From March 2013

Tokyo Hanami – Part 1

From the end of March to early May, sakura (さくら cherry blossom) bloom all over Japan, and I was lucky enough to arrive in Tokyo at just the right time to see them at their height. Aided by a national blossom forecast (桜前線), locals take part in a centuries old traditional custom called Hanami (花見) which literally means “flower viewing”. Read more

Today’s Levitation

Back in 2011 I wrote about Natsumi Hayashi, the Japanese girl who takes seemingly impossible photos of herself floating in various places around Tokyo, and then posted on her blog “yowayowa camera woman diary”. This week her first solo photographic exhibition opened at Spiral Garden in Aoyama and I went along to check it out.

Today's Levitation at Spiral Garden

Two of her new pieces have been blown up onto enormous 6x9m canvases. The photo above was taken in the Vietnamese factory of the clothing manufacturer who sponsored the exhibition. There were also some smaller prints hung along the wall of the spiral staircase.

Big Foot

In case you’re wondering how she takes these surreal shots, it basically involves a tripod, self timer and lots of jumping to get the right pose. I guess the deadpan expression also helps!

It’s great to see that her personal project has had so much success and will be interesting to see what she comes up with next.

User Experience Lost in Translation

Tokyo Gas Control Panel

Above is the gas supply control panel in the apartment I’m staying at in Tokyo. Assuming you don’t read Japanese, how would you go about turning it on?

Arthur Dent: I wonder what’ll happen if I press this button.
Ford Prefect: Don’t.
Arthur Dent: [presses it] Oh.
Ford Prefect: What happened?
Arthur Dent: A sign lit up saying “Please do not press this button again.”
– “The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” Episode #1.2

I think most peoples first response would be to press the big pink button in the bottom right but this actually does nothing but play a robotic women’s voice (presumably telling you not to press that button again!).

It took me 30 minutes to work out that what looks like an LED indicator light in the top-right is actually the on/off button that needs to be pressed before the big pink button to get the hot water flowing. The up/down arrows set the temperature which is more obvious.

Control Symbols

This got me thinking about user interface design for global audiences – the problem here is that the device was communicating both visually and aurally in a language which I don’t understand. Had it included some simple symbols alongside the text it would have been much clearer.

Humans have been using symbols to communicate for over 17,000 years because they are the one language everyone can understand. Symbols can transcend cultural and language barriers and deliver concise information effortlessly and instantaneously. They allow people to communicate quickly, effectively, and intuitively.
The Noun Project

However, when Google last redesigned Gmail they recieved a lot of criticism for replacing the text on buttons with symbols/icons which some people claimed were hard to interpret.

Toilet Remote Control UI!

It seems to me that each situation requires a balance where mission-critical information is conveyed in both symbols and text with less important functions left for text only – a bit like this scary toilet control panel I found in a hotel in Shanghai a few years ago!

Randomwire Moves To Tokyo

Usually at the beginning of each year I write a ‘new years resolutions’ post, but not in 2013 because the latter half of 2012 had been very stressful and I still wasn’t sure what the best way forward was. Now that the situation is clearer I’m happy to announce an exciting new chapter for Randomwire… Read more

Cloud Atlas Retrospective


Death. Life. Birth. Future. Present. Past. Love. Hope. Courage.

An 1849 diary of an ocean voyage across the Pacific; letters from a composer to his friend; a thriller about a murder at a nuclear power plant; a farce about a publisher in a nursing home; a rebellious clone in futuristic Korea; and the tale of a tribe living in post-apocalyptic Hawaii, far in the future. Read more

Two Weeks in Portugal

You may have noticed that the output of Randomwire has been a bit low this year to date. I have a huge backlog of interesting things and places to write about but, without wanting to make excuses, have been too stressed and busy to put pen to paper (more on this in the next couple of weeks). Read more