From Design

Looking at how how things work, not just what they look like

Everyday Usability in Japan (Part 3)

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series we looked at some of the intriguing aspects of the way people’s everyday lives are affected by design in Japan. Whether the result of a lone designer with a singular focus or a meddling committee with a medley of requirements it’s fascinating to see how other countries have approached the same challenges. Read more

Why Japanese Web Design Is So… Different

In the mind’s eye of many people Japan is a land of tranquil Zen gardens, serene temples, and exquisite tea ceremonies. Both traditional and contemporary Japanese architecture, books and magazines are the envy of designers worldwide. Yet for some reason practically none of this mastery has been translated into digital products, in particular websites, most of which look like they hail from around 1998.

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Everyday Usability in Japan (Part 1)

While I design software for a living, it’s often the design of everyday physical objects which intrigues me the most. From ticket machines to toilets, every time I travel somewhere for the first time it always fascinates me to see the various way people have solved the same problems – for better or worse. Read more

Design is…

I’ll save passing comment on iOS 7 for another day (short version: brave new world) but more than this I wanted to share the beautiful video’s Apple made explaining what design means to them – a mission statement if you like.

“I think there is a profound and enduring beauty in simplicity, in clarity, in efficiency. True simplicity is derived from so much more than just the absence of clutter and ornamentation, it’s about bringing order to complexity.” – Jony Ive

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs

Minimal Business Cards

I recently designed some new business cards for Randomwire and instead of the normal multi-field affair I wanted to make it as simple as possible. Since my email address already contains my name, twitter handle, and website address I choose to show just that with a bit of markup to delineate each part:

Minimal Business Card Design

A friend of me pointed out that someone had already done something similar but mine uses symbols rather than words as markup. I’m not sure which is more/less ambiguous but I’d like to think mine might work better in a multi-lingual environment.

Randomwire Business Cards

I think the end result, printed by moo, came out quite well!

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!