Posts tagged ‘Design’

Graphic Designer … when it’s called for

the Stratux logo

the Stratux logo

I like working in design teams for two reasons. First, collaboration will provide better results than working in a vacuum. Second, we can call upon our collective strengths.

I’m not a great visual designer. I usually describe myself as “graduating with a 3rd grade art degree in crayon” … and I hope I’ve not offended any 3rd grade prodigies.

In a pinch, I can manage but there are far more talented people than me when it comes to artistic style and tenor.

So, without immediate access to a better option, the logo for the Stratux project fell to me. It gets used for the slash screen, desktop icon, and it’s even been used in a couple of the 3D printed cases.

I think it’s holding up well.

Designing a better measuring cup

Great design isn’t always about grand things but it is always about the end user.

a 'squeeze to measure' bottle
a 'squeeze to measure' bottle

Consider this design – an integrated measure for chemicals. This commercial sanitizer is used at a ratio of 1oz per 5 gallons. While some containers have devised a measuring cup using the cap, this bottle had an alternate solution – a measured cup built into the bottle, fed from a small filler tube, also integrated into the bottle from the bottom.

To measure 1oz, the user simply opens the cap on the measuring side and squeezes the bottle. The result is internal pressure in the bottle which pushes sanitizer up the tub and into the measure. Then the user pours the pre-measured liquid.

The measuring “cup” has graduations for smaller amount too.

Hire a Renaissance Designer

vitruvian_manIn a utopia, there would be a person for every job and a job for every person. We don’t live in a utopia. Whether you are a startup or a global corporation, the odds are good you can’t afford to have every role silo’d. It’s just too expensive – either in dollars or time (or both).

A Renaissance Designer brings a mix of skills to the task of delivering a great product. They should poses a solid foundation in their own discipline of design – user research, ideation, sketching, user testing, mockups, etc. They should also possess at least rudimentary skills typically bestowed on the team segments they work with. It’s true, whether we are talking industrial design, print media, or software design.

An industrial designer should understand the manufacturing process for materials – how plastic flows, how strong it is, the limitations of a carbon fiber layup, or the methods of combining fiberglass with metal.

A visual design working for a print media company should understand the side effects of the print process, bleed, and the limitations of scaling.

A software designer should understand the fundamentals of the UI framework, the constructs of HTML & CSS, or be familiar with the platform UI interfaces.

A Renaissance Designer is more adept at working side by side with their engineering and technical brethren. When there is a relatively seamless collaboration between designer and technician, they are able to more quickly develop a concept, test it with end users, iterate it, refine it, and productize it.

Using a web application example, the UX Designer creates a mockup of an idea and tests it with end users and then conveys the mockup to a developer to codify. There are clear boundaries. A Renaissance Designer may create an interactive mockup or ask a developer to create a rough prototype; then apply all of the necessary CSS to visually match the design. The result is a more seamless transition – a blurring of the lines – between the design tasks and the development tasks.

It seems intuitive but often, companies over delineate roles. This slows progress, establishes an “us vs. them” environment, and results in less design reaching the end user.

Can’t find a Renaissance Designer? No problem. Look for is a Designer who is curious to learn. The range and depth of skills they need is easily attained as projects and tasks evolve. You get an invaluable asset and they get a nearly endless dose of fresh challenges.

Developing trust requires empathy for the user

image by truefreestyle

I was recently asked to help out on a new software project related to security. I was told the problem was that “users don’t understand.” I guessed that wasn’t the real issue.

One message the team heard consistently was, “Why is this a ‘risk event’ and not that?” When we dug into the underlying feelings behind the users’ comments we learned they wanted more confidence that the software was doing the right thing but initially they just didn’t trust it.

How do we instill trust in the end user? On this project, the deployment team gets the system up and running and then spends a large portion of their time explaining what is happening behind the scenes.

Why not incorporate the explanations directly into the software? Historically, the software was like the Wizard of Oz, “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” – in other words, the team designed and delivered a user experience that was deliberately and impenetrably opaque.

The researchers and developers on the projects are  incredibly smart and they have invested thousands of hours to create intelligent algorithms, so it’s no wonder they repeated say, “We want all of this to be automatic”.

Automation is good, but only once the user trusts it.

A historically similar situation is spam filtering. In the beginning, spam filters had a habit of false positives and frequent misses. They eventually got better – but never perfect. Two factors made the filters better; one was better algorithms and the other was giving the user some control to mark things as spam and not-spam.

For this project, my advice was to expose some of the software intelligence. Let the user understand why the algorithms identified a risk or why it has dismissed it. Let the user contribute their own assessments by promoting/demoting a risk event. Finally, let the user hide it all when they are not interested – like when they start to trust the system !

POH Kneeboard 2.0

New POH Kneeboard with write-on surface
New POH Kneeboard with write-on surface

A little less than two years ago, I wrote about creating a combination pilot operations handbook (POH) and kneeboard.

One aspect of the implementation bothered me from the very start – the metal front and back covers could be hazardous in an accident. The military use a polyethylene plastic material which is somewhat flexible and less likely to injure.

A separate problem surfaced when I used the kneeboard – my scratch paper would move around and curl. A fellow pilot had described using an arm band – like [US] football quarterbacks use – and a grease pencil.

I decided I’d address both issues with an update to the kneeboard.

The flexible translucent PE plastic is 1/16″ thick. It has a smooth side and a slightly textured side. Normally the smooth side would be considered back. Since I plan to write directly on the cover, I used the smooth side as the face. This makes it easy to wipe it clean.

Garmin understands amateur aircraft builders

For anyone who has worked with Garmin’s prior generation of aircraft avionics, they are all too aware of the challenges of wiring high density D-Sub pin connectors, threading back-shells, and conforming to old standards. So I keep being amazed by the small changes Garmin has made with their latest generation of avionics targeting the amateur home built aircraft community.

I’m very grateful for the switch to standard D-Sub pins and the open top connectors makes the assembly much easier. And here is another example of Garmin thinking like a builder rather than an engineer – mounts which can be switched from the ends to the sides of their new remote mounted radio.

When building a kit plane, everything is up to the builder and this means every airplane is a bit different with hundreds of decisions.

In my RV-8, finding a location for the remote radio was becoming a challenge of compromises. I finally located a suitable space but the radio mounting tabs were in the wrong place to make it work. I was about to concede and build new mounting tabs but when I removed the factory tabs I discovered Garmin had anticipated my need!

With the factory installed mounting tabs at each end of the radio, it can be mounted horizontally or vertically with ease. In my case, the problem was that I needed to mount it across between the RV-8’s forward baggage bulkhead and the Z-brace. Ideally, I wanted those tabs to be on the sides of the radio rather than the ends. Thankfully, Garmin attached the mounting tabs with screws. When I unscrewed the tabs I was delighted to see that Garmin had designed the tabs’ screw locations and the radio’s screw holes (two extra ones hidden under the tabs in their original locations) to rotate 90 degrees and re-attach! All I had to do was unscrew the tabs, turn them 90 degrees and there were nut plates already installed for the alternate orientation.

Garmin had designed the radio to give the builder multiple choices for how to install their radio.

This truly is an example of designing for their end user!

GTR-20 with adjustable mounting rails
GTR-20 with adjustable mounting rails