This being the Internet, I probably should have suspected that the majority vote would go to an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
In just a few minutes I will start viewing the winning episode, the season two opener “The Return of Harmony, Part 1”. Will one episode be able to convince me that bronies have maybe got their lives sorted out after all? Will I run screaming from my computer and turn to a life of solitude, never again to lay hands on any piece of technology that might bring me closer to this modern eldritch horror? Will some third thing happen?
Cheryl Platz (writer of the excellent blog twenty-sided woman which you should all be reading on a regular basis WHY DON’T YOU GET ON THAT) wrote a post today describing the antiquated state of iconography in user interfaces that got me into a UX sort of mindset. She describes how Windows is moving away from such abstracts, preferring more straightforward tiles containing text descriptions. But I started thinking about another source of iconographic inspiration that I think she and the rest of you might find interesting…
Even in the most modern of word processors and spreadsheet editors, most of the button interaction is represented by vague analog metaphors. The last time I interacted with a floppy disk, I was using them as coasters for a Hackers-themed movie night! (long story short, you missed out) And as Cheryl mentioned, clipboards aren’t an obvious analogy for applying duplicated information, so why did it become the standard for something as frequently evoked as “Paste”? Microsoft’s solution, as outlined in their previews for Windows 8’s Metro UI, is to replace those tiny icons with large, touchable rectangles detailing the contents of each application and service. Go ahead and watch the video:
Not too shabby! Metro looks very touch control-friendly and the icons clearly communicate their purpose. But I want to take another brief look at the tiny icons that have served us in the pre-post-PC world and think of another way to utilize them:
A video game-style tutorial mode.
Video games have been trying to deal with relating digital actions to real world analogs for at least as long as productivity applications. In fact, games have it a lot tougher: while you may perform tasks somewhat resembling saving and cut/copy/pasting in everyday life, you’re far less likely to find yourself, say, controlling the actions of a hapless family of avatars as they seek out lives and careers.
A game has to get the player familiar with a wholly alien interface in a very short period of time if it wants to keep said player engaged. As technology advances and games increase their capabilities, control schemes necessarily become more complex. Soon a large portion of the screen is devoted to complicated button layouts, and there isn’t always space for textual descriptions explaining the functions. Let’s look at this screenshot from The Sims 2 (click to enlarge):
(The Sims makes for a good comparison since it, like a word processor with a toolbar, is a largely mouse-driven interface)
See that dial on the bottom-left corner? It’s loaded to the brim with icons attempting to communicate functionality with simple pictographs. And you know what? It’s not always succeeding. From my past experiences with other user interfaces and societal conventions, I can probably figure out a few of these buttons; the plus/minus and curved arrow look like they could be related to camera controls, the sun/leaf/snowflake/tulip pictures presumably correspond to the seasons. Random clicking will probably yield more information about the other controls.
But what if I’m not the type of game player that wants to take risks by random clicking? Or going back to the original point, what if I’ve just finished typing up my very first Microsoft Word document, and I don’t inherently know that a picture of thirty year-old data storage technology that most computers don’t even support anymore represents the action of saving my work? Am I expected to click wantonly until the desired result is obtained?
How, then, do video games overcome this problem? Since their inception, most games come with instruction manuals detailing how to perform all the actions you need to get started, but who in the Word or Sims scenarios really reads a manual? No, the real way for a game to instruct on these behaviors is with a guided, in-game tutorial. Almost every modern game has the ubiquitous “tutorial mode”, handholding the player as it painstakingly describes each essential button and refusing to proceed until we apply their instructions and repeat the stated actions. The game teaches you what a mouse click does, then patiently waits for you to click that mouse button.
What would users think if Microsoft Word 2012 came with a tutorial mode? Before you write your Great American Novel, out comes Clippy with a mandatory walkthrough describing the functions of all the most commonly-used buttons on the toolbar. Users would painstakingly be guided through the concepts of copying and pasting, of right-justification, of embedding hyperlinks. Every person that ever used Word would have this shared educational experience (unskippable, of course), giving all users a much-improved baseline of knowledge and self-sufficiency.
At this point, it wouldn’t matter what we put on the icons. The floppy disk becomes no more useful a graphical representation than a National Geographic photo of a panda chewing on bamboo. It would be a wonderful opportunity to immediately phase out all this outmoded imagery and replace it with more interesting and timeless abstractions. Since everyone did the tutorial, the panda button would be a self-evident representation of saving our work. Clippy said so in the walkthrough. By applying a button’s function within the context of the action, we effectively remove the abstractness from the abstraction.
It should be noted that this is actually a terrible idea. But if some up-and-coming developer implemented something like this in his indie word processor, I’d certainly give the tutorial level a go.
There was a time, oh so long ago, when I thought to myself, “Self, you need to create something people will enjoy. This something should come in the form of a webcomic that doesn’t involve the intellectual property of others.”
And so I promptly screwed around and stopped working on everything comic-related. Life got in the way, but really I let life take over and changed my priorities. I got a better job, moved back to the part of California that doesn’t suck, and threw myself into activities directly related to paying bills and advancing career.
Through all this, I kept it in my mind that I wanted to get back to comics, that I wanted to make my big splash in the webcomic world with something I could truly call my own. I’m finally at a point where I feel like I can start to work toward these goals.
Too bad I forgot to keep drawing during all that downtime!
I feel like I’ve got a horrible case of the stupid fingers. I would never have claimed to be a great artist (that takes more formal art education, generally), but my lack of practice means my drawings today look not all that different from my drawings five years ago, when I still wasn’t where I wanted to be talent-wise. As a result, I’m forcing myself to go through the basics, to rebuild a foundation upon which I can build something resembling decent artistry.
While browsing through various Livejournal blogs of webcomic artists I admire (not at all to try and steal their powers), I was directed toward an excellent online tool at Pose Maniacs. The site has digitally-rendered male and female models in thousands of configurations of poses, with musculature exposed to help you break down the form. Of particular interest is the thirty second randomizer, forcing you to get your gesture draw on. It’s a wonderful resource I highly recommend everyone bookmark and frequent right away (get the iPhone app while you’re at it; I love the thought of having this sort of resource wherever I go). In the interest of attempting to build discipline through public display, here are some figure drawing exercises from yesterday and today (slightly NSFW pics of naked nudeness after the break). Continue reading Square One (the state of starting anew, not the hit public broadcasting television series)
This Christmas season, I wanted to make a contribution moderately more interesting than my usual iTunes gift card stocking stuffers. With that in mind, I decided to invent my own recipe, because I figure everyone’s gotta have their own recipe at some point. After many batches of tinkering, I ended up with this, a recipe for chocolate chip candy cane cookies! Continue reading Chocolate Chip Candy Cane Cookies
Sorry it’s been so long since my last post. And sorry for an apology that followers of my works hear all too often. A lot’s been happening in my life lately, but I hope to make up for my varied absences with my New Year’s resolution of MORE BLOG POSTS OMG
What will this result in? Hopefully more frequent updates on this blog (and other projects)! When I decided on this resolution, my first thought was to post something daily, but I have a feeling that would get rambly-cluttered and also insane, so my current goal is one blog post per week. I may not always have major projects to discuss, but at the very least I’ll keep all my faithful readers appraised of goings-on like a good blogger should.
Which brings us to my first blog post of 2011, wherein I discuss: Internet Christmas carols!
For the holiday season, Blue decided to make video Christmas carols for her favorite websites. Seeing that this was an awesome idea, I humbly offered my assistance at sprucing up the videos with vocal accompaniment and jingly bells, with iMovie providing the picture-in-picture magic. Here are our collaborative results! Continue reading Internet Carols (and a resolution)
Also for full credits: the image at the beginning was from Edgar Wright’s film Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, which is on sale in DVD/Blu-ray on Tuesday. The music was from Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past. The comic itself is the AWESOMETASTIC Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, and the pixel skull shirt was designed by Diesel Sweeties creator R. Stevens!
Also as a reminder, I made the artwork for her album, Infinity Right Now, which is totally out now!
Remember Blue? Of course you do! She played the webconcert live at my apartment back in September, and it was made of pure awesome. Well for the past few months, she’s been working hard on not-so-secret projects, and now all that work has come to fruition in the form of a brand new album!
In addition to having excellent songs about stuff like webcomics (including Dinosaur Comics, Questionable Content and Girly!) and Mathnet and people named John(/Jon), this album features special artwork by yours truly. The musician has been faithfully rendered in a Chrono Trigger-style sprite, which can only further enhance the already-intense levels of awesomeness this album already emanates. Here’s the cover:
(when you buy the album, you get the cover in EVEN HIGHER RESOLUTION. If that’s EVEN POSSIBLE)
Infinity Right Now is available RIGHT NOW from Blue’s Bandcamp page! In addition to the twelve official songs, there are two actually-secret bonus tracks, and if you buy during the brief pre-release period, you get a not-secret extra-bonus even-bonusier track!
Go pick it up already! And tell all your friends about it, so that they’ll pick it up and tell all their friends about it and so on! They might end up retelling you about it too. Don’t feel too bad about that, it’s statistically likely that you’ll appear more than once on the Friend Continuum.
Why am I talking about this obviously awesome Internet musicianista? Because I’ll be hosting her next Webcomics Webconcert at my apartment!
She’ll be flying to California in September to attend w00tstock (oh geez, have I not blogged about w00tstock either? I’m rapidly losing my blog cred), and while she’s in town she’ll be doing another live performance from my apartment!
“How,” you ask, “how can I ever hope to attend this epic event when I am nowhere near Mario’s apartment?!” Well it just so happens that this Webconcert will be streamed OVER THE INTERNET JUST LIKE THE OTHER ONE from my house to all of yourses!
All you need to do is jump on the Webcomics Webconcert Ustream page on Saturday, September 18th at 6pm Pacific Daylight Time. I will also have an open invitation to any of my friends that live sufficiently locally to attend, and we’ll all go get dinner after the show!