I'm Aza Raskin @aza. I make shiny things. I simplify.

I'm VP at Jawbone, focusing on health.


Macintosh Project Genesis and History

I was recently looking at some of my father’s, Jef Raskin, old documents and came across his February 16, 1981 memo detailing the genesis of the Macintosh. It was written in reaction to Steve Jobs taking over managing hardware development. Reading through it, I was struck by a number of the core principals Apple holds now that were set in play three years before the Macintosh was released. Much of this is particularly apropos in understanding Apple’s culture and why we have the walled-garden experience of the iPhone/iPad and the App Store.

Even better, I found some sometimes-snarky annotated comments Jef made to the memo as part of the Stanford Computer History project. The annotated memo follows my commentary.

Continue Reading » | RT @azaaza Macintosh Project Genesis and History

How To Critique An Interface

Non-designers are often called upon to make judgments about interfaces. Perhaps you are a business owner evaluating your new website, or a project manager looking at mockups from your designer. What do you look for in the design? And how do you give feedback in a more meaningful way than “It looks nice” or “It seems hard to use”.

While the full-depth of understanding design cannot be covered in a short article, here are some guidelines to help you out.

To get you started, here is an example of a critique I recently did of the interface for the yet-to-be-released Add-On Builder* for Firefox. The Add-On Builder is part of the Jetpack project and is a web-app of medium complexity that allows you to easily build Firefox and Thunderbird extensions online and then publish them to the world. I took screenshots of each screen of the interface, put them into one large document, and commented ex vivo.

Continue Reading » | RT @azaaza How To Critique An Interface

Tabnabbing: A New Type of Phishing Attack

The web is a generative and wild place. Sometimes I think I missed my calling; being devious is so much fun. Too bad my parents brought me up with scruples.

Most phishing attacks depend on an original deception. If you detect that you are at the wrong URL, or that something is amiss on a page, the chase is up. You’ve escaped the attackers. In fact, the time that wary people are most wary is exactly when they first navigate to a site.

What we don’t expect is that a page we’ve been looking at will change behind our backs, when we aren’t looking. That’ll catch us by surprise.

Continue Reading » | RT @azaaza Tabnabbing: A New Type of Phishing Attack

Solving the Alt-Tab Problem

Switching between applications, windows, and tabs is a fundamental action of modern computers. As people browse the web, we know that an average user will switch tabs more times in a day than they click on a link. Think about that. Much of your time using a modern browser (computer) is spent in the digital equivalent of shuffling papers.

Every major OS provides an “alt-tab” interface: a keyboard shortcut for quickly switching between windows and applications. To use it, you tap alt-tab and you are jumped back to the last focused window. Tap multiple times to cycle through all open applications. It seems simple enough, but there’s a interface gorilla in the room: What order should the applications be shown and cycled through?

Continue Reading » | RT @azaaza Solving the Alt-Tab Problem

Collaboration Made Simple with Bracket Notation

While writing, I like to keep things simple. While I don’t go to the extremes of Khoi Vinh’s punishing Blockwriter, I generally use an editor that can’t even make text bold. When I write, it’s just the raw text and me, mano a mano. By using a bare-bones editor, the text can’t fight dirty by throwing frivolous fonts and formats in my eyes. At most, I use Markdown to add style to my text.

Must of my collaborators are the same way. We are often editing each-others’ work, but many hands in the copy-editing cookie jar means edits fly like popcorn kernels on the griddle. How do we keep collaboration simple, especially now that Etherpad is about to reach the end of its life? We need a robust method of keeping track of comments and edits. Standard revision control is too heavy weight, and most diff programs operate on a too-course line-level granularity. We needed another solution. Text interface design to the rescue!

Continue Reading » | RT @azaaza Collaboration Made Simple with Bracket Notation

Letting Firefox Move Faster: Solving The Innovators Dilemma

With nearly 400 million users, the changes we make to Firefox must be made with care. The cost of change for fiddling with a commonly used feature can be high for any one person — and when that cost is multiplied by 400 million the cost-at-scale is oppressive; even causing 10 seconds of confusion can waste over a million collective man hours. Change comes at a cost and it must be outweighed by change’s benefits. Yet, we can’t be better without being different.

The nearly 400 million current Firefox users is a testament to our ability to make those tough calls and change towards the better. As our user base continues to grow, those calls will only get tougher. We need to find technical and cultural ways to overcome the innovators dilemma and lower the cost of experimentation.

Continue Reading » | RT @azaaza Letting Firefox Move Faster: Solving The Innovators Dilemma

The Seduction of Simple: Hidden Complexity

Simple often isn’t. Spacious interfaces with few controls, artfully placed, may look comforting and inviting (and they often are), but they can also front for a mafia underground of hidden interaction complexity.

I recently heard a respected designer (who shall remain nameless) speaking of what he called an exemplar of simplicity in interface design: the garage door opener. That’s the seduction of simple in action, because it isn’t simple at all. We all make numerous errors using the garage door opener — moving the door in the wrong direction first, pausing the door accidentally, or hitting the button too many times after the door doesn’t respond quickly enough. It’s actually a resoundingly bad interface masquerading behind the innocence face of a single, simple button.

Continue Reading » | RT @azaaza The Seduction of Simple: Hidden Complexity

Know When to Stop Designing, Quantitatively

Interface design is more than hand waving and color preferences. When you design anything to be used by humans, there are some fundamental tools which can tell you if one interface is better than another. Quantitatively. Don’t believe me? Answer this:

Which of the following two sentences contains more information?

  1. Cogito ergo sum.
  2. Shoes smell bad.

Continue Reading » | RT @azaaza Know When to Stop Designing, Quantitatively

The 7 Things That Matter Most in Privacy

In late January we held a workshop that brought together some of the worlds leading thinkers in online privacy, with everyone from the FTC to the EFF represented. We spent the day working to answer the question: What attributes of privacy policies and terms of service should people care about? If you are new to the project, please read the original blog post, as it will answer a number of the probable nagging questions (like how to make icons enforceable).

Continue Reading » | RT @azaaza The 7 Things That Matter Most in Privacy

Leaving Labs, Joining Firefox

I’m happy to announce that I’m moving to the Firefox team, where I’ll be taking the role of Creative Lead for Firefox to help in designing and guiding the future product path for Firefox. I’m excited by the new role, excited by the team, excited by the possibilities, and excited by the potential to make nearly 400 million people’s lives demonstrably more rad.

Continue Reading » | RT @azaaza Leaving Labs, Joining Firefox