Sunday, February 28

The Distinct Discipline of Front End Design

Brad Frost very succinctly distills the importance of the distinction of front end design:

A frontend designer (who may also go by UI developer, client-side developer, UI engineer, design engineer, frontend architect, designer/developer, prototyper, unicorn, or Bo Jackson) lives in a sort of purgatory between worlds:

  • They understand UX principles and best practices, but may not spend their time conducting research, creating flows, and planning scenarios
  • They have a keen eye for aesthetics, but may not spend their time pouring over font pairings, comparing color palettes, or creating illustrations and icons.
  • They can write JavaScript, but may not spend their time writing application-level code, wiring up middleware, or debugging.
  • They understand the importance of backend development, but may not spend their time writing backend logic, spinning up servers, load testing, etc.

Of course this varies from person to person. Sometimes one person handles frontend design in addition to their other roles. They may primary be a developer (making them a “full-stack developer” as the kids say) or they may be a designer (making them a “full-stack designer” I guess?). Sometimes – especially as organizations get larger – frontend design is handled by people who often find themselves awkwardly siloed in one department or another.

This dichotomy is especially challenging in an organization that expects application developers with little to no front end design experience to handle the heavy lifting of developing robust and secure applications along with delivering a pleasant and manageable user interaction experience. It’s a tough job that only the most uniquely qualified individual or team can handle. Organizations who wish to succeed in delivering great applications should seriously consider the importance of the right skill mix when building their development teams.

Sunday, January 24

Long Live Touch

In a report outlining recent rumors of an upcoming iPhone 5se, The Verge celebrates Apple’s original innovation with the touch interface by understating the significance of its newest innovation.

It’s really easy to imagine how Apple could make Live Photos work without 3D Touch — just use a long press — but it also kinda sorta speaks to the shortcomings of 3D Touch: that it often feels like a long press could accomplish all the same things.

I agree that a long press can accomplish most or all of the actions introduced by 3D Touch, but that misses the point. It’s not that 3D Touch is the only way; it is a better way. Peek & Pop is a shortcut that would cease to be shorter if initiated by a long press. Plus, how do you “pop” – press longer?

Sunday, October 25

Every So Often App Reviews: Tweetbot 4, Paper by Fifty Three, Clicker, Wildcard, and Just Press Record

I buy and download a fair number of iOS apps, but I rarely take the time to post reviews and recommendations. Consider this my attempt to occasionally rectify that. Here is the start of my Every So Often app reviews.

Tweetbot 4

If you want to incite a digital riot in tech circles then look no further than the paid app upgrade. The iOS and App Store platforms revolutionized application development and distribution in both positive and negative ways. One of the negative results is the much-documented difficulties with building a sustainable business model in the rapid race to the bottom strategy of App Store pricing and absence of an officially supported upgrade pricing model. Tapbots, the company headed up by Paul Haddad and Mark Jardine, know this struggle all too well. It’s a running Twitter joke for Haddad every time Tapbots prepares to release a new version of their marquee apps into the wild.

The most recent episode involves Tweetbot 4. I’m a faithful Tweetbot user since Tweetbot 2, having even gone so far as gifting Tweetbot 3 to a friend of mine who was suffering Twitter through the company’s often languishing official app. What this knowledge reveals about me is that I’ve now paid for Tweetbot four times (including the gift purchase) and I still think I’ve underpaid. Using Twitter is not a requirement for my job or any other aspect of my life but it is one of my favorite pastimes and so I’m willing to pay a little bit to make that experience as enjoyable as possible. I’m not even a souped up Twitter power user, so I don’t necessarily benefit from all the great features that Tweetbot offers. I just find their interface and app interaction decisions quite agreeable with my own tastes and brief forays into other apps left me longing to go back to my comfort app.

Setting aesthetics aside for a moment, why should you buy Tweetbot? Here are the features I think that just about any Twitter user device might find useful from Tweetbot (this is basically my hand-picked selection from the feature list on Tweetbot’s website):

  • Mute People, Keywords, Tweet Sources on your Timeline, Lists, and Search Results
  • Support for Multiple Twitter Accounts1
  • View/Add/Edit/Subscribe to Lists
  • View Tweet Statistics and Account Activity
  • Gestures for Quick Access to Common Tasks
  • Excellent support for 3rd Party Services
  • Night Mode for Low-Light Reading (I keep mine in night mode all the time)

Paper by FiftyThree

I’m way way late to the game on Paper (though I’ve been using Paper by Facebook exclusively since it arrived) but I actually have a pretty good reason – I’m terrible at drawing anything. Perhaps recognizing the niche characterization of their product (and the increasingly cavalier use of their product’s name) FiftyThree recently updated Paper by giving it some features that greatly increases its utility for non-artists. More specifically they added diagraming, note-taking and photo spotlighting features that make it a fantastic application for quickly capturing ideas with stunning visual richness that aims to make “back of the napkin” days obsolete. The upgrade is, of course, a very strong effort to prop up their other business as the manufacturer of Pencil, a Bluetooth enhanced stylus for smartphones.

I love the new drawing tools in the app and the photo spotlight feature is a great idea that I know I’ll use more and more. I’ve seen it in other apps but it is nice to have it here in Paper with the other helpful diagraming and drawing tools. After devoting some time familiarizing myself with the tools, I started thinking about the different applications and analog tools that this could replace for me. I recently completed a couple of closet renovations and I was able to use Paper to communicate through mock ups of what I wanted with our vendor. I’ve also used Paper to develop layouts for web pages and as a scratch pad for quick calculations and ephemeral notes needed when developing websites. Yes, Paper by FiftyThree is turning into a replacement for lowercase p paper for me.


This free app from The Iconfactory is a neat idea – it’s basically a tally/counter app that gives you a tap via Apple Watch every time you increment the counter. If you have an Apple Watch I think this is a must have if for nothing more than a great way to demo taps/notifications on the watch. There isn’t a great way to do this built into the watch which is curious because to me that’s basically the knockout feature of the watch. I love me some Taptic notifications.

And yes, I do launch Clicker from time to time just so can give myself a tap. I think I need more friends.


A few weeks ago, my wife asked me how I stay up to date with the news, specifically if there was a particular app that I use. I don’t remember if she was really interested more in local news or not but at the time I was trying out SmartNews. More recently, after featured their redesign in a daily update, I turned to Wildcard for it’s unique visual style and card-based news capsules.

Just Press Record

Just Press Record is that rare app that manages to combine a very simple idea with just-enough design and an easy to use interface while also filling a need that many might never suspect they have. In fact, when you boil down Just Press Record into its most basic pieces, it makes you wonder why Apple’s own built-in Voice Memo app isn’t as well-executed as this.

To put it simply, Just Press Record is Voice Memo but with a simpler UI, iCloud syncing support, and versions for Mac and Apple Watch. Most perplexing to me is the absence of iCloud support for Voice Memo; even if you assume that one need not record or sync from Mac to iPhone, you might at least find it somewhat helpful to offer a sync and play app for the Mac that receives files from the iPhone. And while I never in a million years would have imagined that I would go all Dick Tracy and spend much time talking to my watch, between Siri, Just Press Record, and an occasional phone call or two, I talk to my watch all the time. So if you see some strange guy walking around holding his wrist up to his mouth it’s either a spy or me.

  1. Twitterific offers a unified timeline, much like most email clients/apps now offer a unified inbox. This would definitely be a time saver but I actually prefer the compartmentalization of my timelines. It’s why I have separate accounts to begin with.  ↩
Thursday, October 22


“Having a following doesn’t just make patronage work, or let you take creative risks in product monetisation; it’s also a responsibility.”
Sunday, September 20

You Get What You Give

It should come as no surprise to me that my favorite, and perhaps most level-headed, reaction to the ad-blocking brouhaha that emerged this past week comes from none other than The Macalope.

Oh, ad blocking. See, despite Patel’s contention, it’s very clearly about business and user experience. If it’s not at all about user experience, why in the heck are people paying for ad blockers? Because Apple told them to?

Marco Arment’s decision to pull his ad-blocking app Peace from the App Store after only a few days on sale revealed his humanity as a developer, but that certainly didn’t end the conversation on ad blocking. A common refrain among Arment’s detractors was the irony of selling an app to block ads. Insinuating that selling something to someone who is willing to pay a fair and reasonable price – or, for that matter, any price at all – only revels how vapid content creators on this issue have become. Irony, in Arment’s case would have been releasing the app for free, but somehow supporting its development with in app ads, not selling it to willing buyers.

Back to The Macalope, who astutely concludes that content creators are not the sole contributors to the economic model of publishing gone awry – yes, we the content consumers, carry the burden of blame as well (emphasis mine):

Sadly, the Macalope has to leave you with a pox on both houses that, as Patel correctly notes, is going to affect us all. People who say “Ad blockers are evil!” are wrong and so are people who expect to get the web for free. There’s a middle ground to be had here, but the chance to find it is probably gone and Patel’s hell is a very real possibility.

The lesson: Find something you like or need, pay a fair and reasonable price for it, and don’t groan and complain every time you find it somewhere else for a dollar less.

Tuesday, March 03


I don’t care who did what first, if smartphones unify into a single design interpretation, I’ll chalk that up as a very cynical view by manufacturers and design teams of the unique and individuality of consumer tastes and preferences. Obviously, I’m a bit disappointed. Thankfully, we have Motorola and Microsoft1 to help stem the tide of conformity2.

That said, in terms of build quality, the S6 looks like a great improvement over its predecessor. The bad news for Samsung, I’m guessing, is that build quality comes at a cost. And even though I don’t like to put companies on blast for making $4.5 billion in profit, the media isn’t quite so kind.

  1. For now, but maybe not for long for either of them.  ↩

  2. In all fairness to Samsung, I think Edge is an interesting take. It’s not the kind of must-have feature that would entice me to switch to Android, but at least it’s different.  ↩