Archive for the ‘Design’ Category

Types of Problem Solvers

I’ve run into these types:

  • Satisfizers
  • Maximizers
  • Optimizers

Satisfizers stop after finding an acceptable solution. Some do it because they are lazy – “I was asked to fix the problem and this spagetti code fixes it.” The others do it out of egoism – “I came up with this wonderful solution and there could not possibly be anything greater than my genius.”

Maximizers latch onto one criteria and knocks it out the park, totally ruining all the other criteria. Does the solution need to be flexible? “Great, lets have a meta-data driven solution with 3 ways of indirection! Not maintainable or high performing? Not important!” Sometimes I think these types think cleverness is an important criteria – one that needs to be maximized. 

Optimizers carefully consider multiple alternatives. They weigh the pros and cons of each to find the one solution with be the best combination of factors. Of course, this takes some time. And actually considering the cons of their ideas means facing their own imperfection. I can see why few do this.

What have I missed?


Why iPhone?

I’ve joined the in-crowd in one aspect last week – I got an iPhone. I’m enjoying it immensely.

However, most of the things I’m doing on it – surfing the web while waiting for the kids to brush their teeth, listening to music, replaying Go games – I could have done on my 5-year old Dell Axim PDA. If I’m enjoying the new iPhone, why was the Axim sitting aside for most of the past couple of years?

  1. While I liked the Axim, I just forgot about it in all my busyness. Once it got set aside, it stayed aside. The iPhone is also a phone which I tend to carry around.
  2. Technology has improved over the past 5 years so the iPhone can hold more and process faster.
  3. The iPhone does have few killer features that the Axim did not – GPS, cellular data downloads, and motion detection.
  4. There are lots of free or cheap apps that are of some additional benefit.
  5. The iPhone does have a better user experience. The Axim ran Windows Mobile and used a stylus which was fine. But the iPhone is distinct.

Apple famously failed with the Newton a decade ago, it just seems now is when all the pieces were finally ready. Items 1-3 are just improvements in technology that are available to all competitors.

Item 4 can probably be credited to the App Store innovation. There were lots of apps for the Windows Mobile – after all each new environment is a new land grab for developers – but there was not a central place to find them. And each developer had to setup a credit card payment system so the prices were higher.

Item 5 was probably Apple’s main contribution and may be the advantage of controlling the complete vertical. The Axim was built by Dell running an OS from Microsoft. Neither one owned the user experience so could not aim to maximize it.

Item 5 also speaks to the importance of design generally in software design. Windows Mobile was functional and usable, but it did not have ‘cool’. My Sony Reader is functional and usable – by an engineer. When a friend asked about a e-reader for his mom, I had to recommend the Kindle because it is so much easier to download books.

When creating software, it is so easy to concentrate on maximizing the features and stuffing as much as possible on each and every screen. However, the most successful software will concentrate on letting the user easily do what they want to do most of the time. It took digging through 3 menues to connect the Axim to my home WAN. The iPhone asked to connect when I first tried to go online at home. If my Axim was easier to use, maybe I would have been raving about it 5 years ago. 

Unfortunately, when you are knee deep in the weeds discussing features you are in the worst place to design the user exerience. It takes fresh eyes and a bit of idiot-user to see the rough edges. The iPhone shows why the effort is worthwhile.