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UIUC iCard [Free Design Advice]

I’ll start this post being blunt – I hate our new ID cards. I had been holding off for as long as I could, but with its swipe strip wearing through and the prospect of getting locked out of important places at inconvenient times, I decided to get proactive, suck it up, and trade my original card for the new and “improved” version.

There, that said, let’s begin. Last year the university began a transition to new ID cards. Starting in the fall 2007 semester all new cards issued are of the new type and the old cards will eventually be phased out completely sometime after 2009.

Pre 2007 ID Card

According to the [document]( announcing the new design:

The i-card has a new look! After nearly 11 years without a major design change, the University of Illinois i-card is getting a facelift. The new card embodies both aesthetic and functional upgrades essential to the support of new card-based services. The new design represents several months of collaboration, consultation, and planning with multiple campus leaders. In addition, designs were approved by standing campus ID Committees and representatives from several campus units that provide card services.

With regard to the aesthetic and functional improvements, on the former they manage only by virtue of default and to the latter the card is an abject failure. Concerning the “several months of collaboration, consultation and planning…” well, on second thought let us not go there.

The purpose of an ID card is to present information and *absolutely* nothing else. Sure, it can look good, but it is not a fashion accessory. In this context the designer’s job is to convey information as effectively as possible, only working to make it pretty to the extent that it doesn’t detract from it’s effectiveness. it’s all about usability.

### Usability ###

In this application it’s very important to understand that not all information is equal. Some items are more important than others; I care about the person’s name more than I do their card’s number and so on. In order to account for this a good designer should make sure that useful information pops out at the user and other information fades into the background – the ways you do this are pretty standard, changing the text size, color, typeface, and/or position.

With that in mind lets see how effectively each version does its job. Here’s a list and subjective ranking of how apparent each bit of information is on the card:

Old Card New Card
Pre 2007 ID Card Post 2007 ID Card
  1. Name
  2. ID number
  3. Campus
  4. Expiration date
  5. Username
  6. Classification
  7. Library number
    Card number
  8. Issue date
  1. Name
  2. Expiration date
  3. Classification
    ID number
    Library number
    Card number
  4. Campus

The number one thing that amazes me with this new card is that its designers managed to reduce the amount of information presented while, at the same time, reducing the usability of the remaining information. For any non-designers out there, just be aware that this is not how things are supposed to work. How did they manage this? THEY DESTROYED THE HIERARCHY.

Taking a look at the ranking for the old card design, it has a clear order that seems to correspond with what I would consider the relative importance of each morsel of information – name and number at the top and onto the library and card number (two seldom used items) at the bottom. On the other hand, for the new card the hierarchy formed only has half as many levels and I notice that half of the items of the new card fall into the 3rd stratum… uh oh.

The old card was designed smart… it was designed so that the very first number that appears to the searching eye was the most important – the university ID. In the “redesign” finding this number requires real, conscious effort. Where in the old it was set in a larger, bolder, unique color; in the new it is thrown into a big lump of useless information set in 10pt grey Arial – blech.

The very same thing could be said about the classification label. The label was a beautiful little piece of usability, where it could be color coded to the class of the card holder – along the lines of green for “Undergraduate”, orange for “Faculty”, etc., but now it too is dumped in with the always-grey text at the bottom. And I just don’t know what to make of the expiration text, with its bright-yellow color it is near if not possibly above cardholder name in noticeability.

### Appearance ###

Like I mentioned above… the claiming their design is an aesthetic improvement over the past really isn’t terribly impressive, it would be hard to argue that the original was even trying.

Post 2007 ID Card

First things first, why did the card get set entirely in Arial? I’m not one jump onto the Arial-Helvetica hatefest too readily, but I do ask that there be a good reason for using Arial over the original. Apart from the (distinct) possibility that this card was designed in MS Word I can’t think of one.

Next up is the gaping whitespace in the upper-right of the photograph. Huh? It is completely detracting and a bit unbalancing. In the physical version where the entire card is higher contrast (pre-press issues?) I will occasionally think a part of the card has gone missing.

And finally onto the business of this whole “i-card” thing. The cause of my university’s compulsion to brand everything will probably never be understood and I don’t feel like debating its premise… though it certainly is debatable (Email at UIUC is Express Mailâ„¢), but I would like question this i-card idea. 1, It does not add value – mentioning to my friends that I have an “i-card” does not impress them. 2, It does not aid identifiably – I don’t expect to get confused between this ID card or the zero (0) other university cards I have in my wallet. 3, The i-card logo is a ridiculous comic-sans-like handwriting that has no place in a formal document like this.

### What to Do ###

Since being a responsible critic means having a reasonable solution at the ready. And since a coping strategy of mine for living in this terribly designed world of ours is dwelling on “better” solutions, I went about designing a card of my own.

Proposed ID Card

I’ll spare you all the designing details (as this post has already gotten *very* long), but I would like to spend some time to justify the design. I’ll begin with the hierarchy. Front and center is are the 3 most important identifiers (excluding the picture) each of which are unique easily identifiable. Following is the expiry date and then the classification, coded with color for at-a-glance recognition. In the background are the library and card numbers, in small (but legible) type. Out of sight and to the side is and orange banner with the campus’s short name.

Except for the issue date, the design retains all the information of the old card. It returns the barcode and username that were removed in the revision. It also adds a printed signature field that was on the back of the original card (and curiously missing completely in the revision).

It also, IMHO, looks better than the previous designs too.

### Postscript ###

This is not to say that UIUC’s card is the worst of the bunch. The university ID card is an apparent backwater in the world of design. Below is a gallery of cards I collected as research:

ID Card Gallery

Out of the lot Wisconsin, MIT, and PennState came out with what I’d consider to be the best designs (and Chicago gets an honorable mention). But as a general rule they all either did pretty good in appearance (UCLA & Minnesota) but failed as far as usability went, or they failed in both respects. Eastern Illinois, without question, took last place. The beveled Gill Sans Ultra Bold “panther card” text is nauseating.


After a fine day here, what looked to be a promising Ï€ eve was met with disappointment as my grand plans for an exciting pi eve caper got washed away with the evening’s rain.

That means no surreptitious chalking of four foot tall (5000 pt) digits on the Engineering quad and no cool photograph either. If only I had more time, but alas, I have a train to catch in the morning.

Granted it’s not all bad – having no irrationals to approximate means I will get a more reasonable amount of time to finish the few things that need turning in Friday. And lets face it – as it was *the weather* that beat me to the punch, I can still lay some small tiny shred of a claim for the cool idea that could have been.

I Can Has Job?

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Hooray, my final semester has already arrived and is on its way out. With ~8 weeks of class remaining, I’m closer than ever to leaving university and being out in the job market.

And, while I’ve gone around to the usual suspects, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that I am most definitely not the usual suspect’s kind of material. In light of this, I figured I’d make some kind of announcement here.

So what kind of thing am I looking for? Well… naturally, I am looking to work building things loaded full of 100% pure AWESOME. After that here is an unordered list of:

1. A product that I can fall in love with.
2. Work that requires things to be beautiful — inside and out.
3. Work where broad interests are a good thing.
4. A company filled with groovy people.

And of course that list’s important counterpart — what I can do:

1. Cocoa programming, if you found my blog this is probably why.
2. Web programming, CSS, HTML, and Javascript are good friends.
3. Java programming (i.e. backend of a webapp).
4. “Better than average” sense of design and usability. There really isn’t any objective measure of this but I think it is safe to say I’m pretty good.

I’m not terribly interested in publishing personal information of me or others here on the world wide web, so I’ve only published a reduced resumé here. If you want the full document email me directly and I’d be happy to give it to you.

RSS Beanie

With weather being anything but conformable, everybody out here is wearing scarfs, gloves, balaclava, etc.. A day or two ago I saw a student walking down the sidewalk wearing this:

For a moment I had gotten all excited, seeing some random guy with the Mozilla Feed icon on his head, but soon enough I realized it was just a [North Face]( beanie. Ah well…

That’s my story for today. And I’ll leave you with this sorta interesting fact – that the “beanie” is more properly referred to as a [tuque](

Traffic Widget

Things have bee a little quiet here in my little corner of the blogosphere (though I assure you real life has been far more eventful). So today I thought I’d liven things up a bit with a post on the maintenance update I did for [Traffic]( a few weeks ago – Exciting!

First I updated the default quota to 2GB, (up from the 750MB, which cause all sorts of problems when listening to [SomaFM]( for days). Then switched things over to using the [Apple classes]( And, well, that was it. Enjoy the rest of your day.

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