HCDE 598 class description

Hello internet, long time no talk.  I’ve been keeping busy and wanted to share the news that I’ll be co-teaching a capstone design class with Rebecca Destello in the HCDE program at UW.  It’s my first time to teach “for reals” and I’m super excited.  Here’s the course description…


The capstone class will allow the student to synthesize skills and knowledge gained in the program into one final project of their choosing.  Working in small groups, students will create high quality design artifacts that take their project from the ideation phase all the way to high fidelity prototypes. Each artifact is designed to build up to a a final portfolio presentation that will showcase work done during the quarter.

The following topics will be covered:

  • Ideation / brainstorming
  • Sketching / paper prototyping
  • Wireframing / flow diagramming
  • Guerrilla style usability testing / survey creation
  • High fidelity mockup creation
  • High fidelity prototyping
  • Portfolio design / presentation skills
  • Communication & feedback gathering best practices

Each class session will have a short lecture around these topics (given by the instructors or guest lecturers), followed by hands-on activity work. There will also be at least one field trip during the quarter to get a taste of UX work done “in field.”

Students will leave the course not only with a fully realized portfolio piece, but with practical knowledge they can apply on the job as well.

What I like about Twitter’s display of content

1. It’s easy on the eyes, literally.

Twitter facilitates efficient saccades, the physical eye movements that take your eyes from one line to the next when reading.  Every Twitter app I know of (including the website) displays tweets in narrow columns which is ideal for scanning quickly.

2. The content presentation is uniform.

All the content in Twitter is displayed using a similar format which also aids in scannability.  Every tweet takes up around the same amount of space, no more than a 2-3 lines usually which helps when quickly moving between items.  My brain doesn’t have to wonder just how much farther down the next item will be and that reduces cognitive load.

3. Enforced brevity means less cognitive load.

Thanks to the 140 character limit, people have to be concise when communicating or summarizing linked content.  I’ve found Tweets tend to be better summaries of linked content than blog titles.  This means I can get the gist of what’s linked to a lot quicker than say items in Google Reader, FB wall, Tumblr, etc.  As Krug said, don’t make us think!

4. Phone apps provide a more satisfying than the desktop experience.

I think this one is the most interesting… Twitter is the first app I can think of where using the service is actually optimal on a phone vs any other device (laptop or tablet).  Reading tweets on a phone is great since it supports all of the above points. The column for displaying the content is already narrow so saccades are short for free.  Also, touch interface phones (Android, iPhone) are great with Twitter since they support swiping gestures for starring and retweeting which feels faster and more natural than when using a mouse.  Those gestures have a muscle memory to them too because of point #2.

A note on #2.

The uniformity of Twitter’s content today is mostly achieved by the fact that it’s only text and we all know that text transmission is very fast over networks.  But what about richer content like photos, audio, and video?  Scoble recently touched on this… but I think connection speed is a big gating factor here.  I will not sacrifice content load speed for rich content display.  Once connection speeds improve for mobile devices, then I think it’s a no-brainer to display rich content in a uniform way next to the accompanying text.

Gmail Priority Inbox talk @ Creative Mornings ZRH

Here’s a talk I gave last Friday that gives a behind the scenes look at the project I’ve been working on over the last year…

2010/09 Ario Jafarzadeh | Google from Zurich/CreativeMornings on Vimeo.

Priority Inbox, to me, typifies what I hope will be a much larger trend in online consumption… one that gives users more control over what can grab their attention vs the pure chronology based world that has dominated the web for so long.

Some fantastic people I want to thank…

  • Swiss Miss for all her energy and encouragement!
  • Daniel Frei and Thomas Kupferschmied for their help organizing things from the Creative Mornings side
  • Steve Rogers and Emmet Connolly for their help on the Google side
  • redSmoke productions for their video editing work
  • All the engineers, project managers, fellow UX’ers, and support people that I’ve worked with over the last year. I’ve loved working with this team and will miss them if I end up moving back to the states at the end of the year
  • The late and great Neil Postman whose writings and ideas formed a lot of my thinking over the last year. I try to keep one of his many insightful quotes in the back of my head when thinking about user experience design…

    “Are you using the technology, or is it using you?”

Hope you enjoy the talk! (and check out photos from the event here.)

Autechre in Paris

Autechre set times @ La Machine, Paris

– The openers were a hip-hop DJ and a noise artist… very fitting since that’s exactly the space Autechre sit right in between.

– The club, La Machine, was gorgeous… perhaps the fanciest club I’ve ever been in.  Which is hilarious since as soon as Autechre took the stage, all the lights were turned off.  Their performance is about the space inside your head, not about them or anything else.

– This was my 4th time to the see the band and the only one where the crowd didn’t seem to thin out as time went on.  The French clearly have a high tolerance for experimental music.

– As I’ve written about before, enjoying an AE show is all about having the right mindset.  There were no pauses in between tracks… no recognizable songs… basically nothing you’d find in a concert setting that allows you to latch onto something.  It’s truly a unique mental exercise in concentration.

– Just as soon as you get into a groove and think you know what’s going on with the music, they change it up… it’s the equivalent of trying to hold water in your hand… just as soon as you think you have it, it starts to slip away.  I love this aspect of their performance.  This also makes it really hard to remember or describe the music that was experienced… it’s completely fluid and evolving.

– Another beautiful aspect of the show is looking around and observing other people in the audience… many have their eyes closed, some look exasperated, some are moving around to the music, others look like they just want to get the hell out of there.  I posit this form of visual accompaniment to their music is more entertaining than the run of the mill screensaver visuals found at most electronic music shows.

Essentially what I want to say is that I think these guys are geniuses… they view sound as their giant sandbox to play around in… whether they acknowledge it or not, their art’s connection to meditation and mindfulness is very inspiring and I thank the Gods that they exist and continue to make music.

My fav albums of 2009

It’s that time of year again… although, I feel less pumped about my list this year than in years past. I spent more of my listening time in 2009 on older stuff I’d slept on for awhile (e.g. Silver Apples, Can, Faust) vs new stuff. Perhaps it’s a by-product of getting older, but it seems rarer n’ rarer to hear new music that actually stands up to the test of time and warrants repeat listens.

My consumption of new music hasn’t gone down at all, but I feel like I’m discovering fewer 5 star albums (where the whole damn thing is good from end-to-end) than I used to.

Twist my arm though, and here you have my top 10 for the year (album covers link to video clips):

01. Kings of Convenience – Delcaration of Dependence

I’ve been a long time fan of these guys, but re-fell-in-love with them just as I heard they had a new album coming out. I know their music bores many to tears (*cough* Dave *cough*), but I’m a huge unrepentant fan. What can I say, they speak singularly to my inner sad bastard. Hoping to catch them live next year (and hoping even more that Erlend does another DJ Kicks record).

02. Röyksopp – Junior

If my #1 choice was all about melancholic introspection, this was my get-up-n-go album of the year which probably accompanied me on half of my outdoor runs. Röyksopp isn’t the same band we heard on that first record (which I still long for), but I continue to be a fan and wish I hadn’t missed out on their tour earlier this year.

03. The Sight Below – Glider

Technically, this is a 2008 release, but it came out in November and didn’t go into my regular rotation until this year. It’s the perfect record for “getting into the zone” and focusing. Broadly categorized as ambient, but most of the songs here have a subliminal driving beat in the background that give the song a pulse. I can’t count the number of times I put this on at work when I needed to crank on some designs. I hope Raf won’t take my utilitarian usage of his record as a negative :) It’s seriously a gorgeous album and I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.

04. Zomby – One Foot Ahead of the Other

I heard a lot of dubstep this year, but not much of it held my attention for very long… especially since the genre is driven by singles, not albums (here’s my favorite dubstep single of the year while we’re on the subject). Having said that, this record (listed as an EP… an EP with 9 songs???) really did it for me. The sounds are super pure, clean, and would be at home in any modern remake of an 8-bit NES game. Now if only someone could get the guy toshow up for his own gigs.

05. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Playing the Piano

I also re-fell-in-love-with Sakamoto this year, revisiting as much of his backcatalog as I could get my hands on. I was all set to see him perform his piano works in Birmingham, but that gig was canceled :( Regardless, his music left a big mark on my 2009 and I suspect it will continue to do so for the rest of my life.

06. Patrick Cleandenim – Orange Moonbeam Floorshow

This was a random discovery made at Other Music in NYC. Really catchy tunes in the vein of Pet Shop Boys and other great dramatic synthpop of the 80s. I’m curious to see where he goes from here.

07. Fever Ray – Fever Ray

It really took me awhile to get into this record, but then I finally succumbed to the awesomeness that is Karin’s solo project. I still long for new Knife, but this album, plus her Royksopp contributions will help tide me over until the next one comes out. (also file this under “shows I wish I could’ve caught this year”).

08. Eluvium – Life through Bombardment

Another album that probably shouldn’t be in this list (it’s a 2009 comp of older material), but I’ll bend the rules since it’s what really got me into his music. I fell asleep to this more than anything else over the last 12 months (a high compliment). It’s painfully pretty.

09. Omar Souleyman – Dabke 2020: Folk And Pop Sounds Of Syria

This was definitely the “funnest” find of 2009, just look at that album cover for crissakes! I have to thank Other Music again on this one… seriously, I had no idea people threw down like that in Syria. I can only hope living in Europe means I have a greater chance of seeing him live next year… preferably at some huge wedding.

10. Portico Quartet – Isla

The importance of brick n’ mortar record stores is proved yet again with this latecomer to the list… picked up at Rough Trade in London. Fantastic instrumental compositions for fans of Tortoise and Cinematic Orchestra. Would love to see them perform sometime.

And that’s all she wrote. For 2010, I’m looking forward to hearing the new Massive Attack, Burial, and Radiohead records. It sounds like Trent is already itching to come back out of hiding too and I’m praying it’ll be more like Ghosts than anything else he did with NIN. Maybe Aphex or Boards of Canada will surprise us with something too?

I’ve checked out most of the other top ten lists floating around the web and it looks like Animal Collective came out as top dog. I can appreciate the band for their playfulness, but I never felt compelled to go back to this album. Maybe I will once all the fanfare dies down.

What were some things you dug this year that may have been overlooked by everyone else? I’m particularly interested in under-represented genres in my list like hip-hop or metal (does anyone even make good metal any more? I suppose that depends on who you ask and how you define “metal”… I know Isis and Circle are still doing good stuff). Whatever happened to bands like Faith No More, Ministry, Helmet? I suppose Tool are still around, but we need some young blood to step up and kick some sonic teeth in!

‘Till next time…

See my list for 2008 here.


It’s officially official, I’m moving to Zurich by end of the year!

I'm moving!

I’ve mentioned the possibility that I might move to my closest friends, but I didn’t get final word until a few days ago, so I thought I’d say something publicly about it now…

Some background:

– Living in Europe has been a dream of mine for years. I’ve visited the UK and Italy, but that’s about it (airports in other countries don’t count). There’s so much else there I want to experience and from what I hear, Zurich is an excellent hub for traveling around the region.
– My new project that’s getting me over there is the reason I wanted to work at Google in the first place… tackling the issue of information overload head-on. I’m just as excited about this new project as I am about the move.
– This is something that’s been in the works for months… Google is supportive of facilitating these kinds of transfers, but a lot of things have to come together to make them happen. I have many colleagues and friends to thank for helping me out with this opportunity and to them, I am eternally grateful.
– I’ll be there for at least a year and I’m not sure what I’ll do after that. I’m pretty thrilled about this aspect of the adventure.
– I should be relocated sometime towards the end of December. I’ll probably do some kind of combo going away/bday party with my bay area peeps before I leave so stay tuned on Facebook for info on that.

Other notables:

– I’ll continue to work on my previous project, Sidewiki, at least for the foreseeable future as it’s something I’m still very close to and want to see succeed.
– I’m going to miss my friends a lot, but I’m hoping you’ll all come visit me! Zurich is easily accessed by train or cheap flights from within the EU, so if you find yourself visiting Europe in 2010, put ZRH on your list!
– I’m incredibly excited to be near Berlin and Paris… two places I’ve never visited, but have heard so many good things about. My good buddy Jeff is in Berlin and Nathan is in Paris, so it will be fantastic to see them more often.
– I’ll be making the switch after many years of working on client software to working mainly on web and mobile based projects. I’m going to use this opportunity to get back into coding and doing more interactive prototypes.
Google’s Zurich office is supposed to be super sweet and I’m looking forward to having a smaller company feel for awhile.
– Skiing and snowboarding are two things I have very little experience with… I’m crossing my fingers that they’ll have some bunny hills out there to practice on.
– I plan to take German lessons and want to make sure I branch out from just socializing with my coworkers. I’ve heard it can be tough as an outsider to make friends in Zurich, but I’m hoping I can find some fellow music lovers as a way to bridge the gap.
– I purged a fair amount of my stuff when I moved to SF, but not near as much as I would’ve liked. I’m going to use this next move as a way to finally slim it all down to just the bare essentials. I’ve got the international Kindle now so I won’t need to take as many books with me and I’m digitizing all of my cds onto a mirrored drive. The only bulky thing that remains is my vinyl collection… I won’t have enough time to digitize my records before I leave, so I’ll probably just keep them in storage unless someone in the bay area wants to babysit them while I’m gone. I’m hoping to go the projector route finally too as a way to have a more mobile entertainment center.

I take my first trip to Zurich this Friday with a few days in the UK at the end, during which I’m hoping to catch Ryuichi Sakamoto perform his piano pieces in Burmingham (!!!!!!!!).

This new move is probably a good chance to retire my public LJ as well which I haven’t been updating that often thanks to Twitter and Facebook. I’ll continue to use it for friends-only posts (still baffled that no one else has come up with a better replacement for this), but I think it’s time I wrote more often on something I can fully control like WordPress. I’ll put a note here once that’s live.

Chocolate, fondue, timely public transportation, army knives, fancy time pieces, and neutrality await. Uf Widerluege!