March 6th, 2010

pink with a yellow brush

Design with a sense of era; Pelicans by decade

Some of the inspiration for the BBC Web redesign came from the Pelican Project at things magazine, which lays out Pelican covers by decade giving a wonderful feel for the design ethos of each era.

The post of the redesign is well worth reading; not only does it mark a very mature approach to Web design, it treats it as a classic design problem rather than a brand-new digital world where the rules of design don't apply; they apply in spades. It's lovely to see it referencing classic British design, from Pelican to Eric Gill. No surprise that the design language comes from someone who understands typography, digital design and a bit of the old Letraset and Spraymount: Neville Brody.

thank you Axa, thank you Amex, thank you Windows Live Photo Gallery

Yay - my insurance claim is settled. Yay - I got the news by email!

I lost my watch in a hotel in LA last autumn and the old fashioned ways of doing things didn't help as much as the new customer service trends did.

I phoned the Omni hotel and got a not helpful response; I mentioned this and the loss in the survey the hotel sent me - and got a personal email from the head of loss prevention, who did everything possible to look for it (and found the toothbrush charger I'd left in the room and sent it on). 

We went to the gallery where I bought the watch - and it was now a trendy cake shop. We went to several galleries and couldn't find the artist; but Simon searched for them and found them in Sausalito and I mailed them and they had the watch and gave me a price.

While I was thinking about it, I thought 'hang on, we have this travel insurance I'm always banging on about' and phoned Amex. They said if I hadn't claimed in 30 days it might be too late but to phone Axa. I dithered on that for ages, because I hate disappointments ;-) Eventually I phoned, they were really helpful and scheduled a telephone claim appointment at a specific time the next day, asked some basic questions and told me what information I'd need. I retrieved most of it from my Outlook and OneNote via Windows Search, but getting the date I bought the watch involved some detective work looking through Simon's photos (I don't take many pictures of myself) for one where I was wearing the watch (and we found photos of the place the gallery used to be on the previous day). That meant when Axa phoned (on time) I had all the details, from the eticket number of the flight to the phone number of the head of loss prevention to the address of the gallery to the current price to the explanation of how I knew the date I bought the watch even though I didn't have a receipt, which sounds a lot more impressive than 'I bought in San Francisco but I can't remember when'. The claims assessor said she was happy and would phone within 24 hours if she had questions; instead I got an email saying the claim gets paid (less the usual 20%) and quoting the site as the source of the exchange rate. Digital history and digital customer service for the win!

Who invented capacitive touch, multitouch, pinch to zoom etc? Probably not Apple...

At least, not according to this history of multitouch from Bill Buxton. Yes, he does work at Microsoft Research - which means he knows what Microsoft has done and what a lot of researchers have done over the years. To quote the site:

Multi-touch technologies have a long history.  To put it in perspective, my group at the University of Toronto was working on multi-touch in 1984 (Lee, Buxton & Smith, 1985), the same year that the first Macintosh computer was released, and we were not the first.  Furthermore, during the development of the iPhone, Apple was very much aware of the history of multi-touch, dating at least back to 1982, and the use of the pinch gesture, dating back to 1983.  This is clearly demonstrated by the bibliography of the PhD thesis of Wayne Westerman, co-founder of FingerWorks, a company that Apple acquired early in 2005, and now an Apple employee:

Westerman, Wayne (1999). Hand Tracking,Finger Identification, and Chordic Manipulation on a Multi-Touch Surface. U of Delaware PhD Dissertation:

In making this statement about their awareness of past work, I am not criticizing Westerman, the iPhone, or Apple.  It is simply good practice and good scholarship to know the literature and do one's homework when embarking on a new product.  What I am pointing out, however, is that "new" technologies - like multi-touch - do not grow out of a vacuum.  While marketing tends to like the "great invention" story, real innovation rarely works that way.  In short, the evolution of multi-touch is a text-book example of what I call "the long-nose of innovation."