A peep from VoiceOver, a built-in accessibility feature for Apple devices

VoiceOver is a “natural-sounding” screen reader built into many Apple products that also provides Braille support.

Here is a tutorial for accessing and using VoiceOver on Apple computers.

And here is a guide for accessing VoiceOver on iPhones, iPads and the iPod Touch.


The Cat Tracker Project – another example of geolocation at work or play

A cat's path from the Cat Tracker Project.

A cat’s path from the Cat Tracker Project.

According to YourWildLife.org:

Cats are mysterious, dangerous and far more unpredictable than one might expect from an animal that is, theoretically, domesticated. Some of the mysteries of cats relate to where they go and what they do; this is especially true of cats that go outdoors. We open our doors. They leave. Just where they go, we can’t be sure. Or rather we couldn’t be sure, until now. With your help, we’re investigating the movement of domesticated cats across the landscape. We want to know: Where do they go? What are they eating? What do they bring home, microbially speaking?

The Cat Tracker Project seeks participants to learn more about cat movement, diet, and health. The research has been approved by the NC State Institutional Review Board (#3515) and the Animal Care and Use Committee (NCSM 2014-01).

IoT – the Internet of Things

Increasingly the Internet is connecting to things. This McKinsey & Company article from way back in March 2010 is still illuminating. Here is an excerpt:

[T]he predictable pathways of information are changing: the physical world itself is becoming a type of information system. In what’s called the Internet of Things, sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects—from roadways to pacemakers—are linked through wired and wireless networks, often using the same Internet Protocol (IP) that connects the Internet. These networks churn out huge volumes of data that flow to computers for analysis. When objects can both sense the environment and communicate, they become tools for understanding complexity and responding to it swiftly. What’s revolutionary in all this is that these physical information systems are now beginning to be deployed, and some of them even work largely without human intervention.

Pill-shaped microcameras already traverse the human digestive tract and send back thousands of images to pinpoint sources of illness. Precision farming equipment with wireless links to data collected from remote satellites and ground sensors can take into account crop conditions and adjust the way each individual part of a field is farmed—for instance, by spreading extra fertilizer on areas that need more nutrients. Billboards in Japan peer back at passersby, assessing how they fit consumer profiles, and instantly change displayed messages based on those assessments.

That helps to explain Google’s purchase for $3.2 billion in January 2014 of Nest Labs, whose products include a learning thermostat as well as a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm.

Cisco offers this infographic:

Cisco infographic: The Internet of Things.

Cisco infographic: The Internet of Things.

Black-and-white-first design

Erik D. Kennedy offers 7 Rules for Creating Gorgeous UI (Part-1): a non-artsy primer in digital aesthetics. His second rule is to design first in black and white, which he likens to mobile-first design:

This is a reliable and easy way to keep apps looking “clean” and “simple”. Having too many colors in too many places is a really easy way to screw up clean/simple. B&WF forces you to focus on things like spacing, sizes, and layout first. And those are the primary concerns of a clean and simple design.

He provides a grayscale wireframe of Haraldur Thorleifsson as an example of such an approach:

Black-and-white wireframe by Haraldur Thorleifsson.

Black-and-white wireframe by Haraldur Thorleifsson.

Jakob Nielsen on web headlines

Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group is perhaps the guru of web usability. He’s impressed with the web headline writers at BBC News and identifies several essentials for effective web headlines which should be:

  • short (because people don’t read much online);
  • rich in information scent, clearly summarizing the target article;
  • front-loaded with the most important keywords (because users often scan only the beginning of list items);
  • understandable out of context (because headlines often appear without articles, as in search engine results); and
  • predictable, so users know whether they’ll like the full article before they click (because people don’t return to sites that promise more than they deliver).

Yes, that’s an old article (27 April 2009), but the Nielsen Norman Group recirculated it only a few weeks ago as an “Alertbox” message (a weekly email on user experience).

An excerpt from a question and answer session with Jon Wiley, Principal Designer of Google Search.

Reddit presents this online conversation with Jon Wiley, Principal Designer of Google Search. This is just one catchy extract, but good design can save a human life.


Hi, Jon. Thanks for the AMA [Ask Me Anything] and for your work on the Google Maps app! I use it all the time. Any chance you guys can make the app save my “Avoid tolls” preference like the old version did? I recently moved right next to a toll road and honestly avoid using voice recognition because it always tries to use the toll route. Thank you again :)


I use this feature, too. We’re looking for ways to try to make this work the right way. Like many design problems, this one has edge cases which are important to get right. Imagine that you checked the “Avoid tolls” preference and Maps saved the preference. Later, you tap on the mic and say “Navigate to the hospital!” and Maps takes you the long way. Probably not what you wanted. We need to think through all of the cases and make sure we ship the right design.