Author Archives: Giorgio Venturi

The last 18 months at Canonical

It has been a month since I left Canonical, so it is time to sum up what we achieved. I have been working for 18 months in the Ubuntu mothership, and oh boy they have been very hectic. 2014 has been a great year for me and the Apps team. We accelerated the evolution of touch friendly apps: Browser, Weather, Clock, Calculator, the whole communication suite (Dialler, Contacts, Messaging). By the end of the year 2014, we had a mature set of app design and their implementation was on its way. It was a real privilege to be able to work with such a big pool of talent. I am particularly proud of the gestural interaction, which makes use of all the 4 edges of the screen, and provides ranged gestures progressively revealing information and functionality. At Ubuntu, we coined the formula Hint-Reveal-Commit-Select to identify the 4  stages of gestural interaction.

Ranged gestures

The Ubuntu Phone has a sophisticated motion design language, which makes every transition meaningful and delightful in a subtle way. Just check the video below.

Moreover, when I left me and Jouni had just completed a strong set of design patterns for tablet and convergent desktop. It was incredible interesting to define an interaction design language spanning across multiple form factors and input styles. I think Ubuntu has been at the forefront in exploring a brave new world of convergent design, going beyond touch-friendly and pointer-centric interfaces. Does it really make sense to optimise for one input style or the other? We have been building for future hardware, not for the present. In 5 years time, tablets and laptops are likely to be the same device. The user will frequently move between touch, keyboard and pointer devices and she will have little or no tolerance for differences in interaction design. Why should the Ubuntu browser be any different in any of these form factors? It makes no sense to design otherwise.

The aspect of my work I was mostly proud of, though, is working with the community behind Ubuntu. Hundreds of passionate people who tirelessly build and refine the fabric of the Ubuntu ecosystem. Most of the people in the Ubuntu community are driven by the genuine desire to build and own an operative system and a set of apps that they can call their own. In age of pre-digested consumer choices, where big brands and corporations dictate the way you consume and build the digital and physical world, I find inspiring to see how a community of enthusiasts joins forces to create something so important and so meaningful in the name of Freedom.

We helped the Community by developing an extensive set of design principles and guidelines, which are available on the Ubuntu Design website. This exercise was extremely useful in clarifying our design system, and putting it down in words and pictures.

London Design Week events

London-Design-Festival-2013-printed-map-1112x834

Hi guys,

There’s a few things happening in London this week that I thought might be worth sharing

Tuesday 15 September, Adam Greenfield (Author of ‘Everyware’) is speaking at the LSE about Smart Cities
http://lsecities.net/media/objects/events/a-city-worth-fighting-for

This Saturday 20, at the Science Museum there’s a workshop about how to photograph magnetic fields (£10, limited places)
The field life of electronic objects
http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/Plan_your_visit/events/media_space_events/field_life_of_electronic_objects.aspx

During the week-end 20-21, the V&A has a number of free exhibits about Digital Design
http://www.vam.ac.uk/whatson/event/2565/digital-design-weekend-3870/

Ping me on Twitter you think of going to any of those

The browser is dead. Long live the browser!

Note: This article has been originally posted on the Ubuntu Design blog

With the unstoppable rise of mobile apps, some pundits within the tech industry have hastily demoted the mobile web to a second-class citizen, or even dismissed it as ‘dead’. Who cares about websites and webapps when you can deliver a superior user experience with a native app?

Well, we care because the reality is a bit different. New apps are hard to discover; their content is locked, with no way to access it from the outside. People browse the web more than ever on their mobile phones. The browser is the most used app on the phone, both as starting point and a destination in the user journey.

InstallingSource: xkcd

At Ubuntu, we decided to focus on improving the user experience of browsing and searching the web. Our approach is underpinned by our design principles, namely:

  1. Content is king: UI should recede in the background once user starts interacting with content
  2. Leverage natural interaction by using gestures and spatial metaphors.

In designing the browser, there’s one more principle we took into account. If content is our king, then recency should be our queen.

Recency is queen

People forget about things. That’s why tasks such as finding a page you visited yesterday or last week can be very hard: UIs are not designed to support the long-term memory of the user. For example, when browsing tabs on a smartphone touchscreen, it is hard to recognise what’s on screen as we forgot what that page is and why we arrived there.

Similarly, bookmarks are often a meaningless list of webpages, as their value was linked to the specific time when they were taken. For example, let’s imagine we are planning our next holiday and we start bookmarking a few interesting places. We may even create a new ‘holidays’ folder and add the bookmarks to it. However, once the holiday is the bookmarks are still there, they don’t expire once they have lost their value. This happens pretty much every time; old bookmarks and folders will eventually start cluttering our screen and make it difficult to find the information we need.

Therefore we redesigned tabs, history and bookmarks to display the most recent information first. Consequently, the display and the retrieval of information is simplified.

Browser tabs

In our browser, most recent tabs come first. Here is how it works:

browser-tabs-3

In this way, users don’t have to painstakingly browse an endless list of tabs that may have been opened weeks or days ago, like in Mobile Safari or Chrome.

History

Browser history has not changed much since Netscape Navigator; modern browser still display a chronological log of all the web pages we visited starting from today. Finding a website or a page is hard because of the sheer amount of information. In our browser we employ a clustered model where you display the last visited websites, not every single page. On tap, you then display all webpages for that websites, starting from the most recent. In this way scanning the history log is much easier and less painful.

browser-history-4

Loving the bottom edge

We believe the bottom edge is the most pleasurable edge to use. It is easily accessible at any time and ergonomically friendly to the typical one-hand phone hold. Once discovered, it will slowly build into our muscle memory and become a natural and intuitive way of interacting with the application.

btm-edge-11

This is why we combined tabs and history and made them accessible through the bottom edge. As a team, we spent months building and refining a sleek, intuitive and fluid user experience.

Here’s a sneak preview of how it will look like:


Video: Browser interactions

Bottom edge gesture will have three stages:

  1. Dragging from the bottom edge will hint and reveal the most recently viewed tab
  2. Continue dragging and the full tab spread is revealed
  3. Keep on dragging and browser history will be fully revealed.

All elements will support gestural interaction: user can swipe to delete a tab or a website from history.

Beyond the screens

Wearable devices

[Tweet “It is time to look beyond the screens and discover a truly new product”]

I found this very interesting article on Medium today. It resonates with my idea about wearables. So, OK… we are obsessed by touch screen and touch UIs, but we should not try to put them everywhere and rather focus on providing value to users in different ways.
– What kind of data can we collect without relying on touch or speech input?
– How can we notify users and provide feedback without having to watch a new screen?

“As developers start to build applications for Google Glass, Pebble, Galaxy Gear, and Android Wear, we have to decide if we really need to see all of the same content on a new device. We already have an immensely powerful computer and content-consuming device in our pockets every day. It is time to look beyond the screens and discover a truly new product”

No More Screens | Andy Stone | Medium.com