This week’s installment of “Wireframe,” the documentary podcast about the design of digital products and experiences hosted by yours truly, dives into the shadowy world of designing for privacy, trust and security. It’s out today and you can listen to it below or subscribe in your favorite podcast app.
To unpack this complicated subject, we brought together a formidable panel of experts: cybersecurity lawyer Amie Stepanovich, Simply Secure Executive Director Georgia Bullen, and UX designer Lieke Beelen all joined me for an in-depth discussion about privacy as a design problem.
Each of them came to the table with a unique perspective on what designers can do in this arena to benefit both users and businesses alike. We discussed the apparent disconnect between the nearly continuous stream of privacy and security scandals in the headlines and the apparently unfettered growth that the companies at fault continue to enjoy.
I also took the opportunity to ask the question of complicity on the part of designers who have devoted their careers to furthering the advance of the platforms that are at the heart of today’s privacy and security debate. With these three experts at the table, I couldn’t let the moment pass without asking whether design as a profession isn’t just guilty of trying to make cigarettes healthier?
You can read more about this episode at theblog.adobe.com . And if you’re not familiar with “Wireframe,” it’s a unique kind of design podcast produced by Adobe and Gimlet Creative and hosted by yours truly. Instead of merely interviewing well known designers, we dig into the world of interaction design via heavily researched reporting and engaging narratives. In other words, stories instead of résumés. If you liked today’s episode, be sure to check out all six of the installments from our first season as well.
Here is the first episode of our second season of “Wireframe,” our documentary podcast about the design of digital products and experiences, hosted by yours truly.
This season we’re looking at the limits of what design can do. And straight out of the gate we’re not being shy about tackling big topics like, well, American healthcare. Specifically we dig into the user experience of the electronic health records systems that our doctors have to contend with when they would much prefer to be spending that time talking with patients. That’s something I suspect everyone wants.
To dive into this topic I took a trip to the emergency room at NYU Langone Medical Center to observe firsthand how doctors like Shannon McNamara work with their electronic health records systems. It was eye-opening for me to observe how she has to wrangle with what most designers would consider to be incredibly complex and even use-hostile screen interfaces. Later, I learned that some providers of these systems are so proprietary that they don’t even allow screen captures of their software interfaces, even for purposes of reporting bugs in the software itself. You can imagine how that hasn’t helped the overall friendliness of these systems. And on top of that, there’s the hardware experience, too; the computers running these EHRs are mounted on carts that need to be wheeled around from patient to patient. As a designer standing in the middle of all that, I bristled at the sheer amount of stuff that so desperately needed to be redesigned.
There’s tons more on this subject in the episode, of course, so listen to it above or subscribe in your favorite podcast app. And, if you want to learn more about the role design plays in our healthcare system, we’re writing blog posts for each episode that expand on what you hear on the show; you can read this week’s post at theblog.adobe.com. By the way, this series of blog posts will each feature amazing artwork by the fantastic Brazilian illustrator Lucas Wakamatsu; you can see the first one above.
If you’re not familiar with “Wireframe,” it’s a unique kind of design podcast produced by Adobe and Gimlet Creative and hosted by yours truly. Instead of merely interviewing well known designers, we dig into the world of interaction design via heavily researched reporting and engaging narratives. In other words, stories instead of résumés. If you liked today’s episode, be sure to check out all six of the installments from our first season as well.
We’ve been hard at work for the past three months or so on season two of “Wireframe,” the deeply researched, high-quality documentary podcast about design hosted by yours truly. The first episode drops next week, on Tue 9 Sep. Meanwhile, you can listen to the trailer here:
Like our first season, this sophomore outing will be six episodes long, with new episodes released every Tuesday. We’ve got some great stuff in store, too, including deep dives into:
The life-or-death user experience of healthcare systems
The new frontier of designing sound and audio notifications
The role designers can—and should—play in privacy
How design drives the social dynamics of dating apps
How user experience design manifests itself in film and TV
And more! If you’re not familiar with “Wireframe,” it’s a unique kind of design podcast, hosted by yours truly. Instead of merely interviewing well known designers, we dig into the world of interaction design via heavily researched reporting and engaging narratives. In other words, stories instead of résumés. Subscribe now!
Apple hardware designers are rumored to cringe at the idea of encasing their beautiful phones and tablets in protective cases, so I can only imagine what they would think about BoltHub, the “invisible USB-C hub” that I just got for my iPad Pro.
The BoltHub essentially “bolts”—really, it sort of clamps—onto the top right of your iPad Pro in landscape orientation, with an ominous-looking, short-run USB-C cable connecting it to the USB-C input. Once attached the device gives you a 4K HDMI slot, one slot each for Micro SD and SD cards, a plain old USB 3.1 port running at 5GB/second (suitable for thumb drives), a USB-C passthrough port to make up for the one you gave up to attach the BoltHub, and even a 3.5mm audio jack to replace the one that Apple so bravely omitted.
Personally, I missed having an audio jack on my 2018 model iPad Pro tremendously, so the inclusion of one in the BoltHub is a big win for me. Unfortunately, in my testing the audio jack doesn’t actually work with in-line remote controls on headphones, so my RHA-brand earbuds couldn’t pause the music or turn up the volume. But the audio output sounds fine and the microphone actually works too. By and large all the ports work as advertised, adding significant utility to the port-challenged iPad Pro.
I’m glad to have this in my travel kit now for those times on the road that one or more of these ports will undoubtedly save me from some sticky situation, but I’ve also never in my life felt so bad about owning a peripheral the way I do about the BoltHub. One of the distinctions of Apple’s iOS hardware has been its elegant, self-contained, almost hermetic nature—any added appendages seem to disrupt these devices’ natural balance in some ineffable way. Apple’s posture has always been that the iPad is basically perfect on its own, that you really don’t need anything more than the tablet itself in order to do everything you could want to do with it. One could even argue that the company sells its own keyboard and stylus for the iPad with great ambivalence, as they continue to wrestle with the suggestion that these things are necessary to fulfill the iPad’s potential—even though it’s become obvious to millions, including myself, that they are.
So just to entertain the idea that these ports are necessary feels like kind of an affront, a heresy against the iPad’s most bedrock principles. On top of it all, the BoltHub, while designed with care, is fundamentally ugly. It’s hard to blame the designers for this because the challenge they took on is at its essence an ugly one: attach ports to a device that defies the very need for ports. (And, to be fair, the BoltHub is much more elegant than most USB-C hubs for tablets out there.) Still, with its USB-C cable dangling off the side in a vaguely life-support-ish fashion, the whole presentation looks somewhat sci-fi, but in a cheap, made-for-TV kind of way—think of the Borg from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
I admit these criticisms might come off like an aesthetic evaluation of a utilitarian tool, and based on at least two successful crowdfunding campaigns, BoltHub offers enough utility for at least thousands of users to buy it. But there are more than superficial concerns here. It’s basically impossible to add this kind of functionality to a device that basically doesn’t want it—without compromises. For the BoltHub, the added bulk is nontrivial, though perhaps not a dealbreaker. It makes it a little harder to handle and a little more awkward to use the iPad in portrait mode. If you have Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio, the BoltHub is compatible with that, but you can’t fully fold the keyboard itself back behind the iPad itself. Well you can fold it back, but it won’t lay flat against the back of the iPad, which is awkward. Maybe the worst compromise is that the BoltHub, once attached, is constantly drawing power, sapping at least an hour or two from a full battery charge. Even if you’re okay with the ugliness, you probably don’t want to keep this thing attached all day. After keeping it bolted to my iPad for a couple of days after first getting mine, I now keep my BoltHub in my bag.
Most period movies get made with the goal of bringing the audience back to whatever era they take place in. But Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, “Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood” seems to have been made instead for the purpose of bringing Tarantino himself back in time. This movie recreates every detail of Los Angeles 1969 with meticulous, often ostentatious accuracy, which of course is something you can say about many of the better period movies.
More so than in even Tarantino’s own previous forays into historical drama, “Once Upon a Time” seems intensely personal. You can feel it in the way the director’s camera practically luxuriates in the extensively reconstituted location scenery, in his refusal to shortchange even one moment of the time he gets to spend with his characters, and in the golden hour light that he imbues it all with.
Of course, Tarantino’s films have always been preoccupied with his consumption of other media—film history, obviously, but also pop culture in general. “Once Upon a Time” is a whole new level; it goes beyond consumption into pure immersion. You could say that the director took his US$90 million budget and built himself his own personal Westworld, a private theme park where he could act out his fantasies of historical revisionism.
The results are so specific to Tarantino himself that the resulting film can be bewildering, at least at first, or at least for me. I left the theater thinking, “That was a good movie. I think? Maybe it wasn’t? Or maybe it was a great movie?” But I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days, my mind constantly poring over the rich tapestry of details that Tarantino had weaved, darting into all of those corners and searching through all of those pockets he obsessively constructed for no other reason than that he wanted to know that they were there for himself. I still can’t stop thinking about it, actually, and by now I desperately want to go see it again. How many directors can turn their own trainspotting-level fascination with the marginalia of history into something that enraptures audiences like this? I can’t name another.
I saw one other movie in the theater last month: “Spider-Man: Far from Home.” I didn’t like it. Here’s the full list of all twenty-one:
By the time I got to the theaters last month to see “Booksmart,” actor Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, it had already engendered a ton of hand-wringing over its poor box office performance relative to its widespread critical plaudits. Financially, it was declared dead on arrival. I’m a fan of independent movies, and I like stories about women made by women, so I figured I’d buy a ticket and do my part in supporting the kind of cinema that I want to see more of. Unfortunately I found “Booksmart” incredibly unpleasant to watch. Not only are its plot and characters remarkably—even aggressively—flimsy and inconsistent, but it traffics in a vision of teenagers as slightly downsized twenty-somethings—with all of the ravenous consumer and sexual appetites of urban professionals, hampered only by modestly limited spending power—that I personally find to be lazy and offensive.
My wife and I actually got into a bit of an argument over how “Booksmart” compares with “Always Be My Maybe,” which was released on Netflix at almost exactly the same time. “Always” is another diversity breakthrough in that it was written by and starred two Asian American leads, and was set in a milieu that’s almost entirely Asian American. I wouldn’t make the case that “Always Be My Maybe” is a masterpiece, but I did think the essential motivations of its plot and characters followed sound logic, which in my view is a claim that you can’t make for “Booksmart.” That’s really all I want from most movies: a reasonably accurate simulacrum of the way real people act and behave, regardless of how outlandish or unrealistic their circumstances might be. Plus, if the movie bills itself as a comedy, it would be nice if it was also genuinely funny. I bursted out laughing several times during “Always Be My Maybe.” I think I might have audibly chuckled once during “Booksmart.”
One more comment about “Booksmart”: despite my distaste for it, I left it more convinced than ever that Beanie Feldstein, one of its two leads, is among the most watchable actors working today. She’s a dynamo.
Speaking of independent cinema, I also went to see “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” a startlingly rich portrait of gentrification told from the perspective of utterly unique African American characters. I couldn’t believe my eyes for the first ten or fifteen minutes; first-time director Joe Talbot practically plows over you with the assuredness of his vision. The rest of the movie can’t quite live up to its opening, but it’s never less than mesmerizing.
Unfortunately, in the third act Talbot also succumbs to a common trap in auteurist filmmaking: trying to make his point through the conceit of a play staged by his characters. I’ve learned through many bad experiences that a play-within-a-film is almost invariably a signal both that the director and screenwriter are very serious and that they are stumped as to how to present their very important ideas. John Turturro’s horrific “Illuminata” and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s pompous “Birdman” are two debacles I barely endured that come to mind. Luckily “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” never stoops as low as those and is well worth a watch. I can’t wait to see what Talbot does next.
Aside from that it was a relatively light month of movie watching. Here is my full list of all twelve that I saw.
“Always Be My Maybe” (2019) Keanu’s cameo got the most attention, and it’s not even the best part!
“The Sting” (1973) Rewatched. An almost perfect little fairy tale of the confidence game.
A box of a hundred jumbo paperclips costs a little less than US$2 at Staples but the folks at gift and home accessories brand Areaware sell a box that will set you back more than ten times that for just thirty of them. Still, if you’re going to spend 67¢ per paperclip, you might as well get these, created by Dutch studio Daphna Laurens. They’re shaped into almost extravagantly unconventional forms and yet they also remain instantly recognizable for their purpose, which is the kind of savvy aesthetic accomplishment that I personally find to be really f’ing cool. I’ve got a box and I only use them on my best stacks of paper.
If you like them, you can spend your hard earned money on them over at areaware.com.
There are so many Dropbox integrations available that the service seems essential, or at least difficult to imagine doing without. Over the years I’ve hooked numerous apps and services into my Dropbox account, which is why I started paying for the professional plan seven years ago. And yet each year, at renewal time, I think a bit more deeply about the question of whether Dropbox is in fact so indispensable. This is the very boring story of how I came to realize that it’s not.
It’s no secret that online storage has become more and more common, but I was still taken aback a bit when I recently took an accounting of all the places where I have access to at least a terabyte or more of it: iCloud Drive, where I also have all of our family photos, and Google Drive, where I have my email and office productivity, are the most prominent examples. But I also have backup storage on my Synology NAS, and “cold storage” that I’ve set up on Amazon S3 Glacier. And those are just the options that I pay for myself; at work I can store files on Microsoft OneDrive and even on an enterprise version of Dropbox.
Clearly, storage is a commodity now. And while Dropbox has worked hard to differentiate itself with new features, at its core, it’s still hard to argue that the service is truly much more than storage. Even the company’s elegantly designed and reasonably popular Paper app hardly feels additive; it’s hard to make a case for innovation when the key value-add is something as basic as word processing.
Of course, part of the reason I stuck with it for so long was because the prospect of untangling Dropbox from my life had daunted me for years. That’s the genius of services like these; at first you think you’re just buying storage, but little by little it finds its way into everything you use.
The only way to kick a habit though is to start kicking it. I logged into the Dropbox site and then opened the “Connected Apps” section of my settings screen. That displayed a list of over three dozen apps and services that I had hooked into the service over the past decade or so of usage. That’s when I realized that surprisingly few of them actually seemed all that critical anymore, if they ever even were. Many of them I hadn’t used in ages, and most others could easily be replaced by iCloud Drive. A very few would be difficult to use without Dropbox, but I realized that the actual storage they required was effectively de minimis and that they could easily reside on Dropbox’s free tier, if necessary.
There was a standout exception on this list though: 1Password, the absolutely essential password manager, whose password vaults I sync between devices via Dropbox. It’s possible to sync 1Password with iCloud, but neither iCloud nor Dropbox are as robust and secure for this purpose as Agile Bits’ own 1Password membership option. That comes at a cost of course, but a 1Password family plan, which covers up to five users and costs half the price of a Dropbox subscription for just me, struck me as far more economically wise anyway.
Having confirmed that my apps would be largely unaffected, I turned my focus to shifting my stuff off of Dropbox—or deleting it—at scale. I started with my projects folder, the largest single directory I have on the service. It proved surprisingly difficult to shift to iCloud Drive; for several days, Dropbox seemed stalled or out of sync between my devices as it worked overtime to delete hundreds of thousands of individual files. Eventually it sorted itself out, and I then started rooting through all the other directories where I’d stashed photos, screen grabs, stock art, fonts, music, PDFs, video clips and countless other random items over the years, deleting most of them and refiling others on iCloud.
One of the hardest things to figure out was how to handle a shared directory that my wife and I use to store bills and paperwork. iCloud Drive’s folder sharing is still only in beta and won’t officially be ready until this fall, and even then my wife historically has been less aggressive about upgrading than me. As an intermediate plan, I decided to make copies of the files I knew I would need continued access to, then disconnect my account from the directory altogether for the time being (my wife retains access), until we can recreate the share on iCloud Drive. It’ll be inconvenient for us to coordinate these items in the meantime, but not insurmountable.
As with any file system in continual use for nearly a decade, my Dropbox account had accumulated a ton of cruft. All in all, it took me three weeks of persistent pruning, bit by bit, to whittle it down from nearly a terabyte to just seventy-eight megabytes. It was annoying, and not at all the way I wanted to spend even a little bit of my life, but then again I had a very nice feeling of satisfaction when I was able to cancel the pending auto-renewal of my Dropbox account, which was set to happen this coming week.
More to the point, disconnecting from Dropbox was time consuming, but it wasn’t difficult. Which is to say that although the process was high friction it was relatively straightforward, and not at all technically challenging. At the outset I had expected that switching away from Dropbox would break many parts of my workflow; in practice, very little of it has been disturbed at all, even though the iCloud Drive features that are ostensibly allowing me to switch are still in beta. I’m certainly not extolling the virtues of leaving Dropbox if you find it indispensable in your own work—it’s still the best option if you need to share files across non-Apple platforms. But the relative ease with which I was able to leave it illustrates well Steve Jobs’s famous criticism that Dropbox is a feature, not a product. We often mistakenly believe that software features are irreplaceable but they rarely are, especially in categories as well commoditized as storage.
This is what usually happens: a film creates a compelling fantasy world and fans clamor for more. So sequels build that world out, they show more of its mechanics, its people, its history. But ‘John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum’ demonstrates one little acknowledged principle of escalated world building: the inevitable outcome is bureaucracy.
If nothing else, this latest chapter in the surprisingly successful Keanu Reeves franchise makes it clear how fan service can undermine everything that made that franchise interesting in the first place. “Parabellum” spends a distressing amount of time literally explicating the bureaucracy of the Wick-verse—pointlessly. The outcome is tedium so pervasive, even the fighting—the fighting is why you watch a John Wick movie in the first place!—left me bored. Read my whole review here.
Longtime readers may remember that a little more than two years ago my friend Scott Ostler and I released a Mac app called Bumpr. Well today we have a major update in the App Store. Before I go into what’s new, here’s a refresher: Bumpr is a simple utility that lets you click on any web link and choose which browser to open it with, on the fly. It looks like this:
Tons of Bumpr users have told us that, like me, they’ve come to rely on it for the power to choose their favorite browsers and email apps every day, dozens of times a day. I still use it religiously, and it’s among the first two or three things I install on any new Mac.
Today’s release brings a few new features that lots of users have been asking for. The first is the ability to define custom rules for your favorite domains so that they always open up in specific browsers, so you can always open your favorite sites where you want them.
The second major feature is extensions for Safari and Chrome, which now gives you Bumpr functionality as you surf the web. Once installed in either browser, you can either click on the new Bumpr toolbar icon to open the current page in any other browser, or you can right-click on any link to do the same. This makes Bumpr even handier for controlling the flow of what you see and where.
This upgrade is free for all current owners of Bumpr. If you haven’t tried it yet, we’re having a special sale right now: Bumpr is thirty percent off at just US$3.99. This new version is in the App Store right now. Once you’ve installed it, you won’t know how you got along without it before.