John Gruber is trashing the new Twitter: http://daringfireball.net/2011/12/new_twitter
Here is what I think: I used it for a day now and I see some clear of improvements in the information design (on the Web, for instance: no more multiple scrollable regions inside the page, a clearer left to right orientation, less navigational blocks), and a couple of dubious moves, too (an uneconomic amount of lines, boxes and boxes in boxes, f.ex.). But these are details, compared to a more serious issue that Gruber points out when comparing the new mobile app to Tweetie:
"Tweetie presented three main things:
1. The main timeline, showing the tweets of those people you follow.
2. Replies/mentions, showing tweets where you are mentioned or addressed.
3. Direct messages, showing private messages in a IM-style threaded views.
That’s what Tweetie presented you with, and that, to me, is what Twitter is all about. The app fit my mental model of the service."
I don't consider Gruber infallible when it comes to IA or UID—I think you need practical experience to be able to tell people what they should do or leave, but maybe that's just me—, but he nailed it there. Twitter looks like a 1:1 image of the content model (how Twitter is seen from within Twitter), almost completely ignoring the mental model (how Twitter is seen from the user side).
IA, what is it good for?
There are a couple of tech hipsters who poke fun at whoever still uses the obsolete term "Information Architect." They take the super sexy anti-IA stand. Fair enough. But no matter whether you think that "IA is so 2000" or whether you called yourself IA when no one knew what it meant (including yourself), information architecture is where most apps and websites still fail at their core.
The basic goal of an information architect is making sure that the idea of a digital product works. An idea works if what it wants to convey is understood. It's usually not that complicated, really, but in practice there are only very few companies that allow their IAs to work for real. There are many methods and ways to do and to describe what IAs do, I usually take this very simple basic model to explain it to customers:
1. You have the content model on one side: The content model is what you have.
2. And you have the mental model on the other side: That's what the user thinks you offer or should offer.
In the process of defining the information architecture you usually need to make cuts on both sides. You need to cut the irrelevant parts of your offer and you need to cut away superfluous elements on the side of user expectations. Both things are hard. Telling users: "No bread for you" is as hard as telling the marketing department that they cannot rape the interface to force their needs in every pixel of screen property. Dealing with nerds that don't see their special needs mirrored and let them go somewhere else is as tough as telling the CEO that he won't win if he does "everything his competitors does plus more."
The ultimate sophistication is Information Architecture is when you can exceed user expectations not by adding more content, functions and features, but by giving everybody more response for less input. And that's why in interface design less is (even) more (than usual).
What do I suggest?
While I applaud Twitter for having the balls to continue to try new things, they need to simplify the IA. Like I said, it's not that hard. After all, they have some of the most talented designers working for them. My suggestion is: Don't schedule a million workshops. Take Gruber's advice.
"1. The main timeline, showing the tweets of those people you follow.
2. Replies/mentions, showing tweets where you are mentioned or addressed.
3. Direct messages, showing private messages in a IM-style threaded views."
The problem I can see from outside is that the management set requirements that were impossible to solve.
Disclaimer: I know some of the designers personally, but rest assured that what I am about to say is solely my speculation. They have been ultimately professional in not sharing the slightest bit of insider information. One more thing for you,@jack and @ev, if you read this: Please be reassured that I wrote this with the best intentions. Even though I happen to puff a couple of ugly cigars here on G+, I still hate and love Twitter as much as I still love and hate those damned cigarettes. :)
It's innovation and care for details. iA Writer is the first cross plattform integration of iCloud. As pointed out by some users, we're now even ahead of Apple in terms of iCloud integration. Since we launched the new version, our downloads are skyrocketing. And that without being featured yet. Which is extremely rare. On launch day alone, iA Writer for iPad has been downloaded 29,000 times. And given that it's iOS5 only that's a surprising number.
In the chart below you can see the comparison between lowering the Price from 9 to 5 Dollars (7/11) and raising the price back to 9 while upgrading Writer with iCloud (29/11).
While it's easy to get a bump by lowering the price the effect will wear out quickly and you'll make the same revenue for a short period of time and then, as sales even out with previous sales quickly (I wrote about that a couple of days ago) you'll make half of the revenue.
The best way to sell your app is creating something useful that no one has done before and that is hard to copy. In other words, there are no cheap tricks. Sure, innovation in user interface design is is not easy.
- Focus Mode with all its details of how exactly it is supposed to work alone required months of R&D (you can see some iterations on P64 ff in this presentation: http://www.slideshare.net/reichenstein/ia-on-creativity-information-and-innovation)
- Auto markdown was the idea of my great friend , and we worked on together formatting issues like auto indent for some time
- The typographic definition of Writer has taken forever; it's been literally driving me nuts. We conducted uncountable tests for the choice of the typeface, hundreds of variations only for line hight and spacing. It looks ridiculously easy now, but it's very hard to do.
It's not easy to innovate in user interface design, yet, all too often, it is very easy to copy these things. The iA Writer look and feel, as introduced by iA Wrier for iPad one year ago, has become the de facto standard of the vast majority of focused writing apps. We take it as a compliment, as long as the copying stays within certain limits.
To stay ahead in the game, you should focus on things that are highly useful and very hard to implement — in our case the blue bold cursor, the combination of auto markdown and auto indent, dynamic titlebar and iCloud.
While it's easy to please some users with a couple of easy features (add this and that mode, import or export filter, this and that markup trick), the cheap feature addition strategy will lead to a loss of focus.
We've been struggling a lot to not allow different font sizes and colors (very easy to do, very hard to resist), and it shows. When you open Writer, still all you can do is write. No settings. This is the guiding principle. And it's been very tough to stick to.
We've had literally hundreds of occasions where a difficult design decision could have been averted by just adding a setting. We tried to solve the underlying problem instead. Sure, it's not perfect for everyone. It's not the ideal feature set for geeks; it's not ideal price for stingy people; it's not good enough for people with really bad eyesight (very sorry about that); but, according to our feedback, it is a dream come true for low tech high end writers like A. Burroughs or Stephen Fry that care about more about the writing experience than being able to use LaTeX or their own favorite font. And that's the user base that what we're after.
At the same time we've chosen the stony path of focusing on hard to spot, expensive details: like a beautiful licensed font, cursor color, auto indent, focus mode, the super super delicate and massively ball breaking dynamic title bar on Lion. Even iCloud can be seen as a detail by those who prefer Dropbox.
No one except type geeks will notice the sublime font choice. But everybody that engages will feel it. That's how typography works. No one except UI freaks will notice the fresh cursor of iA Writer for Mac, but everybody will feel that it's much easier to find your spot than in any other Mac writing environment. Not everyone will use focus mode, but those who have a need for it absolutely love it.
Can user experience be designed? It can't be predetermined, but when you have a unique, strong basic concept, the more you care for details the more people will experience your interface in the way you intended it to be experienced. Designing user experience is just like writing. You never know what people read into your text, but the clearer and the more carefully you express yourself, the higher the chance that people will feel what you meant.
Next stop: iA Writer for iPhone. And after that? Only this much. Be prepared for a big general upgrade that will be conceptually innovative and very tough to copy in its love for details.
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