Monday August 11, 2014

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.

Standard Controls

Brent Simmons:

The things to concentrate on are what an app does, how it works, how it feels to use it, and how responsive and fast it is — which does not include doing built-from-scratch components except when absolutely necessary.

And it is still necessary at times. I’m not saying it isn’t. I’m saying that the reflexive attitude that tells us that nothing can be standard needs to become something we remember and laugh at, like pet rocks and bell-bottom jeans.

Thursday July 10, 2014

Capo Touch

Capo touch is the iOS version of Capo, an already impressive piece of software on the Mac. That Chris Liscio has squeezed so much power onto an iPhone is nothing short of staggering. The short pitch is that Capo will help you learn to play any song, which is pure magic if you’ve ever tried to transcribe (or just figure out) a song on your own.

My thirteen-year-old self would have killed for this. My present-day self only had to spend $4.99.

Tuesday July 1, 2014

Diddling Your Feeds

I’m the guest on The Talk Show this week, talking about Yosemite’s UI, Google I/O, and wearables.

We also talked a little about my role as editor on the show. My approach to cutting Unprofessional has always been about making the show as listenable as possible. The Talk Show is (to my ear) a little more relaxed in pace, and I’m curious to know if anyone has noticed me subtly punching things up a bit over the last several weeks.

Getting to be involved in the production of one of my favorite shows is a real treat. Being invited as a guest, doubly so.

Tuesday June 17, 2014

Vesper: Year One

John, over on the Vesper Blog:

We’re hard at work on Vesper for Mac, which is where sync is really going to shine. We’ve got a ton of great ideas on the board for Vesper on iOS too.

We’ve only just gotten started.

Oh, and Vesper is currently on sale for $2.99.