Xbox Dashboard Want List

I hear tell that the Xbox Dashboard is going to be getting an update later this year, and it will make things faster. That is good! Hopefully that means I will no longer get stuck in a frozen guide when I try to rate players between Gears 2 matches. But here are some other things I think we need to see.

Notification options. Currently, you can turn notifications on or off. As Microsoft starts integrating Twitter and Facebook into its dashboard interface, it should take a page from social networking protocol and give users more control over how we want to be contacted. Personally, I’d turn off achievement notifications and announcements of friends logging on, but leave on direct messages and invitations. I dislike being distracted during an immersive game by anything besides an invitation to play some other game (and if I don’t want even that, I’ll make myself appear offline). I know that some players are similarly distracted by achievements, but might still want to see the comings and goings of their friends. It can’t imagine it would take much to offer more robust user control over this.

Sensible navigation. I once wrote a very long critique of the New Xbox Experience’s confusing, disorganized, and bloated interface, and have since commented on how the Web Marketplace demonstrates that more sensible navigation is indeed possible. My comments still stand. And I don’t imagine that Microsoft is interested in taking the focus off advertising, but considering that we are paying $50 a year for access to this service already, is it too much to ask that they not drop us in the Spotlight channel every time we go to the Dashboard?

Customizable sounds. I don’t actually care about this feature, really. I just thought it would be cool if I could change the sound for when you get an achievement to the “extra life” music from the old Sonic the Hedgehog. I’d turn off achievement notifications for most games, but for something like Geometry Wars, that would really get me pumped.

Logo Design Lumps

Every once in a while, I enjoy checking out posts on Logo Design Love. As someone who teaches design, though, sometimes it’s more useful to show students what not to do. Logo Design Love does this sometimes, and you can find other examples if you know where to look. For a truly reliable source of logo design don’ts, however, I am now pleased to humbly submit Your Logo Makes Me Barf. Gaze upon its majestic colors,
delight in its variety, and commit its holy words to memory.

Xbox Live Marketplace Doesn’t Have to Suck

I have been looking forward to seeing the full, unedited interview of Jon Stewart ripping apart Jim Cramer on The Daily Show. Unfortunately, whenever I go to the official site, it takes forever to load, or doesn’t load at all, so I quit. And anyway, we’re talking about a half hour of video here—I’d much rather watch that from the comfort of my sofa. Imagine my delight, then, to find out that I could download the whole thing directly from the Video Marketplace on Xbox Live!

Unfortunately, this means navigating the completely unintuitive and overly complicated navigational structure that is the Video Marketplace. There is a much, much more straightforward Web Marketplace which allows you to click on stuff in a web browser and send it directly to your console, but you can’t use that for this. Instead, you must find it through your console, browsing through lists of items so long that there’s no telling what they contain. Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb, Director of Programming for Xbox Live, explains:

Due to the way this free episode works in our system, you can’t queue it up from the Web Marketplace. You’ll have to go grab it old skool style when you are on your console. Once you sign in head to Video Marketplace > TV Shows > Network and Studios > Comedy Central > The Daily Show with Jon Stewart > Season 14 > then scroll down to the The Unedited Interview Between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer. (Kinda makes you appreciate the Web Marketplace, huh?)

No, Larry, it kinda makes me wish that the navigational interface of the New Xbox Experience didn’t suck. The Web Marketplace is proof that there are better ways to do this. I’ll jump through these hoops to get this one video I want, and I thank you for these instructions here—because if it weren’t for that, there’s no way I would’ve bothered digging through all those layers myself.

This needs to be fixed if Microsoft wants the Xbox to actually be used as the go-to living room device for anybody besides the hardcore nerds who read gaming sites, know about the Web Marketplace, or are willing to spend millennia browsing for content . In the meantime, Microsoft, please feel free to flash a warning message whenever we try to use the Marketplace on the console: “Save yourself the headache! is way easier than this.”

An Ad Blocker with an Axe

Readability is a bookmarklet that clears the visual clutter from a web page so you can just see the text. As the person who posted it to undrln notes, it’s a “Useful hack, and sad commentary on the state of webdesign all in one…”

Basically, you set some parameters on the site linked above, add a button to your bookmarks toolbar, and hit that button anytime you want to put the text on a page into a neat column. As far as I can tell, this works by replacing the stylesheet of whatever page you’re looking at, which means that it could be going even further than it is now. Just refresh the page to make it go back to normal. It’s not perfect—one page I tried it on ended up losing a graphic that should’ve been included—but it is an “experiment,” after all. I’m hoping future versions of this will let us mess with fonts and leading a bit more.

Update: I can’t help but notice that using this on our own works all wrong. Hah. From now on, I test to see whether a service makes me look good before I recommend it to the world.

The Classics Treatment

Perhaps you’ve already seen one of the various links to (and blog posts about) Olly Moss‘s video game covers redesigned in the style of Penguin Classics book covers (link via Offworld), or the similar series inspired by this effort over at Something Awful (link via Kotaku), or M.S. Corley Harry Potter redesigns (which I can only assume were also directly inspired by these efforts; link via undrln). I wanted to keep track of these images myself, though, so I’m blogging them yet again right here.

My first reaction to the game covers was, I wish game covers really looked like this. Upon further reflection, though, I realized how misleading that would be. These look great—but by and large, they’re aesthetically disconnected from the games’ visual and narrative style. I could imagine some of the older games sporting covers like these, such as some of the Sim City covers and a Missile Command cover, and perhaps one Mirror’s Edge cover actually resembles the style of the cut scenes in that game. Many of these, however, are lovely but downright hilarious (and often intentionally so, I wager) in their stylistic incongruity with the original games. The Harry Potter redesigns, meanwhile, work decently well, in my opinion.

Part of the reason covers in the “classics” styles wouldn’t really work for games is that many of the featured titles have a clear visual style already, whereas the cover alone defines the visual style for most novels. (Notice that the game covers that might work are generally for games with much less developed or more abstract graphics.) But that’s not the whole story, I think. Part of the incongruity is that most games are still testosterone-soaked gorefests with no attempt to transcend their period or genre. It’s hard to see a work as a true “classic” when its greatest aim is to achieve a multi-generation franchise, and its greatest legacy will be as a piece of nostalgia.

The New Xbox Experience Kind of Sucks

When Microsoft announced its “New Xbox Experience,” including an update to its visual interface and a handful of new features, I wrote up a blog post cataloguing some of my thoughts on the changes the system had seen. And then, for reasons I can’t quite remember, I sat on that post for a long while. Perhaps it seemed too bitter, or too long-winded. Perhaps I suspected that my opinions would change over time, as I got used to the new setup or got a better handle of how to use it. I saved the post as a draft, and let it be for quite some time.

Now, four months later, my Xbox—you know, the one that has required multiple repair requests—sighed its last, heaving breath, blinking at me with a single bloodshot eye. Looking for something to do to pass the time before bed, I logged into Doombot and noticed I had a draft waiting to be posted. So, with bitterness in my heart and four more months’ of “Experience” under my belt, I can say with renewed confidence and rancor that this dashboard update feels like a poke in the eye by someone who is flashing a toothy grin.

Read More…

Wait For It…

I’ve learned lately that anything we could ever imagine must eventually exist somewhere in the infinite reaches of space—cyberspace, that is! Today’s proof: I once noted that Doombot was quite nearly a gallery of placeholder pages and/or (cruelly non-loading) loading screens, and now I find Pretty Loaded … a rotating gallery of Flash loading pages.

I guess it’s pretty interesting, but it also kind of feels like an infinitely recurring series of disappointments. You get to 100% loaded … and suddenly you move on to another loading screen. Even with our all combined evil, I don’t think we at Doombot could’ve done any better.

Update: Tony tinkered with some code and actually created the cruelest loading screen ever. Once again the internet has made dreams appear as reality right before our eyes.

Party Like It’s 1979

Marvel at these images of Swedish dance bands for the names, for the typography, and, most of all, for the fashion. From now on, when something is awesome, I will exclaim, “This is the Schytts.”

The Uses of Crying Over Spilled Milk

The New York Times reports that Costco and Wal-Mart are ready to start carrying a newly redesigned gallon of milk. They seem pretty awesome, except not. Here, let’s quote a bit:

The jugs are cheaper to ship and better for the environment, the milk is fresher when it arrives in stores, and it costs less.…

But if the milk jug is any indication, some of the changes will take getting used to on the part of consumers. Many spill milk when first using the new jugs.

“When we brought in the new milk, we were asking for feedback,” said Heather Mayo, vice president for merchandising at Sam’s Club, a division of Wal-Mart. “And they’re saying, ‘Why’s it in a square jug? Why’s it different? I want the same milk. What happened to my old milk?’ ”

I suspect that different people will have different opinions about what the problem is here. Some—like the those behind these milk jugs—are saying that people are just too stubborn and need to learn to change with the times. Others—like those who dislike spilling milk, cleaning milk, or having to pour milk for children who can’t lift the redesigned jug—might contend that the problem here is that you ask for feedback before you design the damn jug.

I think it’s great that designers have begun taking things like environmentalism into consideration. But I also think that, at its heart, all product design is fundamentally about the creation of interfaces (according to people who are way smarter than I am). Making a milk jug which saves costs and materials is great—but if it doesn’t function as something people can recognize and use, well, then it’s a failure.

Mind you, this doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. Maybe you remember the new prescription bottle designed by a grad student at the School of Visual Arts. The thing is brilliant: more usable and more environmentally friendly. (Shame on the FDA for ignoring the thing, and kudos to Target for realizing what a step forward it is.)

Whereas the starting point for the redesign of this milk bottle was likely an economic concern, the pill bottle started with a human concern. Namely, the designer’s grandmother took the wrong medication because all prescription bottles tend to look the same, and usually highlight pharmacy branding and other inessential material over more crucial info (like, say, the actual name of the drug, or who the drug is for). The designer went through a number of different versions to see what would work for elderly people and users with sight issues, and ended up with something simple and more efficient.

Will it be worth teaching people the special trick to pour the new milk bottle? Maybe , in the long run, it will. But what would be smarter would be to get a group of people together to represent the interests of the average milk drinker (and pourer) during the design process to make sure that an important group of stake holders is represented. When people start crying over spilled milk, a good designer doesn’t admonish them for it; we go back to the drawing board.

Short Book Review: The Semantic Turn

Reading Klaus Krippendorff’s The Semantic Turn: A New Foundation for Design, I am struck by two realizations: one, that the theory behind design that he offers seems quite brilliant to me; and two, that it was only very recently that something clicked in my head such that I was able to understand what the hell he was saying at all. It’s not that he writes with the practiced complexity of French theorists—actually, he’s relatively straightforward—but he is so to-the-point that the text is quite dense with ideas. Moreover, if you’re the kind of reader who just skips every sentence that starts something like, “According to Heidegger…”, then you won’t get very far. However, a patient reader who is undaunted by abstract claims (before he starts offering concrete examples) will be rewarded with a theoretical treatise that explains what could potentially unify so many different fields and practices of professional designers, and how this theory could lead to more sensible products, from websites to furniture and beyond. Of course, it’s a hardcover by an academic press—i.e., priced as if it were printed on pages woven from pure gold—so you should hit up the library for this one.