May 9, 2020

The Art of Explanation

Notes for book The Art of Explanation: Making your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand

Context

Explanation requires empathy. You have to think like your audience.

Explanation lowers cost of understanding. We have a short attention span and have to utilize others time efficiently. Must not waste audience’s time.

Explanation is a way to package ideas.

Explanation answers the question Why?”

Explanation makes people care. If the user knows about an idea only then he/she would be able to care about your product.

Sometimes we want to appear smart and use difficult to understand explanation which only an expert would understand. The audience which does not know about the expert talk would be lost.

Why current way of explanation fails

Incorrect assumption about the audience knowledge.

Should change the explanation according to the audience. If you’ll use the expert talk to explain something to beginners, then their confidence would erode and then they won’t be interested in the explanation because they are not able to catch up.

Categorizing your audience

We can divide people on a scale of A to Z to denote how much they know about the idea. A means no knowledge, Z means expert.

scale

People on the Z side are very knowledgeable but have curse of knowledge. Because they have so much knowledge about the subject, they are not able to know what it would be like for a beginner to understand this.

Package the explanation

Context is important for people to get used to the idea and see the bigger picture. Usually people at A side need more context than people at Z side.

The people at A size need to know about the Why more than the How. The people at Z side are already aware of the Why and need to understand How does the idea is implemented.

why and how

Simple stories are more effective for explaining something because we can add the user to be a part of the story in understanding the idea.

Storytelling is more appropriate near the A level.

Make connections to any other things that the user might already know. Whatever you are doing, there is a very high chance that you can relate it to some other idea. Can make connection by comparing it with some other competitor. This way is also used to learn effectively.

As we move towards the Z scale people, we have to focus more on How instead of Why. So we might have to add recipe style explanations for the How.

Simplify the idea.

Constraints are good. When we have too many options we tend to get confused and not choose anything. Whenever trying to explain anything, try to work with some constraints.

Present the explanation

  • state intention
  • solve a problem
  • reduce noise
  • embrace imperfection

Visuals are an important part of any explanation. You can explain something very easily by a photo which could be very difficult to explain by words.

Visuals are attractive and get attention.

visuals

No need to have fancy visuals. Can explain using simple drawings.

book notes
May 3, 2020

Moving from Google Play Books to Apple Books

I was using Google Play Books to read books from past 2 years but I have now moved to Apple Books just because I don’t like Google Play Book’s web reader and I like to read on my MacBook

I don’t know why have they stopped maintaining the web reader, maybe they just figured that the ratio of people reading on desktops is very low as compared to phones, so why maintain it.

Some years back I used to store all my books offline but when I got to know that google play books allowed to store our own ebooks, I moved all my books there. Although there are some restrictions of each book having maximum size 100MB and the total number of user uploaded books to be 1000 (not sure about this, I could not find an official doc with this number).

Moving the books to cloud gave me the advantage of not trying to keep the books in sync on every new device which I had which was a big pain on both android and iOS.

It has very nice mobile applications for both android and iOS. I actually like the Google Play Books iOS app more than Apple Books iOS App. But we are talking about the desktop environments right now. On Desktop systems you only have the option of web reader and the web reader is just not that good.

The UI does not feel as good as Apple Books

The level of refinement that is there in Apple Books is not there in Google Play Books. Google Play Books web reader feels like a legacy software which I think it is.

This is how the book Hackers & Painters looks like on Google Play Books:

The UI somehow feels cheap which I guess is because of fonts used and the line height.

The fonts available feel very legacy:

  • Arial
  • Georgia
  • Times New Roman
  • Trebuchet MS
  • Verdana

The line height feels weird and is not much customisable. It gives 3 options and none of them feel right.

There are some unnecessary elements available to you at all time which you cannot hide. These are a distraction while reading.

  • I don’t always need to see the slider on the bottom of the page.
  • The buttons on the top right could be just shown on hovering them when needed.
  • The information on the top left is not necessary and specially the text Exit bothers me because of the blue color. Even the name of the book should have been dimmed.

Now let’s take a look at Code in Apple Books:

This looks so much better with no clutter and just enough important bits that too in a non prominent way.

The fonts available are also much modern:

  • Athelas
  • Charter
  • Georgia
  • Iowan
  • Palatino
  • San Francisco
  • Sevarek
  • Times New Roman

There isn’t an option to change line height but i never felt the need to, it just feels right!

Changing the font size, font family, line height etc does not work reliably.

I tried Hackers & Painters and I was not able to change the line-height, other options work.
In The Courage To Be Disliked, line-height is working but changing typeface doesn’t work.

Trying to make it better by changing the styles

I really wanted to use Google Play Books so I tried modifying the page styles using Stylish which allows you to inject custom css into webpages.
But it didn’t work because the ebooks rendered in the web reader are inside iframe and i couldn’t figure out a way to inject styles inside an iframe.