TV in 2015

I think most people, including myself sometimes, watch too much TV, but I don’t think the right amount of TV is zero.  We really are in a golden age for the artform and with the putrefaction of the film industry, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying it in limited quantities.  My thoughts on some current and recent shows:

American Ninja Warrior

This show has been on for a while but I had never even attempted to watch it because it has a terrible name.  I caught part of an episode last year and realized it was not some campy parody of a Japanese game show but something else entirely.  If you’re not familiar, it is a relatively simple concept.  Contestants run an obstacle course with the primary goal being to finish the course and the secondary goal being time.  The twist here is that the course is incredibly hard.  Most people fail.  They don’t get any practice and if they make one mistake they are done.  In this age of coddling and positive reinforcement this show takes us back to the days when video games didn’t have save files, when the 10th best hitter on the baseball team rode the bench all season, and cars would explode in minor accidents if they didn’t impale you on the steering wheel first.  It reminds us how satisfying hard work can be and there is no doubt that the frustration and happiness of the contestants is real.

Hannibal

Recently cancelled, hopefully to be picked up elsewhere, I am surprised it even made it this far.  It is a very dark, very deliberate, very long story.  The imagery, music, and sounds are often vague and pretentious, but they are always detailed and highly crafted if not beautiful.  And with all due respect to Anthony Hopkins, Mads Mikkelsen is amazing as Hannibal Lecter.  I recently watched a bit of Silence of the Lambs and Hopkins’ take on the role is almost clownish.

Halt and Catch Fire

A couples romance where the main conflict driver is entrepreneurship.  The show captures what feels like a very authentic bleakness about 1980’s Texas.  After two seasons, the writing has become a bit aimless but the characters are authentic and the acting is very good.

Mr. Robot

This show is brand new, but the pilot was amazing.  If someone said they were going to do a mashup of Dexter and Fight Club and maybe throw a teeny bit of Sherlock Holmes (Elementary-style) in, I don’t know what I’d expect but this show pulls that off.  The pilot could have easily been tweaked into a good movie and is one of the best I’ve ever seen.  The rest of season one was not as good but more sustainable, and has maintained the thriller aspect.  Christian Slater is television poison, but he has a limited role that doesn’t leverage his usually hamminess, so we’ll see if the curse can be reversed here.

Reasonable Design

I’m always trying new productivity/task/project software, in the hope that someone will write the one I need before I do.  The latest one is Action Method, by Behance.  It’s not very useful to people with more than a handful of tasks (i.e. everyone), but that’s not the purpose of this post.  After failing to find it’s value, I read through the FAQ and found this gem:

Why are there only 3 colors for my Action Steps?

We thought about including more colors. But then one of our early Beta  testers said it best: “If 3 colors are enough to safely drive a car  [traffic lights], they should be enough to organize  yourself.” (Thanks, Jordan!) Sometimes, simplicity is best.

This is a terrible way to design software, and an even more terrible way to explain it to users.  Driving a car has nothing to do with accomplishing or organizing your workload.  Not even in a “well now that I think of it” way, it’s just plain irrelevant.   If that’s your reasoning, why aren’t the colors red, green, and yellow (they are blue, orange and gray)? Should all of the buttons on the site be round because the wheels are round?  Should all of the text be white on green because that’s good enough for highway signage?

I’m being silly here, but the point is that when you have to make a decision like this, be mindful of the reasoning behind it.  Rationalizing an arbitrary choice with a trite and irrelevant explanation might sound cute, and it’s a standard design cop-out, so avoid it.  Perhaps 3 colors is the right answer here, which could be for any number of valid reasons:

  • 90% of people never use all 3.
  • User testing showed that 3 was easier than 5 or 7 or 16 million.
  • It’s an intentional design goal that colors don’t proliferate because people end up confusing themselves on advanced projects.
  • It looks ugly (I’m guessing this is the actual reason)

Or maybe, since this is in the frequently asked questions, 3 isn’t the right answer at all, regardless of traffic engineering standards.