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Tag: design

The Hazards of Open Data Exceptionalism

Frustrated USAspending.gov users, courtesy naersjoen. Licensed CC-BY-NC-SA.

The prospect of funding cuts for e-Gov initiatives like data.gov, USAspending.gov and friends is worrying. Everyone should join the Sunlight Foundation’s effort to Save the Data. At the same time, this is a good opportunity for reflection.

There’s no doubt that the proliferation of Open Government websites has been a great first step for transparency and accountability. Despite the flaws, most of us see the promise of something very powerful in these projects.

I can feel strongly about the value of these programs and still be mystified at the $18M cost of recovery.gov when RATB has surely already built their own internal system to do basically the same thing. This has me thinking.

Why create one set of tools for citizens, and another for internal use? It seems that services like USAspending.gov should be part of the usual operation of OMB, rather than some special e-Gov project that’s vulnerable to budget cuts. Why a distinct and conspicuous line item for USAspending.gov, when it’s a citizen-friendly face on the $24M Federal Procurement Data System? Why not spend that money instead on improving FPDS, and making it more usable for both the public and the government?

Good design is hard on all of us.

An interior view of the Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia, a splendid mashup of bottom-up and top-down design. Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/franck-chilli/5153913131/. Licensed CC-BY-SA.

Tim Lee is, for my money, one of the most reasonable and thoughtful tech policy essayists we have. His latest, “Open User Interfaces Suck” got my attention, because he hits me right where I live. In his usual, respectful, level-headed way, he claims that open systems (like the open source development process I love so dearly) is ill-suited to a good user experience.

Tim starts, as you might expect, by holding up Apple as a paragon of interface design, since they make beautiful machines and beautiful, approachable software. He then turns his gaze to more open platforms, like Android, with withering disappointment. He concludes that because open systems require consensus-building and “big tent” approaches which are optimized for “scalability and flexibility”, they’re poorly equipped for good UI design. On the other hand, Tim says that good design depends on “simplicity and consistency,” which comes from the vision of one person (let’s call him “Steve“) and the slavish execution of that vision throughout the product.

Flatten PDFs almost painlessly.

I do a lot of presentations. When I export to PDF from OpenOffice, things usually work great. When I do these presentations online, though, the web tool will sometimes wreck the design: fonts get dropped, transparent backgrounds turn white… it’s a mess. So I need a way of turning each page of the PDF into an image so that it looks exactly the way I intend it to. That’s where this script comes from.

Beautiful drop shadows now bow before me.

I got a lot of compliments on the design of the ignite session I did for Mil-OSS. Part of what made it work so well, I think, is the drop shadows, like you see here:

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