Friday August 29, 2014


While I put the finishing touches on my first real episode (due any day now, I swear), I’m also working with Patreon to allow you, the viewer, to get in on the production of the show. Episodes will be sponsored in the standard podcast-y sort of way, but this means that the audience gets a vote in things too.

Patreon offers subscriptions, meaning that you pay a dollar (or whatever) per episode I release. Pretty simple, right? Your direct support means I can rely less on sponsorship, and avoid native YouTube ads entirely. I hope.

Do You Think You're Alright?

The 100th episode of Unprofessional, and the last for a while. There was really only one guest we would even accept to close out this run, and thankfully his parents gave him permission. You really don’t want to miss this one.

Tuesday August 12, 2014

Customer Service Like a Human Being

Karma support person Dave Ford on how to handle customer service:

Use a customer’s message for clues on how to spice up your response. This way, they feel as if they are truly having a conversation with someone who cares about them, which they are. It makes it very personal. For example: If a customer mentions Seattle, say “Go Seahawks!” If they mention they are going on a trip, talk to them about it, relate, wish them a good time.

tl;dr: Love your customers and don’t be a dick.

(Related: my own support guidelines.)

Monday August 11, 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge

Vesper 2.002

Brent Simmons on the version of Vesper:

Vesper 2.002 adds a new feature — when you’re viewing a single note, tap at the bottom of the screen to see the date it was created. Tap again to see the modification date. Tap again to character or word count.

John Gruber:

These were all oft-requested features — some people were asking for modified/creation dates, some for word count, some wanted both — but I was reluctant to add them, because it seemed like it would add a lot of visual clutter to include all these things, and didn’t seem right to add just one of them.

We see timestamps and word counts as a power user feature. They don’t need prominence or dedicated buttons. This doesn’t need to be the pinnacle of discoverability. This is a feature placed, invisibly, at the bottom of the screen. Not every feature is the most important feature; there’s a wide gradient between tentpole and easter egg. I really like how it turned out.

Friday August 8, 2014

• Video Tools

Now that Better Elevation is on YouTube, I thought I’d share a list of the tools I’m using to do video production.




Thursday August 7, 2014

Better Elevation on YouTube

My friend Mark Kawano recently suggested that I do a design podcast. After all, other than Iterate, nobody is really doing one. But I couldn’t think of a way to fill a weekly podcast that wasn’t just more dudes talking about computers, and I felt weird trying to talk about visual and interaction design in an audio-only medium. Then I had another idea…

I’m a huge fan of Crash Course, Cinema Sins, AsapSCIENCE, CGP Grey, and a whole host of other YouTube channels. In the same way that The Talk Show made me want to start a podcast, these shows make me want to get in front of a camera. Video content is a lot more work than podcasting, but I’m excited to try something new. I have big things planned.

(It wouldn’t be YouTube if I didn’t tell you to like the video and subscribe to the channel.)

Tuesday August 5, 2014

• The Colour and the Shape: Custom Fonts in System UI

The device-becomes-the-app nature of iOS is an interesting visual design playground. As a designer, you control every color and shape on the screen with no need to worry about how it will look next to any other app. When the user is in your app, you own the screen.

…Except for the status bar — that’s Helvetica Neue. And share sheets. And Alerts. And in action sheets. Oh, and in the swipe-the-cell UI in iOS 8. In fact any stock UI with text baked in is pretty much going to use Helvetica Neue in red, black, and blue. Hope you like it.

Maybe this is about consistency of experience. Perhaps Apple thinks that people with bad taste will use an unreadable custom font in a UIAlert and confuse users. Well yeah, of course they will. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Tasteless developers are already making terrible-looking apps. What we’re doing now is forcing good developers to make watered-down apps.

Open up Overcast and marvel at the beautiful Concourse. The entire UI is built around it, and the results are beautifully utilitarian. Concourse and orange are almost the entirety of Overcast’s branding, and because color and typography are used so effectively, the voice comes through clearly. Until you tap on the share button and and get slapped in the face with a wall of Helvetica Neue. “Cancel” indeed.

Similarly, Ideal Sans is the heart of Vesper. Hoefler & Co have made one of my favorite typefaces ever. It’s a thrill to design for it and to watch the text come to life. Then I go to delete a note and I’m heartbroken to watch Helvetica Neue slide up my screen in candy-shell shades of red and blue. As the designer, it steals control from me. As a user, it interrupts my experience. And worse, for no reason.

Brent Simmons touches on this:

Though we need to work efficiently, design still matters, and Vesper is designed around typography. We’re not even going to think for one second about dropping the embedded font.

But that leads to this dilemma: do we switch to the standard controls that don’t let us use our font, or do we stick with our custom controls?

Our choices are to either give in to Apple’s design or spend time and resources re-implementing the wheel just to keep our design consistent. This is a horrible position to be in, and still doesn’t account for share sheets, which aren’t even possible to roll ourselves.

Sometimes the difference is less stark. Glassboard uses Atlas Grotesk, which is visually similar enough to Helvetica that most people won’t spot the differences right away. Glassboard also features vibrant colors, so Apple’s stock buttons don’t stand out as much. But this is the exception that proves the rule; app designers should be allowed to stray from Apple’s visual design choices without a systemic punishment built into the APIs. Glassboard gets a pass for not straying too far.

On OS X, it’s fair to say that the system font is the better choice for UI. Preference windows in Ideal Sans would look silly and out of place. Not just for consistency between windows, but for the sake of tradition. You can do whatever you like with the content but a Mac app is a Mac app. It needs to feel like and coexist with other Mac apps.

When Apple gave us the ability to embed custom fonts into apps with iOS, the implicit promise was that we’d be able to create immersive or at least immersively opinionated interfaces. To force Helvetica Neue into the equation with predetermined colors doesn’t mean experiential consistency, it means that designers are forced to either accept that parts of their interface are going to look weird, or back down and design around Apple’s choices. Neither is a winning formula.

That this is even a problem post-Retina is doubly perplexing. Retina screens have once again placed typography at the forefront of design, allowing us to breathe life into words themselves as imagery. It’s a damn shame we’re not given more room to do so.

Apple should give developers the ability to use embedded custom fonts in alerts, share sheets, action sheets, under-the-cell buttons, and so on. There’s no technical reason not to, and every philosophical reason why they should. If the concern is consistency, the right thing to do is set expectations and guidelines in the HIG, and enforce them in app review.

Monday August 4, 2014

Powercycle the Universe

Me and Rene Ritchie go deep on season 5 of Doctor Who. Sponsored by our friends at Backblaze.

The Petting Zoo

This week’s guest on Unprofessional is Dean Sabatino, drummer for The Dead Milkmen and fan of the show. Everything about that last sentence is a little surreal.

Thursday July 24, 2014


A three-day, 150-person conference in Philly, October 24-26. A great lineup of speakers, including yours truly and Brent Simmons talking about how we leverage the community to help us build Vesper.

CocoaLove is focused on the people rather than the technology, a trend I’m thrilled to see carried on from Çingleton and Úll. This promises to be a good one.

Wednesday July 16, 2014


A new iPhone app from Marco Arment, Overcast is the podcast app that makes me listen to podcasts. Marco has excellent taste; nothing here feels over-baked. From the minimalism of Overcast’s UI to its reliance on color and typography for branding (Concourse, by the way, is a perfect choice), this feels like home to me.

(And a writeup from Marco himself.)

Tuesday July 15, 2014

Emoji Among Us

Monday July 14, 2014

The Dogist

“Can I take a picture of your dog?”

Friday July 11, 2014

“An Absolute Requirement”

Marco Arment, when linking to the previous item:

Apps with full-time designers can turn out amazingly, but a designer is no longer an absolute requirement to make a good-looking app. And that’s better for everyone: small developers can ship more apps, faster, for less money, and designers can focus on more interesting problems than making your table cells look passable.

Emphasis mine.

I agree with Marco, but his phrasing is dangerous, and conflates ‘design’ with how it looks. You no longer need to hire a visual designer to make an app look at home on iOS 7, true, but interaction design is still very much design. Marco covers this base in the second half of the quote, but I worry that developers will focus on the first half as encouragement (or, if I’m being cynical, an excuse) to do everything themselves. Especially when the suggestion is coming from Marco Arment, a popular developer with extraordinary interaction design chops.

Design is how it works. If you were only hiring a designer to make your app pretty, you were already focused on the wrong problem.