Day 97 - Dyson's Signifiers

What it is: Any part that is used to disassemble a Dyson DC50 is a bright, solid red.

Why it’s good: Just as a note of clarity, occasionally people use affordance when they mean signifier. In this case, the affordance is mechanism that allows me to disassemble the vacuum, while the signifier is the bright red plastic.

The fact that this vacuum can be so thoroughly disassembled without tools is itself a feat of fantastic, user centered design. The bright red plastic mechanisms make it self evident. I bought this vacuum refurbished and it didn’t come with a manual, yet I could fully disassemble it just by looking for red pieces.

The red pieces also offer a way to navigate the user manual. If you look carefully, you’ll see small pops of red on the manual printout that I have the assembly resting on. In each case, the vacuum itself is rendered in monochrome except for the piece that you need which is bright red. There’s no ambiguity about what you should use and when.

Day 96 - Kanger's Units

What it is: Kanger Nebox uses temperature instead of wattage as its user settable scale.

Why it’s good: A good friend of mine replaced smoking with vaping about a year ago. In the past year, I’ve watched him sell or attempt to sell a wide variety of people on the various systems that he uses. Observing the faces of his intended mentees, I often see a pretty familiar look: “This is complicated.”

There’s a lot to keep track of when you go from smoking to vaping. You learn a lot of new terms about electricity, like Ohms, watts, and amperage. It feels complicated, which is important when you are dealing with potentially dangerous levels of energy or batteries shorting out.

He showed me this box today, with the tremendous difference of listing temperature as its settable parameter. Most boxes require you to set wattage, which doesn’t necessarily have a direct relationship with temperature. Setting the temperature requires some extra safety features, if you just hold down the button it taps out and doesn’t let you set anything on fire, but it’s built in and doesn’t require you to know that up front.

The important aspect here is using a metric new users understand. Wattage isn’t something the average person deals with, so they have to learn what it means and what relationships it has towards heat and power draw. Temperature is much more accessible, and feels like something that you can be a part of, even if you are an amateur.

Day 95 - Song Exploder's Format

What it is: In the smash hit podcast Song Exploder, host Hrishikesh Hirway rarely if ever appears on the final recording of the interview.

Why it’s good: There is a brilliant editorial position that is embedded in this decision. As you listen to these stories, the flow of them becomes enveloping. You step into the world of the artist’s decisions, and become part of their process. It almost feels like Hrishikesh sits down and the story comes pouring out of them.

It’s clear that this isn’t the case though. At times, he leaves in the audio of himself asking a question when the context is important, or when the musician reacts to his question. In this full 15 minute episode you hear him ask one question at about 5:40. This isn’t an accident, it’s a purposeful choice in the structuring of the program.

I don’t know if there’s a precedent set for it, but the closest thing that I can think of is ghost writing a biography. Hrishikesh gets that he isn’t the focus, but that exact understanding is what makes the final work so powerful, and makes him so perfect for the role.

Day 94 - UserOnboard's Email Signup

What it is: UserOnboard gives you a modal window to sign up for their mailing list at the end of a slideshow.

Why it’s good: I spend more time than I’m really proud of shouting about modal windows. If you’d like to provoke a lot of colorful language and my immediate departure, just throw a modal in my face in the middle of what I’m doing.

This, friends, is how you ask people to sign up for your mailing list without being an ass. First, and most importantly, the modal appears upon user action. This is not something that comes up in the middle of my task, I literally have to click on something to trigger the window. Second, the modal appears after I have consumed the value from the site. Samuel could have put this in the middle of the slideshow, but he didn’t because that’s insane and narcissistic behavior. Third, the modal window tells me exactly what I can expect to happen, and indicates how and why my email will be used with clear value propositions and purpose.

If you are resorting to slapping your user in the face with an unexpected sign up form, you are wrong. I can’t think of a simpler way to put it without expletives or name calling. Don’t do it.

Day 93 - Skillshare's Auto Play

What it is: When a lesson ends in Skillshare, it autoplays the next lesson. In the meantime, it tells you what you just watched, the next lesson up, and gives you robust play options.

Why it’s good: If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might notice a habit of me enjoying fairly verbose interfaces. To be clear, I don’t necessarily prefer copy-heavy interfaces, but in the words of Luke W., obvious always wins.

Skillshare does a lot here to tell you the current system state, where you are in it, and what is about to happen. It doesn’t expect you to intuit what’s happening, but gives you all of the details and controls.