Archive for June 2005

Nike.com: Still Confusing After All These Years

I’ve been a critic of Nike’s online presence since the first time I tried to find out about a shoe seven years ago and was greeted instead with a confusing Flash movie having nothing to do with shoes and leading me around in circles until I had to go to Google. “Design vomit” is what I call that stuff, and most things Nike did back then reeked of it.

Over the last few years, the company seems to have gotten more web-savvy and now produces a good mix of design-driven and utilitarian interfaces depending on what the marketing goals are for any particular sub-site.

Wanting to give them another shot, and needing a pair of running shoes now that I actually have time to run, I checked out nike.com and found this really cool shoe that you can custom design for yourself online.

Great!

I spent the next 10 minutes choosing the colors of every single element of the shoe, right down to the lace eyelets, through a very slickly done Flash interface. I went to the University of Washington for my undergrad degree so the shoe I created was black, purple, and gold. The process couldn’t have been any easier… kudos to the Flash team on configurator:

Then came the breakdown.

There was no “add to cart” button anywhere. There was a “store locator” button so I assumed they wanted me to go down to Niketown or something and try it on first and then maybe order it from the store. Luckily, I have a Niketown about a 15 minute bike ride from my place so I pedaled down there and tried on a non-configured version of the shoe. Size 11, great. I asked the guy how to go about ordering the customized version and he told me to go online.

I said “You mean you actually do the ordering online?”

He said “Yep.”

I said “Ok, I’ll look again, but I didn’t see that option.”

He said “Yep, that’s how you do it.”

So I ride home and reconfigure my shoe from scratch again. I hit the “Review” button and up pops this error:

Eh? A non-specific error message? According to the message, the item is either unreleased (which I know is not true since I just saw it in person) or, whoa, they “reached their made-to-order limit for the day”???

What?

I don’t even know what that means. Why wouldn’t you just put my order in queue and manufacture it as soon as you can find the requisite child-laborers to build it?

So instead of putting my order through and shipping it to me when it’s ready, Nike instead gives me three options:

1. Try again tomorrow when they’ve “reset their capacity”?

2. Email the design to someone… presumably with the accompanying note “Hey, look at what I can’t order from Nike!”

3. Print the design out so I can hang it on my wall and be reminded of how much I want it.

I just don’t get it. I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of exactly why Nike would put such an error message up and I can really only think of one possibility: whoever designed the database and backend for this system built it so that it can literally only store X number of orders per day. This just seems ridiculous to me though as databases should theoretically hold an unlimited amount of data.

Any ideas?

The Accessibility Chronicles

Dean Kamen’s self-elevating wheelchair: not just assistive, but liberating.So everyone’s all of a sudden talking about accessibility again. Just as you thought 2005 was going to be the year of folksonomies, APIs, and Ajax, the discussion over the last two weeks seems to have centered on a “new” aspect of accessibility:

Whether we really know what we think we know.

Ever since the original movement towards web standards led by the WaSP and many others, we’ve had similar messages sent to us:

“Valid code makes for accessible websites.”

“Use proper semantics to help screenreaders interpret your pages.”

“Use lists for navigation and any other list-like content to improve accessibility.”

And so, for several years designers and coders took these rules of thumb to heart, tried in earnest to follow best practices, and went about thinking their websites were “accessible”.

Why would they think that? Not because they physically observed it, but because they were told it. And who could blame them? You’re a web worker with a million things on your plate. Which is easier to do: hire an accessibility consultant to physically test your sites with disabled people or simply believe what you’ve heard? 99% of us, including me, chose the easier route.
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EFF: Legal Guide for Bloggers

A quick overview of the do's and dont's of blogging, from a legal perspective.

Developer/Designer Poker Tournament

Sign up for Josh Dura's online poker tournament on July 13th. Finally, a chance to crush Andrei.

On MouseOut...

In an amusing twist of irony, my nameplate (pictured above) arrived last week, 4.5 years after I first ordered it.It is with both sadness and anticipation that I announce my departure from The Walt Disney Internet Group after four and a half years of employment. It’s been a great half-decade here and I can’t thank The Walt Disney Company enough for giving me the opportunity to work on such high-profile projects with such high-caliber people. In my time here, I’ve helped lead the standards-based redesigns of ESPN.com, ABCNews.com, and many other Disney-owned properties, as well as play a hands-on role in the design and development of all-new technologies like ESPN Motion, and countless unannounced products still in the pipeline. I owe all pride from working on said projects to the incredible teams of people across the company in Seattle, North Hollywood, New York, Connecticut, Orlando, England, and Japan who continue to make it all possible.

That said, I’m moving on.

So why would someone give up a six-figure job that they love, working for a company that they love, in a city that they love?

Two words: Opportunity Cost.

There’s something big I want to build, and now is the time to build it. I’m not going to say any more because I’m leery of getting caught in the hype machine, but you can expect a launch later this year. Watch this space for details as they become available.

As for blogging on Mike Industries, it’ll be business as usual for now. The iPod contests will continue (of course!), and my posting frequency should remain steady at several posts per month. Additionally, if I’ve turned you down for an interview or speaking engagement in the past, feel free to ask again as I no longer have a PR department to deal with. Disney’s policy required me to refuse almost all such requests in the past, so it’s nice not to have that restriction anymore.

And so with that, I begin anew on something I’m very excited about. If all goes well, it’ll grow like a Vine.

MouseOver. MouseOut.

iPod Giveaway #3: alt.shuffle

An iPod is many things. A music player, an audiobook reader, a status symbol. Through creative advertising and exceptional product design, Apple has turned this little plastic brick of engineering into a cultural phenomenon. What Apple hasn’t told you, however, is that before they settled on “personal music player” as the official function of an iPod, the Apple team considered thousands of alternative brand concepts ranging contemporary shaving device to table-leg evener. The aim of this third monthly Mike Industries iPod-A-Month Creativity Competition is to submit the most creative alternative use of an iPod.

Entries may be submitted as text, video, audio, a web site, or a 418×418 GIF/JPEG image. As usual, there aren’t any hard rules except to stay away from overtly offensive material. The contest will end at midnight Pacific Time July 1st.

Once again, Dennis Lloyd and iPodLounge.com have volunteered to add a pair of $150 Etymotic ER-6i earbuds and a sport case to the original Mike Industries prize of one iPod Shuffle. Thanks again iPodLounge!

And a big thanks as well to Josh Armstrong who came up with the idea for this contest. I will be shipping Josh his Shuffle shortly. Don’t forget that the submission pool is open until the end of the year.

Good luck to all entrants. The official name for this contest is “Best Alternative, Unintended Use of iPod”.

Important note: All images must be submitted as 418×418 GIFs or JPEGs and must remain under about 80k in size. Any image that is not precisely 418×418 and under 80k will be deleted. Use a standard <img src="http://yourserver/yourimage.jpg" /> tag to enter any images into the comments section below.

Steve Jobs' Commencement Speech Transcript

To think I got stuck with Meg Greenfield as my commencement speaker.

Is Gold Really Worth Anything?

Mark Cuban is full of a lot of things. Lots of great ideas, lots of money, lots of love for NBA officials. Just lots of “stuff”. A veritable box of inspiration, really. The other day, he wrote a post about something I’ve thought about for quite some time: the present day value of gold.

Hundreds of years ago, gold was treated as a global currency because it was relatively rare and it helped produce items which indicated social status (viz. jewelry). If your family had a lot of gold, it was considered rich. If your country had a lot of gold, it was considered rich. Eventually, when everyone moved to paper currency, the idea was that each unit of paper was “backed” by one unit of gold in the treasury. The concept being that if the entire global economic system were to break down, we’d still have the gold to trade with.

This concept, however, is almost completely obsolete in today’s society. In the case of a global economic meltdown, who is going to care about collecting bars of gold? These days, it’s things like oil, enriched uranium, and natural gas that become the real currency of survival in such dire times.

Cuban takes things a step further though and brings up something I hadn’t thought about: given that gold has little substantive value anymore (it’s not even close to the most precious element), why not take our entire supply and sell it off at $420 per troy ounce while it’s still worth something? Maybe pay down the national debt a little?

It’s been many years since I took my last macroeconomics class so I’m sure Cuban is probably missing something here that would throw the world into a tailspin, but it really doesn’t seem like a terrible idea to me… in theory at least. The toughest part about it, and possibly the deal-killer, seems like the process of unloading it. The U.S. obviously couldn’t just announce one day that all of their gold was for sale. Perhaps in steady chunks over a long period of time though, it might work.

Anyway, I’m way out of my “element” here… just wanted to mention this interesting idea.

HTML 5 vs. XHTML 2

Is it just me or does HTML 5 look a lot sexier than XHTML 2?

Flash/JavaScript Integration Kit

A packaged-up, easy-to-use way to enable cross-browser communication between Javascript and Flash.

Shared
Humanity's deep future:

A group of researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute talk about where our race may be going and how artificial intelligence could save or kill us all.

Steve Jobs speaks about the future at the International Design Conference in 1983:

31 years later, it’s safe to say this is one of the most prescient speeches about technology ever delivered. Jobs covers wireless networking, tablets, Google StreetView, Siri, and the App Store (among other things) many years before their proliferation. A fantastic listen.

How to travel around the world for a year:

Great advice for when you finally find the time.

LiveSurface:

A fantastic app for prototyping your design work onto real world objects like billboards, book covers, and coffee cups. This seems like just as great of a tool for people learning design as it does for experts.

50 problems in 50 days:

One man’s attempt to solve 50 problems in 50 days using only great design. Some good startup ideas in here…

How to Do Philosophy:

If you’ve ever suspected that most classical philosophy is a colossal waste of time, Paul Graham tells you why you’re probably right.

TIME: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us:

Stephen Brill follows the money to uncover the pinnacle of corruption that is the U.S. Health Care system. A must-read article if there ever was one.

DIY Dot Org:

A beautifully designed site full of fun and challenging DIY projects. I could spend months on here.

The Steve Jobs Video Archive:

A collection of over 250 Steve Jobs videos in biographical order

Self-portraits from an artist under the influence of 48 different psychoactive drug combos.

Water Wigs are pretty amazing.

David Pogue proposes to his girlfriend by creating a fake movie trailer about them and then getting a theater to play it before a real movie. Beautiful and totally awesome.

Jonah Peretti's letter to BuzzFeed’s employees:

If you’re wondering what a excellent blueprint for a modern media company looks like, look no further than Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s latest email to his employees. In it, Peretti explains a lot of his company’s virtues, the most important being a relentless focus on always providing what’s best for the user. Vox Media (operators of The Verge) is the only other company I can think of which approaches this level of reform and execution.

The Covers Project:

I love this so much: a cross-referenceable database of cover songs, searchable by song or artist. Slowed down, acoustic covers — no matter the song — are so enjoyable to me that I wish it was a requirement to play one at every show. If you like them as much as I do, make sure to check out M. Ward’s Let’s Dance or Sun Kil Moon’s entire album of Modest Mouse covers.

“More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”
- Tim Kreider’s denunciation of the cult of busyness is excellent. (via jimray)