11. Unexpected Friendship

Making friends with others as an adult is quite different from making friends as a kid. This week, Martin reflects on the experience of making a new friend beyond the typical context of school, university or work.


Rumination 64: Tautological Torture

Over the years, something that has stood out to me in advertising and business is the excessive use of tautology. If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘tautology’, Oxford English Dictionary gives the following definition: ‘The saying of the same thing twice over in different words, generally considered to be a fault of style (e.g. they arrived one after the other in succession)‘.

Consider, for example, the phrases ‘safe haven’ and ‘pre-prepared plan’: havens are safe by definition and plans are always prepared, not to mention the word ‘prepared’ already contains the prefix ‘pre-’, which denotes the idea of occurring beforehand anyway.

In advertising for retail businesses, you’ll often see numerous tautologies included just to make it sound like you’re about to receive much more value as a customer. You see, companies want you to believe that you’re getting the best deal. Here are some examples:

  • ‘Plus a bonus item’ — ‘plus’ and ‘bonus’ both mean ‘additional’;
  • ‘Added extras’ — extras can only be added;
  • ‘Further accessories’ — accessories are never the main event; and
  • ‘Free gift’ — have you ever paid to receive your own gift?

Whenever I encounter this kind of useless language in television advertisements or on signage, I find it annoying and perplexing. First, the language is clumsy and unnecessary; why not just reduce the wording to communicate clearly and efficiently? Second, I fear that many people really do fall for this stuff. Third—and this is the big one—it concerns me that the people who are employed to write such advertising copy don’t realise that their use of language sounds stupid, therefore continuing to think that it is professional, elegant and proper.

One unexpected example of retail tautology struck me this week, consequently arousing the third point in my mind from the above paragraph. You can see it in the image below, which was taken at our local Woolworths.

In case you can’t read it properly, this overhead sign in an aisle is advertising packs of reusable food containers for two dollars. Under the large (main) price, however, it notes the price for separate food containers, which is 40 cents. The smaller text says ‘40¢ per ea’.

40¢ per ea

I stopped in the aisle and stared at this, confused by what I was reading. Was this sign actually displaying a slightly shorter way of saying ‘per each’? If that was true, one might as well have written ‘per per’ or ‘each each’! Surely ‘40¢ each’ would have been sufficient and correct for the sign.

After taking the photo and walking away, I reconsidered things and thought to myself, ‘Aha, the part that only says ”ea” must be an abbreviation or contraction of something, like “item” or “unit” instead’.

Well, after some basic searching on the Web, I confirmed this to be the case. When writing ‘per ea’, the ‘ea’ part indeed means one unit—it’s just a way that businesses tend to shorten it. Still, I wasn’t satisfied without knowing what ‘ea’ was actually shortening… then I found this, which confirms that ‘ea’ really does shorten the word ‘each’!

Thinking about this, although ‘ea’ stands for an individual unit, some bright spark in the business world decided to invent the phrase ‘per ea’, knowing full well that the latter part simply stood for the word ‘each’ and doubled things up, when words such as ‘item’, ‘product’, ‘unit’, ‘object’, ‘goods’, ‘wares’, ‘merchandise’, ‘article’ and ‘produce’ were already available in the English language.

Let’s not forget that the main price in larger font also contains the letters ‘ea’, which in this context refers to each package, rather than each unit. Each ‘ea’ for ‘each’ technically means something different. What a mess!

In the typical style of overused initialisms like ‘ROI’, ambiguous terms like ‘synergy’ and ‘learnings’ and empty phrases such as ‘touch base’, ‘circle back’ and ‘take offline’, businesspeople have invented a useless, confusing, tautological phrase to refer back to an item in an abbreviated form that could have been noted simply with the word ‘each’ next to a price.

Ultimately in closing the end of this rumination to achieve a result, I’d like to finish finally with this culminating conclusion on broader linguistic habits (including and beyond tautology): people in business simply like to complicate things to appear specialised and intelligent, then need to shorten things to make them easier and quicker to say, which then leads those who follow them to accept such constructions blindly with little idea of what they mean and why they came to be.

The End


10. Brand Nationalism

Sport, film, television, music, food, technology, clothes, countries and even individuals have brands today and of course, their own fans… but is it enough to refer to them simply as fans? This week, an unexpected essay encourages Martin to see brand fandom in a new light.


Restoring a Magical Piece of Glass

The year 2020 is the tenth anniversary of iPad and there have been many articles, podcasts and videos that all offer their own take on the success and influence of the device. Naturally, I thought that I should throw one in as well, albeit a bit later than the others.

Essentially, most commentators fall into one of either two camps: (1) iPad is a roaring sales success that has ushered in the ‘post-PC era’—see my earlier post or podcast on this general topic; or (2) it has fallen short of its original potential, with a confusing multitasking interface and a less-than-stellar range of iPad-specific apps.

There is merit to both of these views and on the first one, John Gruber and Ben Thompson spoke at length during a recent episode of The Talk Show about their disappointment with the platform. I agree with much of what they had to say; things could be much more further along and there is a feeling that the device hasn’t lived up to its potential.

On Relay FM’s Upgrade, Jason Snell and Make Hurley have been critical of the device but bring a healthy dose of enthusiasm as much more regular iPad users. Check out episode #282 ‘iPad at 10’ for more. Nowadays I use my iPad regularly for blogging, research, sketching and podcasting, so I tend to relate to Snell and Hurley a bit more when it comes to the ease of navigating the iPadOS interface. As others have said, however, do we find something easy to use because it is in fact intuitive by design… or is it simply familiar because (as fans) we invest the time in learning the interface?

Most of all, I have been intrigued by the discussion of what makes an approachable and engaging UI. During the aforementioned episode of The Talk Show, I really related to Thompson’s point about the iPad being a magical piece of glass that transforms into a range of different tools. Most notably, he spoke about the demo of GarageBand for iOS at the iPad 2 launch back in 2011. It didn’t just show a small window with piano keys like on the Mac; it became a piano. Direct manipulation with a finger opens up uses and possibilities that just aren’t possible with a mouse.

Amongst all of this, I was reminded to two intriguing UI experiences from the early days of iPad: the first of which facilitated a novel method of navigating content; and the second of which transformed the display in a whimsical and nostalgic way.

The first is the original Twitter app for iPad. Back in the day, Twitter had a fun interface on the device, which included a series of horizontally-scrolling, hierarchical columns that linked threads and topics together. As you tapped on a tweet or link, it would expand to the right and you could easily swipe between levels or dismiss columns to navigate conversations. While totally unlike anything on the Mac in its design and layout, this app applied the Mac’s spirit of a truly intuitive, enjoyable user experience, but for touch instead. The order of conversations was not only indicated by the left-to-right layout, but also by the use of shadowing. Below is my own saved screenshot of the app from my third-generation iPad, back in 2012.

Twitter’s current iPad app is an utter disappointment… simply a blown-up version of its iPhone counterpart. These days, I use Twitterrific by The Iconfactory instead, however I retain the official app in a folder for the support of instant DM notifications, which was dropped in the APIs for third parties.

The second app is the initial version of the Podcasts app, which is perhaps the greatest example of Apple’s love for skeuomorphism under Steve Jobs (apart from ol’ leather-bound Calendar app in Mac OS X Lion). It showed a gigantic tape reel, which was inspired by the Braun TG 60 Tape Recorder by Dieter Rams. Below is my own saved screenshot of the app.

Although this interface did not add any practical functionality, it totally involved the user and felt delightful. It transformed this piece of glass into an approachable, nostalgic interface that related to the app’s focus on enjoying audio.

I’m no UI designer but I like to think that I have a reasonably good idea of what constitutes ease of use and good taste. Skeuomorphism is not necessarily the best approach these days, particularly as people have become more comfortable with touch interfaces, however the depth, tactility and whimsy that come with it are things that could continue to be reinjected into modern iPadOS.

Moving on to the topic of multitasking, I was really impressed with a recent effort by Twitter friend Ian Williamson (@tuckerjj), who used Keynote to develop a more approachable, logical way of using multiple apps in iPadOS, which doesn’t have floating windows.

My favourite thing about it is this: his concept does not break the recently established system that Apple developed; it simply refocuses the whole process around the Home indicator, which has seen great praise and adoption as a visual affordance on iPhones X and later. This has enormous potential benefits, as it would be easy to adapt current iPadOS apps that use multitasking, become more approachable to more casual users and would be an easy relearning curve for current ‘power users’. Check out his concept video below… Apple should definitely be paying attention ideas like this.

I have and always will be a fan of the Mac, however I love the way that iPad has enabled me to compute more comfortably—away from a desk. It really absorbs you in a way that no other computer can, with and without a keyboard.

With iPadOS now the official name of a differentiated software product, I’m extremely optimistic about the platform’s future and believe that Apple can correct the product’s course. The magic of this piece of portable glass can be restored.

Feature image source: Apple (2012)