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What You See is What You Use

Kristi Stories 89

a few summers ago, I had the opportunity to live in two separate units of a loft building in San Francisco.

Given this was the same building, you’d expect the units to be quite similar, and they were. Both were about 1000 square feet, with a wall of large lattice windows that let in tons of light (and heat —we joked this place was like my native Texas: 90 degrees every afternoon). Both had the same corner kitchen, industrial stairs that led to an open bedroom, and annoyingly hollow doors.

The main difference was that the first place we stayed in was on the upper floor, and the second was on the ground floor. Why was this significant? Well, the upper floor apartment had a better view. And while both came with outdoor space, the ground floor apartment had an attached backyard patio, and the upper floor apartment had private space on the building’s roof.

The first place we stayed in had the roof deck. And while it wasn’t nearly as posh as this stock image below, we were thrilled when we ventured upstairs to check it out. There was a small table with some chairs and an excellent view of the city, perfect for 4:00pm wine with friends, a round of Settlers of Catan, or a good book when the fog spared us.

When we moved, we said goodbye to the roof deck and hello to a small private patio. Again, the fancy stock image below is just for illustrative purposes. Our actual patio featured no grass, but it was large enough for a couch and umbrella, some potted plants, and a grill.pexels-photo-108157

You’d think on paper, trading the roof deck for a patio would be pretty fair. I mean, one comes with a great view, the other comes with easier access. You win some, you lose some. It evens out.

The thing is, having experienced both, I can count on one hand the number of times we used the roof deck.

In that same length of time, we were out on the patio pretty much every (sunny) afternoon.

I think about this all the time.

The truth is, no roof deck, no matter how lovely or well-appointed, will get as much usage as an equivalent patio or yard.

When we lived on the ground floor apartment, we saw the patio every time we glimpsed out the window. Twenty, fifty, a hundred times a day, our eyes took in the cozy couch and the shady umbrella. It was right there. Without even consciously registering it, we found ourselves making excuses to go outside and enjoy the nice weather, whether we were working on our laptops, hanging out with friends, or BBQ-ing.

When we lived in the upper apartment, we could not see the roof deck in our day-to-day. It wasn’t hard to get to by any means — it took about 30 seconds to take the stairs up. But it wasn’t in sight. We had to remember that it existed, and then decide to go up there. The level of intentionality needed was similar to visiting the neighborhood store or park. Certainly, if we invited guests over and wanted to impress them, we’d take them to the roof deck. But we never serendipitously stumbled across the table and chairs and stunning view. It was easy to forget we had it. And so, alas, it remained largely unused.


I am often reminded of the patio and the roof deck when it comes to designing user interfaces.

We designers love our minimalism, our white space, our house stark,. We love the elegant nooks and crannies where we can hide all our numerous features and options. Behind menus. In drawers. After a long-press or a swipe.

We reason, “Once people learn it once, they’ll know it forever.” We say, “People have the same choices no matter where we put them in the UI.”

It is incredibly easy to underestimate the power of visibility and of defaults.

Once, a long time ago, Facebook used a three-horizontal-line icon (deemed the “hamburger”) at the top left of the mobile app to reveal the app navigation panel. It was a clean and elegant way to access the different features of our site. (As a bonus, this navigation menu was consistent between our mobile apps and desktop site.) We popularized the notion of a sliding drawer navigation, and it is still a paradigm you can find in many apps today.

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What You See is What You Use
Camera Review
a few summers ago, I had the opportunity to live in two separate units of a loft building in San Francisco. Given this was the same building, you’d expect the units to be quite similar, and they were. Both were...
August 17, 2016
Lense - 8 / 10
Filters - 9 / 10
Shutter Speed - 3 / 10
Image Resolution - 4 / 10
Image Quality - 6 / 10
Noise - 5 / 10
Night mode - 8 / 10

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My name is Kristi Culpepper, I have 10 years of experience working with youth agencies. I have a bachelor’s degree in outdoor education. I raise money, train leaders, and organize units. I have raised over $100,000 each of the last six years. I consider myself a good public speaker, and I have a good sense of humor.

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