A blog about design & technology by Opoloo
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Home Is Where The Cookies Are

Icons, designed by a 14-year-old

In interaction design and visual communication, we rely on metaphors and patterns that seem established and well-known. As time goes by, we revisit some of them and question their contemporary legitimacy. Is the magnifying glass still a good representation for a search? How does the ever-saving floppy disc stand the test of time? Once adopted, we assume that those metaphors communicate clearly forever, for young and old alike.

Bobby was our intern for two weeks, a couple of years ago. He was interested in design and interfaces, so I gave him the assignment to draw up some metaphors for an icon set we were commissioned to create at that time. Most seemed like obvious solutions to me, so I certainly didn't expect the creative extravaganza he handed over to me a couple of hours later.

One of my favorites is the mother presenting a tray of cookies as his personal interpretation of ‘home’. What kind of emotional connection would a kid like him have to a classic one family house, when he might be living in a high rise?

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Also, note the pop culture influences in his drawings, like The Legend Of Zelda’s Link as a web-link, or the iconic Clockwork Orange eye for a clock. Hellraiser’s Pinhead also gets his cameo due to his name.

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The most interesting sketches, though, are based on human language variations. There’s a log of wood within a small house and outside of it, as interpretations for ‘log-in’ and ‘log-out’. The wave or shower for ‘refresh’ is also closer to natural language than two arrows displaying a circle.

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After having designed icons for more than 10 years, I had to admit that the boy taught me quite a lesson. Not only did he summarize the complexity of human language in a couple of quick scribbles—he further added a level of creativity to the task that had been lost under the pressure of standardization.

Enjoy the whole set below.

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The Apple, The Green Tin Man & The Fox

A short review of Firefox OS

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her green tin man on the bank, having nothing to do: once or twice she had bitten into her apple, but it had tasted dull that day. So she was considering, in her own mind, whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a red fox with black eyes ran close by her. Burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and was just in time to see it disappear down a large fox-hole under the hedge. Throwing the apple away and waving her green tin man good-bye, down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.

I’m feeling slightly sorry for butchering Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece like this, but running with Firefox OS for the first time certainly feels like a trip to wonderland.

We ordered an Alcatell One Touch Fire, the weakest Firefox OS phone yet available—not necessarily a bad thing if you want to test the performance of applications and mobile sites. It arrived two days after our first Nexus 5, making for quite an interesting comparison: Android’s latest and greatest flagship device versus the entry level newcomer. Barely a fair fight, so let's give the Fox a little headstart.

Unboxing & Hardware

The box is nothing less than boring and unexciting. You get basic headphones and an USB charger bundled, adding to the generic experience.

Picking up the orange phone from the box and unwrapping its plastic changes this impression. I definitely expected a less solid build quality from a 70,- Euro smartphone. It feels sturdy yet light and has a good grip in my hand. Don’t try to compare the plastic shell with the hardware quality of an iPhone 5 or Nexus 5. Still, after a couple of minutes I’m convinced that this phone will easily keep up with every day use and even survive being dropped on the street, at least once or twice.

The removable battery didn’t let me down in a week of testing. 16 to 24 hours at moderate use is generally fine.

Boot up & Launcher

‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).

Dealing with the high-end spectrum of web-development and Android devices every day, we didn't buy a Firefox phone for the hardware or to call Mommy. We wanted to see for ourselves how the operating system would perform and have a look at the ideas that went into its development.

Booting up the device with the top left hardware button, we’re greeted with a basic setup tutorial and an introduction to basic gestures. Without going into detail, one can already notice familiar patterns from other mobile operating systems. At the bottom: a centered home-button, as introduced by the first iPhone. The lockscreen layout feels a lot like Android, with the option to slide up or go straight to the camera. Pulling down from the top finally reveals notifications and quick settings, and you get a sense of homecoming. The familiarity of all those elements coming together luckily does not feel like a blunt copycat; rather like the best of both worlds combined. Picking up the device for the first time and being able to use it within seconds is a manifest to standardized mobile patterns.

Unlocking the screen continues with established analogies. There’s a hot-seat bar at the bottom for your favorite apps. All other apps are revealed in an iOS-like grid by swiping to the right. Here, they can be rearranged and deleted with a long press. The most unique element you’ll notice is a prominent input field right on the home screen, called Adaptive App Search, which says “I’m thinking of...”. Typing anything into that field will offer multiple relevant apps and suggestions to those keywords, and change your wallpaper accordingly. A search for “breaking bad” instantly shows me Walter White in panties and access to IMDB, Serienjunkies, YouTube and more. Picking the first takes me straight to IMDB’s search results, as expected. While this feature might not be as innovative nor as polished as Google Now is, it’s a great way to help people who are new to smartphones dive into its possibilities.

Core apps

The Caterpillar was the first to speak.
‘What size do you want to be?’ it asked.
‘Oh, I’m not particular as to size,’ Alice hastily replied; ‘only one doesn’t like changing so often, you know.’

Like every solid operating system, Firefox OS comes with a decent set of core apps. Dialer and texting, gallery, clock and calculator are hardly more than the bare bones of what you would expect. Other applications like maps and the music player are further developed and offer quite a mature feature set.

Since the whole operating system is built on web technology, users can simply bookmark any website and call it an app, assuming there’s a permanent online connection. Mozilla has further established a marketplace, which promotes apps that are optimized for its OS with offline support and device-specific API capabilities. To date, this store offers over 200,000 apps, unfortunately many of those simply linking to the mobile website of its services. Digging through the featured apps and categories, one can find a good game or helpful app already, though the scope of highlights is limited. While users expect a certain quantity of well-known apps on a new platform, I found myself quickly bookmarking my favorite web services, and switching fluidly between native and online apps.

Now, this is something where plenty of opinions and criticism arises. We’re so used to perfectly consistent experiences and interfaces on our mobile companions that we forget the chaotic beauty of the web. While most Firefox OS core apps share a unified visual language and patterns, most additions don’t. One can quickly get stuck with an un-optimized app, leading to frustration.

Who is this for?

After a full week replacing my Nexus 4 with the One Touch Fire, I am quite convinced that there’s a future for Firefox OS. Not only did the device work fine for most daily tasks, but I quickly started to enjoy the limitations. During that week I spent plenty of time focusing on the smaller things, instead of trying to manage the flood of constant information running through my hands.

While it’s obvious that Mozilla has quite a long way to go with Firefox OS, the One Touch Fire clearly shows that the vision is very strong and manageable. Having the overwhelming, chaotic web in your hand certainly feels different to the bottleneck ecosystems we’ve grown used to—challenging and frightening at times, but also empowering and limitless. Time will tell if the operating system will find its audience while Apple and Google nuke it out at the top of the market.

This device is definitely not for everyone. If you’re an iOS fanboy or Android addict, you might want to stay in your personal safety zone. If you remember the early days of Android and realize how far it has come, you should follow along. There might be adventures waiting in Wonderland.

The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: ‘No room! No room!’ they cried out when they saw Alice coming. ‘There’s plenty of room!’ said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.

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You & the Squirrel

A map and a style guide

After bragging about our blog's output, we've been very quiet the last couple of weeks. That's because January, with his fat, wet butt of last year's residues was hanging around at our office. We had to kick him out first to make room for more beautiful things.

We thought we'd share our plan for what's happening with our blog in 2014 as well as our rudimentary style guide for those to whom it may concern.

Our primary goal still is: Publish good content, regularly. Squirrel Park is a beautiful and fairly popular playground. It will stay that way, but the toys will become more focused and more technical.

Our objectives are:
+ Write and communicate better
+ Develop ideas by expressing them
+ Connect with our community
+ Be of value: share knowledge, exchange thoughts, keep the conversation going

Features

As we go along, we'll add a couple of slim, new features. This goes for design decisions, too, such as perfecting readability by reworking some of the typography. Of course, the improvements will be incorporated into LINES:

  • Easy email subscription
  • Suggestions for further reading in Squirrel Park

For now, we decided against comments or more social interaction. We still believe in taking the discussion to the people.

Publishing Schedule

We will aim for two good Opoloo articles per month. Ideally, one will be more technology-oriented, the other rather design/strategy/philosophy-related.

We want you to be a part of this blog, because we value your ideas, feedback, and criticism—in fact, we need them to continue building good stuff and do our share for the community. So, we will try to host one awesome contributor from outside Opoloo each month. Yes, we hand-pick some people we admire, but (as we established in the very first post) we would like you to tell us your ideas for guest posts. Playing in Squirrel Park will be even more fun, if we can achieve a nice miscellany from new and established voices.

An interview series is planned, in which we’ll record some conversations with interesting people in the industry. If you’d like someone particular to be interviewed, please do tell us and we’ll see to it that we drag that person in.

Now it’s your turn to send in your idea. We’ll work it out with you, but just so you’ll be prepared, here is:

The Short Squirrel Park Style Guide

This is a very rough guideline for writing on Squirrel Park.
It is not the place for advice on how to become a better writer.

Length

Articles will be mid-form, about 4–8 paragraphs. Make sure you write to the point and bring something relevant to the table. Don’t start articles with “10 years ago, when I was young, the bees bla bla bla ...”. Find a strong introduction that gets to the point and move on from there.

Also, don’t try to dive too deeply into philosophy or lengthy explanations. If your story is very complex, break it down into multiple articles.

Paragraphs

A paragraph consists of more than one sentence. It should outline an idea in the first sentence. Then, you elaborate on your idea and explain what you really mean, or give proof for the argument outlined in the initial sentence. The goal is that all paragraphs contribute to the overall idea/argument of the article. Try to link paragraphs.

Tone

Each piece of writing should reflect the personality of the writer. The tone should be relatively warm, human, informal, without being cuddly, cute, or flamboyant. It should be lean, to the point, using common language while technically correct and specific, without being corporate and interchangeable.

Please be opinionated and not afraid to say what you think.

Generally, prefer short words to long ones (if your word ends with
“-dezificationaliciously”, there’s probably a better one out there).

Prefer short sentences to long ones.

Structure

An article does not need to have sub-headlines, but it might profit from them (e.g. when they expose and concisely sum up ideas). Be sure, in any way, to adhere to a structure (i.e. beginning–middle–end) to guide your reader.

Grammar & Usage

Do worry about using language correctly, but focus on your writing. Don't worry about the finer details, such as capitalization, using curly apostrophes, Oxford commas, semicolons, or em-dashes. Squirrel Park's editorial process will take care of this.
Still, use a dictionary (Wordnik is perfect).
If you haven't yet, get The Elements of Style by Strunk & White. Read it.

More immediately ...

We're looking forward hanging out with you this year in Squirrel Park. If you have an idea for a guest post, do tell us about it. Coming soon: An introduction to Jekyll by Max Boll, a Firefox phone review by Günther Beyer, and lots of insight into our latest projects.

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The Power of Jekyll

From dynamic content to a static website

I'm a stubborn guy. I always go down the hard way, trying to reinvent the wheel. This includes plenty of systems and web projects over the years. In the beginning of 2013, I felt a bit lazy, so I used Wordpress for my blog — it’s easy to use and you don’t have much trouble with it, eh? The problem is that you will mostly have features you don’t need, but some that you definitely need are missing. So I was right to develop my projects without any popular system.
Now, I had two major problems:

  1. Building an own system requires way too much time for only my private projects, because they are not that big.
  2. Using common systems like Wordpress are... We don’t need to talk about it at all. Overall it’s good but as a developer you feel caged because of the aforementioned “feature problem”.

My good friend Kevin told me about the magical power of Jekyll. When I first checked the website, I wasn’t very impressed, because I really like external databases like MySQL. Jekyll, instead, was proclaiming:

No more databases, comment moderation, or pesky updates to install — just your content.

Nonetheless, I thought it would be a good idea to test it. Just in case it would turn out to be as good as Kevin told me. It’s really quick and easy to install, the only requirement is to have Ruby already installed.

gem install jekyll

Alright, let’s start a new blog:

jekyll new my-awesome-blog
cd my-awesome-blog

Jekyll creates a new folder with your project name and generates a clear structure in it:

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Even if you have never worked with such a kind of system, it’s easy to follow this folder-structure. It connects HTML, YAML, Liquid, and Markdown.

  • HTML to build the structure of your website
  • YAML & Liquid to work with dynamic content
  • Markdown to write your posts/articles

Open the project folder with your favorite editor, which is of course Sublime Text. Before you start to change anything, go back to your terminal and type $ jekyll serve or $ jekyll serve —watch to build the site. Open your browser and go to http://localhost:4000, and voilà. You can now see your new website running on Jekyll with sample posts.

To customize your layout (or anything else), go back to your editor. You’ll probably find out yourself what to do, but I’m going to publish another article about ”building own templates” for Jekyll. Until then, try to find out how it works. I’m sure you don’t even want to know anymore when the follow-up is published once you've started your own layout.

For help, you may want to refer to the Jekyll website: http://jekyllrb.com.

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Hook — End of 2013 Edition

The end of the year is nigh. It's been weird, fun, intense, terrible, and wonderful all at once. But then again: what year isn't?

Because we think that all these Christmas and New Year's wishes are mostly bullshit, we would like to say "Thank You" for hanging out with us this year by feeding your head with some pieces of the web that influenced us the most in 2013.

Günther

2013 was certainly not an easy year. While we are used to horror stories and catastrophes on the news, this time drama reached our safe little world of technology. The NSA debate ultimately made us rethink right and wrong in our always connected societies.

While I was surrounded by HD photos, video-games and apps all year, I learned that the written word still carries farther and moves stronger. Enjoy some links, below.

The Shape Of Design

by Frank Chimero
Admitted: I was late to get my hands on this gem of a(n e)book. Taking the time and absorbing it in one sitting was a little revelation. We use the word “design” for almost anything these days that tries to carry value or has a human component. Frank Chimero gives meaning back, helps us understand what we’re really doing with context and clarity. Read it and think.

Medium

A strong brewed coffee and medium.com were the two things I enjoyed every morning, when 2013 was still young. At the end of the year, mostly coffee remained.
The constant quality of grounded articles and opinions soon gave way to bragging texts, fighting for some quick attention. I’m not saying that there’s no place for this on the internet, but Medium’s example clearly shows the importance to curate and filter on today’s web.

The Last Website

Building lastwebsite.io together with the talented Brothers Chapman was an influential experiment for Opoloo. It did push our technical skills on the mobile web and sensitized us for deep, immersive experiences and storytelling as a fundamental part of modern communication.
If you still haven’t found the easter-egg, maybe revisit it and enter the Gateway again ...

Jochen

A lot of things happened in 2013, and it’s hard to keep track of all the fascinating, mind-blowing, funny, and immersive moments lived and experiences made. Throwing it all together in just a couple of links is an impossible task, since most of what really mattered happened in the real world: Conversations with lots of people, some really good books (yep, some of us still read old school books :) ), and finally the mandatory trial and error life experience.

Nevertheless there are some specials I’d love to present, and my third “link” refers to one of my favorite business related books for 2013.

Steam OS

After decades of struggling with dual boot (Linux for work environment and Windows for the spare time gaming experience) Valve’s announcement of Steam OS being based on Linux was long overdue and like Easter, Christmas and all past birthdays all at once. Lets hope that it will succeed and revolutionize the gaming world and especially the mindset of hardware vendors to support more than one operating system.

Lines

Upon making “The Last Website”, we needed something new to play with and keep up the team spirit. Some weird ideas rose and were thrown over board again, but what’s lasted was our mindset to share things and enlighten people. Developing our own blogging software to publish what matters for us personally as well as open sourcing the source code was a perfect fit.

Paperwork you should have read

“Team Geek: A Software Developer's Guide to Working Well with Others” was one of my favorites in 2013. Coding is not all about your code, but mostly about your team. This book teaches and/or reminds you on how to get a better developer by improving your “social coding skills”. Read it now if you haven’t yet.

Happy New Year to you all.

Nino

“I Am Here to Crush Your Dreams”

by Erin Kissane

You might have to have a really good life. It might be fucking amazing.

Something in me resonated when I read this short piece by Erin Kissane. She’s as emotional as she’s smart here, just speaking my mind about some things that have actually plagued me this year. Some of those things, I feel, are just capital-T-True.

“Subcompact Publishing”

by Craig Mod

Sometimes I really feel a certain way, but the right kind of words to describe that feeling can’t be formed just yet. Then, I’m all the more astonished that there are people who feel the same but are already 20 steps ahead of my naive ass. So is Craig Mod. This is what publishing on the web should look like, even a year after this article saw the light of day.

“Learning to See”

by Oliver Reichenstein

For me, Oliver Reichenstein remains one of the most influential people in all things web-related (even iA writer Pro left aside). What he writes is always accessible and useful—there’s no other way for you to feel about it, because you know he has thought about everything he says thoroughly (that might be his philosophy background showing, too). I haven’t read or heard a single stupid sentence by this man. This article, though, is him at his finest.

Max

Codepen.io

Codepen was one of my most visited links in 2013. I've never learned that much about web stuff as I did in 2013 on this site. Together with other codepen users I created a new dev-group to exchange our code and experience. It's fun and was a really good decision I made in 2013.

Jekyll

This ruby gem is really made for me. It's a small engine to convert dynamic content into a static website. Most of my friends and I use it for our personal websites. Small but powerful, I love it.

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Linguistic Implications of Content Strategy

Towards another definition

“The brain is hungry not for method but for content […].” —Frederick Turner

Names, Labels, Definitions

Despite, or maybe precisely because of the continuing buzz about Content Strategy, we still seem to have only a vague idea of what it contains. I love some of the definitions smart people have come up with and I don't mean to amend them. The following is to be seen as part of the discourse on how we, as content strategists, think about what we do.

Names and labels — especially successful ones — are usually not happy coincidences. We can learn from their implications if we turn them inside out. So, I'm proposing a structured analytic view of the term “Content Strategy” to hopefully connect some of the loose threads.

Part of our job is to take things apart, find out what the pieces are about (their intent, purpose, conclusions, and on), and then re-assemble them to get a clearer view, to find the “more” that's hidden in the sum of the parts.

Let's start with the taking-apart.

Content

A look into a dictionary tells us that content encompasses a wide scope of meaning.

n. Something contained, as in a receptacle.

But content is more than something passive, unilateral:

n. The material, including text and images, that constitutes a publication or document
n. The substantive or meaningful part
n. The meaning or significance of a literary or artistic work

Content, thus, also establishes and enacts substance, meaning, and significance. Put in a pedestrian way, it is not something thrown in a box that we then rummage through. That which is contained also shapes the container, defines it, becomes its essence. By that, the content starts to communicate, but only — and this is merely implied in the above — if it is given a structure, a pattern that we can make sense of.

We do so, as Rahel Bailie points out, by contextualizing data. Content does not create meaning by itself, but relies on our ability to arrange it and form mental relationships, so that its individual parts can be mentally connected to form something coherent.

n. Containing capacity or extent.

Content itself contains something that we have to read and bring to the foreground. It is (and here we get philosophical again) potential meaning that we are after. Especially if we think about “capacity” and “extent”, there is quite a material feeling to it: Content takes up space. We have to create enough space for possibility and development, because they are an inherent part of content. (Notice again that terms like “capacity”, “extent”, and imply something active.)

So okay: content is not static, but rather dynamic, in motion — if alone for the fact that it communicates.

But funnily enough, content implies something more:

adj. Desiring no more than what one has; satisfied.
n. Contentment; satisfaction.

As strategists who deal with content, it is our job to make content satisfying. I would argue that what makes it satisfying is essentially “meaning”. Few things are more satisfying for us humans than obtaining meaning. On the other hand, things without meaning are, for the most part, utterly worthless, even frustrating to us. We have to make sure that our content contains meaning by way of its structure and contextualizations, and that this meaning is easily understood by the ones who peruse our content.

Let's dig a little deeper:
Etymologically, content is derived from medieval Latin: contentum, a plural form, and merely meant “things contained”. It's also worth noticing that there is hardly a singular meaning inherent in “content”. We generally speak about multiple elements.

Contentus is the past participle of continere, which also meant “to hold” and “to restrain”. Not only, then, is our content the holder of meaning. There is (etymologically at least) a limit implied, beyond which containment is impossible. We have all experienced this: too much content for the container obscures meaning.

For now, I hold that the main goal of “content” is making meaning possible.

Strategy

According to our trusted dictionary, strategy is

n. The science and art of military command as applied to the overall planning and conduct of large-scale combat operations.
n. The art or skill of using stratagems in endeavors such as politics and business.
n. The use of artifice, finesse, or stratagem for the carrying out of any project.
n. an elaborate and systematic plan of action
Synonyms: generalship, tactics

“Strategy”, therefore, implies an approach both scientific and artful, elaborate but not artificial. It implies a certain artfulness even, in the positive sense. A “project” (whatever that might be) lays down very clear boundaries and restrictions — the space in which the strategist moves is limited — she cannot start from scratch, but has to use what is already there. The image of war and warfare is inherent to the word. From etymology:

Strategy. From Old French strategie, from Ancient Greek strategia, “office of general, command, generalship”, from strategos, “the leader or commander of an army, a general”, from stratos, “army” + ago, “I lead, I conduct”.

The commander-in-chief, the general, is the highest office in the military (in ancient Greece and today). Responsible for the carrying out of actions according to an elaborate plan that comprises many individual parts, the general uses stratagem (artifice to surprise an enemy) to successfully take over foreign ground. For this, naturally, he has to have an all-encompassing overview of capabilities, resources, and the terrain he is working with. It's not only what the strategists do, it's above all how they do it: according to an artful, meticulous plan. This might sound trivial. But it's the understanding of those trivialities that makes endeavors successful in the end.

Difficulties (A Short Excursion)

General! We have to fight those damn Baccarudas!
It’s ‘Barracudas’, my Lord.
I can’t pronounce ‘baccaruda’.
It's easy: say ‘ba’.
‘Ba.’
Now ‘ra.’
Ra.
‘Cu.’
Cu.
‘Da.’
Da.
‘Now put it all together!’
Babararacucudada!

Much can go wrong with plotting a strategy. There's the capabilities and understanding of the strategist to consider, the material she has to work with that will pose difficulties, as well as the (sometimes limited) understanding of the client. The strategist’s responsibility, therefore, is to have a clear view of those constraints, the matter she works with (container of the content, its specifications with their constraints and freedom), the terrain she is working on, and the decision-makers she works with.

And yes, we have to guide our client through the whole process and take care of all matters, big or small, because the client can’t be bothered with what seems like “minor details” to her, but is a huge issue for us due to the fact that we think it is relevant for our users.

On a side note: It does not bring you into disrepute to ask for help. In fact, you will need to — generals always depend on input and help from other experts or informants. And clients.

Content Strategy

To return to Frederick Turner, why is the brain hungry for content, anyway? Because it is already equipped with some very elaborate methods, so we can do the meaning-making ourselves, alright — if we get structured access to content. Let’s make sure nobody leaves hungry.

If we apply the implications of both “content” and “strategy” outlined above, one definition of “content strategy” could be: “The science and art of structuring meaningful communication.” That would make the content strategist the commander of the architecture of elements needed for creating meaning with communication. Does that sound in any way less vague?

I’ll spell it out again:
We try to establish meaning with our content.
Content is inherently dynamic.
It serves to satisfy the user.

Strategy has a scientific and artful approach.
It focuses on the how over the what.
A successful strategy imports an overview of all elements.

Content Strategy is the systematic, dynamic approach to creating meaning with structure.

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The War For Android Is Over

We've won. What’s next?

“Linux? Hahaha. Can’t you afford a real operating system (Mac OS X) and professional software (Photoshop)?”

Fellow designers smirked and shook their heads a couple of years back. They were making jokes about me trying to create decent artwork and assets with open source software. My motivation of using FOSS software on a FOSS operating system didn't align with their definition of quality work. I don’t mind if the joke’s on me every once in a while, but being called unprofessional simply due to my choice of software was painful.

Fast-forward to today: if we consider its broader scale, Linux is now powering the most widespread mobile OS, has broken crowdfunding records and is gearing up to take over living room entertainment. Now, people yet unfamiliar with the OS ask questions out of curiosity rather than waiting for an opportunity to deliver the next punchline.

The same thing happened with Android, but on a much more dramatic scale. Having been the underdog for its first two years, hardly anybody in the professional industry cared about the OS. Apple’s iPhone was the cool thing to have and every business guy or designer was treating their Blackberries in for one. So, here too, users started fighting over acceptance and dominance of their favorite OS.

It was to become quite a long battle. Every iteration of Android lagged behind the elegance of its iOS counterpart. The implementation felt slow, most of the hardware was underpowered — the whole system seemed to follow no clear, recognizable direction for most people outside of Google. Every little step of the community was countered by cynical media coverage and pointing fingers by the self-proclaimed “professionals”.

With the introduction of Android 4.0, things changed. Suddenly, there was a unique look and feel to the OS, coupled with a forward-looking vision, and backed up by a solid set of hardware. Press and fans hailed the progress, and even infamous enemies became supporters of the green robot. In merely a year, the underdog became a major player in the industry — even the driving force depending on the numbers you compare.

While technology changes extremely fast, human emotions need a lot of time to adapt. One year the Android fans were bullied by the iOS crowd, desperately trying to fight back with hardly a valid argument. The next year they were the kings of the playground, but still as angry as ever. There will be no love lost between Android and iOS, but you'll have to admit: The war is over.

A look back in history helps to understand the connections, to account for what has happened, and what's to be learned for the future — nothing more, nothing less. While I have to admit I’m quite satisfied with believing in the underdog and my vision for FOSS turning out favorably, it’s time to smoke the peace pipe and move on. Because the next squabbles are bubbling up. I’m not even talking about Android against Windows Phone, nor iOS versus Ubuntu Touch.

Put on your armor: the arguments between native development and the web are heating up. And yes, sometimes we have to voice strong opinions and fight to even find out what’s going on.

Ready to pick sides? Me neither — for now.

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63 Squirrels and Counting

One year of talking you into talking

“Conversation must be preferred to anything.”

So said my neighbor, the old man, sipping on a good single malt late at night. It sounded like nostalgia. As he continued, I realized that this was not a reference to a story past, but his way of participating in the society he grew up with.

Conversation was the intention when we built our very first weblog, one year ago to the day: We wanted to talk to people. We wanted to hear their opinions and ideas to support and grow our own. We wanted them to throw us off balance, so we’d have to get up and get better. We wanted to talk to the world, learn and mature. As a communication company, after all, we wanted to communicate.

While there wasn't a clear audience to target, we knew that we wanted to focus on readability, accessibility, and quality content. This was supposed to become the publication we would enjoy ourselves, regularly. Responsive optimization, hero graphics and quality typography were our technical swords, but wielding the feather was yet to be learned. And boy, was this hard to learn. Creating crisp icons, quality HTML or clean databases had been the tools we were versed with. Putting an idea on the screen with words alone turned out to be much harder than expected, taking in consideration that most of us aren’t native English-speakers.

Lucky us, we got some help. Lucas Rocha, Marie Schweiz and The Brothers Chapman have been amazing guests on Squirrel Park. They added their unique personality to the conversation and helped us to further define the rhythm of the format.

Certainly, the collection of Android tips, language explorations, and wallpapers sets seems like a chaotic variety of thoughts. In fact, we were tempted more than once to add a stronger thematic focus to the blog, to draw a key audience and build a solid marketing channel upon the output. Ultimately, we decided against it. We wanted to keep this conversation casual, experimental and human; after all, each writing represents a thought, an experience or a story of the people behind the company. This is what Opoloo initially set out to become: a small electric space within the industry that favors humanity over profit and growth.

Now if you're still reading, you might be one of the people who has been following us over the last 12 months and 62 blog posts. Thank you for this. We want to hear from you, we want to talk to you. We even want to see you write on this blog and participate in the society that is the web.

Cheers to the next year. Let’s keep the conversation going.

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Hook 006

Opoloo's Link Digest — Content & Strategy

This edition of the Hook centers around Content Strategy. Though still a very young discipline, it's nevertheless profoundly changing the way we think about the web. This is why I'm convinced that anyone working with the internet should have at least rudimentary insights into this field. The following links may therefore be equally relevant to designers, copywriters, developers, web psychologists, SEO people, and whoever else running around the digital space, shaping it with all their creative substance.

01 The One Cost Engineers & Product Managers Don't Consider

by Kris Gale / Firstround Review

Unless you've been uniquely disciplined and passionate about keeping your product simple, you'll find that the vast majority of your users are using a tiny minority of your features. [...] The best engineering usually isn't showy or intense-looking. Given the same result, the simpler code is more valuable to your organization.

Believe it or not, many engineering decisions are also questions of solid content strategy established up front. It's a lesson to be learned that much of the overhead and analysis can be taken care of by practices of CS.

Many thanks to Lucas Rocha for sharing this link.

02 Make Your Content Make a Difference

by Colleen Jones / Smashing Magazine

Just because someone articulates a problem well does not mean someone knows the solution. That’s when we’re susceptible to a false solution.

This article by Colleen Jones is two years old, but it hasn't lost a bit of relevance over time. It's a useful resource for Content Strategy pros, newbies, and curious people alike.

03 Why Our Content SUCKS

by Jonathon Colman

While we’re certainly churning out a lot of content, we’re not focusing on things like purpose, process, intended use, and the needs of our audience. Nor our workflow, systems, architecture, and processes.

A very astute analysis of what is wrong with the content we're constantly churning out and how it can be made better. You can learn a lot from the slides Colman provides, too.

04 Content Strategists Are not Copywriters (but sometimes They Have to Be)

by Devin Asaro / iAcquire

Copywriting is granular. Content Strategy is holistic. Copywriting is the execution of ideas — content strategy is their organization and measurement.

Many content strategists are fortunate to work in small company that was smart enough to hire them. But that often means they have to tackle two (or more) related, but structurally opposed tasks. This article explains how you can manage to do great work in both CS and copywriting.

05 A Checklist for Content Work

by Erin Kissane / A List Apart

In content strategy, there is no playbook of generic strategies you can pick from to assemble a plan for your client or project. Instead, our discipline rests on a series of core principles about what makes content effective—what makes it work, what makes it good.

Apart from her very readable publication The Elements of Content Strategy, this article by Erin Kissane belongs to the essentials of useful CS resources. I find myself returning to this, time and time again.

06 How to Build an Audience in 743 Difficult Steps

by Rian van der Merwe / Elezea

Writing is a simple transaction between you and your readers. They have time and attention — which is more valuable than ever — and you have to provide content that is worthy of that time and attention.

Generating high-quality content is not easy. Publishing is a whole different thing. Reaching the right people is even harder. But if you see these aspects as being interconnected, you start with a different perspective. That's where Content Strategy comes in — from analysis, to audit, to architecture — to save your time and nerves.

07 Why "Simple" Websites Are Scientifically Better

by Tommy Walker / ConversionXL Blog

If the visitor can’t rely on their previous experience, they’re not thinking about how innovative your site is. They’re just left wondering why things aren’t where it’s “supposed to be.”

There's a lot buzz about simplicity, in design, code, and thinking. This article breaks simplicity down to "scientific facts". It's a case for strategy also, specifically strategy for user identification and conversion, which is not the worst thing to consider. Keep in mind that a strategy aiming for simplicity might actually have to be very elaborate.

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Draw a Line — Dashes and the Subtleties of Elegant Writing

A guide for the oblivious and the unaware

The dash is a neglected species of punctuation marks — funnily so, not because it’s just an obsolete sign without purpose, and not because it’s not used. It can be spotted everywhere, in all kinds of writing. People use it, the dash fulfills a need. Rather, it’s neglected because only few people seem to care about using it correctly. By correctly, I mean: according to function.

Why Bother?

A small line that simply varies in length? Why waste thoughts on sign that is typographically as challenging as the dot or the slash, that is about as sexy as the mole rat, and that makes your life — which is probably already filled with enough stuff you have to keep up with — even harder?

It’s about purpose

The dash is a simple line that can be applied very effectively. There is meaning in a dash. The dash introduces versatility to writing and takes it to another level — the level of consciousness, of elegance. It allows for variation in style, it changes the tone and voice of your writing. It’s a tool that can be very powerful if it’s applied for the right job. Yes, you can drive that nail into the wall with the back of a wrench, but you could also just use a hammer.

Along the same lines, you wouldn’t replace a period with a comma, a colon with an interpunct, a slash with a stroke or backslash.

Admittedly, I’m using the dash in an inflationary manner in this post — if only to make a point. But it’s much more about what in German is termed “fingerspitzengefühl”, the subtle touch that can make something go a long way.

No matter who you are, whether hitting a keyboard is what you make a living on or not: if you care about your writing, you should make sure to use the dash correctly.

Types of Dashes

Let’s make sure we get the terminology straight, so we know what we’re talking about.

(Yes, each of the following is usually represented in any well-designed font.)
(Yes, it matters on the web, too.)

Alt text

Each font applies slightly different measurements and styles. The one above is Garamond.

Hyphen

The hyphen is often referred to as a dash, although that’s not entirely correct. The hyphen is used to connect words or prefixes and to sepa-rate words in justified text. That’s about it. So use it if you want to say “three-year-old banana”, “orang-utan”, “love-letter”, “soul-wrenching”, “arm-wrestler”, or in names (such as Mary-Anne Clumsberg-Finkelstein).

The HTML entity for the hyphen is ‒

Minus

Longer than the hyphen. Use it in mathematical equations. Not for anything else. Never.

The HTML entity for the minus sign is −

En-Dash

Longer than the minus, about the size of an “n” in most fonts. Use it to indicate closed ranges of values, such as a time frame, temperature ranges, and from … to relationships or connections of any kind; especially if one part is to receive more weight than the other.

Alt text

This dash lets you aim for accuracy and disambiguation. The classic example is from Strunk & White: The Chattanooga News and the Free Press merged, resulting in the Chattanooga News-Free Press. If you’re smiling, my congratulations: you have understood the use of the en-dash.

The en-dash is also the only appropriate sign for a bullet mark.

You may use the en-dash to introduce a segment — a thought — into your sentence by including a space before and after the en-dash. This is common practice in German or French, and the internet’s lingua franca — a watered-down version of English — seems to have generally adopted it. The die-hard dash-police officer would certainly disagree with this use in English. She wouldn’t be entirely incorrect: you may also use the em-dash, which might be more apt for your purpose.

The HTML entity for the en-dash is –

Em-Dash

Usually about twice the size of the n-dash, approximately the width of an “m” in most fonts.

Some writers use a double hyphen (- -) to indicate the purpose of an m-dash. That’s a relic from typewriter times. Are you writing on a typewriter? Do you want to pretend you’re writing on a typewriter? In that case, please go all the way and imitate that terribly obnoxious hammering noise, including the CA-CHING!!! sound at the end of each line. If not, don’t use double hyphens. Welcome to the 21st century. (Sometimes, however, you will not get around using double hyphens to indicate an em-dash, especially in some text editors and social media platforms. Most of them let you type an en-dash, though, which you should then space to create a similar semantic effect as the em-dash.)

The em-dash is one of the most beautiful punctuation marks. Not because of its visual concept, but because of the semantics it introduces. I’d like to refer you to some masters.

Alt text

Apt use of the em-dash induces dynamics, rhythm, sprightliness, or reluctance and prudence. Its purposeful application implies a humbleness before the sign, before the craft of writing, and also indicates that you know about and care for what you are doing.

The em-dash can be used to insert a thought, or break of thought, a specification of a concept. In contrast to parentheses (also commonly used to set apart sections of sentences) the dash has the effect of highlighting the interpolation (which is meant to be read, rather than giving us cause to skip it as unimportant). If you feel that ending a sentence with a period and then introducing that thought with a new sentence would disconnect the thoughts, whereas a connection with comma would not separate them enough, use an em-dash.

The em-dash is also a versatile tool in creative (or let’s say “fictional”) writing, for example as an ellipsis or interrup—

You may also find it useful if you want to disjoint sentence parts, as in “So how’s the wife and — dammit Justin, how many times have I told you not to lick the dead rabbits! — anyway, what I meant to say …”

It’s fine to also space the em-dash (unless it’s particularly long and looks iffy with spaces).

The HTML entity for the em-dash is —

No matter what you do: be consistent

Back-pedaling a bit, it needs to be stated that uses of the dashes, even the “official” or “authoritative” ones, tend to vary. But — as with most aspects of writing — consistence is key. Never, though, is it acceptable to just replace a dash with a hyphen or a minus, unless you aim to build a reputation as a bad stylist. Rather, experiment with them until you get a good feel for the dynamics. Awareness and a little practice will improve your writing skills.

You could be the em-dash of contemporary writers.

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