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Posts by Shawn Liu:

Harvest Playback, March 9th Edition (Deep in the Heart of Texas)

A bunch of Harvesters left for SXSW this Thursday. Our very own Kim has promised to keep us updated with some comics (more to come). If you happen to be in Austin, TX – come meet the Harvest Team!

This past week, we launched the vastly improved projects section for the newly designed user profile and upgraded Co-op and the Harvest Forum to Ruby 1.9.3 (Harvest, coming next week).

Gleaned from Co-op from the past five days:

That wraps up another productive and fun week at Harvest. See you next week!

Harvest Playback, February 24th Edition

Just like that and we’re two months into 2012 (which I’m still referring to as the new year — is it time to stop that?). This past week, we released the new password section in user profiles, and we’re just about done with a brand new, interactive projects section. It’s a little behind schedule; here’s a great analogy on Quora that might help explain why that might be (we should mention that we’ve made it past Santa Barbara and we’re just a few miles away from LA proper – but you know, the traffic can be bad on Route 1). We’re also getting ready to release two exciting projects, both are done on our end, and just waiting for some feedback from others. One is the new and amazing Harvest widget for Zendesk. The other project looks something like this:

Harvest for Mac

As usual, a round up of things Harvesters shared on Co-op and elsewhere:

That wraps up another productive and fun week at Harvest. Enjoy the weekend!

Finding Comfort in Thermostat Design

When will all hotels replace their thermostats with the Nest?

I’m currently traveling in the Bay Area and staying at a hotel. On the first night here, it was cold so I tried to turn up the heat. I pressed the “up” button and the temperature on the display increased. After a few minutes, the room didn’t seem to be heating up though so I tried the other buttons. There’s an icon on the screen – I switched it from frost to sun, hoping that would do the trick (it didn’t).

The on-call technician came and explained that I should’ve used the auto mode, which is represented by a square icon with little arrows (like a poorly designed “refresh” icon). Aren’t poorly executed icons frustrating?


Left: What I had to deal with. Right: Nest.

Confusing icons aside, the bigger problem here was a lack of feedback; that most basic design principle that we’re all familiar with but often neglect. As a user, we look for feedback to answer the simple question of “did it work?” In this case, I wanted to know if what I did with the thermostat worked. I was looking for a “got it – I will now give you some heat” kind of confirmation. For example, the thermostat could’ve turned red, or displayed the word “heat”, or sang me a tune – anything.

More importantly, beyond the thermostat interface, I wanted some kind of physical feedback to tell me that the room was heating up. In a car, this feedback is literally in your face: you turn up the heat, and can feel the warm air coming out of the vent. That can be harder in a room where the vent could be out of reach. Personally, the feedback I’m used to is the clinking, mechanical sound of the heating system in a house or building. However, that audible feedback seems to be disappearing with better technology. I don’t know the mechanics of it, but it would be nice for the thermostat to receive information from the overall heating/air conditioning system and tell me what’s going on.

Disclaimer: I don’t own a Nest, and I cannot speak for its usability. I was thinking about my little problem with this hotel’s thermostat and thought of the gorgeous new thermostat. From everything I can gather from their site, it looks to be an amazing product, and I love its dial input.

Louis CK: Good Things Come From Trusting Your Customers

Many of us at Harvest are fans of Louis CK. We were super impressed with everything about his recent internet special – from the comedy itself (the $5 is well worth it!), to how simple the purchase process is, to this statement below the purchase button:

To those who might wish to “torrent” this video: look, I don’t really get the whole “torrent” thing. I don’t know enough about it to judge either way. But I’d just like you to consider this: I made this video extremely easy to use against well-informed advice. I was told that it would be easier to torrent the way I made it, but I chose to do it this way anyway, because I want it to be easy for people to watch and enjoy this video in any way they want without “corporate” restrictions.

I found myself actually reading every single word on the purchase form (and re-reading it). I did that, not because I was confused, but because I actually enjoy what Louis CK has to say. He’s genuine, saying things that make sense without any buzzwords or corporate language. It wasn’t crafted by an ad agency figuring out the tone and stuffing words in Louis’ mouth. There wasn’t a consultant urging him to be be a certain way in order to boost conversions. I’m sure he wasn’t even thinking about SEO or A/B testing when he was writing for his online store. It was just Louis CK, acting as a (somewhat!) reasonable human being, speaking directly to us.

It is incredibly inspiring and gratifying to see someone follow common sense, do the right thing, and make good money at it. Just in case you need another reason to pay Louis CK $5 for his “Live at the Beacon Theater” special, here’s a hilarious 4-minute outtake:

For more Louis CK:

Harvest Playback, Dec 9th Edition

We’ll start this edition of Harvest Playback with our latest Rdio playlist (#57) – Soundtrack to the Harvest Holiday Party ’11. Thank you to all the customers, colleagues and friends who came to our party this Wednesday!

In between bits of holiday cheer, here’s a rundown of what we accomplished this past week: launched a more flexible and powerful permissions system, prepared for a major billing overhaul this weekend, and wrapped up development on the Harvest Andriod app for release next week. We also kept it interesting on Co-op, with a few select topics:

That wraps up another productive and fun week at Harvest. See you next week!

Oink vs Stamped: Two Approaches to Free Trial

I downloaded two iPhone apps this morning: Oink & Stamped. Both are well-crafted, simple mobile apps with a similar goal: to share reviews for things. Both have been getting a lot of attention lately.

Although they serve a similar purpose, the first thing I noticed is that they have a very different first-time user experience. Here are the first screens you see in each app :

With Oink, you see an intro and two big buttons to let you sign up easily through your Facebook or Twitter account. The intention here is clear: they want to get you into the app as quickly as possible.

Stamped takes a different approach, the initial message is clear though: just one sentence, and it helps to reinforce their brand: “Put your stamp of approval on the world.” After that, you can go through four well-designed slides to learn what the app does. The emphasis here is education, to explain to new users what Stamped is all about.

In my opinion, Stamped offers a better design for their introduction – but I wonder how many people take the time to go through the slides. As an application, what you want is for people to use it, and the biggest obstacle between a user’s interest in an app and getting them to actually use it is the sign-up form. Oink lets you sign up directly via Facebook and Twitter. Stamped makes you fill out this form:

It’s short, but enough of a hindrance to prevent me from signing up this morning (maybe I’ll do it later, if I remember).

Both Oink and Stamped are created by smart and proven teams, and there are a lot of interesting, custom UI patterns in both apps (I’m particularly amused by Oink’s little loading bar on top). I’d highly recommend that you give them a look, if you’re an iOS user!

All I Want Is a Free Trial

I’ve been trying to join a gym, and this is how it went down:

Last weekend I walked into the gym and told the front desk that I’d like to try the place out. A person came, shook my hand, led me to his desk, and sat me down. He pulled out a form and asked me questions – what’s my name, what’s my workout routine, what’s my goal (I had none, and he gave me a look), where do I live now and where I moved from? I interrupted him and asked, “can I just get a quick tour?” He told me this is the process and he had to ask these questions.

Ten minutes or so of my life evaporated. He then showed me the price – and this part I never understood – he pulled out a laminated price sheet and told me that even though there’s a number printed there, he was offering me a different number (was it a psychology test? should I have clapped?).

He gave me a 10-minute tour of the facility, even though I’ve just explained that all I want is to come in two to three times a week, run for half an hour, and sweat a little. Then he showed me the pilates and spinning rooms.

I left, head spinning, and forgot to get what I went for: a free trial pass. So I went back this past Saturday. The guy wasn’t there. Another lady helped me, but she did not have access to his forms, and she was going to ask me for all the information again. After my insistant pleading and explaining, she gave in and offered me two business-card size guest passes. I took them and ran.

At Harvest, we make it easy and fast for people to try us out, and we make pricing as simple and straight forward as possible. It’s bewildering to see another business trying their best to confuse potential customers and waste their time.

Harvest Playback, Dec 2nd Edition

Just like that and we’re in the last month of 2011, and it hasn’t even snowed in NYC (except for that dusting in October).

This past week, we recovered from Thanksgiving, evolved the recent invoice update, updated the Harvest Forum, released a new Harvest Customers section (full write-up to follow soon!), and tied up all loose ends for a major release next week: a more flexible and powerful way to control user permissions.

Some things Harvesters talked about this week on Co-op:

And that wraps up another productive and fun week at Harvest. Enjoy your weekend!

Dial Input

Recently my wife bought a new microwave for our apartment, and it has a dial for inputting time. This is more-or-less what it looks like:

See that big circular dial on the right panel? That’s how you put in time. Turn counter-clockwise and the time goes up, and if I shoot pass the desired time, I just turn clockwise a bit. Once you get a hang of it, it’s really, really fast to set the time.

I’m used to putting in the time via a number pad. To put in one minute I have to press 1-0-0. That’s 3 presses, 2 locations (not to mention the mental load of searching for the correct number to press). The dial is a much simpler and more elegant way of inputting time.

Circular input is common in everyday life: bottle cap, thermostat, radio tuner, steering wheel, or the iPod classic. And it is conspiculously missing on web interfaces – maybe because the input methods (keyboard and mouse) don’t really go well with dials?

Susan Kare, Mother of Happy Mac

I’ve been captivated by the sketchbook of Susan Kare, the artist who created Happy Mac (and the other iconic interface elements for Mac). It’s fascinating to see these original icons that have defined so much of our UI today came from a $2.50 sketchbook.

Perhaps it’s just nostalgia, but Happy Mac makes me smile – something the newer, slicker, monochromatic Apple logo cannot do.