Introducing Menuito

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Today I’m pleased to share a project that’s been in the works for about two and a half years. More accurately, it’s been in the thinking for a little under two years and in the actual making for the last nine months. Its name is Menuito.

Menuito is self-hosted web software that helps restaurants look great on smartphones. It’s also the name of a separate company formed around the project, because unlike Corvus this is more than just myself. 

You can get the full picture from menuito.com, but since this blog is about making software experiences it’s more fitting to talk about the how and why of it all.

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Flummoxed

I’ve been watching reviews of RIM’s Playbook keenly, not because I particularly want one but because I’m curious to see how this company faces what is now clearly a turning point in its life. Pressure has been building up on RIM to deliver something that reinvigorates its place in the market as an innovator and leader, having coasted for almost a decade on its early product language and culture.

The reviews are easy enough to find. The consensus: there’s real promise in the Playbook, but it’s been shipped half-baked, rushed out with a list of promises as long as its list of debut features. Taking a step back, the only question I’m left with is ‘why’?

Why did RIM feel it had to ship in April? In the tablet market there’s only one real entry so far: the Xoom is a flop, the PalmOS devices are still in development, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab offerings are amusing snoozers as well. Nobody gives a hoot about any of the iPad’s competitors; so, RIM, what was the hurry?

Had RIM’s executives stopped hyperventilating in the press, they could have seen that they were racing to a party that’s really still getting under way. Apple’s lead is too far for Playbook 1 to come close to catching. By spending a a couple more months, maybe even just a few more weeks, they could have shipped a far stronger debut tablet and come out a strong first-among-second-place entries.

There’s a big chunk of the market that iPad is not right for: corporate types who trust and are invested with the Blackberry brand, people who want a smaller tablet, and nerds who want to hack around on the high-horsepower QNX operating system. It would still be there, not embracing the iPad, in say June or July. Instead of doing their best to serve that market with a complete product, RIM has been spooked into releasing early with something confusing and far less than it could be, getting them nothing but a fumbled launch and scattered, halting applause from a press desperate for a tablet worth talking about that doesn’t start with an i.

The Essence of Making Great Stuff

By way of Matthew Frederick’s excellent 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School (Amazon), I came across a Virginia Woolf quote that captures a kind of elemental truth about why some brands and products soar while others flop, despite having comparable or even better features.

The success of the masterpieces seems not to lie in their freedom from faults – indeed we accept the grossest faults in them all – but in the immense persuasiveness of a mind that has completely mastered it’s perspective.

When you look at which products are doing well and which are flailing, ask whether the people behind them have a sense of a mastered perspective. Look for it in marketing and political campaigns, in individual products and in brands. I suspect the answer will jump out clearly.

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The Deadly Ease of Happy Promises

Last week an independent developer brought a storm of attention on the process of starting to make apps for RIM’s upcoming Playbook tablet. Over the weekend a RIM representative posted an open answer to the open letter on the Inside Blackberry Developer’s Blog, trying to do the right thing. The response, unfortunately, falls short and provides a good lesson for product managers and anyone else tasked with community relations.

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Two Tales From the Edges of Algorithms

Two short tales landed in my view this past week that provide lessons on the difficulties of getting computers to take over complex problems in their entirety.

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2010: A Year of Inflection Points

Fans of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are familiar with the Infinite Improbability Drive, a spacecraft engine fuelled by the energy of highly improbably events.

Fans of this blog (both of them) will be keen to learn about the Corvus Irony Timing Chain, which prevents me from writing year-in-review posts until a few days after New Years. The Chain makes space for the news that would have contradicted, enhanced or otherwise changed what I was going write. This exclusive innovation lets me write without having to look back on a post less than a week old and feel like a dupe.

Safely a few short steps into 2011, we can look back on 2010 for what it was: an exciting year that delivered a number of inflection points.

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Making Menuito 1: Vision

Keeping true to my word, more on how Menuito came into being. In this post I’ll share the vision that set the course and informed the design decisions along the way.

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Making Menuito 2: Front End IA and Interaction Design

Continuing to make meaty blog posts out of design leftovers, we now arrive at something substantial: the information and interaction design for a Menuito site. Click on through for sumptuous wireframes, raw early designs and the plated finished work to see how it all unfolded.

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A Thoroughly Impolite Dustup

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Updated: Robert removed the post that catalyzed this post, along with others to retune his blog to one that doesn’t talk UX design industry. I can respect that, but decided to leave my own response in place because the issue of professionalism continues to haunt our industry, and it’s one I feel strongly about.

I really wasn’t ready for what followed when I noticed #uxbrawl on Twitter yesterday and followed the thread to Robert Hoekman Jr’s painful screed about Whitney Hess. The post is incredibly hard to read, but when I wasn’t overwhelmed by the anger I could understand his complaint, especially about Whitney’s post where she drew a stark line around what UX is and is not with an absolutist bent.

Whitney’s post was easy to shake off as something where I found some good points but disagreed with the posturing. Robert’s post is impossible to shake off, but contains valid points amid the vitriol. But neither post did a lick of good for our profession or the higher cause that many of us take to heart, to make technology better for people. So why am I writing about this at all? To me, the whole thing is about professionalism.

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Airbnb’s Surprising Stumble and Save

A couple weeks ago I was ready to write a short reflection on customer relations gone super-sour, featuring Airbnb. Luckily, I have a black belt in procrastination, which gives these situations time to spin out some more and to make a more interesting story.

The background: a few weeks ago a woman named Emily in San Francisco rented her place through Airbnb and had it thoroughly trashed by a renter in what seems to be a fit of gleeful nihilism by a person bent on bringing as much destruction and pain into a home as possible. The victim had been working things through with Airbnb and decided to blog about her experience, cautioning others and, I think, just venting.

In the days that followed, Airbnb’s actions and lack of actions painted a picture of a company caught in a vortex of legal paranoia and public relations handling from the 6th circle of hell. Fast forward ten days and we find they’ve managed to really turn it around. The missteps as well as the fixes make a fantastic case study in how to do wrong, and then right, by your customers.

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