Dustin Curtis

Villain.

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Vision

After showing Facebook Home, Mark Zuckerberg spent a few minutes talking about the future of computing. What he said is the epitome of a vision statement, and it sets the philosophy driving Facebook’s work:

At one level, [Home] is just the next mobile version of Facebook. At a deeper level, I think this can start to be a change in the relationship that we have with how we use computing devices. For more than thirty years, computers have mostly just been about tasks, and they had to be–they were too expensive and clunky and hard to use, so you wouldn’t really want to use them for anything else. But the modern computing device has a very different place in our lives. It’s not just for productivity and business, although it’s great for that too. It’s for making us more connected, more social, more aware.

Home, by putting people first, and then apps–by just flipping the order–is one of...

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The Glass Bicycle

When I first heard about Google Glass, I thought it was a bit too ambitious. It reminded me of the original Microsoft Surface, a $10,000 touchscreen table that was obscenely cool but wholly impractical. The difference is that Google is actually delivering on Glass as a consumer device, and the glimpse that we’ve seen is so transformative that I think it’s worth the benefit of the doubt. What surprises me is the number of people dismissing it so early as ugly and un-productizable.

In the early 1980’s, when most people dismissed the personal computer as a mere curiosity, Steve Jobs attempted to rationalize its existence with a fascinating metaphor:

I think one of the things that really separates us from the higher primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The Condor used the least amount of energy...

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Yours vs. Mine

A question that inevitably comes up very early in the process of designing a new app is this: should the interface refer to the user as “your” or “my” when talking about the user’s stuff, as in “my profile” or “your settings”? For a long time, this question ate at my soul. Which is right?

The answer actually has quite a few implications, even if they’re subconscious. If you refer to a user’s profile as “your profile,” the implication is that the interface is communicating with you, whereas if you refer to it as “my profile,” you’re implying that the interface is an extension of the user, as though it is communicating for you.

There are two groups of neurological adaptations that I think might roughly support each of the approaches.


My stuff

As humans have evolved the ability to use tools, the brain has developed a function for assimilating external objects into its motor mapping....

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Becoming a new American Airlines

aa.png

In isolation, American Airlines’ previous visual identity, designed by Massimo Vignelli in 1967, was a beautiful tribute to modern American design. The simplicity of Helvetica, set in red, white, and blue, and positioned next to an iconic eagle, defined the company with a subtle homage to the country it represents. It is too bad that such a great, enduring identity was placed into such careless hands. And now it is gone.

The design problems at American Airlines have never stemmed from its visual identity, but rather from its execution of that identity and from its culture around customer experience. But the bankrupt company, in a misguided attempt to change its external perception, set out to remake itself visually. Here is the new American Airlines:

aa_plane.png

aa_new.png

After forty-six years, one of the finest corporate brands in history has been reduced to patriotic lipstick.

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Tide’s Brand

For a demonstration of the important relationship between brand and product quality, look no further than Tide detergent, as profiled in this New York Magazine piece by Ben Paynter:

Shoppers have surprisingly strong feelings about laundry detergent. In a 2009 survey, Tide ranked in the top three brand names that consumers at all income levels were least likely to give up regardless of the recession, alongside Kraft and Coca-Cola. That loyalty has enabled its manufacturer, Procter & Gamble, to position the product in a way that defies economic trends. At upwards of $20 per 150-ounce bottle, Tide costs about 50 percent more than the average liquid detergent yet outsells Gain, the closest competitor by market share (and another P&G product), by more than two to one. According to research firm SymphonyIRI Group, Tide is now a $1.7 billion business representing more than 30...

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Photography’s Third Act

When personal photography was first becoming popular, it was mostly used for experimentation and artistic expression, like portraiture. Over time, as costs decreased and fidelity increased, photos gained a second function: they became a system for people to store their memories. And only very recently have we begun to experience the third major function of photography, and I think it’s far more important than the other two: photos for individual communication.

Before Instagram launched, there was a huge ecosystem of photo sharing apps that were trying to capitalize on the sudden convergence of mobile phones and cameras. Some friends of mine were working on one of them, an app called Treehouse. It was shut down long ago, after Instagram suddenly sucked up the entire photo sharing market, but the first prototype captured something magical about photos that nothing has been able to...

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Product Performances

A few months ago, the mute half of the famous magic duo Penn & Teller published an article in Smithsonian Magazine describing seven principles that drive the development of his magic tricks. One of them, “Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth,” instantly resonated with me as a designer and engineer. Teller:

You will be fooled by a trick if it involves more time, money and practice than you (or any other sane onlooker) would be willing to invest. My partner, Penn, and I once produced 500 live cockroaches from a top hat on the desk of talk-show host David Letterman. To prepare this took weeks. We hired an entomologist who provided slow-moving, camera-friendly cockroaches (the kind from under your stove don’t hang around for close-ups) and taught us to pick the bugs up without screaming like preadolescent girls. Then we built a secret compartment out of...

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The Best

When I got back to San Francisco after a three month trip to Southeast Asia last year, I had no possessions. I was living out of hotels. Everything I carried had to fit into a backpack, so I spent the time to carefully research and buy only the very best of each individual item I was carrying. The best towel. The best pen and notebook. The best headlamp. The best headphones. The best wallet. Everything I owned had been carefully designed by a person who cared deeply about the problem being solved.

An interesting side effect, which I hadn’t anticipated, was that I developed a blind trust in the things I used. I trusted my lamp to be bright enough to light up the wheel well of a truck when its tire went flat, and it was. I trusted my wallet to hold cash, boarding passes, and IDs without deforming or falling apart, and it did. I trusted that my towel would dry quickly, because it was...

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Do.

Wake up early. Show up. Learn how to think. Be genuine, but appear nice. Use envy for motivation instead of destruction. Do what you say you’re going to do. Ensure balance in every area of your life. Confront repressed thoughts immediately. Surround yourself with people who are better than you (but remember the thing about envy). Work out every day. Be good at what you do. Make money doing what you love. Have good friends. Never settle.

This is my personal recipe for happiness and success.

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The Waiting Place

Dr. Seuss’s real name was Theodore Geisel. He used the pseudonym “Seuss”–his middle name–because he was waiting until he possessed the talent and experience necessary to write, as he put it, “the next great American novel.” That novel never materialized, but Geisel spent his life writing the most popular and significant children’s books in history. It would be hard to call his career anything but an incredible success. But he was always waiting. He was waiting for himself to become a “serious” writer, which he would never become.

The last book Geisel published was a fittingly serious story about the peaks and valleys of life called Oh, The Places You’ll Go! It is perhaps his Greatest book, but I hadn’t read it until a few months ago. In the months since, one part of the book has stuck with me, festering in the back of my mind. It hit me particularly hard when I read it the first...

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