Communicate with certainty
and your Voice will be heard.


Until recently I considered writing tests for my applications much like reading Dickens in high school: boring, repetitive, hard to understand, and yet for some reason a total necessity.  What’s more, I wrote tests about as frequently as I read Dickens – and I’ve never read any Dickens.  My meandering point here is that Test Driven Development (TDD) seems to be the standard of the rails community, yet I don’t know a single person who actually does it.  With that it mind, I decided to develop our last client’s application with tests written to the best of my ability.  At first I thought I was burying my productivity in the minutia of each test, but I ended up learning quite a few things, including the value of testing.

Tools

I guess the first thing to do here is to describe my tools.  To test with Rails I used RSPEC, Factory Girl, and Capybara.

RSpec is a testing tool for Ruby.  Baked into the gem is a rich command line program with detailed error reporting. The beauty of Ruby, and RSpec, is that it enables you to write human readable tests that tell a story. For instance:

it 'has a list of employees' do
employee = Employee.new('John', 'Smith')
company = Company.new([student])
expect(company.employees).to include(student)
end

Though testing with RSPEC ensures that our models behave the way we expect, there is a serious problem with this approach: It takes forever. Testing any sort of interesting behavior not only involves extensive amounts of setup to your environment, but a tremendous amount of code to create various instances of your model. This is where Factory Girl comes in.  Factory Girl allows a tester to create factories that create multiple records for a model with some generic attributes that are able to be overridden as needed.  This means that creating a unique record is as simple as:

FactoryGirl.create(:employee, name: "Jon Snow").

My last tool in my little testing toolkit is Capybara. Where RSpec is a way to test your models, Capybara allows your application to test external behavior. In other words Capybara provides a simple way to test user stories and general behavior. Heres an example:

'When I sign in' do
visit user_sign_up_path
fill_in 'Login', :with => 'DavidBowie@spidersfrommars.net'
fill_in 'Password', :with => 'whereWereTheSpiders?'
click_link 'Sign in'
end

 

So What’s The Point

When I started, I assumed that testing would help to prevent bugs. While this is likely the case, I found that using TDD did something far more valuable. By letting tests to drive the code, developers are forced to conceptualize their application before a single semi-colon is ever written. This forces developers to step through their own logic, which in my case, is full of inconsistencies and little things that I had not thought through fully…likely because I have never read Dickens.

001_productivity

On this episode of The MechCast, Michael (our host), Tope, Dhruv, George, Dave, & Joe discuss privacy on the internet, how safe we really are while surfing the web, and how we as individuals feel about our own digital footprint.

Related Links:
Call for Limits on Web Data of Customers
How To Remove Yourself From The Internet”
Lightbeam for Firefox”
Collusion for Chrome
How Does Invisible Pixel Conversion Tracking Work?

Music:
Aphex Twin – W32.Deadcode.A
Kraftwerk Pocket Calculator

Play

Here are some thoughts on talks at the recent An Event Apart, in Boston.

Understanding Web Design – Jeffrey Zeldman

  • Web Design is held to the expectations of other media. Often ignoring the intrinsic strengths of web
  • Like typography, web design’s primary focus is communicating content
  • Technology is often a hangup for people, when the user and their needs should be the primary focus of designers. “Design for people, not browsers!”
  • Design is about detail
  • A great website will subtly guide the user to their desired destination

Designing Using Data – Sarah Parmenter

  • Design is no longer a differentiator. Making things look nice is common. The differentiator today is designing with purpose — answer the question ‘why?’
  • When the right metrics are studied, data offers objective and actionable feedback
  • Data should allow a team to unite behind an objective goal — such as: Increase clicks etc.
  • Customer facing advertising is most effective when honest and transparent
  • Iterative design allows you to be flexible and try new things

Responsive Design is Still Hard/Easy! Be Afraid/Don’t Worry! – Dan Mall

  • Frameworks rather than processes, mean you define a set of constraints within which a project exists, and within this you find out what you can do that’s unexpected
  • Be active within your framework and volunteer/get involved with stages of production outside of your discipline
  • Each member of a team will have divergent perspectives at the start of each project cycle, they should become convergent by the end. These are focal points
  • Rinse and repeat the cycle, getting smaller each time to increase team involvement
  • Extensive preparation should make the assembly part of the process the shortest

Screen Time – Luke Wroblewski

  • Mobile is the dominant web browser worldwide
  • Responsive design includes additional considerations than just screen size (multiple input types, variable ambient lighting etc)
  • Screen size is a poor proxy for many of these considerations (screen size does not reveal input type)
  • A user’s posture or distance from device will also affect it’s design, independent of screen size or number of pixels
  • Design for human proportions, not pixels.

Content/Communication – Kristina Halvorson

5 key points for working with a client:

  • Principles: these are internal motivators based on our better intentions. They can unify a team
  • Strategy: pinpoint your goals and provide helpful constraints with which to execute
  • Process: the process is not God, it should change and grow as needs change. Regular post mortems are encouraged
  • Roles: RACI key for each agent on the client end. Responsible. Accountable. Consulted. Informed
  • Perceptions: Translate to facilitate communication between different disciplines

UX Strategy Means Business – Jared Spool

  • Design is the rendering of intent. Both user and provider
  • Content delivery is as important as the content itself and vice versa. Great UX cannot exist without great content
  • Advertising is unhelpful for all parties involved
  • Strategic priorities in business can inform design considerations (increase revenue, reduce cost etc)
  • There are a variety of models for monetizing the web

The Long Web – Jeremy Keith

  • HTML allows for fantastic accessibility, deprecation and backward compatibility
  • New HTML specifications can be adopted early as they will be skipped over when unsupported
  • Progressive enhancement means you start with the lowest common denominator and then enhance as much as you like
  • Progressive enhancement protects the experience from unaccountable errors such as unrelated javascript errors
  • Text formats will last longer than binaries. Binaries are forever changing and becoming outdated

Responsive Design Performance Budget – Paul Irish

  • Mobile users expect their content to load faster than the desktop
  • Web growing is latency limited. The nature of requesting many small files means that a user’s experience is improved by reducing the number requests
  • UX can be greatly enhanced by prioritizing critical data and rendering early on
  • Separate the critical CSS from non-critical. Load non-critical at the end of the page. Aim for main content to load in 1 sec (< 14kb)
  • The number of higher latency users is increasing

The Chroma Zone: Engineering Color on the Web – Lea Verou

  • Colors in web browsers have many nuances and limitations
  • Hex and RGB are poor representations for human reading
  • HSL and HSLa are better although they are not perceptually uniform (we perceive 50% yellow as much lighter than 50% blue)
  • New color properties in CSS level 4 will make color coding more human readable (HWB = Hue Whiteness Blackness)
  • There is room for much more improvement in web colors

Mind the Gap: Designing in the Space Between Devices – Josh Clark

  • Designing for the space between screens. Not content but tasks. Verbs not nouns
  • The technology is available today, we just haven’t imagined the possibilities yet
  • Interfacing with machine is likely not going to change much (touch and mouse are great interfaces)
  • Physical things are beginning to have digital representations (avatars)
  • How about affecting how we interface with physical world and communicating that to our devices.
  • Software makes hardware scale, The endless possibilities

Web+: Can the Web Win the War Against Native Without Losing its Soul? – Bruce Lawson

  • Web technology has inherent strengths, despite the popularity of native apps
  • Web tech should not try to replicate — though it can learn from native. Build to the strengths of web
  • Progressive enhancement and interoperability make web accessible and global. Always accessible by everyone
  • Widgets failed as they were a poor imitation of native apps. They existed as a snapshot without the ability to update
  • W3C is built for accessibility and interoperability. This means that it is designed for low level functions. Can be complicated but powerful

How to Champion Ideas Back at Work – Scott Berkun

  • Great things are achieved in difficult circumstances
  • Success and acclaim only arrive once a project is complete
  • Charm and convincing people of your ideas is important!
  • A network increases your potential. Reach out and get advice to harness that potential
  • To enact change, start small with something you can excel at and expand from there

electric-car

Small wins.

The Danish Energy Agency allocated EUR 4 million for public and private electric car projects. This will bring 1500 new electric cars to the streets of Denmark in 2014. With about 6 million people, they are approximately 1.5% the population of the US.

Bhutan, the Himalayan kingdom of 700,000 people, measures progress by the gross national happiness index. They also export 72% of their electricity. Nissan is helping them to build a complex infrastructure for charging their whisper-quiet Leaf electric cars.

Electric cars are so smooth, nimble and silent – you don’t even hear them coming.

In the United States, we have oil lobbyists fighting against the existence of electric cars to their last breath, all part of our historically vaudevillian political system where money and power are sadly trumping progress. Getting these jackals to finally back off enough to even allow rational conversations about electric cars will require such a widespread public demonization of oil, that cowboys will have to kneel before the masses and swear that Texas tea is really made from fresh butterfly milk.

Remember, the United States (and arguably Canada and South Africa) has Elon Musk, the baddest-ass electric car maker in the world, headquartered right in Palo Alto. A ruthless innovator, rocket launcher and inventor like this hasn’t been seen since “The Great and Powerful Jobs”. And what do the bureaucrats do to Musk through lobbyists and political baboonery? They tar, feather and shit on him. He’ll eventually take his magic ball and teleport to another playground. But, we’re too busy punching the nerd in the face to notice that we’re actually slugging an invincible warlock.

And such is our system. Obese and overwrought with so much rotten sausage that if we keep it up, we are likely to fall behind even the developing world in a generation or two. By the time we pluck our heads out of our own posteriors and realize that politics ain’t reality tv, it’ll be too late.

To get electricity you have to start with an alpha particle.

You want electric cars? You might have to travel to tiny Norway. In March 2014, Norway became the first country where over one in every 100 registered passenger cars is plug-in electric. Among the existing government incentives, all-electric cars are exempt in Norway from all non-recurring vehicle fees (including purchase taxes – which are extremely high for ordinary cars), and 25% VAT on purchase, together making a whisper-quiet electric car purchase price competitive with conventional cars. Take that oil lobbyists…

You want your government out of net neutrality? You might have to go to smart, little Brazil for internet freedom. Remember, when you disrupt the flow of free ideas by allowing money to clog the pipes, you’ll have such a backlog of slime that you’ll need to hire Godzilla the plumber to clean them out. And as we all know, Godzilla makes a big mess.

when you disrupt the flow of free ideas by allowing money to clog the pipes, you’ll have such a backlog of slime that you’ll need to hire Godzilla the plumber to clean them out.

It’s also why a small agency wins. Small is nimble. Nimble is smart. Smart is quick. And assuming the person at the top of a small agency is open minded and searching for a future not caught in the past, then the possibilities are endless.

Made in NYC? Yea, I’ve heard of it – The Mechanism helped to write that book for the past 13 years. We’re nimble, speed-hungry, cockroaches, nestled in the bowels of New York City. We’re surviving, and we’re whisper-quiet.

And you know what? You never hear us coming either.

Meeting Milton art R2sAt the end 2013….. before this final season of Mad Men was in the can, I had the unexpected and most extraordinary opportunity to MEET Milton Glaser. Not only to meet the demiurge of 20th-century eclecticism in communications design, but to actually hang out in his studio space and chat with the man. This is that same comfortable and time-worn space in which Mr. Glaser has, for over 40 years, created some of the most memorable and thoughtful artwork, poster design, identity programs, campaigns and so much more.

His clients, those seeking meaning in their marketing efforts, comprise a diverse range of enterprise from film, music, theater and publishing, to cultural, civic and institutional entities. They came to Mister Glaser for something remarkable, some insight that would flick on a light switch for almost everyone who encountered his work.

Do I sound like a giddy schoolboy? That’s fine. I came for the same thing. Something remarkable. Some insight that would reaffirm why we designers love to create.

I graduated from my design program during the mid-1980′s when Milton already had attained mythological status. This was the era when post-modernism and deconstructionist sensibilities were part of a standard discourse. The notion of articulating expressions of the hand-drawn could instill value and meaning by adding a layer of subtext to anything from an annual report to a poster about AIDS awareness.

I have to wonder, as I work in a predominantly digital realm, are we still as invested in the subtext of meaning in crafting a deeper message? A deeper experience? Can we be digital and deep?

And so I had an audience with someone who in my book, may as well be the 5th Beatle. Or perhaps a better analogy would be….the Gautama Buddha of creative thinking and brand design.

As I walked across 32nd Street, my hands were clammy and my heart raced. I rehearsed one or two of what I thought where intelligent observations or questions about Mr. Glaser’s place in design history.  But how did I even get here? Who am I to have this opportunity? The afternoon was orchestrated by a former teaching colleague of mine. I had taught at the SUNY College at Buffalo NY for some ten years before I came to NYC To be a Mad Man once again. I sort of strong-armed my way into the event when I heard Milton Glaser had agreed to chat with a small group of students. And so here I was a crass commercial digital Mad Man, posing as an intellectual once again. Hoping no one will notice that I was torn, as most of us are, between both meaning and money.

Walking up to the building, I was delighted by the thoughtful phrase etched in the glass transom above the outside front door. “Art is work”. A simple true statement.  This was going to be good.

We waited for Milton in an area that felt like the small kitchen in an old grade school. The afternoon’s autumnal sunlight warming the yellow wood trim on the window sills. Artifacts of Milton’s tremendously productive career on the shelving all around the room.
There was a large wooden dinner table from the 1960′s with not enough seats around it for the nine of us, and so I chose to stand. While we waited some twenty minutes for Milton to join us, the other professors and the small group of college students chatted excitedly and rehearsed their questions with each other. I, the self-invited interloper, remained on the quiet side, rehearsing my little question in my head. Partly because I wanted to get it right, partly because I didn’t want to share my thoughts ahead of time. I preferred to sound cool and casual.

And so Milton joined us. He beams kindness and understanding as he sits at the head of this well-worn table. “What can I possibly do for you all today”?  The question was directed at me. I realized I was mistaken as the leader since I was the only one standing in the group. I had to explain that Professor Pete Bella had put this together and these were his students. I was simply too far away from the closest chair when the music stopped, and so here I stood.

The first thing one notices as he speaks, is that Milton is extremely articulate and thereby quite economic in his use of words. There is not one syllable wasted on trifle and I imagine each of us around the table was thinking “I wish I were more like that – thoughtful and direct”. I realized that he says so much with imagery and artistry in his daily life, that his understanding of those things around us and those things we are talking about, comes from a deeper reflection on life that is constant like a Zen Master. That his internal perspective is well considered, calm, and calming.

We were poised and ready.  Professor Bella asked Mr. Glaser to share with us what he thought the future held for young designers. I asked my well rehearsed “off the cuff” question, about his push against the cool aesthetics of Mid-Century Modernism by introducing a New Eclecticism that infused humor and ornamentation into the culture of corporate design.

What we got instead was a lovely story. 
Milton shared something that he saw on PBS the night before. (Suck-up that I am, I happened to have seen much of this show as well, and so I locked eyes with my buddy Milton and added my small comments of agreement- desperate to be liked by the man).

The story was about a blind horse and a goat. They had a most unlikely and loving relationship wherein the goat would take the Horse’s rope-tether in his mouth every morning and lead the horse to both food and water. They sat in the sun together. They communicated.  When the horse eventually died, he was buried under a tree on the hillside where the goat and horse spent much of their time. After the horses passing, that goat would walk alone everyday, all the way to the spot where the horse was buried and just sit there…. all day.
It is a beautiful story I have shortened here. Milton shared that with us….and as he finished he held his right hand over his heart. He paused, filled with the love and meaning of that relationship. He was overwhelmed. He smiled a slow smile and gave us time to share that feeling.

We all took in that moment. Whether you had seen the PBS show or not, everyone in that room was moved.  In that short opening Milton conveyed so much meaning and clarity without being didactic or obvious. That is his gift. Milton Glaser has an ability to design, create, and communicate, while maintaining the human in humanity.

We did eventually speak more directly about design process and its place in our culture. Milton was also very clear about his distaste for advertising and marketing as a pure form of propaganda. He was adamantly against using our powers to persuade the unsuspecting individual to purchase things they don’t need. To manufacture desire where there was none. He spoke of the political ramifications of the power of good design.  Advertising, whose job was to sell dreams and create desire can be used for good…or for profit….or possibly both.
I know it sounds obvious, but as we basked in that radiant intellect, we realized that we each have the power to speak to the human condition.

As I left that day, saying good-bye to my good friends, Professors Stan Friesen and Pete Bella, and my new friend Milton Glaser, I was still giddy. I carry that with me everyday. (that and a selfie of me n Milton) – And I thank Milton for the conscious appreciation and new energy.

I can say with confidence that everything is OK in the design world. 
Horses and Goats not only get along, but live and love in harmony.
And YES it is OK to feel deeply and design digitally.