I’m a firm believer in constructive criticism. As I said in a previous column, being professional in the way we give and receive criticism is a large part of being a designer.
However, criticism of the work has to be separated from criticism of the person. It can be all too easy to look at your own work and think “This is rubbish, so I’m rubbish, ” or have somebody else say “This isn’t good enough” and hear “You’re not good enough. ” Unfortunately, it’s also easy to go from critical to judgmental when we’re evaluating other people’s work.
Being able to criticize someone’s work without heaping scorn on them constitutes professionalism. I’ve occasionally been guilty of forgetting that: pumped up by my own sense of self-worth and a compulsion to give good drama to my followers on social networks, I’ve blurted unconstructive criticism into a text field and hit “send. ”
Deriding businesses and products is a day-to-day occurrence on Twitter and Facebook, one that’s generally considered acceptable since real live individuals aren’t under attack. But we should consider that businesses come in all sizes, from the one-person shop to the truly faceless multinational corporation.
As Ashley Baxter wrote, we tend to jump on social networks as a first means of contact, rather than attempting to communicate our issues privately first. This naming and shaming perhaps stems from years of being let down by unanswered emails and being put on hold by juggernaut corporations. Fair enough: in our collective memory is an era when big business seemingly could ignore customer service without suffering many repercussions. Now that we as consumers have been handed the weapon of social media, we’ve become intent on no longer being ignored.
When we’re out for some online humiliation, we often don’t realize how small our targets can be. Some businesses of one operate under a company name rather than a personal name. And yet people who may approach a customer service issue differently if faced with an individual will be incredibly abusive to “Acme Ltd. ” Some choice reviews from an app I regularly use:
Should be free
Crap. Total rip off I want my money back
Whoever designed this app should put a gun to there [sic] head. How complicated does if [sic] have to be…In the public eye
We even have special rules that allow us to rationalize our behavior toward a certain class of individual. Somehow being a celebrity, or someone with many followers, means that cruel and unconstructive criticism doesn’t hurt—either because we mix up the special status of public figures in matters of libel with emotional invincibility, or because any hurt is supposed to be balanced out by positivity and praise from fans and supporters. Jimmy Kimmel’s Celebrities Read Mean Tweets shows hurt reactions veiled with humor. Harvard’s Q Guide allows students to comment anonymously on their professors and classes, so even Harvard profs get to read mean comments.Why do we do it?
We love controversial declarations that get attention and give us all something to talk about, rally for, or rally against. Commentators who deliver incisive criticism in an entertaining way become leaders and celebrities.
Snarky jokes and sarcastic remarks often act as indirect criticisms of others’ opinions of the business. It might not be the critic’s intention from the beginning, but that tends to be the effect. No wonder companies try so hard to win back public favor.
Perhaps we’re quick to take to Twitter and Facebook to complain because we know that most companies will fall all over themselves to placate us. Businesses want to win back our affections and do damage control, and we’ve learned that we can get something out of it.We’re only human
When an individual from a large company occasionally responds to unfair criticism, we usually become apologetic and reassure them that we have nothing personal against them. We need to remember that on the other side of our comments there are human beings, and that they have feelings that can be hurt too.
If we can’t be fair or nuanced in our arguments on social media, maybe we should consider writing longform critical pieces where we have more space and time for thoughtful arguments. That way, we could give our outbursts greater context (as well their own URLS for greater longevity and findability).
If that doesn’t sound worthwhile, perhaps our outbursts just aren’t worth the bandwidth. Imagine that.
Thanks to MyFonts for sponsoring A List Apart this week. MyFonts webfonts are flexible, easy to use, and require no monthly fees. Take a look at their list of the 50 most popular fonts on the web right now.
Choosing typefaces for use on the web today is a practice of specifying static fonts with fixed designs. But what if the design of a typeface could be as flexible and responsive as the layout it exists within?The glass floor of responsive typography
Except for low-level font hinting and proof-of-concept demos like the one Andrew Johnson published earlier this week, the glyph shapes in modern fonts are restricted to a single, static configuration. Any variation in weight, width, stroke contrast, etc.—no matter how subtle—requires separate font files. This concept may not seem so bad in the realm of print design, where layouts are also static. On the web, though, this limitation is what I refer to as the “glass floor” of responsive typography: while higher-level typographic variables like margins, line spacing, and font size can adjust dynamically to each reader’s viewing environment, that flexibility disappears for lower-level variables that are defined within the font. Each glyph is like an ice cube floating in a sea of otherwise fluid design. The continuum of responsive design is severed for variables below the “glass floor” in the typographic hierarchy. Flattening of dynamic typeface systems
The irony of this situation is that so many type families today are designed and produced as flexible systems, with dynamic relationships between multiple styles. As Erik van Blokland explained during the 2013 ATypI conference:If you design a single font, it’s an island. If you design more than one, you’re designing the relationships, the recipe.
Erik is the author of Superpolator, a tool for blending type styles across multiple dimensions. Such interpolation saves type designers thousands of hours by allowing them to mathematically mix design variables like weight, width, x-height, stroke contrast, etc.Superpolator allows type designers to generate variations of a typeface mathematically by interpolating between a small number of master styles.
The newest version of Superpolator even allows designers to define complex conditional rules for activating alternate glyph forms based on interpolation numbers. For example, a complex ‘$’ glyph with two vertical strokes can be automatically replaced with a simplified single-stroke form when the weight gets too bold or the width gets too narrow.
Unfortunately, because of current font format limitations, all this intelligence and flexibility must be flattened before the fonts end up in the user’s hands. It’s only in the final stages of font production that static instances are generated for each interpolated style, frozen and detached from their siblings and parent except in name.The potential for 100–900 (and beyond)
The lobotomization of dynamic type systems is especially disappointing in the context of CSS—a system that has variable stylization in its DNA. The numeric weight system that has existed in the CSS spec since it was first published in 1996 was intended to support a dynamic stylistic range from the get-go. This kind of system makes perfect sense for variable fonts, especially if you introduce more than just weight and the standard nine incremental options from 100 to 900. Håkon Wium Lie (the inventor of CSS!) agrees, saying:One of the reasons we chose to use three-digit numbers [in the spec for CSS font-weight values] was to support intermediate values in the future. And the future is now :)
Beyond increased granularity for font-weight values, imagine the other stylistic values that could be harnessed with variable fonts by tying them to numeric values. Digital typographers could fine-tune typeface specifics such as x-height, descender length, or optical size, and even tie those values to media queries as desired to improve readability or layout.Toward responsive fonts
It’d be hard to write about variable fonts without mentioning Adobe’s Multiple Master font format from the 1990s. It allows smooth interpolation between various extremes, but the format was abandoned and is now mostly obsolete for typesetting by end-users. We’ll get back to Multiple Master later, but for now it suffices to say that—despite a meager adoption rate—it was perhaps the most widely used variable font format in history.
More recently, there have been a number of projects that touch on ideas of variable fonts and dynamic typeface adjustment. For example, Matthew Carter’s Sitka typeface for Microsoft comes in six size-specific designs that are selected automatically based on the size used. While the implementation doesn’t involve fluid interpolation between styles (as was originally planned), it does approximate the effect with live size-aware selections.The Sitka type family, designed by Matthew Carter, automatically switches between optical sizes in Microsoft applications. From left to right: Banner, Display, Heading, Subheading, Text, Small. All shown at the same point size for comparison. Image courtesy of John Hudson / Tiro Typeworks.
There are also some options for responsive type adjustments on the web using groups of static fonts. In 2014 at An Event Apart Seattle, my colleague Chris Lewis and I introduced a project, called Font-To-Width, that takes advantage of large multi-width and multi-weight type families to fit pieces of text snugly within their containers. Our demo shows what I call “detect and serve” responsive type solutions: swapping static fonts based on the specifics of the layout or reading environment.
One of the more interesting recent developments in the world of variable font development was the the publication of Erik van Blokland’s MutatorMath under an open source license. MutatorMath is the interpolation engine inside Superpolator. It allows for special kinds of font extrapolation that aren’t possible with MultipleMaster technology. Drawing on masters for Regular, Condensed, and Bold styles, MutatorMath can calculate a Bold Condensed style. For an example of MutatorMath’s power, I recommend checking out some type tools that are utilizing it, like the Interpolation Matrix by Loïc Sander.Loïc Sander’s Interpolation Matrix tool harnesses the power of Erik van Blokland’s MutatorMath A new variable font format
All of these ideas seem to be leading to the creation of a new variable font format. Though none of the aforementioned projects offers a complete solution on its own, there are definitely ideas from all of them that could be adopted. Proposals for variable font formats are starting to show up around the web, too. Recently on the W3C Public Webfonts Working Group list, FontLab employee Adam Twardoch made an interesting proposal for a “Multiple Master webfonts resurrection.”
And while such a thing would help improve typographic control, it could also improve a lot of technicalities related to serving fonts on the web. Currently, accessing variations of a typeface requires loading multiple files. With a variable font format, a set of masters could be packaged in a single file, allowing not only for more efficient files, but also for a vast increase in design flexibility.
Consider, for example, how multiple styles from within a type family are currently served, compared to how that process might work with a variable font format.Static fonts vs. variable fonts
With static fonts
With a variable font
*It is actually possible to use three masters to achieve the same range of styles, but it is harder to achieve the desired glyph shapes. I opted to be conservative for this test.
**This table presumes 120 kB per master for both static and variable fonts. In actual implementation, the savings for variable fonts compared with static fonts would likely be even greater due to reduction in repeated/redundant data and increased efficiency in compression.Number of weights3Virtually infiniteNumber of widths2Virtually infiniteNumber of masters64*Number of files61Data @ 120 kB/master**720 kB480 kBDownload time @ 500 kB/s1.44 sec0.96 secLatency @ 100 ms/file0.6 sec0.1 secTotal load time2.04 sec1.06 sec
A variable font would mean less bandwidth, fewer round-trips to the server, faster load times, and decidedly more typographic flexibility. It’s a win across the board. (The still-untested variable here is how much time might be taken for additional computational processing.)But! But! But!
You may feel some skepticism about a new variable font format. In anticipation of that, I’ll address the most obvious questions.
This all seems like overkill. What real-world problems would be solved by introducing a new variable font format?
This could address any problem where a change in the reading environment would inform the weight, width, descender length, x-height, etc. Usually these changes are implemented by changing fonts, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to build those changes around some fluid and dynamic logic instead. Some examples:
Multiple Master was a failure. What makes you think variable fonts will take off now?
For starters, the web now offers the capability for responsive design that print never could. Variable fonts are right at home in the context of responsive layouts. Secondly, we are already seeing real-world attempts to achieve similar results via “detect and serve” solutions. The world is already moving in this direction with or without a variable font format. Also, the reasons the Multiple Master format was abandoned include a lot of political and/or technical issues that are less problematic today. Furthermore, the tools to design variable typefaces are much more advanced and accessible now than in the heyday of Multiple Master, so type designers are better equipped to produce such fonts.
How are we supposed to get fonts that are as compressed as possible if we’re introducing all of this extra flexibility into their design?
One of the amazing things about variable fonts is that they can potentially reduce file sizes while simultaneously increasing design flexibility (see the “Static fonts vs. variable fonts” comparison).
Most interpolated font families have additional masters between the extremes. Aren’t your examples a bit optimistic about the efficiency of interpolation?
The most efficient variable fonts will be those that were designed from scratch with streamlined interpolation in mind. As David Jonathan Ross explained, some styles are better suited for interpolation than others.
Will the additional processing power required for interpolation outweigh the benefits of variable fonts?
Like many things today, especially on the web, it depends on the complexity of the computation, processing speed, rendering engine, etc. If interpolated styles are cached to memory as static instances, the related processing may be negligible. It’s also worth noting that calculations of comparable or higher complexity happen constantly in web browsers without any issues related to processing (think SVG scaling and animation, responsive layouts, etc). Another relevant comparison would be the relatively minimal processing power and time required for Adobe Acrobat to interpolate styles of Adobe Sans MM and Adobe Serif MM when filling in for missing fonts.
But what about hinting? How would that work with interpolation for variable fonts?
Any data that is stored as numbers can be interpolated. With that said, some hinting instructions are better suited for interpolation than others, and some fonts are less dependent on hinting than others. For example, the hinting instructions are decidedly less crucial for “PostScript-flavored” CFF-based fonts that are meant to be set at large sizes. Some new hinting tables may be helpful for a variable font format, but more experimentation would be in order to determine the issues.
If Donald Knuth’s MetaFont was used as a variable font model, it could be even more efficient because it wouldn’t require data for multiple masters. Why not focus more on a parametric type system like that?
Parametric type systems like MetaFont are brilliant, and indeed can be more efficient, but in my observation the design results they bear are decidedly less impressive or useful for quality typography.
What about licensing? How would you pay for a variable font that can provide a range of stylistic variation?
This is an interesting question, and one that I imagine would be approached differently depending on the foundry or distributor. One potential solution might be to license ranges of stylistic variation. So it would cost less to license a limited weight range from Light to Medium (300–500) than a wide gamut from Thin to Black (100–900).
What if I don’t need or want these fancy-pants variable fonts? I’m fine with my old-school static fonts just the way they are!
There are plenty of cases where variable fonts would be unnecessary and even undesirable. In those cases, nothing would stop you from using static fonts.
Web designers are already horrible at formatting text. Do we really want to introduce more opportunities for bad design choices?
People said similar things about digital typesetting on the Mac, mechanical typesetting on the Linotype, and indeed the whole practice of typography back in Gutenberg’s day. I’d rather advance the state of the art with some growing pains than avoid progress on the grounds of snobbery.
Okay, I’m sold. What should I do now?
Experiment with things like Andrew Johnson’s proof-of-concept demo. Read up on MutatorMath. Learn more about the inner workings of digital fonts. Get in touch with your favorite type foundries and tell them you’re interested in this kind of stuff. Then get ready for a future of responsive typography.
From traditional learning into mobile learning in education at the university level: undergraduate students perspective
Mohamed Sarrab; Ahmed Alzahrani; Nasser Al Alwan; Osama Alfarraj
International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organisation, Vol. 8, No. 3/4 (2014) pp. 167 - 186
The recent improvement in the capabilities of mobile devices has led to increased interest in utilising these devices as learning tools. The purpose of this study is to measure students' awareness and acceptance of mobile learning. Based on participatory action research and user-centred design, the study involves students from two departments; i.e. science and engineering, at Sultan Qaboos University, who attended two sequential study phases. The first phase included the detailed presentation and formal discussion of the concept of M-learning and its technologies and approaches. Second phase consisted of survey which was divided into six parts: general information, electronic learning knowledge, and perception, mobile learning knowledge, and perception and final part, focusing on students' suggestions. The results show good acceptance level for mobile learning and indicate positive attitude toward the behavioural intention to use mobile learning. The students also showed a great interest in using mobile devices as learning tools.
Effects of an integrated mind-mapping and problem-posing approach on students' in-field mobile learning performance in a natural science course
Chun-Ming Hung; Gwo-Jen Hwang; Siang-Yi Wang
International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organisation, Vol. 8, No. 3/4 (2014) pp. 187 - 200
In this study, the researchers investigate the effects of an integrated mind mapping and problem-posing approach on students' in-field mobile learning performance in an elementary school natural science course. A total of 86 sixth graders in three classes were assigned as follows: one class, with 29 pupils, for the mind-mapping and problem-posing mobile learning; another class, with 28 pupils, for the problem-posing mobile learning; and the other class, with 29 pupils, for the conventional tour-based mobile learning. From the experimental results, it was found that the students who learned with the problem-posing mobile learning strategy showed significantly better learning achievements than those who learned with the mind-mapping and problem-posing integrated strategy, indicating that the simpler problem-solving strategy was more suitable for application in in-field learning than the more complicated strategy that engaged students in both the learning tasks of posing problems and developing mind maps.
User attachment to smartphones and design guidelines
GÃsli Thorsteinsson; Tom Page
International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organisation, Vol. 8, No. 3/4 (2014) pp. 201 - 215
This research examines the emotional attachments that users have towards their smartphones. An online survey and a case study were undertaken, in order to determine the degree to which users were attached to their smartphones, and the results of both studies highlighted that all participants displayed emotional attachment to their smartphones. Conclusions may be drawn from the results of the studies, in identifying how emotional attachments can be formed, the roles smartphone brands play in emotional attachment and the social implications of such attachment. The information gathered was utilised to offer advice to designers, in order to assist them in strengthening the emotional attachment of users to their smartphone.
Writing through WhatsApp: an evaluation of students writing performance
International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organisation, Vol. 8, No. 3/4 (2014) pp. 216 - 231
WhatsApp messenger is a cross-platform working under smartphones that can provide instant messaging. Worldwide, WhatsApp messenger has become popular because it is practical for mobile users. Previous research has suggested the effectiveness of extending mobile devices into e-learning. However, mobile learning in the form of instant messaging is still under-represented. This research project explores the effectiveness of instant text messaging via WhatsApp for undergraduate students in higher education. A group of 50 students were given a written assignment and were required to text message one another. The students used WhatsApp messenger to develop their EFL basic writing skills. The students reported their experiences through a survey after completion of the writing assignment. The results showed students strengths and weaknesses. Although their holistic scores remained low, they seemed to have benefited from the spell checker as they have received better scores in the area of spelling and vocabulary. The results showed that the use of WhatsApp in the classroom increased students' motivation to write. Overall, findings from this small-scale research project provide a better understanding on the role of mobile technology in higher education.
A generalised framework to support field and in-class collaborative learning
Madiha Shafaat Ahmad; Niels Pinkwart
International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organisation, Vol. 8, No. 3/4 (2014) pp. 232 - 252
Mobile technologies have proven their value in field learning. Meanwhile, classroom technologies such as multi-touch interactive tables are gaining attention as well. With shareable interfaces and larger displays, multi-touch tables enable multiple students to interact and collaborate more flexibly. Thus, today's technology provides different means to facilitate learning both indoor and outdoor, in the form of specialised devices; yet an integrative view is missing in the literature so far. The goal of this paper is to propose a generic framework, capable of connecting different kinds of devices, such that the most suited device can be employed for each specific learning activity. Based on this framework, a pilot system has been developed that allows students to collect data through tablets on a field trip and share it with other peers via Bluetooth. Learners could also take part in a quiz, sent by the teacher to their mobile devices, and send their results back to the teacher through Bluetooth.
Understanding individuals' perceptions, determinants and the moderating effects of age and gender on the adoption of mobile learning: developing country perspective
Mohammed-Issa Riad Mousa Jaradat
International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organisation, Vol. 8, No. 3/4 (2014) pp. 253 - 275
In recent years, mobile devices, applications and services have largely spread over the globe and have become a popular commodity. This study is launched to investigate the factors that influence individuals' intention to adopt and use of mobile learning (m-learning) in Jordan. Besides, it provides quantified indicators, designs principles, opportunities, limitations and a conceptual model that might help in understanding m-learning phenomenon in the Jordanian educational environment. The current study is based on a modified Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) by incorporating social influence, security and privacy, price value and service quality factors as external variables. This study examines also the moderating effects of age and gender differences among the study variables. The suggested model was tested with data collected by means of a paper-based questionnaire by using WarpPLS 4.0 software. The results reveal that individuals' adoption and the use of m-learning can be anticipated from individuals' behavioural intention with 39% in variance.
Effects of mobile learning time on students' conception of collaboration, communication, complex problem-solving, meta-cognitive awareness and creativity
Chui-Lin Lai; Gwo-Jen Hwang
International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organisation, Vol. 8, No. 3/4 (2014) pp. 276 - 291
In this study, the effects of mobile learning participation time on students' conception of collaboration, communication, complex problem-solving, meta-cognitive awareness and creativity were investigated using a sample of 606 high school students from ten high schools in Taiwan. The independent-sample t-test results showed that the students who spent a longer time on mobile learning activities revealed significantly better conception of communication, complex problem-solving and creativity, while their conceptions of collaboration and meta-cognitive awareness were not sufficient different. This implies that participation time as well as learning strategies or tools could play an important role in improving students' communication, complex problem-solving and creativity competences. The finding could be a good reference for those who intend to develop mobile learning activities for fostering students' higher order thinking.