David Klein's mellifluous design observations and opinions

Reassurance Computing

Normally I ignore Apple rumors, but it’s rare to read about one that indicates a reversal in design. MG Siegler writes about Apple laptop speculation:

Mainly, since Apple is clearly feeling nostalgic, I want them to bring back the glowing Apple logos on the back of MacBooks — something they seem to want to do themselves if you just look at all their recent marketing!

Nostalgic for the sake of nostalgia? Or is Apple considering returning to an era of prioritizing function over form?

Previously Apple’s PowerBook and original MacBook laptops had a number of features that provided reassurance. The MagSafe connector had a small light with two colors: orange to indicate charging, and green to indicate a full battery. Those tiny lights weren’t crucial features, but they helped reassure me that the computer was working properly. Do computers mostly work properly? Of course! But it’s nice to be reassured.

Older Apple laptops had a button on the battery (when batteries were visible and detachable). One tap of the button lit up 1, 2, 3, or 4 lights to indicate if the battery was 25%, 50%, 75%, or 100% charged. This saved me from opening the laptop and entering my password just to learn the battery’s charge state. Again, not crucial but reassuring.

There was also a white light that glowed when the laptop was in its sleep state. It increased and decreased in brightness like a person breathes in and out of their lungs. That subtle glow told me that there were no problems entering the sleep state. Once every couple of years my laptop (even the 2016 MacBook Pro) will be stubborn and not want to actually go to sleep. Is this problem that only occurs every few years worth building a feature to remedy? Of course not. But the light was there and I appreciated it.

Apple’s modern laptops are svelte, minimalist, and vague similar to the iPhone. One could argue that the iPhone exterior could be more beneficial to the user with lights to indicate power, cellular strength, WiFi strength, and battery availability like the Status Bar. That would be more consistent with Apple’s older laptops. Each of those indicators are solved with software on the iPhone, and I assume Apple’s industrial design team arrived at the same conclusion for laptops: users can learn the state of the laptop by looking at the screen. The problem is laptops and phones are not used or perceived the same way. Phones are much closer to us in the sense that they are always one second away from use. They never go to sleep. They are never shut. Compare this to laptops which We walk away from for hours or days at a time. Laptops remain mysterious with more potential for problems.

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the laptop’s sleek but helpless aesthetic and provide users with bits of information that build trust and confidence. A bunch of lights surrounding the surface may sound tacky, but there is a balance between reassuring and unattractive.

January 20, 2021 Hardware Apple Laptops

Grids

Throughout my career in user interface design I have sought to create balance and harmony through a combination of whitespace, typography, color, and content. One tool I have never fully embraced is the grid. I first began trying in approximately 2010 using GuideGuide, an early Photoshop plugin. With GuideGuide you can enter a few values and a perfect grid appears on your artboard. However, whenever I try to enforce a rigid grid I end up breaking it more often than allowing it to lead.

Elements on the page beg to be placed a few pixels away from a gutter. Text boxes become constrained. It’s frustrating as a designer to ignore something you carefully configured.

The above example from Figma and UI2, their updated design system, is a masterful example of both grid design and implementation. I plan on encouraging my team to think about how new designs can embrace a simple grid.

January 19, 2021 Design Grids Figma

Starting 2021 with a New Home Screen

No, I do not normally show a photo of myself on my home screen

I was inspired by MG Siegler to share my homescreen at the start of this new year. According to Screen Time I look at my home screen around 80 times each day. It should be carefully curated and arranged to ensure I can quickly access the apps and content I’m seeking.

I’ve always strived to minimize the number of apps on my devices. If I stop using an app I delete it. This leads to a strictly simple home screen with just a few apps and folders. Also iOS 14 introduced a couple new features that can help reduce the number of visible app icons:

  1. You can now remove apps from your home screen(s) and access them either by search or the App Library.
  2. Widgets can launch their corresponding apps so you do not need their app icons on the home screen.

Let’s begin.


Widgets

I love experimenting with widgets, and I can’t wait to see what developers build in 2021. Yes, I am aware that Android has had widgets for several years. Android is ugly and buggy. Move on.

Widgets force me to be even pickier about which apps are placed on the home screen. Now I’m down to just 12 (8 if you do not include the dock).

Photos

Seeing random photos from my collection that begins in 2002 when I purchased my first digital camera, a Canon S200, brings me so much joy. Occasionally there will be a photo with a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while, and I’ll immediately send it to them.

Things

Things is my to do list app on iOS, macOS, and iPadOS. I’ve used it on and off for several years with the occasional break to try something new. The widget provides a glimpse of what I need to accomplish soon. I often switch to my work list when I know work-related tasks are piling up.

Fantastical

Fantastical is my calendar app on iOS, macOS, and iPadOS. It provides much more functionality and customization compared to the built-in Calendars app. Seeing what meetings are coming up helps me subconsciously prepare throughout the day.


Apps

Camera

I use the built-in Camera app for taking casual photos of objects and people. When I want to take a serious photo in RAW that I will curate, edit, and share later I launch Halide.

Photos

I use Photos to organize photos as part of a four step process: shot, approved, edited, shared on Instagram, and shared on Unsplash. Photos move from album to album throughout this process.

Clock

Clock isn’t the most exciting app, but I oscillate between a few different alarm times during the week.

1Password

1Password is my password manager on iOS, macOS, and iPadOS. Passwords and online security will be its own post someday. The summary is my passwords are usually 20 characters of letters, numbers, and symbols. Any service that offers two-factor authentication is also configured using 1Password. It is crucial to have quick access to this app to copy and paste passwords and one time codes.

Messenger

Sadly I have an important friend group that includes a few Android phones. They are not interested in Signal, Telegram, etc. Hopefully I can remove this someday and be free of Facebook. Oh wait I still use Instagram. Uh oh.

Slack

Slack is crucial for informal communication. I don’t even check work email on my phone (mostly because of security restrictions).

Overcast

Overcast is my podcast player on iOS (and on macOS using the web app). Someday when I have an M1-powered Mac I’ll be able to run the iOS app on my desk. I prefer Overcast over Apple’s built-in Podcasts app because of its simple design, and features like Smart Speed and Voice Boost which save time and enhance voices. According to Overcast Smart Speed has saved me 391 hours of listening time.

Day One

One of my goals for 2021 is to get my thoughts, concerns, ideas, etc. out of my head. Day One is feature-rich journaling app on iOS, macOS, and iPadOS, and for me it’s perfect for quickly launching and typing whatever is on my mind.


Dock

Tweetbot

Tweetbot is my favorite third party Twitter client, and, most importantly, it has a feature I can’t live without: timeline sync. I’m a Twitter completionist, so it’s important to not lose track of where I am in my timeline. If I read a few Tweets on my iPhone and then open my Mac, I want to keep reading from where I left off. You cannot do this with Twitter’s own apps.

Superhuman

Superhuman is an email app that sits on top of Gmail. It’s available on iOS, macOS, and iPadOS. I like it because it’s extremely fast, and it has a minimalist aesthetic. I don’t want to see all the cruft and buttons and features and flags and whatever else Google decides to launch. Just text.

Safari

For personal web browsing I use Safari on iOS, macOS, and iPadOS. I like how tab syncing is built in to iCloud, and, anecdotally, Safari is faster and more stable than Chrome.

Messages

Obviously Messages is used on iOS, macOS, and iPadOS all day everyday. iMessage is awesome and I’m delighted to see Apple building new functionality for it like replies.


What’s on your home screen?

January 8, 2021 Apple iOS iPhone Apps

Minimalissimo Backpack

I’m a fan of Minimalissimo as a publication, email newsletter, Instagram account, and store. Imagery of minimalist architecture, books, furniture, environments, and products brings me joy.

Minimalissimo recently announced a new backpack:

The most comfortable backpack you’ll ever own. For daily grind and passions. For years to come. This is a collaborative project between Minimalissimo and ODA. This waterproof backpack offers extreme versatility. For work or play, in the city or the countryside, dressed up or dressed down. The minimalist design suits every situation. The approach is simple, the result is utilitarian with a minimalist aesthetic.

This backpack caught my eye as a potential future work bag. It’s simple and thin which is ideal for someone who only carries a laptop to and from work (although I tried a few times to leave my laptop at work in 2019 and it backfired once).

January 7, 2021 Minimalism Cases

Budi Tanrim’s Portfolio Advice

Budi is a designer I’ve admired for a few years now. His advice for building an effective product design portfolio is something I have also told many young designers.

A poor portfolio for product designers is when it only shows the artifacts (e.g. the screen). I’d consider it as a weak portfolio. Because it doesn’t help me to know whether a designer can make a good decision or at least have a good line of thinking. I don’t even know if the outcome help the team achieve the goal or learn something.

It does not matter how beautiful your mockups or screenshots are. I just wonder where they come from, why they exist, what problems they solved, etc.

An okay portfolio describes the problem and the result. I generally encourage people who don’t have enough time to go with this format. I will mostly be interested in this portfolio when I hire a junior-mid level.

This is crucial. Beautiful mockups are a start, but what problem do they solve? Your portfolio and presentation should be a series of problem/solution pairs.

A great portfolio provides context on why this project started. What are the customer problems and business challenges? Then the result of their solution. The approach is a bonus tho, I’m still okay when it doesn’t show a detailed process. Because at this point, I’ll be interested if I see they solve a complex problem before and can articulate it clearly.

Context, context, context. Do not simply give a real estate tour of an interface you designed. Focus on the story. What was the problem, why did you and your team work on this, what did you learn, etc.

January 6, 2021 Portfolio Web Advice

M1 Macs

After reading reviews of the new M1-based MacBook Air, Mac mini, and 13″ MacBook Pro computers, one line stuck out at the very end of John Gruber’s article.

Steve Jobs would have fucking loved these M1 Macs.

I think Gruber is absolutely right.

I recommend listening to 20 Macs for 2020 podcast. There are several audio clips from Apple keynotes with Jobs talking about new products and features on stage. His confidence and enthusiasm are something I think Apple lacks to this day. It’s nice to reminisce about the period when keynotes felt like magic tricks: pulling an iPod nano out of a pocket, sliding a MacBook Air out of a manila envelope, etc.

It’s important to note that the beginning of this years-long process of transitioning from Intel to Apple silicon began with the debut of the Apple-designed A4 processor in the original iPad in 2010. One could argue that bringing the M1 to the Mac is the final Jobs-inspired magic trick.

I need to sell my 2016 MacBook Pro and pick up a new MacBook Air. Immediately.

November 24, 2020 Apple

Simplified Setup

Photo credit: Twelve South

For work I recently swapped my 2015 MacBook Pro for a 2019 Mac mini. As a result of transitioning into management I no longer need to worry about graphics cards and Sketch performance. The Mac mini is small and quiet (just like my new iPhone 12 mini).

Naturally I placed the Mac mini next to my LG 5K monitor. However, I recently observed that my monitor is far too low. A computer user’s eyes should point at the center of a monitor. After attaching my digital camera for proper video conferencing, the monitor was pushed to its lowest height setting. Every time I push it up it slides right back down again. Time for a new desk accessory.

I purchased a Twelve South Curve Riser which provides several benefits:

  • My monitor is now at the correct height
  • There is a compartment for the Mac mini as one can see in the photo
  • There is another compartment for tablets, notebooks, pencils, and smart pencils

Now my monitor is in a good position, the Mac mini is hidden, and I have more desk space.

November 16, 2020 Desk Setup

Dad, Galoob, and the Game Genie

When I reminisce about my Dad I focus on this one story when he was Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Chief Administrative Officer at Lewis Galoob Toys Inc.

In 1990 Galoob announced a product called Game Genie and Nintendo wasn’t thrilled. The product allowed you to hack games with codes that dramatically altered the rules of the game. For example, in Super Mario Brothers you could enter a code that gave you the ability to fly instead of run. Or you could play the entire game with the Raccoon Suit.

Nintendo sued Galoob to try to prevent Game Genie from being released. My Dad represented Galoob in the lawsuit. He successfully argued that Game Genie’s changes were temporary, and did not create a new version of the game which would be copyright infringement.

Judge Smith has now ruled that Game Genie does not create a derivative work and that consumers would not be infringing Nintendo’s copyrights if they used it. And since the consumer is not infringing, Galoob is not contributing to infringement, Mr. Klein said. The judge also lifted the injunction against sales.

After the lawsuit my Dad came home with a box of Game Genies that I could take to school to pass out. I was a hero.

If you ever come to my house I’ll show you my mint Game Genie that is still in the original box. (It’s important to note that this is separate from my Apple museum.) My wife does not understand why I need the box. This might be the most contentious and entertaining part of our marriage.

November 11, 2020 Dad

Halide Mark II

Halide Mark II was released as a follow-up to the best iOS camera app in the App Store: Halide.

Usually a v2 of an app or product comes with some new features and a surprise or two. The Halide team, however, created a 10-part newsletter to demonstrate how to use the app. I love when a team dedicates resources to education and fun. Most teams would settle for in-app screens or perhaps a video. A newsletter that finishes with a shareable artifact is clever and innovative.

I recommend reading the Halide team’s incredibly thorough blog post about Halide Mark II as well.

November 9, 2020 iPhone App Camera

iPhone 12 Thoughts

Before the event I was skeptical that I would be excited by the announcements. My iPhone 11 Pro is perfect. It’s just as fast as it was the day it arrived. The camera is amazing. The battery life doesn’t seem to be degrading. In the days of the iPhone 4 and 4S you saw significant speed jumps year over year. Those days are gone.

iPhone 12

iPhone 12 mini right? Or Pro? No definitely mini. I think…

5G

I was skeptical about 5G. It’s not rolling out nationwide yet (although one could’ve made the same arguments about LTE). Apple is usually late to these transitions too. The original iPhone didn’t have 3G when most phones did. Apple also waited an extra year to add LTE to the iPhone. I recall this being the right decision because coworkers’ LTE-capable Android phones were dead by 2pm.

I rarely leave the house these days. Who cares about 5G? We’ll be stuck at home for another year thanks to COVID. WiFi is what matters. That’s why I need to figure out which WiFi 6 router to purchase. Yes, Eero has one now, but I’d rather throw away all of my Eero products since Amazon owns them. Time to get on the Ubiquity train.

Mini

The big surprise for me was the iPhone 12 mini (it looks like it’s supposed to be a lowercase m” based on Apple’s copy). I suppose it wasn’t a surprise but I don’t trust the rumors (I’m still waiting for that Apple pager rumored in 2001). I’ve wanted a smaller phone for years. I even picked up an iPod touch last year to run with. Typing on a smaller screen is certainly more difficult, but it’s so much lighter in your pocket. In the old days you could actually reach the upper left corner without maneuvering the phone through your hand. Hopefully those days have returned. The question is 12 Pro or 12 mini?

MagSafe

MagSafe, like the breathing sleep light and the hardware battery meter on the old PowerBooks, was a welcome innovation. I’m glad to see its return. However, in typical Cook era fashion, it’s not included! You must purchase a $39 cable in order to take advantage of this new charging feature. Fine. I’ll give in and also purchase the new Watch and Phone charging mat. I suppose this is what the AirPower team was able to come up with.

I’m also excited about the ecosystem of stick-on products that will result from MagSafe coming to the iPhone. I can imagine lots of wallets being retired.

Camera

The Pro vs. mini debate requires a hard look at the camera. Yes, the mini’s wide (read: normal) camera lens has a larger aperture, but you lose the telephoto lens which I use often. I suppose I’ll just need to zoom with my feet.

The mini also misses out on Apple’s no ProRAW functionality. I’ll need to wait and see what this means for Halide which I use whenever I want to take a serious photo.

Display

It’s great to see the Pro’s screen slightly increase in size. The 11 Pro has a 5.8″ inch screen while the 12 Pro has a 6.1″ screen. I honestly can’t imagine going back to a Max. It’s a behemoth now at 6.7“. Transitioning from an 11 Pro to a 12 mini will see a drop from 5.8” to 5.4” in addition to being thinner and lighter.

I’m a bit disappointed to not see 120hz come to the iPhone yet considering its been available on the iPad Pro for a few years now. Next year?

Shape

YES. Hard edges. We’re back to the iPhone 4/5 era also known as the ice cream sandwich” shape. The curved edges are just a bit too slippery. If you read enough books about Apple you’ll learn that the iPhone 4 shape was the goal when the iPhone was first being developed. It just took a few years to get there. As a product designer it’s important to learn that v1 may not be your dream interface. It may take a couple years to get to the vision. Learn to live with this reality.

In the box

Good on Apple for removing the wall plug. Bad on Apple for not including a USB-C plug one time to help the world with the transition to USB-C.

Order

At this point I’m leaning towards a 12 mini with 256gb of storage. If the camera really is comparable to the 11 Pro I should be fine. Right?

October 14, 2020 Apple iPhone