I get strange looks from anyone who sees me pocket my iPhone 5 so I can break out my iPod classic. Five years since I won the device at a company raffle, it remains my favorite little music player.

It isn’t perfect. The not-so-solid-state drive makes everything a little sluggish. The interface looks pretty dated. There’s no Wi-Fi, so it will always be tethered to a computer with iTunes installed. On rare occasions an album’s tracks will show up out-of-order (cleaning their ID3 data usually fixes it).

But it plays music. All of it. Not most of it through a streaming service. Not whatever I synced to some emaciated SSD, failing to predict what I’ll want in the hours, days or weeks ahead. Every forgotten 60s masterpiece, every underrated indie group, every B-side that could have been a single is playable, immediately, wherever I am.

There’s no touchscreen, so I can play, pause and skip tracks by touch alone. No Wi-Fi means no interruptions… I can listen to Side 2 of Abbey Road without some spammy notification tri-toning its way into “Polythene Pam.”

I love my iPhone. It would probably be my “desert island” device (assuming this hypothetical island has LTE data). It’s pretty great at most of what it does.

My iPod classic is better at music, because that’s the only thing it does. And sometimes that’s okay.

Cloud Four (plus one)

The folks at Cloud Four are awesome. Their responsible mobile experiences make the web a better place. They give illuminating talks and helpful workshops. They wrote the book on this stuff, for crying out loud! And starting Monday, they’ll have one more designer in their ranks.

I’m proud to be joining a team that’s been a consistent source of inspiration for me since 2009. Job titles are tricky… we went back and forth until Lyza suggested “Design Architect.” I hope it hints at visual design, front-end and UX skills while avoiding the more unpleasant connotations of “Web Designer.”

 I’ll be capping off my first day (March 25) with Mobile Portland, 6pm at Urban Airship. If you’re there, you should come say “hi!”

I want to thank the team at WishPop for the opportunity. It was a wild ride, and I learned a ton. I’m looking forward to seeing where they take the app next!

Make email suck even less (an update)

I wrote a post in 2009 called Make Email Suck Less in which I bemoaned the slow roll-out of Google Wave (heh) while offering a better way to manage email (stolen from inspired by Merlin Mann’s inbox makeover article) as a consolation prize.

Three and a half years later, the technique still works. I still use Gmail, and I still file incoming messages into “Action,” “Hold,” “Respond” or “Waiting” labels based on the action required to archive or delete them. My email doesn’t overwhelm me… inbox zero is the norm.

What has changed are the apps. Three years is an eternity in internet time. Here’s what I use now.

Mailbox for iPhone

List settings in MailboxI know, I know, this app has been hyped to the point of ridiculousness… but not without reason! If you’re unfamiliar with Mailbox, I suggest you watch the trailer to get a sense of its mad gestural skillz.

Mailbox automatically syncs its lists to Gmail as labels, which is awesome. The default lists are “To Buy,” “To Read” and “To Watch,” but you can easily make new ones or remove any you don’t need. (If you’ve been paying attention, you can probably guess which four lists I created.)

Once synced, all the lists you created will be nested in the [Mailbox] label in Gmail. If you’re as big a fan of Gmail’s Multiple Inboxes feature as I am, you’ll want to update its settings to reflect the new labels. (It’s up to you whether or not to bring [Mailbox]/Later into the fold as well.)

Gmvault for backups

In 2009, I used Postbox primarily to keep a local backup of my email. I abandoned desktop email apps entirely after Google introduced a much nicer compose and reply experience. This transition made backup a lot less straightforward.

If you’re not afraid to roll up your geeky sleeves, I recommend giving Gmvault a whirl. It retrieves all messages in IMAP-visible labels to a local file system in a non-proprietary format, with options to compress, restore, encrypt and more. All it’s missing is a GUI… but I’ll forgive it for such a technical task.

It’s a good idea to keep your backup up-to-date by running Gmvault regularly. Tutorials exist for doing this automatically in OS X and Windows.

Why I still care

From my original post: “Because email is a beast, a sickly mutant beast that eats at your productivity and requires specialized care no matter how you access it. This is what it takes to make me happy with it.”

I’m thankful for every technique, app or service that makes my inbox a friendlier beast to care for.

“Flat” UI and even more red herrings

John Gruber recently published The Trend Against Skeuomorphic Textures and Effects in User Interface Design, attributing the recent popularity of “flat” interfaces (Letterpress, Twitterrific 5) to the adoption of retina displays. Higher resolution devices, he argues, expose flaws in skeuomorphic techniques:

They’re the aesthetic equivalent of screen-optimized typefaces like Lucida Grande and Verdana. They work on sub-retina displays because sub-retina displays are so crude. On retina displays, as with high quality print output, these techniques are revealed for what they truly are: an assortment of parlor tricks that fool our eyes into thinking we see something that looks good on a display that is technically incapable of rendering graphic design that truly looks good.

The whole article’s worth a read, though his conclusion is bold: “If you want to see the future of software UI design, look to the history of print design.” (Minus Ikea, I assume.)

Meanwhile at American Airlines, Massimo Vignelli and Henry Dreyfuss’s 1968 identity design is replaced with one draped in the same shadows and gradients bemoaned by Mr. Gruber. The “aesthetic equivalent of screen-optimized typefaces” appears to be alive and well, curiously unattached to low-res displays.

From Armin Vit’s defense of the rebrand:

This is not me trying to make an excuse for the shitstorm of gradient-, shadow-, and bevel-based logos that we’ve seen rain down on us at a large, corporate scale since 2003 when the same firm that redesigned American Airlines redesigned UPS. I hate to say it but can you really imagine Paul Rand’s UPS logo still used today? It would be anachronistic. I still relish the identities that can communicate without the need for unnecessary patinas like Fiji Airways and Starbucks. […] But as I have been saying for the past five years or so, this new, highly polished aesthetic is the direction we are headed and we have to move beyond our preconceptions and accept those logos and identities that make appropriate use of it.

Skeuomorphism is the future of brand design. Print design is the future of interface design. Is it cyclical? Does one trail the other?

Take it away, Sebastiaan:

That’s more like it.


Drawing of Wario

When I was a kid, I remember Wario being way more intimidating to me than Bowser. A malevolent Bizarro Mario with a Cheshire Cat grin and Marty Feldman eyes… creepy!