ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

The Age of Designer’s Revenge

8/16/2011 6:33:25 PM

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Photo by Dan DeLuca

Back in 2004, when Transvaal Aquapark collapsed in Moscow, I remember reading a very long rant by some structural engineer about what she thought was a global root of the problem. I couldn’t find that post right now, but I remember the point of it vividly.

In USSR no one really cared how buildings looked. It was important that they don’t collapse and primitively serve their purpose. Structural engineering was way above than architecture in the ranks. Architects were sort of oppressed by engineers.

Sounds familiar?

Then Soviet Union collapsed and suddenly everyone wanted their buildings to be pretty. The balance between architects and structural engineers switched. And architects held a grudge from being abused and disregarded for all these years. So they started oppressing and disregarding engineers. The point of that lady was that it got to the point where engineers had no say in what makes sense and what doesn’t, which eventually led to tragedy.

If we take a look at software engineering, it’s difficult not to see the parallels with soviet structure engineering. Programmers “oppressed” designers for decades. In engineering driven companies like Google or Microsoft this is probably still the case. Listen to this episode of “This Developer’s Life” where Microsoft’s designer Michael Bach complains about this still being the case and mentions the Douglas Bowman’s post (linked above) about Google. But look at Windows Phone and you will see that the situation is changing.

This post was inspired by this tweet by Aral Balkan.

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Aral is a well known user experience designer and speaker from UK. His talks are really inspirational and very well presented (even if a true geeky developer could argue that he is selling common sense ;).

Immediately after seeing this tweet I’ve remembered that architecture/engineering rant from 7 years ago. If you’ve never lived in USSR you’ve probably never seen this transformation. But worst type of tyrant is someone who was oppressed before and is holding a grudge. Or is this the only possible type?

So we’ve oppressed designers for decades. Some of them are definitely holding a grudge. And it seems that now is their turn to rule. Hopefully it won’t result in any global tragedies, but we, developers, should prepare to be abused. Or, you know … switch to user experience design.

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ToMetric – UX oriented unit converter for Windows Phone

5/13/2011 2:43:47 PM

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I’ve released a new little app for Windows Phone. What it does is converts various values in US units into metric values understood by the rest of the world (well, almost).

Why another unit converter?

There are lots of unit converters in the marketplace already. Most of them convert from/to more unit types than my app does. The problem with all of  them is in the user experience. Here are some of the screenshots taken at random from the list linked above.

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Most of them (all?) have slightly different UIs but follow the same flow: select type/category of units (length, weight, etc.), select “from” units in that category, select “to” units in that category, enter value … profit. Some go a little bit further and don’t ask you for the “to” units but convert the value to all possible units in that category.

Really? Do you really care that 5 oz. is 1.417×10^(-4) t.? Or do you like navigating through menus, making 7 taps just to find out how many is that in grams (the most logical metric equivalent for that value)? And if you are, say, European, how often do you want to convert something from metric units as opposed to to metric?

Honestly looking the results up on Wolfram Alpha would take less time than using an app like that. And I thought the selling point of native apps was user experience.

So that, combined with the fact that I had the core functionality already developed for this web app/IE accelerator (yes, talk about power of Silverlight on the phone and .NET code reuse), led to the creation of this simple app that let’s you do the trick up to 10 times faster than most of the advanced unit converters in the market.

And when it can’t help you it let’s you quickly look up the answer on the internet.

And yes, it’s one way only. And it’s on purpose. Another app for my American friends is coming.

Check out this video comparing how most of the conventional unit converters work with ToMetric

Like this? Download ToMetric for Windows Phone. It’s free.

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