YNAB On-boarding

Turns out I need a budget. OK. We need a budget… I’ve been using Quicken for a long time… However double-ledger accounting is darn complicated to use, and even more difficult to explain. I found YNAB via Wirecutter, and tried it. What follows are some thoughts about their on-boarding process.

TL;DR: Consistency implies dependability which leads to trust. There are many good things about the YANB on-boarding process, a significant number of inconsistencies, and a few frustrating issues.


iOS Keychain Integration

This is good! Financial data should be strongly protected, and defaulting to a iOS generated password is the best UX. The neat thing they did here, by using what I think is a WebView, is this password is stored in the device and, by default, replicated to all iOS & macOS devices, so it’s automatically available to the user everywhere. This level of good is *rare*.


Privacy Policy > Terms of Service

Screens should show the information that users care about most. For me, the Privacy Policy is of interest, and the Terms of Service is not. The most important sentence on this screen: “We do not sell users’ data. (And we never have!)” is buried under a button tap with a lot of scrolling. YNAB clearly thinks it’s important, otherwise it wouldn’t be the only bolded sentence in either the ToS or PP. It should be directly visible without digging to the customer. I would reword the PP, and A/B test this…


Little Gray Text != User Friendly
  1. Philosophically, I believe that navigational elements should be named, and look consistently. “Log Out” even though semantically correct, should be “Cancel” to be consistent with the previous screen. “Cancel” is correct from the user’s perspective, is consistent, and therefore less thinking & deciding.
  2. Not a big fan of the small and light gray print text. It contains useful information (how to cancel your subscription = +1), but is a borderline dark pattern. I would reduce the word count, and increase the text size. One easy get would be to eliminate the sentence: “By starting a trial, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.” The user just did that on the previous screen, and there’s no other way to get here otherwise. Less scary small print is a good thing…
  3. Good clear display of pricing right next to the “Try” button. +1.
  4. $7 times 12 is $84, not $83.99. The whole world knows the .99 trick… However, I took it as a jarring lack of attention to detail.

Buttons? What do they look like?

Lots and lots of problems. This is the screen that got my dander up enough to write this post…

  1. Button Text Padding: The Learn More button should have the same text padding as the other buttons on the screen. Consistency is good.
  2. Button colors: The Next button introduces a new tint color from the previous screens. Why? Consistency is good.
  3. Text: “In the meantime…” good to tell me how to resolve this problem. “you can add transactions in the web and mobile apps…” Gah! I’m in the mobile app now! What? (Thinks the completely unknowledgeable user.) The text in general assumes that the user knows what’s coming, and they don’t…
  4. Status bar: There’s no reason to cover the status bar here, and by partially covering it, it looks… sloppy. That’s the second jarring thing to me. It irrationally bugs the hell out of me.

I would do the following:

  1. Consistent button sizing & coloring.
  2. Never ever cover the status bar.
  3. Full black title & subtitle.
  4. Text Header: Link in Maintenance.
  5. Text Body: “Gah, bad timing! Our link to <thing name> is in maintenance. We’ll notify you when it’s available. In the meantime, we can get started with your budget, and you can link this account later.”
  6. Buttons: “Learn More” which would take you to a screen explaining that you can manually enter transactions, and the file-based import option.

US Bank is Red, White & Blue, eh?

Why is US Bank blue? Why doesn’t the US part have a red background? This was the third jarring thing for me.


The Best Button (TM)
  1. Wow did I want to tap on Step 1 & Step 2 as navigational elements. They aren’t, but I expected them to work like a segmented button and shift between those two activities. Wrong, but that was my expectation by this point.
  2. Button UX: This screen introduced another button type, this one with a shadowed background. IMO, this is the nicest looking button so far, and the rest of the buttons should be updated to conform to this UX.

Tree of Life
  1. The animated tree, as an activity indicator, is beautiful. Truly. I’d use it damn never everywhere in lots of sizes. +1
  2. Button UX. First place an inactive button shows up. Not a big fan of it. In other places, buttons disappear when inactive. Need to be consistent, one way or the other.

1st Class is the only way to travel…
  1. Temporary Unavailable Warning is good. It sets expectations, and tells the user what to do next. I would struggle hard to make it fit on one line.
  2. Add New Connection should be a first class button like the “Let’s Get Budgeting” button from previously. Or at least a button with an outline like the “Learn More” button. There’s no reason to have a different button UX for it in this scenario. As a counter example, there are a reason to have the remove button be different. First, we don’t really want users to tap it. Second, there’s tight space constraints given the width of the table. Lastly, many repeated instances of a bordered Remove button wouldn’t look pleasing.

I felt stupid.

This screen is presented when logging into your bank, after their two factor authentication. It’s pretty slow process, and lots of steps. The most important information on this screen isn’t “Connected”, my accounts, their associated balances, or the name of my bank, even though it’s repeated. It’s the instruction to “Select the account you’d like to link.”

Did I read that the first time through?

Nope. I happily read “Connected,” and didn’t notice the instruction to select accounts, so I happily tapped the X button, because that’s all I could figure out to do.

Wrong!

At a floor minimum, if the user clicks away from this screen without selecting an account, an alert dialogue should keep them on this screen unless they confirm that they don’t want to link accounts.

I felt stupid, because that threw away all of my previous work, and it took me back to a screen without any visible reference to my bank.

I believe that the user logged into their bank intentionally, so it’s highly likely that they wanted to link accounts. Therefore, I would make all accounts default linked in, via a checked checkbox, with the option for the user to deselect accounts, before tapping a visible next button in the lower lefthand corner.


That’s as far as I got! I like the idea of YNAB a lot, so as a motivated potential user, whose free trial is burning away, I am going to give it another go over the weekend.

Cheers!

Burying the Lede

A new Jeff Vogel blog post is always something to consider. The latest digs into Pillars of Eternity as a foil for pointing out how useless facts, and exposition without context, essentially break a player’s flow by confusing and boring the player. 

Interesting and detailed read on that point. 

It’s also a case study in burying the lede. 

The real test of how good a game it is, is not how it sells, but how much its sequel sells

And…

Most games remain unfinished. But that still invites this question: If the vast majority of players didn’t want to experience the Pillars of Eternity they already paid for, why think that they will want to buy more?

Everyone should keep improving, if just for their survival in this mercilessly competitive business.

Those two points, had they come first, might well have gotten the point across without losing at least some readers by going into grinding (and valuable if motivated) detail about the Pillars of Eternity character creation process. 

Intentional?

Books: February 2017

Ryan Holiday has a great monthly-ish reading list. If you don’t already subscribe, stop what you’re doing and click. I’m going to try to get at least one idea from each book down and link them between them in as interesting ways. Maybe helpful for you. Maybe not. Remembrance for future connectivity is the goal.

This month’s theme music: My Favorite Things by John Coltrane

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural by James Randi
First on Scott’s Persuasion Reading list, and a super quick read. People can believe anything. People can convince people of anything. Superstition is built into us at a foundational level which we simply can’t shake. Surely an examination of nearly anything on, say, Facebook would convince you of that, yet you simply don’t realize how much you accept on faith as well. Something things just flow in. It’s your job to police the filter, and toss out what should be in your brain. An easier task said than done.

They Got It Wrong: History: All the Facts that Turned Out to be Myths by Emma Marriot
Second on Scott’s list, and another quick read. As in the first, not hugely substantiated, but consistent with facts and direct experiences that I’ve had actually going to the places mentioned. Touchiest one was related to the Holocaust which broadens ones understanding of where, and at who’s hand, most Jews died. Historical stories are created out of whole cloth to convince people, not unlike superstitions.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
I’ve tried to read this book, and stopped several times. It’s brutal. The audiobook is the way to go. Primary Source account of concentration camps as a Jew from an astute observer. You simply cannot understand what the human organism is able to normalize until you make it through to the end of this book. A much more serious book than They Got It Wrong, which serves as an interesting contrast as events occur completely outside of Viktor Frankl’s sphere. That fact by no means diminishes either the historical facts (as much as history can be factual), nor Viktor Frankl’s experiences and insights. There’s more to this book and I need to work my way through it again.

God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment by Scott Adams
A record of a two conversations which, like links in a chain, drive home a series of thoughts about who we are as humans and where we’re going, even if we’re not paying attention to the fact that we’re moving at all. Fertile idea generator. As an example, here’s the one that’s stuck with me (and the riskiest of the lot): Religion is how we, as a species, program our System 1, while suppressing our System 2 as necessary, for the persistence of our tribe. When we choose a religion, even if it’s no-religion (i.e. atheism), that’s because our System 1 accepts it that programming, and rigs our System 2 to think it’s our own idea – our own “free will.”

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts
A subtle magic trick in the form of a historical expose of Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zen which, along the way, causes the listener to internalize precepts of Zen in ways. There’s persuasion going on here in a major way, but I doubt you’d register it. The only way I spotted it was to notice how my thoughts changed in response to events. Granted this is my third time through the work, and I doubt that the written version would have had any effect at all. Going deeper on the why of the Koan teaching strategy lead to the insight about God’s Debris above.

The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawne Coyne & Steven Pressfield
If you work with stories, this is a book for you. Full stop. As you read, read the other non-fiction books he references, in particular Story by Robert McKee. How to disassemble a story, look at the component pieces, and verify proper functioning. Highly analytical. A way to generate feedback about the quality of your work. Ideas connect with Mastery by Robert Greene. It’s an example of how to rigorously define compliance with, and aberration from, expectations and conventions of written stories. Greene uses John Coltrane’s jazz as an example, this is the analog for writing.

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Five Novels and One Story by Douglas Adams
I finally get it. I don’t like this book. I understand why now. You see, it wasn’t written as a single work at a single time, instead it’s been reworked and rewritten at least six times, across many mediums, to the point where it no longer feels like a book to me. It’s meticulously crafted watch. Everything, absolutely everything, has been polished, stripped, and reworked to the point where the whole book ticks along with too much rigidity and perfection for me to find it funny and entertaining. There’s simply no surprise.

Going Rogue (Spells, Swords, & Stealth) (Volume 3) by Drew Hayes
This series hits it’s stride in book three. There’s three ensembles of actors in the story and the first two books in the series suffered, because the balance of focus wasn’t sufficient. Drew Hayes gets it right in this book. This was the first fictional work that I applied concpets from Story Grid to as I was reading. This is an example of where the first two books really do need to be reworked, as it’s a long slog for readers to get to this point and truly enjoy the aggregate work. The only reason why I made it as far as I did was because I used to DM Dungeons & Dragon games, not a large group of people, and a main character is a Dungeon Master.  Yeah, I know I just said what I said about Hitchhiker’s, so I suppose the trick is doing it in a less than perfect way.

Misc
Working my way back through Mastery by Robert Greene, and Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kehneman. I really do love re-reading books with complexity, because there’s so much to gain. If you didn’t get the System 1/2 reference from above, read Thinking Fast & Slow. Mandatory. I’m also tracking down Scott Adams’ Persuasion Reading list, so more from that next month.

Cheers!

Emotions in Games

Computer game developers, almost to a one, are blind to the emotional resonance of their games, but they don’t think they are. Quintessentially, they’ll talk about fun as an emotion and focus on that. They’ll talk about other emotions that they want to create, in particular: love and hate. The near universal conceit is that those sorts of emotions are hard, especially in single player games, so don’t even try.

They are blind to the emotional resonance that they do create, because they don’t think it can be done.

As an example, let’s consider an indie game called Card Crawl. It’s got wonderful art, music, sound, and gameplay. It’s the whole package, both in my estimation and that of VideoGameGeek


That’s a typical gameplay situation, sans the wonderfully subtle animations and music score. Quick run-through on the game follows. You’re the hapless adventurer in the bottom row of cards. Your sword and shield which can do, and block, 5 points respectively. You’ve managed to collected 14 loot points so far. It’s early yet with 44 cards to go, but you’re pretty beat up, and your skull is showing through…
To play, you drag cards around. In this case, I’m going to use my sword to slash the Troll, then drag him onto my shield. That’ll use up my sword, and leave me with a one point shield, and only 4 health. So, without healing, the spider would kill me. (For a moment, as I wrote this, I wondered if the adventurer was actually my younger daughter experiencing her worst fear.) Luckily there’s a Leech spell on the board which will heal me right up, based on the damage that I’ve taken at that point. One of the real fun parts of this game is the significant variety of blue spell cards and how they interact with the cards in play.

Oh, and of course there’s some LOOT on the board in the form of the coin, so into my backpack that goes… A victory will allow me to use the loot I’ve collect to acquire new blue cards.

So far, great. Really great. It’s a happy fun romp through cards with the whole Sir George and the Dragon sort of feel to it.

Until it isn’t.

IMG_0049

I  just used my last healing potion. I’ve pulled all of the cards out, and here I am at the end of the game.

“How do you end the game?” you ask.

“How do you loose the game?” is what you should be asking.

I’m of the school that there’s winning and learning. How you “not-win” is central to what are we going to learn. In this sort of game, you really don’t know what’s going to come next card-wise, because randomness plays a huge factor. That’s the central learning of this sort of game, otherwise stated as sometimes bad things happen to good people. An interesting lesson, and necessary, as without it, nothing good could happen to good people either.

It’s how you loose the game which is of issue.

I pulled the Slime onto my shield, which softened his blow by 2 and took three damage, so down to 7 health. The only recourse I have available is to drag the Souleater onto me and die. The only thing I can do is to feed myself to the Souleater. I get to kill myself with a Souleater. Killing one’s self is the only path to more.

I killed myself with a Souleater.

The only path forward is to commit suicide.

That lesson not OK with me.

Uninstalled.

IMG_0050

Ad Blocking and What Becomes of It

Forbes.com sometimes has interesting commentary. Their entry page detects that you’re using an Ad Blocker and presents nice message asking you whitelist them and, in exchange, they’ll give you an “ad light” experience for 30 days. They even define what ad light is in exactly the terms I would use.

So far so good. That’s exactly the sort of behavior I want to engage in. I whitelisted them and gave it a go.

Holy hell! They flat out LIED to me!

Over 40 different ad trackers and beacons, animated banner ads, AND a damn pop-over ad ON TOP of the content I came to see.

There’s one less site on the Internet…

I’ve got real work to do anyway, so thank you.

Things Companies Do

Apple and the FBI are in a legal dustup which, at its core, is the pin code lock on an iPhone. The FBI wants Apple to help them circumvent it. Apple refuses, on Bill of Rights grounds. We’ll find out what actions people actually take over the next few months after the lawyers are done wrangling.

In the meantime… What did Amazon just do? Why they just pushed an over the air update to all Kindles which turned off my Kindle’s pin code completely.

Compare:

Apple is actively resisting cracking a single phone’s pin code.

Amazon just turned them off, for everyone.

Gee. Thanks Amazon. Glad you have my back.

Deadlight – Random Playtest

Deadlight won the random toss for what game to playtest next. Deadlight is a zombie game, set in the 80’s near Seattle. Except it’s not really a zombie game, because you can’t seem to actually kill any of the zombies. They just fall over and get back up again after a while. Or maybe you can kill them, but heck if I know how. At least the first hour of the game is a progressive tutorial unlike any I’ve seen before. Each move comes with an explanation and a scene for you to learn it.

Good enough.

However, each line of move comes with a longwinded explanation of what to do, for both keyboard and controller.

Too much reading.

Each wall of text shows up right as you’re about to actually need to do whatever the new move is you need to know. Because there’s zombies. About to eat you.

Apparently I can read while being eaten.

I got to a wall-jumping “scene” and lost it. Seriously guys, y’all made it way too hard. Do what Lara does. We’ve been doing since the advent of 3D.

Uninstalled.

I got tired of grinding through set-piece after set-piece. The experience did NOT provide of the experience promised on the tin. I was drawn to this game because of the 80’s vibe and Seattle setting. Got none of it during the first nearly an hour of gameplay.

Zip.

I ran around as a man who, in the first scene shoots someone, because they’ve been bitten, admonishes his group to not go off solo, IMMEDIATELY does so. For a really long time, while getting bitten CONSTANTLY.

Cognitive dissonance.

Do I need to kill myself now? I’ve been bitten something like 50 times… The fact that I initially referred to the player character as “a man” instead of “me” is a tell for a broken suspension of disbelief.

The environments that guy ran through were bland, dark and dirty as hell. Apparently everything is immediately dirty and destroyed in a zombie outbreak. Look, I get it, that’s the expectation that people have. It was just not fun for me. The whole experience was built for dark black zombies with glowing orange eyes. Whatever it took to make black zombie shapes look good was what everything else in the environment had to do.

I just hated the art.

Dark-black zombies with glowing eyes and little to no blood = good idea. The cost in what it made me feel emotionally made me opt-out.

One thing I loved is the fatigue mechanic. Your guy finds a fireman axe and does what you’d expect to the zombies. However, in a sop to actual real-life, your guy can’t swing it a billion times in a row. There’s an energy bar, ho hum, but where the presentation really shines is in the display. The whole display shakes and shudders in a way that pitch-perfectly progressively indicates your guy’s tiredness. Imagine a VHS tape loosing tracking, with NTSC lines becoming visible, with color shifting.

Pitch-perfect – especially given 80’s setting.

Too damn bad that’s the only thing that I really enjoyed about this game. Swinging my axe until I got tired.

I think I’m going to go chop some wood.

Total time played: 42min
Opinion: Not worth it.