Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How to Tour San Francisco

Jaime's Guide to Touring San Francisco


SF is 7 miles across by 7 miles high, and most of the interesting stuff is in the northern (top) half.  It's at the tip of a peninsula and surrounded on three sides by water, which can confuse visitors-- just seeing water in the distance does not help you orient yourself!   A great thing to do early in your trip is to drive, take a bus, or walk, to the top of Twin Peaks, where you'll be able to see the entire city-- the ocean, Golden Gate, north and south Bays, and the east bay cities.  This will give you an excellent orientation (bring your map with you to identify sites you'll visit later).


Note: it might be a better use of your time to experience things and people rather than just passively see "stuff".  SF has plenty of traditional tourist stuff, but other than telling your friends, "yes, I saw Fisherman's Wharf", it is probably more interesting to have seen something.


See a drag show.  San Francisco is a city of self-expression.  Seek out local drag, local bands, local artists (including the Murals of The Mission district).

Bicycle, either up to and across the Golden Gate Bridge, or as a way to get around town, especially when visiting Golden Gate Park.

Hike into the residential hills.  The nice houses are on tops of hills.   Climb some stairs that are installed in place of streets where the street would be too steep.


Fisherman's Wharf is a total tourist trap, there's virtually nothing authentic there; mostly t-shirt and trinket shops and bad motels.  However, the seals who bask in the sun 20 feet from the shopping-mall pier are a sight to see.

There are many ugly parts of the city, that, while realistic, should be avoided unless you want to see the gritty and down-and-out side of the people.  This includes the "mid-market" area- Market street between 6th St and Valencia St;  The Tenderloin neighborhood (adjacent to that area), the southwestern part of South Of Market (south of that area).


Bicycle.  Since SF is so compact, bicycles are among the best way to get around quickly.  Plus you'll see a lot of stuff en route, which you'd miss in a subway or bus.  Be sure to lock your bike including both wheels securely every time you park.  The big disadvantage of rental bikes is getting them and returning them; there are many tourist rental shops, but some are expensive.   Some of the less-well-known and cheaper include the Backpackers Center (, and The Bike Hut.   Sports Basement's Presidio store is the place to rent a high-performance real road bike if you want to do serious bicycling.

Get a Clipper Card.  This is SF's answer to London's Oyster or Hong Kong's Octopus-- an electronic fare-payment card that works on all the transit systems.  Load "cash value" onto your card (one card per person) and you can then conveniently travel on MUNI bus, MUNI trolley/light-rail, BART subway, Ferries, and Cable Cars.  Bus and subway fare is $2 within the city; Cable Cars are $6.

Walking is of course the best way to really experience the city, but it can take ~2 hours to traverse the entire city.  So it's a good choice if you have time to spare and don't want to be rushed.  You also get the option of taking a bus or trolley if you get tired.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Innovation Spaces

A hot topic these days amongst managers in the Design business is whether a specially designed workspace can facilitate more creative thinking and thus more innovative designs. Case studies of IDEO and the like make people think this is the case.

The assumption is that traditional wisdom about workplaces measures only worker efficiency, economy of construction, maintenance, and similar factors that are easy for MBA managers to optimize. Creativity, Good Design, and Innovation cannot be quantified in a spreadsheet, so perhaps environment is the key.

23 years ago, I read this fascinating article.

The article cites some research that proved that changing conditions of a workplace does not have any real effect, and that while a poor environment can have negative effects, a good environment won't cause whatever it is you want {efficiency, creativity, etc}

Something to consider if you think throwing some money into a fun space is going to revolutionize your products and somehow make you the next Apple. My employer tried that. It doesn't work. :-)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Alan Cooper on Innovation

I saw Alan Cooper speak tonight at IxDA-SF.

Contrary to the popular business axiom of the first mover advantage, Cooper points out that nearly all successful products and sites are not the first to market-- not the innovators in their market. Usually the first product in a market is supplanted by a better designed, more carefully designed copycat. (This is actually Microsoft's standard business strategy- embrace and extend)

Cooper gave these examples:
  • newton - palm
  • some noname MP3 player - ipod
to which I'd add these examples
  • netscape navigator - IE
  • xerox star - mac
  • friendster - myspace
Thus he concludes that Innovation does not lead to success. Rather, harnessing innovation matters. Notably, allowing sufficient time to get it right - get the design quality sufficiently high, is what ultimately leads to success.

Cooper also points out that software development is a craft, like carpentry, where quality requires time and experience (even apprenticeship), and cannot be schedule driven. This is further evidence that rushing to market generally will mean shipping a shoddy product which is doomed to failure for that reason, regardless of competitive dynamics.

Another Cooper observation is that programmers fit into two categories. Those that want to get something done and shipped (getting satisfaction about delivering profitable product), and those that want to craft the perfect technology solution for an abstract theoretical problem. These two types fit into Cooper's recommended two stages of software development-- design engineers (the latter type) and production engineers (the former type). He suggests that design engineers are suited to working with interaction designers to closely work to design both user experiences and technologies and frameworks to enable implementing them, while production engineers should be recruited to rapidly build and ship software to those designs.

In my observation, perhaps because of its older and more educated employee demographics, Sun is densely populated with engineers who cherish design engineering, and has fewer production engineers who just want to ship code. This has some interesting implications...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I'm taking an interesting UCSC seminar-course "User Experience Managers Speak" led by the Richard Anderson, famous for his roles in leading BayCHI and DUX.
Those of you who are not familiar with Richard Anderson's work or taken any of his courses are missing out!
Check out his blog.

One theme that is emerging is the importance of Trust. We don't hear a lot about that in the literature or in casual conversation of the HCI business; usually we talk of Us (HCI people) versus Them (engineering). In this class, however, ALL the successful manager-speakers so far (4) have stressed the importance of the UX Manager and staff establishing Trust relationships with the engineering teams they work with.

The speaker at the first class was Jim Nieters, formerly of Oracle and now director of UX at Yahoo. He said that as a leader, a UX manager needs strong relationships with many key people across an organization. These relationships are emotional bonds - trust - and very important. He said that this is far more important than more traditional UX organizational concerns such as "whom you report to in the org chart". He cites a "Trust Gap" between UX Staff and senior corporate executives in most organizations. (Many UX practitioners are not trusted to be pushing for things that the company really needs). He also points out that trust requires face-to-face physical contact- meetings, conversations, etc., and that trust is earned.

Here's Anderson's take on Nieter's lecture.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Whole Pornography

Whole Foods has opened two new stores in the Bay Area recently that I have been to. The new store in Oakland, on Lake Merritt, and the replacement store in Cupertino.

Like a porn star's endowment, everything about these stores is so pretty, so lush, so big, so overdone, yet irrationally attractive.

The sad reality is that instead of being a Green improvement over standard grocery stores, they are the opposite.

The Cupertino store employs no less than 30 of those incredibly wasteful overhead infrared headlamp devices (the kind usefully seen on the patios of popular restaurants). However, this is balmy Cupertino, where it rarely gets below 50. On the day of my visit, it was a dreary and cool-ish February. All the heatlamps were pumping out thousands of BTUs of heat into the atmosphere, to keep exactly zero patrons warm. So much for Global Warming, they're doing it directly (why bother going through the tiresome intermediary of Carbon Dioxide when you can heat the planet directly, for no other purpose).

Both stores have signage beautifully made with exotic (probably tropical) plywoods, where you can see the pretty laminations in alternating light (pine?) and dark (mahogany?) woods. I'm sure these are sustainably harvested woods, from fair wage laborers, etc etc. But each little sign (every shelf in the store has a few of these) represents probably $100 of actual added value (in US dollars) for what point? To encourage shoppers to feel better about themselves, feel cozier and more luxuriated, and thus buy more stuff they don't really need?

The Brand Message of Whole Foods is all about 'natural', 'green', and 'wholesome'. But that is not the reality of their impact on society and the earth.

What these Whole Foods Mega Stores (and their ilk throughout the US Retail economy) really represent are:
  • Materialism
  • Consumerism
  • Excess
  • Marketing, Branding, and Shop-fitting as Manipulators of Emotion and Behavior
  • Self-Indulgence, of the Gastronomic Kind (i.e.: Foodies)
  • Disproportionate Utilization of Resources, especially Energy
  • Exploitation of Arbitrary Labor and Natural Resource Market Inequalities
  • Waste (of Consumer Dollars)
Like a porn star, a business CAN be too big, too pretty, too attractive. Keep your eyes and minds open and see the pornography.

tools lead to technique

I'm convinced that much of the visual design we see out there are inspired not by the imagination of designers, but by what their tools can do. Thus we see lots of floating and animated text (made possible by Flash techniques). But is it necessarily interesting and original art?

Never confuse craft for art. This important principle was taught to me by my sister, while we were touring the studios at Cranbrook Academy of Art where she was studying.

do designers' skills make good designers?

It has been oft-stated, by myself and others, that one reason that Engineers make poor designers of software (from a usability perspective) is that they are too high-functioning. That is, by definition Engineers are far more intelligent than the average human, and have studied, learned, and taken into their mental practices highly abstract and complex concepts such as 'symbolic substitution', 'hierarchies', 'object orientation' and 'inheritance', the 'in-memory-vs-on-disk' disparity, etc.
Consider 'symbolic substitution'. This is the use of a 'variable', or letter or word, say 'a', or 'mySalary' to stand in for, or substitute for, an actual value during a calculation. This is the basis of Algebra, but how many adult humans are comfortable with Algebra? How many fear and loathe the subject?

One definition of a UI Designer, if one is to judge by job postings for them, is their proficiency in hard-to-use techniques and tools, notably in the use of Photoshop and Illustrator and Flash, and in the ability to draw. A good designer has taken into his/her mental practices many arcane and bizzare constructs such a layers, outlines, timelines, perspective, anti-aliasing, etc.

Wouldn't you think people who use and are proficient in easy things would do a better job of designing things to be easy? Just as Engineers' use of complex tools such as Object Oriented Programming Languages contaminates their brains and makes them think at too high a level, wouldn't Designers' use of complex tools such as Photoshop contaminate their ability to design simple interactions?