thoughts on art, interactivity, technology, design, culture & life

Archive for March 2010

I recently spent a whopping 4 hours in an airport waiting for a plane to arrive. While waiting I decided to catch up on some of my favorite shows using NBC's mobile website which allows you to view full episodes on your phone. Before I go any further let me first say that I think NBC is an innovator for putting full episodes on a mobile site, they should be commended for that. The mobile website as a whole is easy to navigate and not run down with functionality no one cares about. Also during my 4 hour wait, it was an awesome way to occupy my time.

Episodes play in parts on the mobile website, in other words: each episode is broken up into about 4-8 Quicktime videos with a commercial baked into the front of each part. Since an episode is not one large video file, there is naturally time between the end of one part and the beginning of the next. When this happens there is a screen letting the user know the next part of the episode will begin soon. This is the trouble spot.

Before

Epic problems are bound to occur when you have a design, UX and development team who don't communicate -- I expect this was what lead to the following screen being implemented.  UX and design probably thought the developer would use the iPhone's native GUI, when really this was not the case at all. Instead of a developer pushing back and asking his/her design/UX team to re-think the approach to this screen or better yet suggesting solutions for the screen, they said nothing or worse yet...perhaps they weren't involved in the design/UX process at all. The screen below is the result  (Below image each problem is addressed individually)

  1. In case you thought that because the image above is a JPG and that in the actual screen grab the spinner was actually spinning, you would be wrong. Under no circumstance does that spinner spin. Nope, instead it just sits there, dead, teasing us with its' spinner like appearance. WTF NBC, if you have a spinner on a page....well then make sure it spins! I have no interest in looking at a static picture of something that is suppose to move -- that's like sitting in a car that's not on: completely pointless.
  2. Do you see a mouse on this screen? NO! Under no circumstances would you need to click on anything. On an iPhone (or any touch screen device really) you TAP not click. Copywriters take note.
  3. Episode Part? Really?....really? Could you not have found a better way to say that?
  4. Why is this in a box, I don't get it....it's not iPhone UI, it looks like crap...get rid of it.
  5. Again...using native iPhone UI elements as an image in the hopes of providing a seamless experience doesn't work here, so don't do it.

Beyond using a single image static image, a multitude of copy flubs and implementation faux-pas, the image used is pixelated...the kind of pixelated that is like nails on a chalkboard to a designer's eyes. I'm going to file the pixelation under the 'lazy developer' files for now and move on.

After

In my re-design I had a couple of goals.

  1. Make sure the user knows something is happening and that their content is being queued up
  2. Correct the epic copy failures of the previous screen
  3. Remind users they're being afforded the luxury of viewing TV shows on their mobile device because of NBC
  4. Keep the file size reasonable, we are on mobile -- no one wants to wait for a loader to load
  5. Use the peacock: NBC you have a fucking peacock as your logo...embrace the peacock! If I was NBC that peacock would load EVERYTHING. It's one of the most recognized logos in America, use it, remix it, animate it, love it.1

By embracing the peacock (5) I am able to inform the user their content is being queued up with the animated NBC logo (1). This logo is also a way of reminding the user where they are, and that what they are watching is NBC programming (3). I adjusted the copy and hierarchy of the type to more accurately inform the user of what is going on (2). The final file size of the GIF NBC would use in their HTML is nearly half the size of the image they are currently using: NBC's image is 20KB compared to mine which is 12KB (4). That's right NBC, I pimped out your loading screen and brought the file size down.....what now?!

Taking it a step farther

While the design above reflects a change to the current DESIGN of that screen I actually feel that this screen is a missed opportunity for earning some advertising dollars. NBC could easily place a small advertisement on this page to generate additional revenue, the user is waiting anyways, popping an ad on the screen isn't going to hurt.

How to not make a user's eye's bleed and an advertiser's heart break

  1. Don't assume that just because something is on screen for only 5 seconds that it can be dismissed. Five seconds is a LONG time online and it seems even longer when you're on a mobile phone because you don't have other windows open to browse while waiting.
  2. Since 5 seconds is a long time, don't let your user think that nothing is happening. Inform them or entertain them with an animation or piece of trivia. Waiting is no fun, would you want to stand in a waiting room instead of sit in a comfortable chair?...I didn't think so. Don't be a douche bag to your user, if they have to wait anyways make the experience less unbearable.
  3. If you have a screen that requires a user to wait anyways, why not earn some additional revenue from that time by showing them an ad. Advertising sucks, but since NBC is providing free quality content with probably 70% less advertising than a viewer watching on TV, they are well within their rights to collect ad dollars here.
  4. Be careful writing copy for mobile. Many mobile devices no longer allow a user to click...instead user's tap. Also make sure you're writing copy that will makes sense to a user and if you can, don't be afraid to spice it up a bit.
  5. Rub some 'Make my logo bigger cream' on it (kidding!). Don't make your logo huge, but make sure the experience is tastefully branded throughout.

A Message to NBC

Like all broadcasting companies, you too have your moments of weakness and this was clearly one of them. Since I enjoyed using your mobile website so much I'd like to provide the animated GIF I created (re-designed) to you (see 12KB animated GIF here), should you require source files as well simply contact me and I'll send them over as well. More importantly, take some pride in your work and embrace the gritty details as an opportunity to shine. While I was at the airport I probably spent about one whole minute looking at that ugly screen ya'll implemented, now you go look at that screen for a minute. Was it enjoyable? No, of course not. Now in the words of Tim Gun 'make it work'.

  1. NBC's peacock logo as we know it now was designed by Chermayeff & Geismar in 1986, 24 years later the logo is still being used...now that's what I call timeless design! []

I recently took a trip to the upper east side of Manhattan to visit the Guggenheim and Jewish museums. The Jewish Museum was awesome the Guggenheim was awful...here's why:

A glance at a successfully curated museum experience

I began at the Jewish Museum to see the Alias Man: The art of reinvention exhibit. This exhibit was easily one of the most well curated exhibits I've seen in a long time. It was well thought out presenting Man Ray's work in a relatively chronological order, hooking it to the artist's biography and world events allowing the spectator to understand the 'why' of the art with considerable ease. The text accompanying the exhibit was well written, so well written in fact that it almost stopped traffic flow as even I (like many others) read to find out what came next in this artists life. Artworks that were relevant to one another, were presented together leading visitors to draw conclusions on their own (what I like to call 'ahh ha' moments).

In my opinion the curation was flawless, but more importantly it was accessible. The visitor did not need a fancy pedigree or a background art history or philosophy background to understand the core tenants of why Man Ray's work was important. There was no need to struggle for understanding or focus, this made it easier for myself (and I'm sure many other visitors) to remain receptive when viewing works such as The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse1 an object (we don't know what kind of object) wrapped in cloth and bound with string. Artworks like this often turn people off of art, but in this exhibit the sterile, unfeeling, lack of thought was stripped from the object. It was presented in context with Gift2, one of my personal favorites, the juxtaposition of the objects I felt helped with understanding: it was much less object in the center of a white box without a plaque fuck you we normally see in museums.

For me the reason I loved this exhibit is that I could tell that a lot of though and effort went into sharing Man Ray's legacy with the public in a way that allowed ANYONE from the public to understand. I could feel the love and passion of those who worked to create this exhibit and their passion to share that with the museum's visitors. It was very delightful.

A glance at a museum experience gone wrong

My delight at the Jewish museum I fear may have lead me to expect the same from the world renowned Guggenheim Museum. After waiting in line for 15 minutes in front of the most annoying and pretentious European pricks I finally was inside the museum. The line inside the museum to get tickets was non-existent. Instead the bevy of potential ticket holders loitered around not knowing who was next to make a purchase. I usually can overlook chaos at a museum's entrance but this seemed slightly more ridiculous than usual.

Once I was in the ground level I could see the Tino Sehgal3 performance in the center: a couple making out. This performance was awesome, in fact it may have been my favorite thing I saw all day. As I wound my way up Wright's spiral I noticed a shocking absence of something relatively important in an art museum: ART. The spiral was void of the very thing it was intended to display. I am not entirely sure why this is, I am not so secretly hoping this absence is actually part of an idea or artwork that I completely missed (if so please let me know), in any case I felt cheated.

If you've been to the Guggenheim before you'll know that each level of the spiral has galleries off the main path. These galleries each contained different exhibits. I want to tackle them each separately since I was disgusted by each for different reasons. PLEASE NOTE: The museum was crowded, loud, and frustrating to begin with -- my disgust and inability to feel at ease really made a poor experience even worse.

Malevich In Focus: 1912-19224

First off, the lighting in this gallery was terrible, secondly the Guggenheim took arguably one of the least accessible (and possibly most innovative) artists of the first half of the 20th century and failed to explain to someone who has never seen Russian avant-garde why Malevich was one bad ass dude. Great, I'm a first time visitor who has never seen Malevich before, what the hell is this guy doing with all of these red and black triangles and squares? Further more even if there were placards explaining all this (and there were a few, the ones I read were boring as hell and not exactly my idea of well done) I would not want to read them since it was a space that was way too small and poorly lit. It was clear that this exhibit was not designed for the general public but for the art history buffs, who not only know what Cubisim, Italian Futurism and the Russian avant-garde are but can write an essay outlining their importance to modernism.

Paris and the Avant-Garde: Modern Masters from the Guggenheim Collection5

There is no disputing that the Guggenheim has an awesome permanent collection, but the title of this exhibit lead me to have a few expectations:

  1. The fact that the exhibit is centered around Avant-Garde artists who worked in the same city (Paris) leads me to believe that I will learn something about which of these artists influenced each other, spent time together or better yet despised each other.
  2. Since these artists were working in the same city, I would expect at least one pair of paintings by two separate artists depicting the same Parisian subject matter in different ways. They're all working in the same city, surrounded by the same things: I want proof.
  3. I want to know what was so avant-garde about these paintings (I know, but I want the average Joe to know too: I'm tired of explaining to Grandma why Norman Rockwell is not a better painter than Marc Chagall or Pablo Picasso)
  4. Tell me why they're masters, these paintings are obviously important as they are owned by the Guggenheim -- but nothing has been done to convince me why their works are important or why these men (there may have been a woman in there, but I didn't notice any) were masters.
  5. As a museum nerd I really want to know where these pieces came from, why they were purchased and more importantly some cool facts about them. The Guggenheim as guardian of these works must have the most complete history, and know the full importance of each of these works, they should share that: I paid $18 for you to tell me.

Needless to say, none of these expectations were met.

Anish Kapoor: Memory6

In the time I was at the museum I saw one piece (a gigantic piece) by Kapoor called Bombay, it was cool, but if there was more than one piece there was no apparent way to get to it, see it and there certainly weren't any signs pointing to it. I was surprised because I honestly expected Kapoor's work to adorn the spiral. I was disappointed.

Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum7

Possibly the most accessible exhibit at the museum due to designer/artist/architect documentation of their submissions to this exhibitions, but the exhibit read something like my high school art show. I am unsure of how much I like this, on one hand it was not pretentious and therefore much more approachable. On the other hand there were no names next to the artists work -- instead the visitor had to pick up a newspaper like pamphlet (super awkward format for a gallery setting, and the supply was running low when I grabbed mine) and match the number next to the piece with the number on the paper to see who the piece was created by. For the love of God I don't want to play a game of match-the-numbers when I am looking at art, save that shit for kindergartner worksheets and multiple choice tests. More importantly save yourself the hassle of printing multiple copies of the same thing when you could make one damn copy and hang it on the wall. What were they thinking?

Why the Guggenheim should install an enormous 'Fail Whale' sculpture in their lobby

Some museum experiences are successful, my experience at the Guggenheim just pissed me off -- here's why:

  1. Doing something as simple as getting a ticket should never be a cluster-fuck. I don't care about waiting in line, just don't make me wait in line only to be fed into a loitering group of apathetic hipsters who don't know where the hell to go next.
  2. If you are a museum, you should display art -- the absence of art in an art museum can only be interpreted as two things: 1.) Someone hasn't done their job and needs to be fired, 2.) an artistic statement that will only be understood by those who write the art theory books...the average tourist from Nebraska will likely not get it (no offense Nebraska, I'm sure you're awesome)
  3. I don't want to guess at why an artist created something nor should I need to pick up the poorly design fugly audio guide device to figure that out. Give me a brief well written description so that I don't need to listen to a 5 minute long audio track to get the information I could have gotten by skimming a description in 10 seconds. Seriously, Guggenheim....cut it out with the audio guide only bullshit.
  4. I came to a museum, so don't display work like a high school art show or make me play match-the-number. Grow-up Guggenheim, you're people get paid to do a job, make sure they're doing it and doing it well.
  5. The day I visited lack of diversity in the visitors was appalling, the Guggenheim should be ashamed. Where was the color? Where was the different point of view? Where were the people reminding me that museums are there to serve the community not just a segment of society? It was sad.

Avoiding the fail whale is easy

Museums should make their art accessible to the general public, this begins at the ticket line and carries all the way through to the placement of artworks and artwork's documentation. In short, I shouldn't need to be an over educated ass to understand art, it's importance or why I should care in the first place.

  1. Man Ray, The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse, 1920/1971. Object, felt, and string. Approx. 13 3/4 x 23 5/8 x 13 in. (35 x 60 x 33 cm). Collection of Marion Meyer, © 2009 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris []
  2. Man Ray, Gift, 1958 (replica of 1921 original). Painted flatiron and tacks, 6 1/8 x 3 5/8 x 4 1/2" (15.3 x 9 x 11.4 cm). James Thrall Soby Fund. © 2010 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. []
  3. The New York Times review of the Tino Sehgal Exhibit []
  4. Malevich In Focus: 1912-1922 Exhibit Page []
  5. Paris and the Avant-Garde Exhibit Page []
  6. Anish Kapoor Exhibit Page []
  7. Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum Exhibit Page []
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