My Blog and Soapbox

To help order and sort some of the things in my mind, it often helps me to write them down. And this is the place I do just that. Not always related to photography. Not always in English. Manchmal auch auf Deutsch.
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my new blog:
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my old blog:

Just a quick reminder.. there is no someday

Live your life now. As in right now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not when you retire. No, live your life right now.

Why?  Read this
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Nike / UPS: in 30 Minuten in die Zukunft

Nike Fuelband

TL;DR Alle Achtung! In 30 Minuten von der ersten telefonischen Kontaktaufnahme mit Nike zur Abholung durch UPS.

Letztes Jahr habe ich mir von einer USA-Reise aus New York ein Nike Fuelband mitgebracht. Das Fuelband ist ein Schrittzähler, der helfen soll, sich zu mehr Bewegung zu motivieren. Stichwort: Gamification. Funktioniert für mich soweit ganz gut.

Eine Woche nach dem Kauf war ich wieder zurück in Deutschland und das Fuelband plötzlich tot. Immerhin: Nike hat es trotzdem anstandslos getauscht, obwohl das Produkt bei uns bis heute noch nicht erhältlich ist.

Über ein Jahr hatte ich Ruhe und einen funktionierenden Schrittzähler am Handgelenk. Vor drei Tagen dann plötzlich ein defekter Schalter. Statt eines toten Fuelbands hatte ich nun eines, das sich nicht mehr bedienen lässt.

Ich könnte mich jetzt darüber ausbreiten, ob es denn nötig sei, dass ein solches Gerät innerhalb eines Jahres zwei mal defekt ist, und dass sich Firmen durch höhere Qualität ihrer Produkte viel Geld für den Support sparen könnten. Genau so könnte ich erörtern, warum Firmen den Sweet Spot zwischen Qualität und Support suchen, um die Preise der Produkte so niedrig wie möglich zu drücken, ohne an anderen Stellen zu viele Quersubventionen leisten zu müssen.

Das soll aber an anderer Stelle geschehen. Ich werde mich heute nur darauf beschränken, wiederzugeben, was mir im konkreten Supportfall widerfahren ist.

Auf der Nike Supportseite hieß es lapidar, dass ich wegen Systemupdates bitte später noch mal vorbei schauen möchte, worauf ich es erst mal bei Twitter versucht habe. @NikeSupport zeigte sich Sonntagsaktiv und präsentierte mir die Telefonnummer vom deutschen Support. Also anrufen. Nun ja, muss ja alles seine Ordnung haben, nehme ich an. Es wird also ein Montagmorgendliches Telefonat werden. Zugegebenermaßen lassen sich viele Sachverhalte am Telefon immer noch am schnellsten Regeln.

Aber ein Supportfall erzeugt bei mir auch immer etwas Stress. Ich habe ja mittlerweile eher die Erwartungshaltung, dass die Firmen versuchen werden, ein Problem abzuwälzen. Zumindest durfte ich in den letzten Jahren immer wieder diese Erfahrung machen, sei es mit meinem Internetprovider ("wir können auf ihrer Leitung keine Fehler finden") oder mit einer defekten Festplatte, bei der der Austausch über Monate verschleppt wurde, so dass mittlerweile sowohl Plattengrößen als auch Datenübertragungsraten eine Generation weiter sind und ich mit dem Tauschgerät nichts mehr anfangen konnte.

Zurück zu Nike.

Dort habe ich soeben angerufen. Der kompetente Mitarbeiter lässt sich kurz das Problem beschreiben und seiner Reaktion entnehme ich, dass ihm defekte Schalter an Fuelbands nicht ganz neu sind. Er fragt mich nach meiner E-Mail-Adresse, öffnet das Ticket vom letzten Jahr, stellt fest, dass er den Fall damals selbst bearbeitet hatte und fragt mich nach Seriennummer, Farbe und Größe des Fuelbands.

Nach 2 Minuten Wartemusik hat er mir einen UPS-Rücksendeschein geschickt und eine kurze Anleitung, wie es weiter geht.

Das war kurz und schmerzlos und hinterlässt ein positives Gefühl. Gut gemacht, Nike, so behandelt man Kunden richtig. Speziell, wenn sie auf einem defekten Produkt sitzen.

Als nächstes rufe ich bei UPS an, um die Abholung des kaputten Fuelbands zu vereinbaren. Vor den automatischen Telefonsystemen graust es mir ja immer ein bisschen, aber da es sich hier um eine Standardanfrage handelt, geht alles erstaunlich flott. Nach Angabe der Telefonnummer spuckt das System sofort die Adresse aus und fragt, ob die Sendung noch heute abgeholt werden soll. Meine Antwort "ja" reicht aus und das Gespräch ist beendet. Gut gepflegte Datenbanken können durchaus auch zu Positivem führen.

Ich drucke den UPS-Aufkleber aus, tüte das defekte Gerät ein und klebe den Schein drauf.

Keine 20 Minuten später klingelt es an der Tür. Guten Tag, ich drücke dem UPS-Fahrer die Rücksendung in die Hand, er scannt den Barcode, piep, auf Wiedersehen, und gut. Interaktion: 5 Sekunden. Gesamtvorgang zwischen Anruf beim Nike-Support und der Abholung des kaputten Fuelbands: weniger als 30 Minuten.

Holy effing shit, we live in the future.

PS: Der einzige Fall, bei dem ich noch stärker beeindruckt war, war der Austausch eines kaputten iPhones mit dem AppleCare Supportplan. Dort wurde das Tauschgerät sofort verschickt, noch bevor ich das kaputte Gerät zurückgeschickt habe.

Manche machen's richtig.

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iOS 7 Icon Design: Will The Shoe Stretch?

SafariDesign is how it looks. Design is how it works. And design is how it feels. These three form a unit and it's very hard to look at them individually.

In the end, how something feels, will always be a function of the recipient. In my personal library I have music that calms me down and makes me happy. And I know there are people who get infuriated by this same music.

It's all about emotion. The trick is to make conscious what evokes that emotion.

Cultural and personal background will always play into our experiences. Whether we discuss questions of spacing between visual elements, or thickness of lines, or if harmonies and rhythms in music feel right or wrong, we will always have to consider those feelings with our enormous shared and individual baggage of life-long cultural and personal experience and conditioning as a backdrop.

I'm a musician. I'm a photographer. I'm a graphic designer.

I see so many analogies between these fields, it's not even funny.

Let's for a moment explore space and color. And harmony.

In music and photography, space is a very important concept. Where we put something in a frame, how it relates to the rest of the frame, how a note is placed in a song and how long the rests around it are, is an important factor in evoking a certain emotional reaction.

Subject
The Subject

Consider a clear and simple photograph: a uniform background, one subject.

You can place the subject bang in the middle, you can take it slightly off-center, or you can put it right next to the edge. Now look at the distance the subject has to the edge of the frame. Any one of those will evoke a different reaction in a viewer.

Ask any number of people how those pictures feel to them and you'll get any number of answers, from just perfect to cramped to boring to edgy. In the end it's highly individual and it comes down to the patterns in our brains that we match these pictures to. Patterns that have been etched into us for our entire lifetime through our every-day experiences with the design around us. And yes, taking a picture, placing things in a frame is an act of design, the same way a musical composition is.

Boring
Boring placement?

Edgy
Edgy placement?

Balanced
Balanced placement?

Moreedgy
Way too edgy?

What I'm trying to say is this: not everybody will be drawn to the same picture. But if I could venture a wild guess, I'd say the majority would go with the Balanced one above. It is probably the one of the bunch that is most mass-compatible. It more or less follows the good old rule of thirds, which puts a bit of tension into the composition without over-stretching things. It takes the subject out of the boring middle and places it in an area of the picture that is a bit more daring, but still feels safe enough and is not too far into the unkonwn, i.e. the edge.

The reason we feel that way has to do with tension. And what we perceive as tension is mainly due do what we're surrounded with every day. How far to the edge is safe? Open any book and check how close the print goes to the edge of the page.

Book
Air to breathe

There is always that safe zone that frames the text on the page. A handle to hold onto. Air to breathe. Enough space for the eye to stop at the end of the line and not fall into the void, off of the edge of the world.

Magazine
Magazine cover playing it safe

The same is true for a more conservative magazine cover. Space gives the subject a frame to comfortably sit in. It's like an old pair of shoes, it's comfy.

Tension
Edgy

And if you break that, if you venture too far into the unknown, you sacrifice balance, you take the safe rug that's under the feet of the viewer and tug at it.

This creates a feeling of uncertainty, a feeling of tension.

And the very same is true for the iOS 7 icons. They leave the seemingly safe harbor of previous designs and they become more edgy in the true sense of the word. The new grid emphasizes that. Be bold! Get closer to the unknown! Create more tension!

… all while staying in the confounds of a common framework, the grid.

Icon clock
Clock - pretty safe

Icon appstore
App Store - a bit more edgy

Icon store
iTunes Store - using the color scheme to mix it up even further

And if going closer to the edge wasn't enough, Apple also decided to get more edgy with their color scheme. And that is even more of a cultural pattern that we either know and click with, or that is foreign to us and thus creates tension. Simply because we don't have a reference ready at hand.

Let me give you an example: I'm German. The dashboard of most cars in Germany are black or grey. I travel a lot to the US. When I pick up a US rental car, what strikes me every single time is that its dashboard and most of the interior will be brown, beige or any other earthy tone. It strikes me because that's far outside of my normal experience. On the surface I could say I don't like it, but if I dig deeper, I have to admit that that feeling mostly derives from it being unknown and I'm simply not used to it and that creates tension. I haven't been exposed to it long enough for my brain to create the structures that turn it from an unknown into a potentially more comfortable known. But then even after having developed those neuronal pathways, I might still not like it for other reasons.

Just one potential reason: the color brown has very different connotations to different cultures - no matter if that's conscious or sub-conscious.

I prefer to turn the things that evoke these emotions into conscious ones.

The same is true with music by the way. When I listen to the title track of Some Skunk Funk by the Brecker Brothers (iTunes link), I experience waves of positive emotions. I find this music inspiring, it tickles me in very rewarding ways, it brings me a form of harmony. And I'm positive that the majority of people will hate it because it's too edgy, lacks harmony, is not balanced in their eyes and ears. It's clearly not mainstream.

Eurythmics
Eurythmics

And there were times when I would've thought exactly the same. Until I started to be exposed to more edgy music by others and expose myself more and more to it. Over time I started liking this type of music more and more, without losing my ability to also like There Must Be an Angel by the Eurythmics (iTunes link). I like to think that over time I've added neuronal pathways to my existing ones and gained the ability to enjoy a wider variety of music.

There are many more analogies I could draw between music, photography and graphic design but that would overburden this little blog post. Maybe I need to write a book one day.

Back to Apple and the iOS7 icons. What's with the grid that so many claim is too big? What's with the color scheme that so many don't seem to like?

I don't believe that these designs happened by accident, that they "slipped through". Not at a company that has one of the best design teams in the world and billions of cash in the bank. I bet an arm and a leg that they know really really well what they're doing in this respect, especially now that Jony Ive has the last word on both, hardware and UI design.

Here is my interpretation: the iPhone hardware is virtually invisible once you start interacting with the content on your device. And iOS has become very very comfy over the years. At this point it has also become the most copied design in this field. By shaking it up with a more playful, more colorful, less balanced and more edgy design, Apple achieves several things at once. It brings a freshness and lightness to the game that iOS hasn't had in a long time. It creates contrast between the subdued hardware and the user interface. It attracts a younger customer base (including those who are young at heart, ahem). It gives owners of existing iPhones the feeling of getting a new device for free, thus implicitly building trust.

And last but not least, it's a major kick in the bollocks of all the copycats, namely Samsung.

Apple has often taken a plunge, leaving old things behind, cutting ties to the past. Has it always worked? No. But usually when it has, it has worked really well.

iOS 7's new icons are a bit of a gamble. Will the new shoes fit? Not for everyone and not at first. But like a new pair of shoes, it will stretch over time, Apple will adapt things, and we ourselves will stretch a bit too. And at a point in the future not too far from today - and I'm actually willing to bet on this - the vast majority of us will look back at screenshots of the pre-7 iOS and wonder how we could have ever favored such an old-fashioned and dated design.

Either that or Apple is doomed.


ChrismarquardtChris Marquardt is a photographic mythbuster and the host of Tips from the Top Floor, the world's longest running photography show. He has taught photography all over the world. He is also a guest on the TWiT Network every now and then.


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