I feel very lucky that I get to work for a company that inspires me.
I think that Google is starting to figure out who it is and what it wants to do, and we’re finally delivering on those visions. Not only are we helping people be productive, we’re augmenting their human potential. Google is building self-driving cars, services that can deliver information to you before you knew you needed it, and a number of efforts that try to make the world a better place (flu trends, tragedy relief information, protection of the open web).
I understand that it can be really difficult to choose where you work. Especially if you’re just starting your career. But at least choose a team that has a vision you agree with. It doesn’t have to be as ambitious as changing the world. It can be as “simple” as aiming to cheer up every customer you serve. Just work for something that gets you excited, that continually astounds you with the things you can and do accomplish. It’s really invigorating to wake up each morning, knowing that each day’s work is building towards something great.
I recently read this Wired article about Hatsune Miku, a Japanese pop star that sells out entire stadiums despite being… a hologram. The entire thing is definitely strange, but this quote stood out to me:
“It’s a good thing” Miku isn’t human, [Amy] said. “She’s not going to die. She’s not going to turn into Miley Cyrus, where she gets drunk or something.”
Back to this quote in a bit.
I respect a lot of people. But sometimes, I get to know a little more about them and uncover their more unsavory traits. It always really depresses me. I find that didn’t respect who they were, but the fictional images I’d made to glue together the small pieces of them I did know. Many times, I would’ve preferred the version of them I conjured in my head. As the saying goes, ignorance is bliss.
I believe that role models are one of the most important types of inspiration. But to have one, and then have him or her turn out to be a sham.. it’s the worst. The benefit of made up characters is that they can’t be corrupted by anything other than our own imaginations. If we want, they can perpetually exist as our inspirational icons.
I replaced my iPhone a couple months ago with a Windows Phone. My entire family uses iMessage on iPhones and iPads, so this is what I wanted:
Use Windows Phone for regular texts and communications
Use old iPhone as an iPod touch to send iMessages to my mother’s iPad
Unfortunately, iPhones don’t let you “unbind” phone numbers as a receiving address. So two main problems emerged:
Messages from iPhones would be routed to my old iPhone, resulting in a lot of missing texts and frustrated moments (“I literally texted her 30 seconds ago… why isn’t she responding”).
If I kept my iPhone off (forcing all messages to be texts), I wouldn’t be able to receive any messages from my parents, who love using iMessage to send me photos and stay in touch (unlike some, I don’t mind this).
As a result, I’ve switched back to my iPhone permanently, and don’t have any plans to switch back, as my entire family is deep in the Apple ecosystem. I don’t see this as Apple being evil or anything, I just want the ability to unbind my phone number as an iMessage recipient address. That’s all.
What if I had sold my iPhone? Does iMessage tie to phone numbers or devices? Is it possible that someone else could have ended up receiving my iMessages?
I always have a lot to blog. I especially want to know what other people are thinking about the same things. But I never get around to it because I feel as though I need to write beautiful, well-reasoned, thoughtful posts. Which to me, means I need to research, edit, proof, etc. Especially since publishing on the web is in permanent ink.
So I’m trying something new.
As soon as a thought comes into my head, I’ll write them down to a small circle of friends in Google+. (This way I can limit my audience)
Bulleted lists are best; no worries about formatting.
At the end of the week, I’ll review my notes and feedback and spend the time to edit one or two of them into well researched and thoughtful posts to be posted publicly.
Final blog posts should be no longer than 3 paragraphs.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to pump out one great post per week. It’s mentally exhausting to carry all these thoughts with me all the time. I need to dump them out as I think of them.
A year ago, a colleague invited me to attend a festival called EDC. Didn’t know anything about it, but just a few hours later, I was in a car to Las Vegas. I spent no more than $150 the entire weekend. A small price to pay for the best three days of my life.
Everyone at EDC Vegas emanates pure joy and good vibes. Although the shows are insane (recorded SHM’s monumental set, below), the festival as a whole— there’s just nothing like it. I’ve been waiting for this weekend for a year. Literally counted the days.
Some crazy person hired me to design their iPhone and Android apps, and today, you can download the first apps I’ve had the privilege of designing. It’s called Venmo, and it’s a handy tool that lets you pay or charge your friends from your smartphone. Settle debts without the fuss, so you can keep on doing what you do. I think you’ll like it.
Of course, there’s always things to improve and features you won’t like. But that’s the beauty of software: we can always fix things. For now, I am incredibly proud of the small, brilliant team that got this done. Kudos to Iqram, Jesse, John, and Matt.
I used to believe that I was designing great products to help people understand technology in ways that can benefit their lives. But recently, I’ve fallen out of love with the tech scene. The webs, they’re full of this stuff:
Bickering about who stole what technology, which person is ‘scumbag of the week’, what company should do what, why this product will never succeed.
People envious of “instant millionaires”: “I’ll create a smart idea, get some engineers on that, sell to Facebook, and cash out”.
Pushing pretty pixels around but not really solving anything.
The whole thing, all of it— is so romanticized and overdramatic, over nothing. I just picture people trying to suck money out of each other, like it’s some limited resource. I can understand the allure of trying to make the next billion-dollar company, but it just seems so petty to me.
When Doug Engelbart introduced the world to the “mouse” in 1962, he dreamt of making us more than just human.
By “augmenting human intellect” we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. … more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble.
To me, advancing our potential is super exciting. What can we accomplish because of technology? We invented a worldwide network that distributes knowledge freely and quickly. We went to the friggin moon and back. We do incredible things! Who knows what we can do in the coming decades? Terraform Mars? (I’m obsessed with space. So much unknown..)
Recently, I’ve been reading up on the history of interaction design, why human factors was developed, in trying to understand where interaction technology is headed. I’m trying to figure out what I can do that’s more than just making money and getting by day to day. Ubiquitous computing and context sensitivity are super interesting areas I’d like to start with, but I don’t think I’ll find an answer soon. And I’m okay with that, because the search is the only thing keeping me attached to technology.
Some people with very inspiring visions:
Luis von Ahn: “I build systems that combine humans and computers to solve large-scale problems that neither can solve alone.”
Chris Harrison: “My research focuses on mobile interaction techniques and input technologies - especially those that allow people to interact with small devices in big ways.”
This is one of the most incredible pieces of software design writing I’ve read in a while. It is incredibly long, but all of it is well-reasoned, cites its research/sources, and provides plenty of examples.
Some highlights, although you should read the piece because Bret Victor is far more eloquent than my sparknotes are:
User interaction is a bottleneck. We have physical and mental limits that prevent us from getting to the goals that we want. Capability of the human eye: instantaneous and effortless movement, high bandwidth and capacity for parallel processing.
Interaction should be used judiciously and sparingly, or we should move towards eliminating its need completely.
Purely interactive software forces the user to make the first move. The user has to learn how to ask, has to learn how to manipulate a machine.
People are trapped in perceiving computers as “machines” – so we design things and tasks for them that way. We have metaphors (GUI, menus, drop-downs, pointers, mice) that were designed for a landscape that existed 20 years ago, and we haven’t progressed since.
The alternative to interactive software is to design context-sensitive graphics, that can take in information about our surroundings and history to present information to us at a glance, or at least predict the information which we would need.
Twenty years and an internet explosion later, software has much more to say, but an inadequate language with which to say it.
On our current UI paradigm:
Our current UI paradigm was invented in a different technological era. The initial Macintosh, for example, had no network, no mass storage, and little inter-program communication. Thus, it knew little of its environment beyond the date and time, and memory was too precious to record significant history. Interaction was all it had, so that’s what its designers used.
I’ll try to follow up with my thoughts after I sleep on this a bit.