Back to UI Basics

I want to take a moment to rant about something I really hate. I hope that this gets a lot of attention because I would really love to see this standard changed. Maybe (hopefully) you feel the same way…

Has this ever happened to you?

The built-in mobile browser...You’re reading through your Twitter timeline on your iPhone and you tap a link to some article. That article links you to another article, then another, and then one which links you to a couple of photos. After looking at one photo you decide to go back to the article, so you reach up and tap the back button.

Only, the back button isn’t “up”, it’s at the bottom of the screen.

Now, instead of going back to the article you were only half-finished reading, you’re all the way back to your Twitter timeline, with only a faint recollection of how you got to the article you were reading in the first place.

Great.

Now you’re left with two options: click back through the tweet and articles to hopefully find where you were and continue reading, or, abandon the article forever and convince yourself it really wasn’t all that interesting.

Don’t tell me it’s the “Standard UI”

After years of surfing the internet we’ve been conditioned to look to the top-left corner for a back button. Of course, there are shortcuts and other methods available as well, but the top-left corner back button has been a staple of browser UI for as long as I can remember.

That, of course, is not the case with the iPhone. Because of its limited screen real estate, the designers opted to place the back button at the bottom of the screen along with some other navigational controls. It’s different, but not unusable. And when using mobile Safari, it’s not even uncomfortable.

This all changes, however, when an app incorporates Safari and it’s controls within the app. Using the standard Safari controls is not the best option, I think, so let me take a moment to explain why.

The reason this sucks

Not only have we been conditioned to seek the top-left corner when browsing back using a desktop web browser, but we’ve been conditioned this way by mobile apps as well to browse back through their many in-app pages. This is especially true within Twitter clients because there are innumerable means to reach any content. After you’re deep within the app, it makes perfect sense to hit the back button in the top-left corner until you’re back to the beginning.

My Proposed Solution (listen up App Devs)

An alternative to the built-in mobile browser UIMove the back/forward buttons to the top bar, replacing the “back to timeline” button.

If someone only browses through to the original link, the back button remains as the “back to timeline” button. But, as soon as they go beyond the first page the button becomes a standard browser back button.

This way, it continues to function exactly as the user would expect. No confusion, no problems. The end.

If you’re concerned that this method will make it too difficult (or take too long) for the user to get back to their timeline, incorporate a touch action where the user can swipe across the back button from left-to-right and be returned to the original tweet/timeline. I’m fairly certain one of the apps incorporated this method for browsing back within the app, because I remember using it.

If you really hate that option…

I would settle for a contextual menu that appeared when the user taps the first link within the linked page they’re viewing. Instead of dutifully opening the link like normal this contextual menu would ask the user whether they want to continue using the in-app browser or open the link separately in mobile safari. It’s not as graceful as my requested option, but it certainly provides a pattern interrupt that would remind me “if you continue browsing in-app, don’t use that top back button”.

So, what do you think?

I can’t possibly be the only one who feels this way. If this bugs you too, take action! Show your solidarity by sounding off in the comments, alerting the makers of your favorite Twitter app and generally helping spread the word. Together we can defeat troubling UI!

Working from Home is Not for the Faint of Heart

When I tell people what I do, and that I work from home, far too often I hear, “I wish I worked from home and could do whatever I want…”

Well, today I’m here to set you straight.

Working from home demands a vast amount of dedication and self-discipline. It isn’t the cakewalk that you’ve made it out to be in your mind. When you work from home, you live where you work. How many of you would like to live at your desk or in your office (literally, not figuratively)?

Aside: I wrote moste of this while in the thick of freelancing and as a form of therapeutic recreation. It really helped me put a handle on how I was working and helped me take control of my life in a way that has had dramatically positive effect for myself and those around me. Here’s hoping it helps you, too.

Work Habits

On many occasions, friends and family have quipped about my habits of working in my PJs or sleeping in til almost noon. What they don’t realize is that it’s usually because I worked until 4am the night before and likely resumed working immediately after waking.

But, there’s no commute.

And therefore, nothing stopping me from being at the office at any hour of the day.

At least you can set your own hours!

True, and I’m very grateful for that when I need to cut out for an hour or a full day for various errands. Most often, though, it just means I’m working all hours of the day every day of the week. Once again, there is nothing to stop me.

But you can work anywhere! You could take a vacation any time!

Except, if I’m on vacation it means I’m not working, which means there is no active income entering our bank account. To counteract that, the simple solution is to work on the way to/from or during the vacation. Does that sound like a vacation to you?

Working from home sounds pretty awful, why do you do it?

Because I can set my own hours, work in my PJs, sleep til noon, work from anywhere AND there’s no commute. Plus, I pretty much get to do whatever I want. Haven’t you been reading the headings?

If I can be serious for a moment, working from home obviously has both benefits and detriments. Setting your own hours is only wise if you have the discipline to stop working and the ability to find value in resting and leisure activities. If you miss that, you miss everything.

(Pro-tip: you might want to read that last bit again.)

It took me four and a half years to realize that taking a break was not only relaxing, but paramount to a successful, healthy work life.

Discipline for the Uninhibited

If you’re like me, discipline is a word that makes you a bit uneasy. It means structure, routines, order, strictness, boring stagnant misery. Well, that’s how I used to feel anyway. Discipline is actually an integral part of complete, unrestricted freedom. No, really… just check out some of these examples.

Finding Freedom in Routines

As boring as it seems, a strong routine is actually the fastest way to a fun, relaxing lifestyle.  Creating a routine for yourself is one of the most important steps you can take towards freedom. Sure it’s foolish to try to schedule “fun” into a weekly calendar, but it’s more foolish to believe you’ll have time for fun if you don’t schedule a definitive end time to your work.

Here’s a brief example of my typical daily routine:

  • Awake
  • Breakfast
  • Shower
  • Personal Reading
  • Field Emails (1hr or less)
  • Get stuff done
  • Lunch
  • Field Emails (round 2, 1hr or less)
  • Get stuff done
  • Quit work, switch to personal projects/relaxation
  • Dinner
  • Personal work/relaxation
  • Bed

Respecting Your Time (Avoid Time Sink)

The biggest destructive force to a good schedule and routine is time sink.

The quality of your free time and your work are intimately connected. If you guard your free time and keep it sacred, totally devoid of any work, you’ll find that you will be more productive and less distracted while you work. Similarly, if you keep your work time entirely focused and free of interruptions you’ll find that you can work fewer hours and commit more time to hobbies and rest.

If you don’t respect the boundaries between work and leisure you’ll quickly find yourself discontent with the work you complete and unsatisfied by the quality of your down-time.

Take it from a guy who knows first-hand: when you refuse to rest you will actively seek, and feel justified in, taking distraction-filled breaks throughout the day. Later, when you feel compelled to rest you won’t be able to because you’ll have this nagging feeling that you didn’t get enough done and you need to accomplish just one more thing. Which leads me to my next point…

Manage Your Expectations (The reason you’re dissatisfied)

The leading cause of unhappiness isn’t poor circumstances or unfortunate events, it’s a mismanagement of expectations.

Consider all the times you’ve felt unfulfilled in your work, or like you had an overwhelming number of items left on your to-do list at the end of the day. Also consider all the times the new (phone|computer|movie|whatever) left you wanting. Is it because your job is overwhelming? Is it because those products/events were overhyped or under-delivered? Or, is it because you set an unrealistic expectation of how much you could do in a day, how long a project would take, or how incredible the shiny new thing truthfully is?

Leading a satisfied and fulfilled life is deeply rooted in managing your expectations properly. When you set realistic expectations for yourself, and others, you’ll soon find that your job is better than you realize, there will always be more days to get work done, and that how you’re living today – right now – is vastly more important than how much better your life can be in some unspecific time in the future.

Do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around…

That’s what it’s all about, folks. Discipline, dedication and healthy expectations. If you have those three things, you can change the world. Or, at the very least, you can work from home in your pajamas and not go horribly wrong.

Dropbox is the Best

Continuing in the vein of apps that have “drop” in their name, I give you: Dropbox. (Seriously, you haven’t heard of this already?)

Dropbox is a super-slick service that keeps all of your files synced across whatever computers you use, as well as making them accessible via their website, and iPhone app…so long as they’re in the Dropbox folder. Already impressed? Thought so. But wait, there’s still more!

Completely Free (or crazy-inexpensive)

No need to bury the lead on this one, Dropbox costs $0 forever. If you feel extremely limited by your paltry 2GB of online storage (and who wouldn’t, am I right?) you have plenty of options to upgrade your account and increase your capacity. Wait, scratch that, two options. Really though, aren’t you sick of choices? Paid accounts are $10/mo for 50GB or $20/mo for 100GB. Alternatively, you can sell-out your friends at 250mb a piece to get a maximum of 5GB 10GB of free storage. It’s a pretty swank deal.

Automatic Backups and Versioning

Never worry about overwriting or deleting a file again. Dropbox has an excellent memory and remembers every single file you’ve ever introduced, and at every single stage of that file’s life (especially its awkward teen years). Granted, for free accounts the history only goes back 30 days, but if you haven’t noticed a file missing after that long then you apparently weren’t very close.

Public Folder

Need to shoot someone a really big file? Just drop it in the public folder of your Dropbox (Oh, I just got the name. Clever!) and you’re good to go. Share it with as many people as you like, or just one. They’ve even taken the hard parts out of it and given you a contextual menu to grab the public link. Once it’s in place, all you need to do is Right Click > Dropbox > Copy Public Link. The link to the file is placed on your clipboard and ready for sharing with whomever you deem fit.

Shared Folders

Speaking of sharing, are you collaborating with friends? Dropbox has you covered. I mean, if they also have a Dropbox account, that is. Just share the folder with however many users you please and they’ll have full access to whatever files you add, and vise versa. Afraid of them deleting a file or overwriting hours of meticulous work? Don’t be. The automagical backup and versioning mechanism has you covered (you read about that part, right?).

Have a falling out? No problem, just un-share the folder. Dropbox even gives you an option of revoking access to all the files (you know, if it was really serious breakup).

The End.

If you’re still not convinced, send me five bucks and I’ll give you my honest opinion. If you are convinced, go get it, and tell them I sent you!*

 

*Note: You don’t actually have to tell them I sent you. They’ve probably never heard of me, though I am one of their biggest fans. As such, the links contained herein are not affiliate links, so you can trust I’m really giving you my honest opinion. Now, seriously, go download Dropbox already! And, when you’re done, come back and tell me what you think!

Droplr is for Winners

Droplr is a great tool that immediately made it to the top of my all-time favorites list. I’ve struggled for years to find a means to quickly share previews (i.e. screen grabs) of a project with other collaborators, co-workers, clients and friends. Droplr fits the bill perfectly, and does so much more!

Check out these crazy-awesome features it boasts (pulled straight from their site):

File Sharing

Droplr is the fastest way to share files from your Mac on the internet. Period.

Image Sharing (Screenshots!)

Whether you want to link to an image or embed one somewhere, Droplr makes sharing images on the web easy. Grab a screenshot, put it on droplr, share the link with whoever needs to see it.

Notes & Code

Need to share a text note? Or how about a code snippet? They’ll even syntax highlight it for you.

Keyboard support

Don’t like the mouse/trackpad & dragging and dropping? Droplr has full keyboard shortcut support.

Twitter integration.

They love Twitter. And if you do too, you know it’s one of the best ways to share.

Free!

Droplr is completely free to use with ad-supported content. Don’t worry, they’re really pretty ads. Promise.

My Favorite Part…

My personal favorite part of the app is the built-in shortcuts. It’s no secret that I love shortcuts, so it should be no surprise that this feature would appeal to me so much. But, dang, these guys got it right. If I want to share a section of my screen, I only have to press Shift+Alt+4 (which is methodically similar to Apple’s own screen capture shortcut, Shift+Cmd+4) and draw a selection. As soon as I release the mouse, blammo, the screenshot is pushed to Droplr’s server and a shortlink is copied to my clipboard, ready to paste wherever I’d like.

Equally good is Droplr’s ability to share files, notes, code snippets and more.

It’s awesome, light-weight, unobtrusive, and completely free. If you’ve made it this far into the article and haven’t already installed it, what’s wrong with you? Seriously, download it already!