7. Write in mocks, not docs
Have you ever written something that looked good on paper, but ended up looking too long when it went live? That’s what happens when you do your writing in Google Docs, Dropbox Paper, or any other writing app.
When you write words for an interface, seeing the full context is so crucial. You need to know how your words are going to look next to everything else around it.
That’s why I prefer to write in Sketch mocks, not in docs. I find that writing in mocks helps inform my writing decisions, because I can see how my words will look in context.
User experience design aims to make things feel intuitive for the person using your app or platform. Microcopy needs to act in the same way.
Just a few, carefully chosen words can go a long way in apps and can stop users struggling or dropping out of the process altogether.
Microcopy shouldn’t explain the design. It should enhance the user experience, working within context and to answer the question a user might have. For example, the copy on a button shouldn’t tell users to click it. It should say where they will go next, or what will happen when they press it, i.e, it saves the information.
Much like the word “gravitas,” title case gives your words a feeling of formality and importance. Sites like The New York Times and USA.gov primarily use title case. It’s Professional. Serious. Established.
Using title case is like dressing your words up in a suit. For certain brands, you might want your words to look like they mean business. If you’re in the business of security, for example, title case is more likely to feel professional and trustworthy compared to sentence case.
Just as title case looks more formal and serious, sentence case looks more casual and friendly. I’m a writer at Dropbox, and we intentionally write in sentence case because we want our brand to feel natural and approachable. We think our product’s voice sets us apart from our competitors, and using sentence case is one way for us to maintain that voice.
I greatly prefer sentence case, for the reasons John outlines and more. I get irrationally bothered when people unnecessarily (in my eyes) capitalise words—particularly long strings of them—in an attempt to make things sound more ‘important’.
However, the title case example he presents does make some sense. His final thoughts are sensible advice for all writers and interface designers:
Title case and sentence case both have their advantages. Whichever direction you decide to go, just make sure you make an informed decision that makes sense for your brand. The worst thing you can do is to not have any standards at all, which eventually leads to inconsistencies that’ll be a pain to fix later.
Once your users start noticing inconsistencies, that’s when they start losing trust in your brand.
This is terrific. As you might guess from the ebooks part of the name, it creates Markov chains from your tweets, but it forms rhyming couplets and sets them to MIDI music. Brilliant.
Most weeks I am ridiculed by someone for insisting on plain language – avoiding acronyms and technical language / jargon in particular. People tell me that I’m slowing the team down by making them use proper words, and that their end users or stakeholders expect them to use technical language.
These things are both true. You should still use plain language.
Traveling coast-to-coast across the United States by train is one of the world’s greatest travel experiences. Amazingly, it’s also one of the world’s greatest travel bargains — the 3,400-mile trip can cost as little as $213.
It’s over here, detectives. The body was found about an hour ago.
Use the active voice, rookie.
Ten years ago this month the Guardian launched its Berliner format. We talk to its creative team about a decade of rapid change at the paper, and examine how design is now more important than ever in helping us navigate an increasingly complicated media landscape…
Ed Houben is Europe’s most virile man. And after years of donating sperm the “normal” way (sterile room, cup, cash), he and some women looking to get pregnant for free began cutting out the middlemen and getting it done as nature prefers it (sex!). Today, Houben has over a hundred children—and Ed the Babymaker is in greater demand than ever. We imagine you have some questions
The algorithms behind Discover Weekly finds users who have built playlists featuring the songs and artists you love. It then goes through songs that a number of your kindred spirits have added to playlists but you haven’t heard, knowing there is a good chance you might like them, too. Finally, it uses your taste profile to filter those findings by your areas of affinity and exploration. Because the playlist, that explicit act of curation, is both the source of the signal and the final output, the technique can achieve results far more interesting than run of the mill collaborative filtering.
8: Me Inc.
The paradoxical, pressure-filled quest to build a “personal brand.”
It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.
Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty.
A truly terrific album gets a good anniversary review.
Apologies To The Queen Mary is far more approachable, an album that spins universal reverie out of family trauma, relational struggle, and spiritual crisis. It’s music that renders the horror and delight of life on Earth as an epic struggle we all share. “I’ll believe in anything!” Krug sings at the album’s peak, desperately reaching for a fresh start and the freedom of some anti-Cheers: “where nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn.” Apologies To The Queen Mary itself can function as that kind of common ground, a set of inspiring songs many kinds of people can rally around, if only for a few fleeting moments. A decade into its history, it remains music worth believing in.
11: Future reading
I’m not entirely swayed by this piece—straw men abound—but it seems to have gotten a lot of people talking about books and reading and formats and focus, and that can only be a good thing.
From 2009 to 2013, every book I read, I read on a screen. And then I stopped. You could call my four years of devout screen‑reading an experiment. I felt a duty – not to anyone or anything specifically, but more vaguely to the idea of ‘books’. I wanted to understand how their boundaries were changing and being affected by technology. Committing myself to the screen felt like the best way to do it.
On what street did you lose your childlike sense of wonder?
It’s not that designers coding is totally irrelevant right now; I would happily debate that with anyone interested. But if software is eating the world, software design ought to be as diverse as the world itself. I would encourage designers to think about their roles and skills in the broadest sense, in terms of their knowledge of humanity and the world, rather than the technical deliverables of today. Divergent processes will become mandatory for survival and in the future I expect the question “should designers code?” to make as much sense as “should urban planners carve wood?” Our practice on the other end of this moment has a good chance of entering the most diverse, vital era we’ve ever known, which should be celebrated and encouraged rather than squashed and judged.
New fiction podcast: part Serial, part X-Files. A bit hammy at times, but promising.
Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again.
In this seven-part podcast, American Public Radio host Lia Haddock asks the question once more, “What happened to the people of Limetown?”
These aren’t your prototypical bucket-and-pail sand structures. Matt Kaliner’s creations deserve an architectural category all their own.
She has a knack for a good story, she’s great with people. Sure she couldn’t remember whether the Prime Minister of Great Britain attended her 40th birthday party. But then, who does remember these sorts of finer details?
Sure, but he’s making over $160k per day on new registrations.
It’s a beautiful, elegant solution that gets it all wrong, and it’s time to move on.
The ballpoint’s universal success has changed how most people experience ink. Its thicker ink was less likely to leak than that of its predecessors. For most purposes, this was a win—no more ink-stained shirts, no need for those stereotypically geeky pocket protectors. However, thicker ink also changes the physical experience of writing, not necessarily all for the better.
In a suburban industrial park south of Los Angeles, researchers have taken a significant step toward mastering nuclear fusion—a process that could provide abundant, cheap, and clean energy. A privately funded company called Tri Alpha Energy has built a machine that forms a ball of superheated gas—at about 10 million degrees Celsius—and holds it steady for 5 milliseconds without decaying away. That may seem a mere blink of an eye, but it is far longer than other efforts with the technique and shows for the first time that it is possible to hold the gas in a steady state—the researchers stopped only when their machine ran out of juice.
Nathan Friend’s digital replica of the classic Spirograph toy. Written in TypeScript, using D3.js.
I like this weekly challenge to readers to rewrite a sentence as concisely as possible. It’s likely that by the time you read this, the answers to this week’s challenge will be posted. The sentence to shorten is ‘This tool helps companies identify which of the 60 the most likely cyberattack scenarios are relevant to their situation’.
I forgot to post this last week. MailChimp have released their internal style guide under a Creative Commons licence. See also Voice and tone their guide to, well, those two things.
5: Emoji mosaic
THIS IS CRAZY MAGIC. Upload an image to turn into a mosaic made out of emoji. (Emojis?)
In the present tense, you aren’t stuck to the moment—you can go forward and backward in time. In fiction, the demands of the present tense are in some ways the opposite of that exploration of uncertainty—the tense places a demand for the elimination of all other possibilities in the writer’s imagination—this is what happened and is what is still happening whenever this memory returns to this character or whenever this moment matters. Granted, it requires a belief that memory is like a text that cannot change, in the way writing can, once printed, be permanent and collectible. But the best writers play with this, say, as in Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, where she moves from the past tense recollections of an adult painter returned to her hometown to the present tense narrative of the child that painter was—and the subject is soon what she has chosen to remember and what to forget—and this is given to the reader, not to the narrator, to discover.
Spend some time with a depressed, laconic Luigi as he chain smokes and wanders through a crumbling Mushroom Kingdom, ruminating on ontology, ethics, family, identity, and the mistakes he and his brother have made.
Another great time-travel short.
In a world where time travel is a simple hospital procedure, a man jumps back in time to force his 10-year-old self to learn guitar so that he can get more action with the ladies in the present day.
I have some thoughts on this but they mostly echo my Twitter pal Charlie Loyd’s, who repeatedly brings so much more considered thought to everything, it’s unfair on the rest of us.
When the Cascadia fault line ruptures, it could be our worst natural disaster in recorded history.
I thought twice about including this as I read something similar most days. But the point of this blog is that not everyone reads what I read and, anyway, I’m such fan of brevity (stop laughing, Twitter followers and Facebook friends) that I want to press this home to everyone. Omit needless words!
Getting things into 140 characters might be teaching young writers one of the most cherished virtues among those who deal professionally with writing: brevity.
If you’ve read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running then you’ve heard a version of this story before, but it’s supremely interesting anyway.
I think Hiroshima’s starting pitcher that day was Yoshiro Sotokoba. Yakult countered with Takeshi Yasuda. In the bottom of the first inning, Hilton slammed Sotokoba’s first pitch into left field for a clean double. The satisfying crack when the bat met the ball resounded throughout Jingu Stadium. Scattered applause rose around me. In that instant, for no reason and on no grounds whatsoever, the thought suddenly struck me: I think I can write a novel.
I hadn’t ever heard of this site before (Stories from the American South) but, boy howdy, is it ever good.
For almost 70 years, United Record Pressing has been in the business of pressing vinyl records. A quarter century ago, everyone thought those old black disks were going the way of the dodo. Then a few years ago, a funny thing happened: The kids started buying vinyl again. And now, one of Nashville’s oldest manufacturing businesses is growing to beat the band.
Joanna Newsom has announced her first new album in five years. Entitled Divers, the follow-up to 2010’s Have One on Me is due from Drag City on October 23rd.
When I first learned to play the guitar I would often ‘entertain’ people, half-joking/half-serious, with a slow, angsty, fingerpicked version of this song. People laugh about the track but as far as I can see, it’s completely truly objectively brilliant.
Toward a grand unified theory of “Around the Web”, i.e. those terrible ad grids you see on desperate websites:
Chum is decomposing fish matter that elicits a purely neurological brain stem response in its target consumer: larger fish, like sharks. It signals that they should let go, deploy their nictitating membranes, and chomp down blindly on a morsel of fragrant, life-giving sustenance. Perhaps in a frenzied manner […] This is a chumbox. It is a variation on the banner ad which takes the form of a grid of advertisements that sits at the bottom of a web page underneath the main content.
Visipedia is a joint project between Pietro Perona’s Vision Group at Caltech and Serge Belongie’s Vision Group at Cornell Tech. Visipedia, short for “Visual Encyclopedia,” is an augmented version of Wikipedia, where pictures are first-class citizens alongside text. Goals of Visipedia include creation of hyperlinked, interactive images embedded in Wikipedia articles, scalable representations of visual knowledge, largescale machine vision datasets, and visual search capabilities. Toward achieving these goals, Visipedia advocates interaction and collaboration between machine vision and human users and experts.
Billed as a real-time dashboard of popular Times content. Interesting to see the way they categorise content:
- Fresh Eyes: stories that are popular with readers who are new to The Times
- Page-Turner: stories that are holding the attention of our readers
- Renewed Interest: older stories that are making a comeback and experiencing a second wind
- Staying Power: stories that have been consistently popular since publication
It’s probably not a secret that I dislike the “Agile” fad that has infested programming. One of the worst varieties of it, Scrum, is a nightmare that I’ve seen actually kill companies. By “kill” I don’t mean “the culture wasn’t as good afterward”; I mean a drop in the stock’s value of more than 85 percent. This shit is toxic and it needs to die yesterday. For those unfamiliar, let’s first define our terms. Then I’ll get into why this stuff is terrible and often detrimental to actual agility. Then I’ll discuss a single, temporary use case under which “Agile” development actually is a good idea, and from there explain why it is so harmful as a permanent arrangement.
I didn’t realise how much I loved this song until relatively recently. I recorded a version of it, if you’re inclined to listen.
One third of all boards on Pinterest are secret wedding-planning boards.
On botanical and common names of plants. No, really, it’s a good short thing.
In the mouth of the Yangtze River off the eastern coast of China, a small island holds a secret haven lost to the forces of time and nature—an abandoned fishing village swallowed by dense layers of ivy slowly creeping over every brick and path.
Ever since David Hume noted that, while reading Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, “One is also plagued with his Notes, according to the present Method of printing the Book” and suggested that they “only to be printed at the Margin or the Bottom of the Page,” footnotes have been the hallmark of academia. For centuries, then, the footnote existed as a blunt instrument, wielded by pedants and populists alike, primarily for the transmission of information, but occasionally to antagonize opponents with arch rhetorical asides. But it would take a couple hundred years until writers again took up the footnote for other, more artful purposes, discovering in this tiny technique emotional and intellectual depth far beyond the realm of the merely experimental.
Don’t call it a Britpop comeback. “Call it what you will, stoke the flames of a no longer existing feud, but this ‘comeback’ isn’t really a return of Britpop; it’s a return of bands that used to be Britpop. Neither Blur nor Oasis is going to stir the nation, or young music fans, the same way they once did. Part of why a ‘Battle of Britpop’ won’t work this time around is that Blur hasn’t been very ‘British’ in about 20 years. These aren’t the same chaps who made ‘Parklife’—nothing from Blur (or anyone, for that matter) will ever sound as British as that. The sound of guitar pop cum middle-class hedonism that once defined them is lost in the past. Albarn’s other, far less British projects have made that kind of stylistic cloister impossible.”
Booze, Blood and Noise: The Violent Roots of Manchester Punk. A fantastic retrospective. “Still, that didn’t stop me the next week from chopping off my Bryan Ferry-style hairdo, buying a dog collar and black garbage bag on which I stenciled ‘I Hate Pink Floyd,’ much to the amusement of my poor Irish mom. ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, just look at yourself,’ she said between gales of laughter. ‘You’re wearing a dustbin liner.’ ”
A new lease of life for Italy’s aqua vitae? “The French have brandy, the Scots and the Irish have whisk(e)y and the Italians have… grappa. Outside Italy it’s often been seen as a rough old stomach-burner, and even inside Italy it’s not exactly fashionable. But could this ancient drink be on the verge of a revival?” I haven’t had enough grappa in my life to say that I love it, but a few post-prandial sips during an Italian holiday a few years ago told me I’m going to be a fan, long-term. (Incidentally, the BBC’s new responsive site serves m.bbc.co.uk URLs, even full-screen on my desktop Mac. How odd.)
Magazine apps are about to get better, but will anyone use them? “With this new suite, Adobe is softening its all-in approach to putting magazines on mobile devices and creating a publication that is a smarter halfway point between the static traditionalism of print and the ephemeral rush of the web. This means that the publications you currently subscribe to on mobile devices and download month-to-month will now update constantly instead of periodically. In other words, they’ll be more like websites and less like print magazines.”
It is expected that passive voice will continue to annoy me. “To me, someone who writes ‘snowfall is expected to end about lunchtime’ just doesn’t sound all warm and fuzzy that what they’re saying is true. Passive voice is the unconfident, if subconscious, mind’s trick of deflecting responsibility from itself into abstract nothingness. I mean, who expects snowfall to end about lunchtime? The writer? The local news station meteorologist? Dark Sky? Nostradamus?”
Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless. “But the test was developed in the 1940s based off the untested theories of an outdated analytical psychologist named Carl Jung, and is now thoroughly disregarded by the psychology community. Even Jung warned that his personality “types” were just rough tendencies he’d observed, rather than strict classifications. Several analyses have shown the test is totally ineffective at predicting people’s success in various jobs, and that about half of the people who take it twice get different results each time.” I did one of these recently and came out as ENTJ which doesn’t feel quite right.
The Straight Dope: 2, 4, 8, 16 … how can you always have MORE ancestors as you go back in time? . On pedigree collapse, which explains why generations of ancestors don’t usually follow an exact 2n pattern. “Consider an extreme case. Mr. and Mrs. Nosepicker have two children, a girl and a boy. These two develop an unnatural yen for one another and marry. Six months later the girl gives birth to an eight-pound horseradish with a lisp. In theory, the horseradish has four grandparents. In reality, its maternal and paternal grandparents are identical. Two of the four grandparent slots are thus filled by duplicates — pedigree collapse with a vengeance. Only slightly less extreme is the case of Alfonso XIII of Spain (1886-1941). Because of inbreeding in the royal family, he had only ten great-great-grandparents instead of the expected 16.”
Secret Lives: Katherine Heiny’s ‘Single, Carefree, Mellow’. “When you tell a friend that no one wants your story, she asks you what The New Yorker said about it. You admit you have not sent it to that magazine, and your friend laughs. She says you were supposed to start with The New Yorker. So, on a Thursday, you send the story there, and the next day Roger Angell, the fiction editor, calls you — early enough that he wakes you up — and says he wants to publish it […] That story helps you get an agent, but you and she later part ways and it takes more than 20 years before you finally publish, at age 47, a book under your own name, a collection of stories called Single, Carefree, Mellow.”
The reluctant king of the hidden internet. “The Hidden Wiki holds the keys to a secret internet. To reach it, you need a special browser that can access ‘Tor Hidden Services’ – websites that have chosen to obscure their physical location. But even this browser isn’t enough. Like the Isla de Muerta in the film Pirates of the Caribbean, the landmarks of this hidden internet can be discovered only by those who already know where they are.” Silk Road: libertarianism, crime and the Internet.
Introducing introji – emoji for introverts. “Designer Rebecca Lynch found she couldn’t express herself through standard emoji when she was feeling unsociable. So she created her own.”
How public transit agencies deal with all your angry, mean, and terrible tweets. “Some cities ignore the abuse, but others have found success engaging it head on.” Somewhat related: yesterday, due to a 2-minute delay, 30-odd train passengers and I were delayed by a little over an hour at Grantham, a small station in the East Midlands. The abuse the platform worker got was unsurprisingly horrendous—but what struck me was the age of the abusers. I doubt any of them were under 60.
Ten years of Google Maps, from Slashdot to Ground Truth. “On the occasion of this 10th anniversary, Re/code spoke with the people who were there at the beginning, and brought back their stories of how something that now seems so fundamental came to be.”
Calendars, timelines, and collages: mapping the imaginary. “I got curious about the other visual aids that novelists create to manage their books, so I asked around and gathered a variety of notebook pages, diagrams, and timelines.”
Death to typewriters. “You see, I blame typewriters for double-handedly setting typography back by centuries. Type before typewriters was a beautiful world filled with hard-earned nuance and richness, a universe of tradition and craftsmanship where letters and their arrangement could tell as many stories as the words and passages they portrayed.“
I’m Brianna Wu, and I’m risking my life standing up to Gamergate. “This weekend, a man wearing a skull mask posted a video on YouTube outlining his plans to murder me. I know his real name. I documented it and sent it to law enforcement, praying something is finally done. I have received these death threats and 43 others in the last five months.”
Our hole in the wall: an oral history of the CBGB scene. “This was a place for ugly kids to go. It wasn’t the beautiful people; it was the dirty people.”
Jupiter Ascending (2015). Last night I fell asleep in the cinema for the first time in my life. It really is that bad.