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February 11, 2019 - No Comments!

Microcopy — Making Interfaces Human.

Design is still about words. There was a post by Signal V. Noise a while ago that reiterated this with visual reminders: interfaces stripped right down to their boxes, images and colors, no copy on the page. This really drove home the point. What are interfaces without the words?

Now, there are words that are obviously important and hard to miss (Save, Continue, Sign up). And then there are words that are powerful yet tiny and simple (We’ll never post on your wall. We’ll never ask for your credit card information. Don’t worry, you can change this username later).

Microcopy is what makes any app or interface human, friendly and helpful like no other feature.

Every user is talking to herself in her head, as she uses an application or a product. Actually, she is talking to the interface:

“How long will this take?”

“Why are you asking me this?”

“Will you charge me for this?”

“Oh no! What’s wrong?”

“How do I go back to where I was?”

“What now?”

Crisp and unmistakable copy that guides her in the right direction, while also assuring her that it’s all going to be alright, and also making her smile from time to time, without talking down to her. That is what makes great microcopy.

Clarity

Words that can be misinterpreted or are unclear can make for a confusing and frustrating experience. The user must be able to answer those questions in her head without entering panic mode.

Facebook clearly explains why your mobile number is being asked for. (Source: pttrns.com)
Skype states clearly that it is not a replacement for your traditional telephone service. (Source: pttrns.com)
Mailchimp tells you how often your data is autosaved.

Helpfulness

Timely help is always a huge relief. Especially when there are multiple tasks ahead of a user. If a form field label asks for something that the user is not sure about, some helpful copy can be a game changer.

Instagram gives an example of what your notifications will look like. (Source: self)
Airbnb tells the user what to expect in the empty space once they start booking trips. (Source: pttrns.com)
Slack sends a link to sign in without a password, adding a touch of magic. (source: pttrns.com)
The tiny ‘5 min read’ text by medium tells a user how long the article will take to read. (source: pttrns.com)

Personality & Tone

Nothing makes the user look at a brand as a human like a quirky and cheery personality. Of course, timing and moderation are crucial in creating these delightful moments without leaving an unpleasant aftertaste.

Vimeo uses a polite and friendly voice in its error message.
Poncho has a cat walking you through the app. (pttrns.com)
Vine takes the casual route with ‘grab’ instead of ‘select’ or ‘choose’.
Yelp’s button text speaks on behalf of the user, rather than giving instructions.

Empathy

Who doesn’t want an app or a product to just ‘get’ them? Reflecting how the user is feeling and responding appropriately can make the world of a difference to the experience. Mailchimp puts it very well in its amazing resource voiceandtone.com:

Before you write for MailChimp, it’s important to think about our readers. Though our voice doesn’t change much, our tone adapts to our users’ feelings.

Whether it is online or offline, we have all seen confusing notices/error messages, misleading signage/navigation text, and the deafening silence of no information when you haven’t a clue what to do next. In the physical world, body language, voice and facial expressions fill up the gaping break in communication. When it comes to interfaces, it’s the tiny words that speak louder.

February 12, 2019 - No Comments!

How a Daily Drawing Challenge helped build my Creative Confidence

Some of my drawings for the CreativeBug daily challenge with Lisa Congdon

Recently, I took up a couple of Instagram daily drawing challenges. In these challenges, you follow along with an illustrator as she draws various everyday items everyday for 31 days.

The challenges seemed interesting and at the same time, intimidating. It took courage to put my work out in the world. But after the initial reluctance, once a momentum was gained, it turned out to be quite a rewarding experience.

Here are some of the things I observed and learnt with this whole journey:

The Morning Minutes: There’s something about doing the things you care about first thing in the day. Be it prayer, working out or any creative exercise, it gives you the drive to take on the rest of your day. I self-imposed the constraint of working on the drawing before 10 AM. This helped me to finish what I started.

Trying new things: Some days, the challenge had topics that I would never have taken up to draw by myself (cats, cacti and brooms, for instance). This meant I had to go ahead and draw some things for the first time. This challenge helped me grow as I had to open my mind and get out of my comfort zone.

Mixing it up: Doing something everyday helped me discover the techniques I enjoyed or didn’t enjoy. It also helped me get bored with one way of doing things and try another method, just to mix it up.

For this daily challenge with Pam Garrison, I sometimes experimented with some lettering

Life gets in the way: Of course, there are things that get in the way of drawing and posting everyday. Sometimes it is about not ‘feeling’ it, or when you’re travelling and can’t sit down to draw at your usual time. But once you’ve committed to getting a drawing out a day, you do whatever it takes. When I went travelling, I made the drawings and photographed them in advance and posted them on the days they were expected to be published.

Community: The Instagram community was a great factor in pushing me to keep going. We looked at each other’s posts, left encouraging feedback and suggestions. We became ‘fans’ of each others’ work and looked forward to them posting. At the end of the first challenge, we even got together on a facebook group to make a weekly drawing challenge of our own to continue for the rest of the year.

Some of the daily letters from the 36 Days of Type Instagram challenge

Getting rid of pagefright: This was my biggest benefit from doing the challenge. Having a prompt to go on and just do the work, instead of looking at a blank sketchbook page asking what I should draw — removed the burden of making the perfect drawing. The time limit of 30 minutes in the morning meant I had to start and finish and post whatever came out of the exercise.

These kind of challenges confirm what it says in the book ‘Creative Confidence’ about the power of ‘taking more shots at the goal’ and how it helps you move from fear to courage as a creative person.

February 11, 2019 - No Comments!

A Tryst with Charles and Ray Eames

At the recent Kochi Biennale*, I was pleasantly surprised to see an Eames exhibit — Powers of Ten— playing on loop on a large screen in a dark room.

Made in 1977, this simple film is still captivating because it’s relatable and seems to be designed for the viewer to just…get it. Although everything from geography to astronomy, biology and mathematics is traversed in under nine minutes, the big picture still shines through in one cohesive story.

*The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is an international exhibition of contemporary art held in Kochi. Like the SXSW at Austin, it’s an event that promotes the discovery of creativity.

Discovering the Eameses

I first came across the India Report when I was a student at the National Institute of Design, Bangalore. (If you go through the wiki entry, you’ll notice that NID itself was started as a result of said report.)

I’d already heard of the Eameses, but my knowledge of them was vague. As I read through the clear, well thought-out sentences, it appeared to me that Charles and Ray Eames were not just thinkers and doers — they lived a life of authenticity and discovery, and had a focussed devotion to making with intention.

I was itching to put them in some kind of a box. But the more I saw and read, the harder it was to find a box that fit.

I heard the gentle voice of Charles Eames defining design in ‘Design Q & A’. I saw their ideas become exhibitions like Mathematica. I saw their eye for detail in the Eames Lounge Chair.

The Eames lounge chair and Ottoman.

Who were these people? How do you categorize a team that’s introduced over 900 designs for furniture, toys, exhibitions, film, graphics and architecture?

My interest in the Eameses led me to discover a few traits that formed the foundation of their work and life.

Perspectivity

Always striving for a new perspective, the Charles and Ray Eames catalogued a collection of 350,000 slides of photographs — their own ‘cabinet of curiosity’. They used film and photography extensively to step back and look at the world around them in new ways.

Before building the Eames House, Charles Eames wrote on a piece of paper — “What is a house?”

Taking pleasure seriously

Charles Eames famously said “It makes me feel guilty that anybody should have such a good time doing what they are supposed to do.”

Much of the Eameses’ work was a result of enjoying and celebrating life through design. The Solar-Do-Nothing machine, gifts for their grandchildren and even letters written by Charles Eames to his daughter, all stand testimony to this playful approach.

Exceptional empathy

Charles and Ray Eames understood that empathy is paramount in crafting a design solution.

“One of the things we hit upon was the quality of a host. That is, the role of the architect, or the designer, is that of a very good, thoughtful host, all of whose energy goes into trying to anticipate the needs of his guests — those who enter the building and use the objects in it. We decided that this was an essential ingredient in the design of a building or a useful object.”

Thus, any solution was a result of caring deeply for the user and getting truly involved with the problem.

Endless iteration

Work at the Eames office mostly dealt with continuous refinement of solutions, as their deep engagement with a project allowed for new connections to emerge. The Eames chairs were known to be reworked on over years, as newer, more apt materials became available.

Charles was once asked, “Did you think of the Eames chair in a flash?”

He replied, “Yes, sort of a 30-year flash.”

There is a lot to be absorbed from the two iconic makers, and I’m certainly inspired to use what I’ve learned from them in my own way.