Visual Design

May 15, 2011

Moving the blog

The Vanity Experiment is moving to

Small change you won't hardly notice if you're browsing online, but if you're reading this via a RSS reader, you'll want to go change the feed address to this: feed://

Why the change? I've been using Movable Type version old.OLD since about 2004, so I decided to get with the times. Bring on Wordpress (which is now running my entire site).

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October 09, 2009

We're still too fluffy

OZ-IA is an information architecture conference held here in Sydney annually. I presented this year on a topic which has occupied me the past few years: Selling user experience design and the value of design thinking to business.

The thrust of the presentation goes like this:

  1. We, as a profession, have largely failed to make great product experiences.
  2. There are certain people that matter in the world of design, and it's not designers. It's the people who pay to have things built
  3. Communicating the value of design to people who pay to have things made needs to be better done by the industry. They call this "Selling" and we can learn it from traditional salesmen.

Posted by Ant at 09:19 PM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2008

UX Dreamteam Part 2

The second part of the article I've been chewing on for the past while is now up on Boxes and Arrows.

Building the UX Dreamteam - Part 2

In this second part of a two-part series, UX manager Anthony Colfelt follows up with some solid considerations when looking for your next superstar. Building a dreamteam goes beyond looking for tight technical skills: personal chemistry is needed to find that perfect match.

Posted by Ant at 04:42 AM | Comments (0)

June 05, 2008

Information Visualisation Library

Christian Behrens has done a very nice thesis on Information Visualisation and put the bulk of his findings into a pattern library website. If you like Tufte, better sit down. This site one made me come over all funny.

Posted by Ant at 10:34 PM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2007

Visual Design Inspiration - Fluid

It's been so long since a portfolio site left me totally blown away and inspired. Remon Tijssen's site Fluid makes for great perusing and playing (because the interaction is lovely too). Take a look to kill some time or to be reminded of how design ought to look. This guy has exceptional range and flawless execution. Wow!

Posted by Ant at 09:33 PM | Comments (0)

November 29, 2007

Building the UX Dreamteam

After much writing and re-writing, the first part of an article I wrote called "Building the UX Dreamteam" is now up on Boxes and Arrows. Boy, who would've thought that putting together your thoughts could be so hard? I'm very happy that I had good editors, in particular, Chris Palle who really directed me how to cut this article into shape - Thanks mate.

"Finding the right person to compliment your User Experience team is part art and part luck. Though good interviewing can limit the risk of a bad hire, you need to carefully analyze your current organizational context, before you can know what you need. Herein lies the art. Since you can’t truly know a candidate from an interview, you gamble that their personality and skills are what they seem. Aimed at managers and those involved in the hiring decision process, this article looks at the facets of UX staff and offers ways to identify the skills and influence that will tune your team to deliver winning results."

Posted by Ant at 06:16 PM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2007

Web Typeface Comparator

One of the challenges of designing nice web pages is finding a font that works well at all sizes and on all platforms and fits well with the face you use in your branding materials.

With Vista on the rise, this issue won't be nearly the hassle it is now and has been with PCs and older macs (much older) rendering screen type as aliased text. "Aliased" means that when you look closely, angled lines in your letterforms look blocky with "staircase" edges.

The solution to this problem is a system that anti-aliases the text (i.e. it blurs the stair-steps a little, to soften the jagged edges). Microsoft's Vista and Apple's OSX do this. But most people aren't on Vista yet, so the problem of the 'jaggies' still exists for a great number of designers.

Some typefaces hold up better when aliased than others. The ARIAL face was in fact designed for use with aliased systems. Some look OK big but look horrible small. It can be a pain to work out which will look best at what size. But my good man Dak Elliott whom works for me here at has found a great little tool to make this easier. It's called the TypeTester and allows you to look at fonts side by side to see how they'll render out. The catch is, if you aren't running the operating system where the jaggies taunt you, you won't see how the typefaces look because this is essentially just an html text generator. Still, its handy to be able to pull this up and take a look at what your typeface selection options are broken down into operating systems etc.

Posted by Ant at 09:32 AM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2006

3d Painted rooms

This is way cool...

Posted by Ant at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

June 03, 2005

Colorblindness Simulator

I have blogged this before, but was reminded that it got gobbled by the Ghoulnet crash monster. Vischeck is a colorblindness simulator that should leave designers no excuse for using colors which can't be differentiated by 10% of the Male population.

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March 21, 2005

Post-modernism in branding and ethics - Capitalism attempting socialism?

The market derserves respect. The Cluetrain Manifesto may have picked up on this idea and run with it, but has anything happened to make companies change their ways? People are still banging on about user experience dictating brand success (personally I think this is a good thing) but it isn't going to gain ground so long as companies are profitable by being mediocre and bullying the customer into paying them.

Removing the wall between customer and staff is happening, albeit slowly. There's pockets of evidence, glinting like silvery mirages (and in the form of blogs, no less). I read an article about a firm who's training their staff to write blogs. The catch is, they're a PR firm, which raises suspicion that perhaps they're on the cusp of someting scary - PR folk planted into companies as bloggers.

I know that by working for a public company, I'd dare not mention anything which could reflect negatively on it, lest it affect share prices. That's why you'll never see me identify who I work for here. The risks of being too honest are well known. I wonder, are we going to see a time where all staff (especially those who blog) are trained in PR? Will the 'company line' be drummed into us all in a way which essentially forces us to act as their mouthpeice? Or will PR blogging double agents essentially erode trust in the other company blogger's word?

But these are symptomatic issues that don't address the core. Globalisation points to the problem but not because of NOLOGO fabled exploitation. Its about sheer market size. In direct marketing circles, there is a principle that essentially says "You don't have to be very successful, just successful enough". Even if 1% of 1000 people you approach buy your $20 product, you've made $200... So when you're talking about a global population of around 6.4 billion, (maybe a third of which can afford to buy anything) the scattergun marketing approach becomes very successful.

This in itself isn't that disturbing, we're pretty used to spam nowadays and are developing ways to effectively cope with it. But what happens when your whole approach to your product follows the guiding principles of scattergun marketing? Your product doesn't have to be that great for the company to survive. Its bought by pretty low percentages, but on a large scale it reaps rewards. We can see this in many big companies in the USA (software being a poignant example).

And so, we head toward the world depicted in Bladerunner where advertising bombards our senses from every perspective and society is strung loosely from sale to sale. Replicants live inside the companies, programmed to spout whatever their creators have deemed the market should think... and few people buy the cruddy products, but that doesn't matter, because few is enough.

Respect for the customer will never be something that all companies have. The Cluetrain Manifesto contains a grand and righteous mantra, but so does communism. Humans are ultimately designed to serve themselves and can't be trusted to just 'do the right thing' without an incentive. Companies, as a colony of humans, are here to make money and they won't treat customers with respect if it affects the bottom line. The company also won't allow the staff to talk freely in public forums if it affects the bottom line. We live in a capitalist (aka self-serving) society. Bless all ye who sail in her mediocrity.

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January 06, 2004

Graphic Design Books

I was putting together a reading list yesterday, of good books on the fundamentals of Graphic Design for a User Experience 'faucet of knowledge' for the design team here at 'The Corporation'. Here's what I compiled with help from Miss Caroline Smith, a fellow reprobate and pretender.

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November 17, 2003

Visualising Information

Links to Information Visualisation things from Stamford university and Cybergeography's equivalent. This site also has lots of lush topics like 'Network Topology Maps' and 'Global Internet Diffusion'... ooer, don't that sound fancy?

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October 25, 2003

Nice Image Retrospective

I can't read a word of it, but this guy's blog has got some luscious images from yesteryear on it.

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October 22, 2003

ForUSE – Debate: Patterns or Process – Constantine and Lockwood

Debate: Patterns or Process? What works for Usage Centred Design? Lucy Lockwood (process) vs Larry Constantine (patterns).

Patterns are a way to capture the wisdom of many years of design experience. They help to expand and extend the awareness of the experienced designer and aid to save the inexperienced designer. Or are they just a poor, inefficient substitute for well implemented process.

For Patterns Larry Constantine
A pattern is an idea that is useful in one practical context and probably be useful in others. Patterns describe repeated problems along with effective solutions in a standardised useful form. Variations may included name, description of problem, applicability of pattern, solutions, consequences results. Some are just Thou Shalts... or shalt nots.

Welie patterns are some well known and often used patterns. They are a bit "Like, duh" though. Patterns can be from ways to display tables with alternating colours in the rows, to the metaphor of a shopping cart. Good patterns through, capture best practices gained through experience. Patterns describe simple and elegant solutions to problems and capture solutions that have developed and evolved over time. hence they aren't the designs people tend to generate initially,. they reflect untold redesign, as developers have struggled design patterns capture these solutions in a succinct and easily applied form. Design Patterns Addison-Wesley, 1995

Best practice patterns should be Non obvious or even counter intuitive. Broad but specific application. Clearly spell out problem to be solved. Clearly articulate solution and tradeoffs. Exemplify best practices. Basically they are the subtleties within the obvious patterns. The should be based on substantial substantiated patterns.

Against Patterns Lucy Lockwood.
UI design is still at the arts and crafts stage. Early civil engineering and architecture was mostly learned by apprenticeship. They copied what they had seen that worked. Very limited number of 3rd degree wizards. The development of engineering principles and processes allowed for expansion of engineering corps. There is no one size fits all yet, because there just isn't the depth of knowledge to be able to say "This worked here in exactly this situation, so it will work here". Patterns still rely on the '3rd degree wizard' to be able to make best practice. Process allows those who aren't '3rd degree wizards' to work within a framework to achieve best practice.

Practicing designers need help recognising problems and poor design... concrete principles, not cognitive psychology. They need direction for improvements, practical guidance, not canned solutions. There is no such thing as "UI standards". Patterns also only cover 10 - 20% of problems. they are often misapplied. The DO NOT support creativity or innovation.

Who Captures and maintains patterns? A company wants designers to design, not waste time capturing and maintaining patterns and they won't pay for a designer to do this. How do we decide what's a good pattern. It's totally subjective. How do we know that the pattern we have is the best pattern that can be trusted? If a pattern written to be timeless it is too abstract and vague. Description is so general that it doesn't offer specific guidance. Patterns are too tied to current technology and fashion or a particular context.

Where do you find patterns? How do you know which pattern you need? They assume that the designer has analysed the problem well enough to choose a suitable pattern. Patterns can compound a problem that wasn't adequately solved in the inception of the pattern.

[Thought: Competitor analysis is really about gathering patterns...]

Five general rules of usability that patterns are trying to achieve....
Access: make the system usable without help of of instruction.
Efficacy: Don't interfere with those who know it already.
Progression: Facilitate knowledge advancement
Support: Support the real work users are trying to accomplish.
Context: Suit the system to conditions and environment.
Basic Usability principles: Visibility, Feedback, Structure (layout dictated by meaning and use), Reuse (use interface components and behaviors consistently), Tolerance (forgive mistakes), Simplicity.

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October 16, 2003

Visual Style History

Lovely pictorial history of visual style using a case study in H.G. Wells War of the Worlds book covers from 1895 - present day.

Thanks to Gideon Bullock for sending me this one.

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October 08, 2003

An analysis of hated typefaces

Reviled fonts justified on Joe Clark's site. Thanks to Priya Prakash for rooting out this one...

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October 01, 2003

Trend toward Aesthetics? Nah...

Review on Boxes and Arrows about The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness

"Postrel points out that “'form follows emotion' has supplanted 'form follows function'.” How else do you explain the success of the iMac, Volkswagen Beetle, and the Michael Graves Toaster at Target?"

Sorry, this is just rubbish. Of course form still follows function. If the iMac, Volkswagen Beetle etc didn't function exceptionally well, they'd have been a flop.

The notion that people value aesthetics more now than they did then is a misnomer. People can afford aesthetics now, where before this was a luxury. As the population becomes more affluent and companies cotton on to the fact that people have always wanted aesthetics, goods become cheaper and more aesthetic.

People in poorer countries (or westerners earlier this century) couldn't care less about aesthetics. If something works, and they can afford it, then that's enough for them. If aesthetic goods were cheap enough, they'd have those instead, because the desire for beauty and individuality is something that runs deeper than trend. It roots in the way humans value themselves. This isn't transient, in my opinion.

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September 29, 2003

Colour Scheme Generator

This Colour Scheme Generator, is way cool. Thanks to Dan at City of Sound for blogging this one.

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September 26, 2003

Links a plenty


Ooer! Wired article "The SenSay cellular phone, still in prototype stage, keeps tabs on e-mails sent, phone calls made and the user's location. The phone also adapts to the user's environment."

RFID more privacy and identity issues here... Radio Frequency Identification - tag items with a radio chip the size of a pin head.

IA, ID & Graphic Design

Useful IA and Design Resources for sorting out work practices and process.

Deciding which usability test method to use. Nice overview of different usability methods

Found Gold on colour theory and international interpretations of it in design. Colour Matters, Symbolism of Color in different cultures. Also, Colorcom colour consultants.


The trouble with out of the Box thinking article on Ubiquity magazine site.


Grays Anatomy Online. I always loved the book, now it's online.
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