Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Skeuomorphism in Design: Good or Bad?

 Last night I went to a panel called Skeuomorphism vs. Simplicity, hosted by the Designer Fund and Asana (who has an amazing space, by the way. It's got that well-designed, stripped warehouse feel).   If you're interested in watching the video of the panel, you'll be able to check it out on the Asana blog.

My one and only image of the event. Yes it's horrible. Sorry. 
Panelists included: Wilson Miner (Rdio/Facebook), Stephanie Hornung (Asana),
Kerem Suer (previously Fitbit), Naz Hamid (Weightshift),
Mark Kawano (formerly Apple) and Alan Urdan (Windows 8).

A quick definition of skeuomorphism:
A skeuomorph is a design element of a product that imitates design elements functionally necessary in the original product design, but which have become ornamental in the new design.

Prior to the panel, my main thoughts were (1) skeuomorphism is simply just visual adornment (leather texture on the edges of a calendar app, for example) and (2) it's currently being bashed in the design community as something that's useless and gets in the way of content, and I tended to agree. 

Here's the interesting stuff I learned:

1) Skeuomorphs aren't only visual.

There are physical skeuomorphs.  Take these cigarettes for example. The paper is printed with the texture of cork, because that's what cigarettes used to be made of.

There are also audio skeuomorphs. The click of the shutter release when you use a digital camera is essentially an "audio adornment" to provide feedback that something's happened – it's comforting and satisfying.

For skeuomorphs in general, my biggest takeaway was that they're not black and white – either good or bad. There are certain times they are inappropriate and inappropriate. You have to consider their context and the task that the user is trying to accomplish. I think this tweet frames it nicely:

Skeuomorphism is good when it helps the user accomplish something, or intends to evoke an emotional response (e.g. nostalgia, comfort).

Example: Some might say that the iPhone's compass app is overdesigned and overwrought, but it does immediately communicate to the user what the app is for and what it does. It encourages interaction (people know immediately how a compass works, or they should) and it's much more engaging than showing a single number, i.e. the directionality.

Skeuomorphism is not good if it's completely irrelevant, doesn't have a purpose, and obstructs the user from completing their task.

Example: This podcast apps that uses the cassette tape* as a skeuomorph. It's not a successful metaphor as many young people have never even used a cassette tape before (yeah, oh my god, I'm getting old). Though gorgeous visually, the design actually hinders the understanding and interaction with the app.

*By cassette tape, I mean reel-to-reel. Sorry. Generational gap.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Longan, or Dragon's Eye

In Chinese, the longan is called Long Yan (龍眼), which literally translates to "Dragon's Eye." From the picture below, you can probably see why.

(Oh yes, and this photo was taken on a beach in Kauai, shortly after sunrise. No big deal...)

The longan is related to the lychee. They're the size of jawbreakers, with a brittle, golden brown skin. From the outside, they look a little bit like mini spherical potatoes.

The longan is quite easy to unpeel – all you have to do is apply pressure between your fingers and the skin will crack to reveal the translucent flesh underneath.

The flesh is a little similar to the grape's – it's off-white and translucent (also referred to as "mucilaginous"), but holds together more firmly. Some disagree, but I think it tastes quite similar to the lychee. The flavor is somewhat musky, tropical, and sweet, but less floral than the lychee's.

You can buy these canned from Asian supermarkets, but they'll most likely be drowning in sugary syrup. I think they're best on their own, as is.

And here is the "pupil." The seeds inside are hard and lacquered black.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A trip to Apple Hill: Sweetie Pie's, Rainbow Orchards, Jack Russell Farm Brewery & Winery, Abel's Apple Acres

I first learned about Apple Hill from Chowhound, and immediately knew I had to go. It only took me about, oh, two years to convince Ryan to take us there, but it finally happened a few weeks back, in late September.

For those of you unfamiliar with Apple Hill, it's an association of apple orchards, each with its own apple based specialties for sale: think apple cider donuts, apple streudel, sparkling apple wine, buttermilk apple pie...jams, caramel apples...the list is extensive and mouthwatering.

Apple Cider donuts – the specialty of Apple Hill

Prior to the trip, I made a map and list of places that we had to visit. Apple Hill is in Camino, about a three hour drive northeast of San Francisco (past Sacramento), so be prepared to spend six hours in the car. But IT'S WORTH IT. And I don't even like apples that much.

I'd describe it as Napa, except with apple orchards in place of wineries, with a little Disneyland thrown in (it's very family-friendly; some orchards have hay rides and face painting to appeal to the tots). There's also a handful of wineries and breweries in the area, so I guess there's also a pub crawlish element, but I doubt the Apple Hill Marketing team would ever describe it that way.

Here's our itinerary for the day:

Brunch at Sweetie Pie's

Stopped by an adorable Victorian-converted-into-restaurant for brunch in Placerville, CA. This place is known for their apple cinnamon toast, which they give in generous portions with most of their brunch entrees. I think their bread was homemade too. Delicious...

Rainbow Orchards

This was our first orchard stop of the day. Since we were both stuffed silly from brunch, we only ended up getting the apple cider donuts and apple cider.

The apple cider donuts are served piping hot, and are only a buck each. These were my first apple donuts ever, so I wasn't sure what to expect. They're more apple-y than cider-y, but were warm and delicious, with a "moist crumb." ← Feel douchey saying this, but alas, it was true.

Some shots of the interior.  They had samples of their apple cider, which was delicious (but didn't have the "little pieces of apple" that I was expecting from my research...sad). They had a few varieties of apples on sale, but nothing exotic or uncommon.

Jack Russel Farm Brewery & Winery

I flipping loved this place. It's a very lively brewery/winery with a ton of outdoor seating (and crafts/kettle popcorn/food stands placed conveniently around the perimeter).

We went to the brewery first. First of all, look at their board – see how they illustrate levels of hoppiness vs maltiness and light vs dark ? That is an example of excellent information design.

I went a little crazy on the flavored beers. We got a sampler of the Harvest Apple Ale, the Pumpkin Ale, the Blueberry Ale, and the Farmhouse Ale. I remember wishing that they tasted more fruity (and that is where the beer experts exit this page and never come back...) because the flavors were very faint. I think fruit-flavored beers are just one of those things that sound good in theory, but then taste kind of like nothing. Anyway...

We then took the few steps over to their winery.

Again, we ordered a sampler of wines, focusing on what was sparkling and apple-centric. We ended up getting the (from left to right):

- Semi-Sweet Sparkling Blackberry mead (made from their own farm-raised honey and berries)
- Sparkling Pyment (mead with fermented honey and wine grapes)
- Hard Apple Cider
- Cyser (which is a blend of the hard apple cider with semi sweet mead and honey)

I LOVED THE CYSER. It was SO delicious. It was very light and refreshing, crisp and pear-flavored. I was going to buy a jug, but ended up forgetting (oops...I blame my beverages).

 The outdoors seating area was so pretty.

Here I am in front of some llamas (across the "street" from the winery).

Madroña Vinyards

Our second and last winery of the day.  This one offered a complementary tasting of most of their wines. We tried a few of their white wines and ended up buying a sweet little Yellow Muscat (sounds like an animal, no?)

Some views of their vineyard:

Boa Vista Orchards

This orchard had the greatest variety of apples for sale. We picked up a bunch of Jonah Golds and Sweet Septembers (peaches...I couldn't resist.)

I'd best describe this place as the land of samples. You could sample their fruit, apple cider, apple wines (which were complimentary to taste. Some were overly sweet but I remember there was one that was lightly sweet and very refreshing)...

The wine tasting station...

 ...fruit butters...

...barbeque sauces...sample heaven.

Abel Apple Acres

(Try saying their name five times fast)

This was our last orchard stop of the day. We were so tired from all the eating and drinking (I know. Life is so hard) but we managed to fit in their apple cider donuts, which are purportedly the "best" in all of Apple Hill.

They were delicious. They weren't served warm, but they were very cake-like. I bought three.

I wanted to buy more apple pastries – e.g., an apple dumpling and strudel, but to be honest, they didn't look very tasty at this point.

Please go to Apple Hill and eat the things my stomach could not stretch enough for.

Cloud Iridescence

I photographed this on the 80W freeway back in early October, somewhere along the drive from Sacramento to San Francisco. This is actually a really dinky bit of iridescence, but that didn't prevent me from whipping out my camera and taking about fifteen photos.

But that's fine, because apparently iridescence isn't that common, and even rarer in cirrus clouds. Which, with my rudimentary cloud education, i.e., "Weather and Storms" at Stanford (I may have been the only person in the history of the school who thought that class was somewhat challenging...), I have determined the clouds below to be.

The iridescence is caused by small and similarly-sized water droplets or ice crystals individually scattering light. The clouds have to be optically thin so that most rays only encounter single droplets – thus, you're more likely to see this phenomenon at cloud edges or in newly formed baby cloudlings.

To compensate for my dinky iridescence, here are some epic photos:



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tropical Fruit Frenzy

I have returned from paradise. (I regret that decision.) 

On my first day in Kauai, I had 15 minutes at Kapaa's Farmer's Market before they closed. Needless to say, I went into a mad frenzy purchasing every single tropical fruit that I couldn't buy in San Francisco.

Here's my bounty, in a vaguely clockwise direction, starting from that long green thing on the left: Monstera Deliciosa, Ice Cream Bananas, Longan, Starfruit, Strawberry Sunrise Papaya, Custard Apple, Lilikoi, and Guava.

 Expect a lot of fruit posts! Probably in the next couple years, considering my posting speeds.