora answer – that ultimately what makes for a simple life is to understand of what is and what is not important to you, and to let life take its course naturally from that.

Whether or not you choose to follow these 3 tips or not, the decision is yours. To reiterate, the main thing is the self-examination of your life. In fully committing to this act, understand and appreciate your own self-worth. Understand and pursue goals that are important to you. When you find out what is truly important to you, allow yourself to decide and naturally remove what is not.*


pexels-photo-94327

So how would I turn the guru’s response into tips for simple UX design?

  1. Clearly define your goals. Know what’s truly important to achieve your goals. In the guru’s words, “Know what is true.” All manner of churn and delay will follow when goals are poorly defined.
  2. Stay on track. As much as possible, eliminate everything that doesn’t achieve these goals. This is probably as close to the 52weeksofUX article as anything.
  3. Don’t force it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. A related Italian saying, coming from the perfectly-imperfect Italian fashion sense Sprezzatura: “Always cut. Never pull”. Whatever the end result is, it should feel natural. For example, I once presented two designs for a website to my design colleagues. Everyone unanimously decided that they liked choice A over B, yet the group continued to discuss how to make B into a better design. In the end, I as the designer, recognized that the reason the group was still discussing B was because it was inferior but they were trying to force it into a better design. It was my own suggestion that because we had a good option already and we should simply eliminate option B, rather than force it to be something it wasn’t.

*Note: If I could include a clip of this one scene, I would. Unfortunately, most of the clips I found on YouTube were not great, so I’m not going to include them. I found an extended bonus clip, but it doesn’t include the parts I’m quoting above.

Identity and Men: Is there such a thing as the male identity crisis?

I’m still on my body image kick, but I’ve been thinking more about identity. Recently, we’ve had a discussion about women vs. men and technology on our school’s student email listserv. I don’t want to keep posting to that thread (but here’s another article ‘Why No Women Want To Be On A “Women In Tech” Panel‘), but as I just read an article in the New Yorker about the feminist movement and The Feminine Mystique, (“Books as Bombs: Why the women’s movement needed “The Feminine Mystique”), I can’t help but see some related overlap. So instead of posting to that list, I’ll just make some related comments here.

In the thread, someone mentioned male identity and how men, in general, seem to be “falling behind” in certain social and eduction context, in comparison to women. For instance, more women graduate from college than men. In checking out a Wikipedia entry on identity, I checked out an external link on “Our male identity crisis: What will happen to men?” which itself is a blog entry on Psychology Today.

In the article, written by Ray Williams, he states, “In a post-modern world lacking clear-cut borders and distinctions, it has been difficult to know what it means to be a man and even harder to feel good about being one. The many boundaries of a gendered world built around the opposition of work and family–production versus reproduction, competition versus cooperation, hard vs. soft–have been blurred, and men are groping in the dark for their identity.”

The gist of many of his points I like, but not quite how he gets his points across. Such as, “The last bastions of male dominated roles appears to be top leadership positions, particularly in the corporate world, the military and politics, although even those areas are slowly being eroded. But leadership in those spheres has often been associated with the traditional male identity–with power, control and often aggression.” Are women supposed to feel guilty because we want to be in charge, too? And, if men have been holding the traditional top leadership positions all this time, why the negative slant to what is supposedly the “traditional male identity…power, control and often aggression”?

One commenter made an excellent point in stating that the advancements made by women in our society do not need to be seen as zero-sum, “where if women gain, men must lose.” She follows by stating, “Our culture’s slow shift towards gender equality for women is throwing into sharp relief the restrictive roles that men are still taught to identify with. That, in my opinion, is where the identity crisis and cultural backlash against feminism is coming from: that women are taught that they can be anything they want, from housewives to CEOs, but men are still taught that they can only be CEOs and that to do want or do anything that is ‘feminine’ is unmanly and unforgivable. That is what we need to change and is crucial to bringing this culture to true egalitarianism.” Eloquently put.

And, while Williams’s points about women’s gains in higher education surpassing statistics for men in high education may be true, I also wonder historically how many women were deliberately kept out of school so that they could stay home and work, or because going to school was for boys and men only. Still happens in some countries.

After this, I reviewed another blog post on a related subject that I liked a lot better. This article, “Bring home the bacon AND fry it up?“, by Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D., was focused on how women being the breadwinner has changed the dynamics of marriage and being a couple. While it did address men’s identity roles, it put them in the context of couples, rather than pitting men vs women. For instance, in reference to women out-earning men at work and at university, she quotes a variety of reasons and suggests that “some couples are choosing this lifestyle, others are forced into it.”

She does address how changes in traditionally held perceptions of men’s and women’s roles have affected men. “Studies indicate that in spite of the changes in women’s earning potential and role as breadwinner, men have struggled with issues related to their pride as well as social pressure and pressure from family when their wife is the breadwinner, often feeling emasculated or low self esteem.” In response, she goes on to say that it is up to both men and women to shift their perceptions of the roles of men and women, to fit their current lifestyles.

I agree with the commenter to the first blog post, in that while there may be shifts in male identity, I’m not sure if I’d call it a crisis. I also think that men and women should be working together to change our perceptions and notions of who and what men and women are and what we do, as men and women, in society. Pitting women vs men against each other isn’t going to help us understand each other and certainly won’t make things easier. I doubt that things will ever go back to the way they “used” to be.

Article: Paper supercapacitor could power future paper electronics

(PhysOrg.com) — All those paper transistors and paper displays that scientists have been designing can now be powered by an onboard power source, thanks to the development of a new paper supercapacitor. Designed by researchers at Stanford University, the paper supercapacitor is made by simply printing carbon nanotubes onto a treated piece of paper. The researchers hope that the integrated design could lead to the development of low-cost, disposable paper electronics.

Very interesting and could lead to a lot of new and much more ubiquitous interactivity possibilities. Imagine, a circuit on your grocery bag.

Virtual reality used to transfer men’s minds into a woman’s body

Researchers projected men’s sense of self into a virtual reality woman, changing the way they behaved and thought.

Scientists have transferred men’s minds into a virtual woman’s body in an experiment that could enlighten the prejudiced and shed light on how humans distinguish themselves from others.

Men who took part in the virtual reality experiment said it felt as if they occupied the womans body. They even flinched when she was slapped. Photograph: Guardian
Men who took part in the virtual reality experiment said it felt as if they occupied the woman's body. They even flinched when she was slapped. Photograph: Guardian

Gesture-based computing on the cheap

Gesture-based computing on the cheap. “With a single piece of inexpensive hardware — a multicolored glove — MIT researchers are making Minority Report-style interfaces more accessible.”

Check out the video: <object id=”flashObj” width=”486″ height=”412″ classid=”clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000″ codebase=”http://download.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=9,0,47,0″><param name=”movie” value=”http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9/36804639001?isVid=1″ /><param name=”bgcolor” value=”#FFFFFF” /><param name=”flashVars” value=”videoId=86656499001&playerID=36804639001&domain=embed&dynamicStreaming=true” /><param name=”base” value=”http://admin.brightcove.com” /><param name=”seamlesstabbing” value=”false” /><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true” /><param name=”swLiveConnect” value=”true” /><param name=”allowScriptAccess” value=”always” /><embed src=”http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9/36804639001?isVid=1″ bgcolor=”#FFFFFF” flashVars=”videoId=86656499001&playerID=36804639001&domain=embed&dynamicStreaming=true” base=”http://admin.brightcove.com” name=”flashObj” width=”486″ height=”412″ seamlesstabbing=”false” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowFullScreen=”true” swLiveConnect=”true” allowScriptAccess=”always” pluginspage=”http://www.macromedia.com/shockwave/download/index.cgi?P1_Prod_Version=ShockwaveFlash”></embed></object>

Here’s some information about how the researcher developed the glove, iterating through different designs. “The glove went through a series of designs, with dots and patches of different shapes and colors, but the current version is covered with 20 irregularly shaped patches that use 10 different colors. The number of colors had to be restricted so that the system could reliably distinguish the colors from each other, and from those of background objects, under a range of different lighting conditions. The arrangement and shapes of the patches was chosen so that the front and back of the hand would be distinct but also so that collisions of similar-colored patches would be rare. For instance, Wang explains, the colors on the tips of the fingers could be repeated on the back of the hand, but not on the front, since the fingers would frequently be flexing and closing in front of the palm.”

Pretty fast rendering there, which is due to the fact that the computer is simply looking up images in a database, and then figuring out which position the hand is in. I really like how simple the calibration is: “To calibrate the system, the user simply places an 8.5-by-11-inch piece of paper on a flat surface in front of the webcam, presses his or her hand against it, and in about three seconds, the system is calibrated.”

Future of the Infrastructure, featuring: The Internet

From Science News:

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project in Washington, D.C., “There’s a sense that people are marching, not necessarily blindly, but certainly without full knowledge, into a future that they don’t fully know.”

How the Internet will change the world — even more