Metro: Typography trumps chrome–debunked.

Metro, is fast becoming this unclear, messy craptuclar retardation of modern interface design. In that, the current execution out there is getting out of control resulting in what originally started out as a Microsofts plagiarized edition of Dieter Rams “Ten Principles of Good Design” into what we have before us today.

I am actually ok with that, as if I ever looked back on the first year of my designs in the 90s I’d cringe at the sight of lots of Alienskin Bevels, Glows and Fire plugin driven pixel vomit.

The part though I’m a little nervous about is how fast the microsoftees of the world have somehow collectively agreed that Text is in Chrome is out – like somehow science is wrong, that what we really need to do is get back to basics of ASCII inspired typography design(s) of yesteryear.

Typography is ok, in short bursts.

Spatial Visualization is the key description you need to Google a bit more around. Let me save you a little google confusion and explain what I mean.

Humans are not normal, to assume that inside HCI we are all equal in our IQ levels is dangerous, it is quite the opposite and to be fair the human mental conditions that we often suffer from are still quite an the infancy of medicine – we have so much more to learn about genetic deformation/mutations that are ongoing.

The reality is that most humans hail from a different approach to the way in which we decipher patterns within our day-to-day lives as we aren’t getting smarter we’re just getting faster at developing habitual comprehension of patterns that we often create.

Let us for example assume I snapped someone from the 1960’s, and I sat him or her in a room and handed them a mobile device. I then asked them “turn it on” and measured the reaction time to navigating the device itself to switching it on.

You would most likely find a lot of accidental learning, trial and error but eventually they’d figure it out and now that information is recorded into their brain for two reasons. Firstly, pressure does that to humans we record data when under duress that is surprisingly accurate (thus bank robbers often figure out that their disguises aren’t as affective as once thought) and secondly we discovered fire for the first time – an event gave it meaning “this futuristic device!!”

What is my point, firstly, the brain capacity has not increased our ability to think and react visually is what I’d argue is the primary driver for our ability to decode what’s in front of us.  (point in case the usage of H1 tag breaks up the indexation of comprehending of what I’ve written).

How so?

Research in the early 80’s found that we are more likely to detect misspelled words than we are correctly spelled words. The research goes on to suggest that the reason for this is that we obtain shape information about a word via peripheral vision initially (we later narrow in on the said word and make a decision on true/false after we’ve slowed the reading down to a fixated position).

It doesn’t stop there, by now you the reader have probably fixated on a few mistakes in my paragraph structure or word usage as you’ve read this, but yet you’ve still persisted in comprehending the information – despite the flaws.

What’s important about this packet of information is that it hints at what I’m stating, that a reliance on typography is great but for initial bursts of information only. Should the density of data in front of you increase, your ability to decode and decipherer (scan / proof read) becomes more of a case of balancing peripheral vision and fixated selection(s).

Your CPU is maxed out is my point.


Did you also notice what I just did? I put all that text in Uppercase, and what research has also gone onto suggest is that when we go full-upper in our usage our reading speed decreases as more and more words are added. That is to say, now inside metro we use a mixed edition of both and somehow this is a good thing or bad thing?

Apple has over-influenced Microsoft.

I’m all for new design patterns in pixel balancing, I’m definitely still hanging in there on Metro but what really annoys me the most is that the entire concept isn’t really about breaking way based on scientific data centered in around the an average humans ability to react to computer interfaces.

It simply is a competitive reaction to Apple primarily, had Apple not existed I highly doubt we would not be having this kind of discussion and it would probably be full glyph/charms/icon visual thinking friendly environment(s).

Instead what we are probably doing is grabbing what appears to be a great interruption in design status quo and declaring it “more easier” but the reality kicks in fast when you go beyond the initial short burst of information or screen composition into denser territory – even Microsoft are hard pressed to come up with a Metro inspired edition of Office.

Metro Reality Check – Typography style.

The reality is the current execution of Metro on Windows Phone 7 isn’t built or ready for dense information and I would argue that the rationale that typography replaces chrome is merely a case of being the opposite of a typical iPhone like experience – users are more in love with the unique anti-pattern then they are with the reality of what is actually happening.

Using typography as your spatial visualization go to pattern of choice simply flies in the face of what we actually do know in the small packets of research we have on HCI.

Furthermore, if you think about it, the iPhone itself when It first came out was more of a mainstream interruption to the way in which we interpret UI via mobile device, icons for example took on more of candy experience and the chrome itself become themed.

It became almost as if Disney had designed the user interface as being their digital mobile theme park, yet here is the thing – it works (notice when Metro UI adds pictures to the background it seems to fit?...there’s a reason for that).

Chrome isn’t a bad thing, it taps into what we are hard wired to do in our ability to process information, we think visually (with the minority being the exclusion).

Egyptians, Asian(s) and Aboriginals wrote their history on walls/paper using visual glyphs/symbols not typography. That is an important principle to grapple onto the most; historically speaking we have always shown evidence to gravitate towards a pictorial view of the world and less around complexity in glyphs around pattern(s) (text) (that’s why Data Visualization works better than text based reports).

We ignore this basic principle because our technology environment has gotten more advanced but we do not have extra brainpower as human race, our genome has not mutate or evolved! We have just gotten better at collectively deciphering the patterns in and in turn have built up better habitual usage of these patterns.

Software today has a lot of bad UI out there, I mean terrible experiences, yet we are still able to use and navigate them.

Metro is mostly marketing / anti-compete than it is about being the righteous path to HCI design, never forget that part. Metros tagline as being “digitally authentic” is probably one of Deiter Rams principles being mutated and broken at the same time.

Good design is honest.
It does not make a product more innovative, powerful, or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.

Should point out, these ten principles are what have inspired Apple and other brands in the industrial design space. Food for thought.

Lastly one more thing, what if your audience was 40% Autistic/Dyslexic how would your UI react differently to the current designs you have before you.

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Silverlight huh, bit of a …hot topic..wouldn’t you say?

So.. I did a bit of a video post on it; I think it was a balanced on what my thoughts where around how the current release was dumped in what West Wing used to call “Take out the Trash Day” It still leaves you wondering though, so what is it you are missing from this entire Silverlight story as surely by now you’ve read enough rants and blog posts that centre around the notion “..but you’re a .NET developer man…pull yourself together, you have skills, you have knowledge now get back out there and make something of this Windows 8 way of life…and don’t do it for me, don’t do it for your country, do it for that little orphan named Annie, the ginge, the one who dreamed about having a parent and sang that tear jerking song – the sun will come out tomorrow... Go get em tiger” *pant* Ok, bit dramatic yes, but when I read these posts I can’t but help giggle at what I have dubbed the “orphan syndrome” whereby you have the author giving you similar speech above on how their father is going to come for them one day, you just wait and see.

The reality check.

Will you be able to take your skills to the new Windows way of life, sure, Microsoft are often lazy to execute if not at times paralyzed with fear of taking a risk – but they aren’t completely incompetent although I would favor mandatory drug testing on executives though. The numbers rubbery, but approx. 6million .NET devs exist right now hitting “Tab dot Ship” via Visual Studio so that number is your army and for them to completely abandon them is out of the question. It’s not to say they won’t shelve them when it comes to marketing spend or evangelism efforts, but they won’t just cast them aside. They will focus on HTML5, that IE 10 Metro crack needs addicts and they need to find them early and get them to double down on producing Glow in the Dark Twitter Applications that have Angry Birds built in for extra kudos. This needs to occur because this needs to entice the consumer to stop buying porn online with their credit card(s) and instead switch over to the Microsoft Windows 8 AppStore that works like ITunes AppStore but different (just like the phsycial stores but different, cause Microsoft use Oak wood instead of Birch). C# skills transference though is never really be a dramatic issue, its akin to saying “Don’t worry guys, you know Winforms, here’s WPF, Go!” … oh wait, we did that to and yeah, didn’t quite work out that well. We also tried ASP.NET with Silverlight, again, did not work out so well. This time, though its different because you have more options to choose from and just for extra added confusion, Microsoft aren’t going to confirm or deny whether technologies you have today will be around – sure they show a few strong hints here and there but to actually come out and give a Caesar style “thumbs up” vs “thumbs down” death blow – no, forget about it. Its not like they came out and formerly cancelled MIX either, the conference that let you all know what was coming out for the web and etc. etc. Sadly, Bob Mu former executive let it slip the last time that event was close by that “our strategy has changed” and then after that slip, he was never heard of again.

So what is all the fuss about?

Why is everyone getting all caught in knots about Silverlight being alive or dead, nobody’s really volunteered an exhaustive list of features that are missing right? Well maybe Uservoice but who listens to that stupid website anyway.. oops, did it again didn’t I. I think real fuss is more about the concept of patronizing the developer base with yet another executive we probably care less about talking about a technology that we still haven’t figured out why it exists over the old whilst then asking the devleopers to “trust” them and yet not confirm or deny the pre-existing technology that they originally trusted them will continue to exist. I think that’s the core fuss point, I think the PR folks are out to lunch most days and Microsoft probably need to rethink their relationship with WaggEd (the de-facto outsource PR firm) around how they are handling the messaging. In my experience, they can be quite conservative and treat the brand in many ways like it’s a Presidential campaign – cagey, artificial and lastly “good enough” but never quite “great”. Windows team will eventually turn the lights out on the current permutation of Silverlight, specifically on the Windows Phone 7 as when there is a fairly high profile leadership change out, things aren’t good internally. Something is going a miss and Andy Lee’s isn’t known internally imho for his brilliant strategic thinking, so for him to be swapped out and some other yet to be on stage for us all to ignore VP will now take his place. That to me says one thing “We have a change in strategy..err I mean tactics..” Journos and bloggers will hold your hand and reassure you that Silverlight as you know it today will continue and sure, C# and XAML still has a future but its never really been about that its more and always has been about making applications, quickly and without performance or bugs. What the fuss is all about now is do we have to re-pave an old road, where sure Silverlight/WPF have issues there’s no denying that but today, we all collectively have a fairly well rounded knowledge base in and around what they are and how to avoid them. Does that all now have to be reset? Does that mean our Google searches for answers that often get a mix between Silverlight, WPF and CTP/Beta APIs that have breaking changes get that much more polluted resulting in extra hours of wading through rants to get answers? Sadly yes. I’m a programmer and designer, I have over 9 languages under my belt and can use majority of the 3D and 2D design tooling that the planet has managed to cough up. Personally my issue has never been around learning stuff, it’s always been about learning stuff to get stuff done. Nothing personally pisses me off more is having to go backwards when we should be going forwards. Windows 8 going to HTML5.. really… that’s the answer? Does anyone not get the concept that if all browsers were equal then why make them? What’s the differentiation? Answer that question and now you are back in the game of circa late 90’s early 2000 where Browser wars an API forks were all the rage. Oh wait most of the devs that use HTML today were probably dancing to Power Ranger Intros to notice.

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Windows 8 –Trust me, we got this covered this time I promise…


Yesterday the VP of Web Services at Microsoft showed us the upcoming future of Microsoft AppStore me to thanks for playing Apple iTunes clone but not quite because its metro style of solution delivery….*gasp*… (try saying that without pausing)

Side riff: Microsoft, try and pick one person to be the face of Windows.. I get VP’s want to be geek celebs, but really who is that guy anyway and why should we care about his existence?..sorry carry on reading…

I care less on who copied what and where, the fact that there is an AppStore in the Microsoft ethos for us WPF/SL developers to capitalize on and make some bank – count me in!

Oh wait, we don’t get an invite actually because in order to actually make some cash on this idea you have to kind of wait for Windows 8 to be more ubiquitous and outsell the current Windows 7 adoption curve that we have before us today.


Let me show you a big circle that has 500m attached to it and compare it to other devices and operating systems to give you a sense of scale and illusion around which is a smarter platform to target. I should also point out in September Microsoft also stated it was around 450million

Here it is.


Now, don’t ask too many questions (like how is Windows Phone 7 market share fit into that graph?) around how that number came to be, just bend over and accept its existence and let it soak into your brain mass that Microsoft have your back and we are the future of the interwebs.

Still not buying it? Well let me see if I can rustle up some insights for you from a Microsoft staffer, what about another VP at Microsoft – lets here what he has to say on the matter.


Comment: “ I thought I did, but to be honest, I’m not even sure what was said”


Comment: “…But the graph…it said…500m… and you guys also said 450m la…you know what, you are banned from using numbers”



Comment: I’m doing the math and I’m also including world population growth, projected device market sales targets and and and and… did you just tell me to start coding and stop whinging …..I am coding, I do it daily, but the problem I have is you’re co-workers interrupting that sales pipeline with a whole bunch of question marks about the future of what I’m actually coding on…so that is to say, I’m doing my part, what are your guys doing? …sorry back to the numbers.


Comment: OH snap.. no he didn’t….


Comment: Target what again… and you just said 500million earlier…what…what are we talking about again… and if Win8 launches today are you saying we should stop targeting Windows 7 and now focus on Windows 8?……. WHAT THE FU…


Comment: Which one? 500million, 450million or 300million… or….

Fair enough, he is not into the whole questions thing and regards it as being a case of being a whining and what I also found interesting was the implication that one should “shut up and code”

Only problem I find there is actually I have been coding, pretty much for the last few years and that’s the problem because I have been coding on the last set of promises they / me made to the community around Silverlight and WPF. I remember it clearly, we got up on stage and we gave the same formula you have before you yesterday, we drowned you in copious amounts of “We caught a fish this big” graphs, painted a bright and happy days future, then told you “trust us, we have this covered” story.

Fast forward today, Silverlight 5’s future is in question and WPF is well, dare I still say dead? In fact Silverlight 5 was scheduled to release last month and that was told to you by a Microsoft staffer but yet no sign of the product that describes another way of saying the word “Flash” (aka Silverlight).

Ok, well I guess we’ll all have to sit tight, hold onto the .NET …err I mean WinRT…err I mean .NET …C++?...HTML5?... Ok whatever it is we are supposed to hold onto, write some killer applications and wait for further information from Microsoft on how well Windows 8 will sell and to which verticals its likely to excite the most.

Its clear it will beat iPad / iPhone to death as once Windows gets onto a tablet like device, it will be unstoppable – well that’s what MVP’s at Microsoft tell me and why on earth would they be biased – crazy talk.

Sarcasm aside.

Look, I think Windows 8 is an opportunity for all to prosper, I think it has the potential to excite and increase the cash in everyone’s wallets. I honestly don’t care whether or not the developer story gets reset, what I do ultimately care about is how one can take the concepts of Windows 8 and use them in today’s Windows 7 upgrade environments.

Call me crazy but based on historical data and simply getting my fill of the Microsoft internal culture I honestly don’t think Windows 8 will replenish the market the way Windows 7 has today. I think its going to be mostly a tablet device story only and even then it’s got question marks above its head on what you can and can’t do when it comes to development.

Furthermore, Microsoft cannot seriously expect developers to trust them anymore as the amount of broken promises…. I won’t go down that path, I’ll simply leave it at “no, you haven’t earned the trust” so instead of throwing down metrics onto the table like they actually resonate with developers instead of making that team look artificially successful – why not answer some hard questions with that time.

Paint a detailed picture on what you think is the future of Windows specifically on areas where you think it interconnects, lets talk about how Windows Azure is the preferred server side engine for your Apps in the AppStore or more importantly lets talk about skill transference in more detail, how does a Silverlight / WPF card carrying .NET diehard fan transition over to the new Windows RT way of life.

How do they work with Designers in this new space? Whats your thinking around the tooling story and how they interconnect.

AppStore sounds fine, it looks good but why can’t we start today, why do we need to hold off for Windows 8 or is this your idea of a forcing function that will drive consumers to buy Windows 8 instead of Windows 7 – because of the Appstore?

That may work for new devices called tablets, but what about that 500m install base just sitting there waiting to be fleeced with my Flashlight glow in the dark Twitter application?

Stop whining and build? Build with what, who for and which platform?

So far there is less that 50,000 developers world wide targeting Windows 8 and that’s assuming that MSDN downloads indicate  one developer per download ( I know I downloaded it 4x times since BUILD… so make that –4).


Never fear though, as you can now watch the developer uptake increase due to brilliant strategies like the Build Windows Contest featuring weird beard guy in front of a bicycle wheel? (WTF)


Catch is you have to be a US resident only and use the new secret stuff from Microsoft …actually I have no clue what the hell this contest is really about and lastly a VP at Microsoft once told me in a meeting “Contests are the last desperate refuge for bad marketing”… enough said.


Co-worker shares his thoughts after reading this blog post

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Agile reality check–what if Jesus was female?

Twitter stream caught my attention, as the conversation came up around how Agile maps to the doctrine meets reality.

What the..

I like to think I’m a guy who’s travelled around to a lot of teams and tried many things, I’ve been in quite a number of teams world wide and have seen some great projects succeed others I dare not mention for their curse alone may bring bad karma.

Throughout my travels, the concept of Agile has always been this mutated religion that often gets thrown about but really doesn’t cement the virtual “it should be done as this” to “this is how it maps to reality”.

In all the teams I’ve been in one thing always was consistent, that is there is usually one or more person(s) in that team that are often the weakest link – you know, the one that if we were playing survivor they’d be the first to go.

That person often is also one that has a degree of influence and whilst a democratic philosophy is one we should aspire to in an agile setting, reality is usually there’s an alpha in the room and they often are the ones who approve your timesheet – thus, you suck it up and give way even if it’s a dumb decision.

I’ve heard often that “Well the reason that failed is you had the wrong person” followed by how the role was given to a jackass who typically had no business making decisions other than “would you like one or two biscuits to go with your hot beverage?”

That’s the problem though with this whole agile philosophy, we aspire to working with a gang of people that make you feel as if you’re coding along side a crew that have similar skills to Oceans 11. Yet when you look around often the case is you’re dealing with a crew that came from Billy-Bobs 12 and its often the 12th man is usually the cousin twice removed but was forced to be in the team due to Billy-bobs wife being a royal pain in his redneck side.

Ok, that metaphor fell to the wayside but my point is I often find the reason why agile/scrum fails is simply due to the aspirations around the said doctrine not mapping to the reality of a commercial environment.

The amount of customers I’ve had to create solutions for often have no clue as to what they are doing and its usually why they hit the panic button, allocate budget and socket in a development team to solve the said problems. If you’re lucky you get the business ownership in a place where they feel competent enough to say out loud “I actually understand my business problems and desire software to solve them” …if you’re lucky.

Do you as a developer look at the said impending car crash and simply yell “we should really stop what we are doing and look at who’s driving this car and why” or do you simply lock onto the weakness that which is a business out of control but with a really big wallet thus as a contractor exploit this until the wheels come off. Once the wheels come off you simply throw your hands in the air and do what everyone does when agile fails “You had the wrong person….”

Here is my creative thinking on a way forward.

What if you had your team divided into two parts, that is you have TEAMA working on the grind, as per design think on your feet reactive feature development whilst TEAMB looks at iteration two, figures out the weak/hot spots and devotes more time to just R&D (spiking the big issues).

Once they have that mastered or time boxed them then switch gears, own iteration two and then iteration three is then put into R&D mode followed by a rinse/repeat formula.

Would this not also include user experience?

Anyone tried this? Or did I just declare Jesus was really a female and not a guy after all thus a war breaks out and I’m likely to be crucified for challenging the status quo.

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What if you had to build software for undiagnosed adults that suffer from autism, Asperger’s, dyslexia, ADHD etc.

Software today is definitely getting more and more user experience focused, that is to say we are preoccupied with getting the minimal designs into the hands of adults for task driven operations. We pride ourselves on knowing how the human mind works through various blog based theories on how one is to design the user interface and what the likely hood of the adult behind the computers initial reaction will be.

The amount of conferences I’ve personally attended that has a person or person(s) on stage touting the latest and greatest in cognitive science buzz word bingo followed by best practices in software design is well, too many.

On a personal level, my son has a rare chromosome disorder called Trisomy 8, its quite an unexplored condition and I’ve pretty much spent the last eight years interacting with medical professions that touch on not just the psychology of humans but zeros in on the way in which our brains form over time.

In the last eight years of my research I have learnt quite a lot about how the human mind works specifically on how we react to information and more importantly our abilities to cope with change that aren’t just about our environments but also plays a role in Software.

I’ve personally read research papers that explore the impacts of society’s current structure on future generations and more importantly how our macro and micro environments play a role with regards to the children of tomorrow coping with change and learning at the same time – that is to say, we adults cope with the emerging technology advancements because for us “its about time” but for todays child of 5-8 this is a huge problem around having to manifest coping skills to dealing with a fluid technology adoption that often doesn’t make sense.

Yesterday we didn’t have NUI, today we do? Icons that have a 3.5” floppy disc that represent “saving” have no meaning to my son etc.

The list goes on just how rapid and fast we are changing our environments and more importantly how adults that haven’t formulated the necessary social skills to realistically control the way in which our children are parented often rely on technology as at times being the de-facto teacher or leader (Amount of insights I’ve read on how XBOX 360 has become the baby sitter in households is scary).

Getting back to the topic at hand, that is what if the people you are designing software have an undiagnosed mental illness or are better yet diagnosed. How would you design tomorrow’s user interface to cope with this dramatic new piece of evidence? To you the minimal design works, it seems fresh and clear and has definitive boundaries established.

To an adult suffering from Type-6 ADHD (if you believe in it) that has a degree of over-focus its not enough, in fact it could have the opposite effect of what you are trying to do in your design composition.

Autism also has a role, grid formation in design would obviously appeal to their autistic traits given it’s a pattern that they can lock onto and can often agree with – Asperger sufferers may disagree with it, and could annoy or irritate them in some way (colour choice, too much movement blah blah).

Who has to say your designs work, as if you ask people on the street a series of questions and observe their reactions you are not really providing an insight into how the human mind reacts to computer interaction. You’ve automatically failed in a clinical trial, as the person on the street isn’t just a normal adult there’s a whole pedigree of historical information you’re not factoring into the study that is relevant.

At the end of the day, the real heart of HCI for this and is my working theory is that we formulate our expectations around software design from our own personal development. That is to say, if we as children had normal or above average IQ level in around about ability to understand patterns and the ability to cope with change we in turn are more likely to adapt to both “well design” and “poorly designed” software.

That is to say, when you sit down and think about an Adult and how they react to tomorrow’s software one has to really think about the journey the adult has taken to arrive at this point, more to the point how easily they are also influenced.

A child who came from broken home, parents left and raised by other adults who is now a receptionist within a company is more likely to have absolutely no confidence in around making decisions. That person is now an easy mark for someone who has the opposite and can easily sway this person to adoption and change.

Put those two people into a clinical trial around how the next piece of software you are going to roll out for a company works and the various tests you put them through, watch what happens.

Most tests in UX / HCI often focus on the ability of the candidate to make their way through the digital maze in order to get the cheese (basic principles around reward / recognition) so to be fair its really about how the human mind can navigate a series of patterns to arrive at a result (positive / negative) and then furthermore how the said humans can recall that information at a later date (memory recall meets muscle memory).

These style of results will tell I guess the amount of friction associated with your change, and give you a score / credit in around what the impact it will likely have but in reality what you really probably need to do as an industry is zero in on how aggressively you can decrease the friction levels associated with change prior to the person arriving at the console.

How do you get Jenny the receptionist who came from an abused child hood enough confidence to tackle a product like Autodesk Maya (which is largely complex) as if you were to sit down with Jenny and learn that she also has a creative component to her that’s not obvious to all – its her way of medicating the abuse through design.

How do you get Jack the stock broker who spends most of his time jacked on speed/coke and caffeine to focus long enough to read the information in front of him through data visualisation metaphors / methodologies then the decisions he makes could impact the future of the global financial system(s) world wide (ok bit extreme but you get my point?)

It’s amazing how much we as a software industry associate normal from abnormal when it comes to software design. It is also amazing how we look at our personas in the design process and attach the basic “this is mike, he likes facebook” fluffy profiling. When what you may find even more interesting is that Mike may like facebook, but in his down time he likes to put fireworks in cats butts and set them on fire because he has this weird fascination with making things suffer – which is probably why Mike now runs ORACLE’s user experience program.

The persona in my view is simply the design team having a massive dose of confirmation bias as when you sit down and read research paper after research paper on how a child sees the world that later helps define him/her as an adult, well…. In my view, my designs take on a completely new shift in thinking in around how I approach them.

My son has been tested numerous times and has been given an IQ of around 135 which depending on how you look at it puts him in around the genius level. The problem though is my son can’t focus or pays full attention to things and relies heavily on patterns to speed through tasks but at the same time he’s not aware of how he did it.

Imagine designing software for him. I do, daily and have to help him figure out life, it just has taught me so much in the process.

Metro UI vs Apple OS 5..pft, don’t get me started on this subject as both have an amazing insight into pro’s and con’s.

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