Complications

The first half of this episode of the Debug podcast is a fascinating insight into the job of a professional watchmaker. Jon Edwards' communicates with such passion on the subject.

I love the fact that in the watch world, any feature added to a watch is called a complication. Anything that adds extra functionality on top of telling the time, complicates the mechanism. This seems like a useful tool in the design of any product. It's another point of view you can use when deciding what features you need and how far you need to take them. Reflect on what you're about to design. As well as considering it as a useful and powerful new feature, also consider it as a complication, increasing complexity for both you and the user. As yourself - is this a necessary complication? If so, how can the compication be minimised.

Dedication

An enlightening article by Calrec's Michael Reddick. Don't get tricked by misleading numbers and trade-offs. The clarity of dedicated resources makes it much simpler to understand what you're getting.

When comparing digital consoles’ DSP capabilities, care should be taken comparing “like for like” specifications. The difference between what you think you have and what you really have may be significant depending on whether the console uses shared DSP resources or not.

This is one of the things I love about Calrec. Keeping things clear and simple, even if it’s the more difficult thing to do, has so many benefits for everyone.

It's All About the Details

From Tobias Frere-Jones' new series on typeface mechanics:

Square shapes like H have a simple and stable relationship to the baseline and cap height. Their upper and lower edges coincide with these boundaries and stay put. But only a narrow sliver of an O is the full height, and the rest of the shape falls away. The parts that are too short greatly outnumber the parts that are big enough, so we conclude — wrongly, but very reliably — that the round shape is too small.

If the “correct” height appears inadequate, “too much” will look right. So the O is made taller and deeper than the H, even if the most stringent mathematical reasoning would declare it incorrect. But we read with our eyes, not with rulers, so the eye should win every time.

It's details like this that make good products. Details that you'd never notice on their own, but ones that all add up to create a refined and effortless result. Without them, you get mediocrity. Good enough. Functionality that doesn't quite feel right.

These are the kind of details I spend a lot of my working days considering. Some people consider it overthinking. To me, it's an essential part of the process. If you think a detail doesn't matter, you're not doing justice to your product and you're letting your customers down. Charles Eames put it very directly:

The details are not the details. They make the design.

I can't wait to read the rest of this series.

Link - Digital Music: Can You Hear Above 16-bit/44.1kHz?

I think it's great that this kind of discussion is reaching a more diverse audience. It's moving from conversations between audio nerds in relatively niche forums, to more general and popular sources. The author has done a great job in making this subject engaging and accessible to anyone.

I particularly like the way they explain the separation between an individual's listening preferences and the technical requirements necessary to satisfy the limitations of human hearing. I think these two areas are commonly confused, and the cause of a lot of unnecessary debate on the subject.

There's a lot of science behind what we're discussing here. Nyquist's theorem has been proven by others many times over (hence the reason that many others' names are often attached to it). If this article instills in you the need to reconfirm all of this on your own (and you'd be in the good company of this author and several recording-industry professionals if it does) the only way to do it is to utilize a tool that allows you to perform your own double-blind testing (ABXtester, available for free for both iOS and Mac, works great). Without double-blind testing you (and I!) are quite subject to confirmation bias. Our minds are not objective when we have too much information.

Don't just trust my post or the linked article. Do as the author suggests - perform your own ABX tests and become personally informed on the subject.

Why Do People Think Apple Pay is So innovative?

That's an interesting question.

Why do people think Apple Pay is so innovative—an equivalent feature has been part of Android for more than two years?

One detailed response to this quora question (which I encourage you to read), suggests that:

Google does a poor job of explaining what Google Wallet is, how it's used, or why it's better. Apple does a much better job with Apple Pay.

I agree completely. Apple does a fantastic job of explaining the story behind their products. They present problems. They help you understand why it's difficult to achieve something with the products currently on offer. They explain why inelegant solutions are making you work harder.

Then they slap you in the face with an incredibly simple solution. It's usually stunningly beautiful too.

They take time to explain, using clear language and manageable steps, how this desirable new product will make your life better. They don't focus on specs. Instead they tell a human story that anyone can understand. They tell you why it's better than the rest in terms that matter to real people. And remember the majority of people are not tech obsessed nerds with spec envy.

I don't mean for this to be a platform war. For the record, I use OS X, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android devices every day. I consider them all great platforms for different reasons and consider myself open to the ideas and influences projected by each one.

Whether you prefer Apple or Android, I think you have to appreciate the great work Apple does with its promotional material.

Thinking about it, I do need a new phone...

A Big Scrotum of Anger

I enjoy a bit of Merlin Mann. (via Maxistentialism)

If there were a museum of terrible self-help ideas, the new years resolution would have its own wing. I mean, in a nut, if new years resolutions worked, you wouldn’t need them. The problem with new years resolutions, setting aside the drunk-in-a-paper-hat part, is that people get frustrated because they have all this enthusiasm to say, ‘Oh, the calendar’s changing so I should be different!’ And we commit, or half-commit, to some kind of outlandish change to ourselves. And most of us, in my experience, end up failing miserably and feeling worse than when we started. Which if you do that for enough years becomes a kind of rehearsal where the real habit you’re building is sucking. You’re building the habit of unrealistic expectations you can never live up to, and then being really great at sucking at them faster and faster every year until you’ve got a big scrotum of anger.

You should all listen to Back to Work. Dan and Merlin are fantastic at weaving seemingly random threads of conversation into a clear, helpful, and uplifting message each episode. These guys get me through my commute. I didn't start listening as early as the episode quoted above but I think I'll dip back in to hear it for real.

Drummers Are Smarter Than You

I knew it.

To boil it all down, drummers are smarter than you, more in-tune with nature than you, and are the whole reason you and I have a society in which to mock drummers in the first place.

http://consequenceofsound.net/2014/05/its-official-drummers-are-smarter-than-you-and-everybody-else/

What's the Frequency?

My first iOS App was released earlier this year. For some reason I didn't post about it on here. So here it is, a brief introduction.

It's pretty simple - listen to a pure tone and try to identify the frequency. Start with tones at octave spacing. When you feel comfortable move up to third octave spacing. If you want more of a challenge, try listening to filtered noise and attempt to identify the center frequency.

It will make you better at identifying frequencies in the sounds you hear. It may improve your mixes, or make you better at identifying problems in your audio.

It's all beautifully presented in native iOS 7 style. All audio is generated in real time, meaning the app doesn't need tens or hundreds of megabytes of audio files. It's only 120 KB. You won't even notice it's there. And best of all, it's free.

Give it a try.

The New Roboto

I really like what Google has done with the latest Roboto updates. I hated the 1, R, and K glyphs, and all the punctuation. These changes are much more pleasing to me.

I found a graphic on reddit that highlights the main differences.

I've heard some people say that the new version has lost some of its unique character. I agree. I also think it's more readable now and as a core UI font, that's important.

Beats

Apple recently bought Beats. You might have heard about that.

Before the acquisition, I heard from a lot of friends, colleagues, and general folk on the internet, that Beats headphones sound dreadful - that they sound so bass heavy and make everything sound ‘muddy’. These views got heavily amplified after the acquisition.

The Beats brand has become something of a fashion statement, much like when the iPod was released with its white earbud cables. I don’t doubt that a lot of people bought Beats because of this, but I’d bet that there are a lot of people who bought them because they liked the sound.

I saw some in a store recently and thought it was about time I had a listen for myself.

I walked into the store, lifted up the headphones - the Beats Studio model, I think - and engulfed myself in a flood of extremely low frequencies. A lot of low end. As John Gruber put it in a recent episode of The Talk Show, they sound “like a nightclub - in your head”. You know what? With the right style of music, they sound exactly like that. It seems that the head-club experience is exactly what Beats’ target market want. They want you to feel as if you’re watching the artists live, as if you’re at a venue.

The Beats Acoustic Engine™ makes your listening experience intimate, personal, and real. Our signature DSP software is designed to generate the emotional experience that Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine, and some of the music industry’s greatest rock, hip-hop, pop, electronic, and R&B producers want you to feel. This is how music would sound if the artist could play it back for you in person.

The designers deserve a lot of credit for creating a product that achieves that goal. It really does sound like that - with the right style of music. You shouldn’t expect to play Jimi Hendrix through these headphones and have an appropriate reproduction of his music. If you do expect that and are subsequently disappointed, you’ve misunderstood the product. I have Sennheiser HD25 headphones. I think they are absolutely wonderful and excel in many areas, but they didn’t create an experience anywhere close to the intended Beats experience.

Every product has a purpose. If you don’t like it, don’t understand it, or don’t need it, then don’t buy it. You have a choice and there are always other options. Sunglasses are not ideal indoors. Normal glasses are not ideal in bright sun. You shouldn’t expect headphones designed for one application to work well for another.

You Couldn't Guess My Age From My Name

Apparently, my name has the fourth widest age spread in America. Given just my name, you'd be very luck to deduce my age. It appears that's not the case for a lot of names.

With data from the Social Security Administration and some lovely analysis, these guys have put together a wonderful post looking into this problem - given the name of a living American, can you tell their age? It's worth a read.

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-to-tell-someones-age-when-all-you-know-is-her-name

I'm happy to say that the second deadest name in America lives on in grandma Bourne's household, in the form of a rather bone shaking old shopping bike named Gertrude.

Exporting Transparent PNGs with Sketch 3

I've been running the trial version of Sketch 3 for a few days. It's really interesting, and affords a nice fresh perspective on UI design. However, it took me a while to figure out how to properly export an object as a PNG with a transparent background. Every time I tried it would export with a white background. Back-tracking through some tweets from @sketchapp, I discovered the problem -- the artboard had a background colour that was set up to be included in any exports.

If you got stuck on this too, here's how to stop it being exported. First, click on the artboard in the layers panel.

Now un-check the 'Include in Export' option in the inspector.

Simple as that. Alternatively, you could draw the background fill with an object instead of filling the artboard.