Susan Kare

The Sketchbook of Susan Kare, the Artist Who Gave Computing a Human Face

I first posted about Susan Kare here: Making the Macintosh Project but I’ve known about her since the mid-1980′s because both her icon and font designs were the “face” of the original Macintosh and stayed with us for close to ten years.

She makes and sells limited edition prints: Susan Kare: limited edition prints and has a professional web site for her design work: Susan Kare: user interface graphics.

Ask Different

Ask Different

Ask Different is a brilliantly built discussion site that allows people to ask questions about their Apple products and get a variety of answers and tips from others.

I first heard about it back here and I decided to subscribe to its RSS feed for a while to see what kinds of questions and answers were being put up.

In short order I figured I might be able to answer a few of the questions so I registered and posted an answer. That led to another and pretty soon I was hooked, less on being a know-it-all (I know much less than most people posting there) but on the challenge of attempting to explain in words the answers to various questions (one can also post screen shot images there).

Questions and answers are rated, much like Amazon or eBay reviews might be and in this case it’s less about a popularity contest, more about helping folks find the credible sources and to support well written questions and answers. Brilliant.

I’ve learned quite a bit from this feed, not just answers to my own technical questions but also about the types of questions and problems people are having in the Apple world. Ask Different could easily turn into a more up to date and fluid source than Apple’s support area or Wikipedia (Apple products) for these types of things. Certainly a parallel source for more specific questions.

Many of my Mac and iOS using friends who read this blog could easily become addicted to this so I’m warning you, be careful.

Why do we put up with poor design?

I’m becoming extremely intolerant of poor design and it amazes me that so many people tolerate it.

Sometimes the end justifies the means: putting up with poor design might be justified because the product does something well in the end and its worth putting up with an unpleasant user experience to get there. My fuse for this sort of stuff is getting shorter it seems and I’m guessing that a piece of this is that I collect and use things that are very well designed and a joy to use so when things are poorly designed that unpleasant experience stands out.

One of the important issues at play here is that many people don’t know where their own lack of knowledge (they think “stupidity”) ends and poor design begins so they are reluctant to call it out for fear it’s just them being less than smart. This is no doubt one of the main reasons people put up with poor design: they think it’s them, not the product. Another reason is: if everyone else loves product x and I find it less than wonderful, maybe the reason is me. Put these two together and it’s a recipe for the perpetuation of bad design.

The Fuji FinePix X100 camera is an example of this: Beautiful camera, takes excellent pictures but the firmware/menu system is so poorly designed and buggy that it undermines the whole experience of using the camera. I’d have attempted to buy this camera had I found the menu system well thought out. Many are acknowledging the poor menu system but tolerate it because the camera makes excellent images. I get this but my ability to do that is diminishing over time.

Our Sony HD TV is another example of it. The picture quality is so amazingly good I love the TV but god help you if you need to get into its menu system to do something like attempt to turn off the startup sound. Why can’t the menu system be as beautiful as the picture? It’s like this piece of the design was a last minute afterthought. I still haven’t figured out how to turn the annoying startup sound off after a year with the TV.

My latest experience with this and the reason for this post is my experience yesterday attempting to update the printer drivers for my relatively new Epson Stylus Pro 3880 printer. I knew I’d bump into some upgrade issues when I upgraded to Lion and almost all of my applications and utilities have handled this beautifully with no hassle at all. If you missed the above linked to post on the new printer, the end of it discusses problems I had with Epson’s installation process: their use of the now ancient Installer Vice corrupted my already installed profiles.

So, the other day I tried to print with the 3880 from Lightroom now running under Lion and nothing happened. No problem, I attempted to use the Print/Fax system preference pane to look for a new version of the driver but non was found (my HP laser printer updated itself in 10 seconds this way).

When I went to the Epson support site looking for help with this I found a confusing list of updates.

Note: the only mention of Lion is in the sidebar under News and Alerts. If you follow that link you get this:

Mac OS X 10.6 drivers are compatible with Mac OS X 10.7

Well, I already had those drivers installed so this isn’t true and I couldn’t print. But, what Epson failed to mention is that there was a new version of those drivers without a new number up at their site. Amazingly stupid. They have the new number listed on the download page (v.6.60) but under it they say the driver is compatible with: “Macintosh OS X (v10.4.11 – v10.6.x).” Why the hell didn’t they give the driver the version number 7 is beyond me and why not list OS X v.7 as the end point of the range?


I downloaded the update and of course it installed with Installer Vice. Given that it was just the driver with no profiles I chanced using Vice again and amazingly it worked.

But, my god, how and why do people put up with this? They put up with it either because the ends justify the means or because they don’t know any different: they don’t have enough experience with well designed products to know one when they see one.

I have the very same issues with another product a Dymo LabelWriter Printer. The printer is amazingly useful and I can’t live without it, but the software that runs it is crap. I put up with it because my handwriting is terrible and I don’t want to hand address envelopes but my god, each time I update this awful software it’s like pulling wisdom teeth. How and why do people put up with this?

No doubt there are personal learning and operating style preferences at play here: some people find one set of experiences easy, intuitive, no problem while another set of people might find those very same things hard, unintuitive and impossible. But, I do believe that those of us who recognize good and less than good design need to vote with our wallets and simply not buy stuff that doesn’t work well. At the very least we should give detailed feedback to the likes of Epson and Dymo so they know what they’re doing wrong.

Rant off.

Lion doesn’t “burp” my MacBook Pro

Lion no longer “burps” the optical drive when you wake your MacBook Pro up from sleep. This makes me very happy.

I’ve also noticed that the Bluetooth control panel’s control for allowing and disallowing bluetooth accessories to wake the computer from sleep is also working as it should. My MacBook Pro can now hibernate and sleep correctly while still using a Magic Mouse.

These are nice details that let me know what Apple kept track of a lot of small sleep issues in Snow Leopard and fixed them.