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What Does This Icon Mean?

In his blog What Happens When You Push the Broccoli Button? Brian Flanagan brought up a great point about iconography.  A few hours later after reading it, I misinterpreted the meaning of an icon on a website. I showed the icon to Claire, a co-worker, who guessed something completely different would happen upon clicking the icon than I did, yet we were both wrong. Inspired by this coincidence, I’d like to know what you think the icon means.

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5 ways learning to code can improve your life

 

Image of scripting codeMy first crack at writing computer code came when computers were sofa-sized and the term “web” applied mainly to spiders. At my high school, programming was the alternative elective to woodworking and home economics. It wasn’t popular; throughout my four years there, I could count on my fingers and toes the total number of students who took the course.

Today, my grade-school-age nieces and nephews can field coding questions that eluded me until well past college, and each year the starting age of coders keeps sliding lower.

This is the new normal. Children who barely know how to tie their shoes are acquiring the literacy demanded by our increasingly digital world. Before this decade ends, a whole generation of educated Americans will pass from kindergarten through college without ever touching a pen or pencil, or a piece of paper.

Meanwhile, adults who raise these savvy students still lag in this key area of digital literacy two decades after the Internet dawned. Most are clueless about the code that shapes their world. This cluelessness is bracketed by reluctance and intimidation – at first glance, coding does not look easy, so obviously it isn’t easy, right?

On the contrary. Websites such as Codeacademy, Khan Academy, and W3Schools remove much of the guesswork with step-by-step tutorials and workspaces that show what the code displays as it’s typed. Apps including Hopscotch, Lightbot, and Udacity’s series of Android and iOS training tools cross age groups and knowledge levels and are designed to match the comfort level of each.

These user-friendly tools are making code approachable, even fun – much more fun than slogging through those disturbingly dense manuals that were the primary coding assets in my youth.

With that fun comes something else: an education that extends well beyond the scope of coding’s intent. Learning to code also promotes:

Literacy Software has become a linchpin in our lives. Many daily tasks – from watching TV to making toast to turning on a water faucet – rely on devices that in turn rely on software. While it’s not necessary for each of us to know exactly how coding operates any of these things, an appreciation for the analytical process that went into the software programming opens our minds to the way digital devices “think,” thus raising a broader digital awareness that enables us to make software more responsive.

Problem solving That analytical process derives from computational thinking, an approach to solving large problems by breaking them down into smaller ones. We’re introduced to this kind of thinking early in school to solve basic math problems and expand upon it later to tackle business, engineering, science, music, project management – anything that deals in abstractions. Learning code hones that thinking because it requires a systematic approach essential to problem solving.

Personal growth At first, my interest in learning to code was blunted by fear of failure (Everyone starts out writing bad code; it’s unavoidable). I dreaded the prospect of typing line after line of code only to see the wrong result – or worse, no result. This prompted me to code with care and check my work at each step. Of course, I still failed with predictable regularity, but I was slowly steeling myself against disappointment knowing the amount of care I exercised. Today’s code-training tools mitigate that kind of fear by showing results in real time. They don’t, however, mitigate the failure chronic to solution-based code writing; that comes from the exacting task of writing and rewriting the code until it’s correct.

Community Nobody I know who can code well learned by themselves. Sure, they sifted through manuals and guides at some point in their education. But the lasting lessons and best solutions to problems came through asking questions, working in groups, and studying others’ successes and failures. Despite the stereotypical image of the solitary coder hunched over a dusty keyboard, illuminated only by the screen’s glow, coding is a communal effort shared across a room or across a continent. So, it’s safe to say the best programs are developed with precise amounts of code and liberal amounts of collegiality. As content strategist Anthony Wing Kosner said, “Once you write something as code, others who can read code can evaluate it and see if you indeed have a unique idea that can generate value.”

Change – Digital awareness, critical and computational thinking, unwavering determination, and a willingness to reach out to others – these are qualities that effect change in an office, a business, an industry. The more we know about our digital world, the more likely we can make it more responsive, and more responsible. As with anything else, big changes start with the little details – such as learning how to write computer code.

What happens when you push the broccoli button?

As I was getting ready for work the other day, my 3-year-old son decided he wanted to help me iron my shirt. First he wanted to touch the iron, but clearly that was not an option, so instead he settled on pushing the spray button and soaking my entire shirt in the process. Well that was exciting enough for him, until he noticed another big button on the iron. That’s when he asked, “What happens when you push the broccoli button?”

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No, I do not have a Veg-O-Matic 2000 that shoots out fresh steamed broccoli with the push of a button. It’s simply that from my son’s perspective, the symbol for steam looks a lot like broccoli. Now don’t be fooled, the kid never actually eats broccoli. Actually I’m surprised that he didn’t think it was cotton candy. But regardless, it demonstrates that iconography really is up to the interpretation of the user.

So how do you ensure that the icons you create will be clearly understood by your intended audience? It’s not always an easy process, especially when you’re dealing with abstract concepts, but the key is to closely define the relationship between the signifiers and the concepts they represent. There are two primary types of signifiers, iconic and symbolic. Iconic signifiers are visually representative of an object or a function. For example, a clock represents time or a calculator represents a mathematical function. Symbolic signifiers on the other hand, represent a concept in a more abstract way, such as downward arrow representing a download function.

Typically iconic signifiers perform better on speed of recognition and overall comprehension as users tend to interpret an unknown icon as having the functionality they think it resembles. However for that to be successful, the visual identifiers must be strong enough that the icon is not confused with another object, such as broccoli. In order to design effective iconography, you must understand your audience. Age, gender, culture and language are all key factors that influence comprehension.

For some concepts you may need to utilize a combination of iconic and symbolic signifiers. A good example of this is the “revisions” Revisions icon in WordPress. It consists of a clock, an iconic signifier which represents time and a backwards arrow, a symbolic signifier which represents stepping back in a process. This combination does a good job of communicating an abstract concept and providing clues about the underlying function of the icon.

When creating icons, it’s also important to think about the overall design system. Each icon should be clearly distinguishable from the others, while still working together as a whole. Keep in mind simplicity and recognition and always make sure you validate the concepts with your target audience. They are the ones that will tell you if the icon is successful or not.

Interesting Insights from HOW Design Conference 2015

Chicago

The HOW Design Conference in Chicago this year really had me thinking about how I approach my daily work and even some aspects of my personal life. The talks were overall very informative, and also quite inspiring! Our group had a great time in Chicago. During our free time, we walked around town and took in a few sights and the beautiful architecture.

Here are five design focused ideas that I’m going to try over the next few weeks and beyond:

  1. Focus on Innovation. During the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the focus for designers was to make something look good. In the 80s, 90s and 00s, the focus shifted to the person, and it became all about the customer. Designers started to understand people and do research; it was a different approach. Now we need to put an emphasis on knowledge. We need people who know things; the knowledge we have as designers is more valuable than ever before. We need to keep learning, and sharing our knowledge with each other.
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    “Innovation is found in the extremes. Defy designing for the average. Averages are useless.” – Dan Formosa

  2. Apply design thinking to solve social issues. What can you do as a designer to help others who are less fortunate or in need? One way is to design something that improves or helps someone else. People in impoverished areas in Brazil can now access TVs because flat screens are becoming less expensive and more accessible. They are able to discover things about the world, which may have never been possible before. They see how others live and work, and its inspiring them to want to do the same as well as learning about other cultures!

    How to save the world with design: “Do a little something here or there that helps improve someone’s life.” – Michael Bierut

  3. Always be making things and follow that instinct to move forward. Connect with people, even just one person, to collaborate with on your ideas. Carve out time for side projects on the weekends and free time to allow your creativity to run wild. Be yourself, be who you are in your personal AND professional life.
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    “Say yes to the ideas in your head, free fall in to the unknown and create your own parachute.” – Ted Vadakan & Angie Myung

  4. Think huge but work small. Envision the bigger picture, but take smaller steps to achieve it. These smaller steps will be easier to tackle than getting bogged down with all the overarching details. Aim to be 10 times higher, and work to improve your process everyday and you will grow!

    “Exceeding expectations is a minimum requirement.” – Dan Formosa, Ph.D.

  5. Put people first. Cultivate relationships and build confidence in others. Leadership is a journey that requires a friend. If you’re struggling, help someone else. Give attention and care to others.

    “Leadership is like exercise… Do it everyday, the results take time but you will see them. It’s the little things.” – Simon Sinek

I enjoyed hearing all the different talks about design and the some of the keynote speakers were also very compelling! A few of my favorite keynote speakers were Simon Sinek, Dr. Brené Brown, and Michael Bierut. Simon Sinek focuses on harnessing leadership in others. He has a great TED Talk out on the web called How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Dr. Brené Brown aims to help others look internally to find their creative spirit and learn about themselves. She concentrates on humanity, communication and culture. Her TED Talk is called The Power of Vulnerability. Michael Bierut is a partner with Pentagram and has worked on some great design projects. He runs a podcast called The Design Observer.

If you ever get the chance to go to HOW Design Conference for design inspiration and growth, I recommend it! Have you been to any great conferences or training workshops lately?

The Importance of Color and the Mind

Color is an important element of visual language in most user interface designs. People process color before they are consciously aware of it., so the colors you choose to use can be the difference between a user-friendly design and a confusing, unusable design. Careful planning and implementation of color will create not only an aesthetically pleasing website, but a functional one as well. Below are ten color –related benefits you may want to consider when creating your next design.

1.  Speed visual search.  Color-coding will help the user stay focused on a certain area of information. This comes in handy when multiple areas of information are being displayed. Color-coding helps keep the eye focused and the information organized.

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2.  Improve object recognition.  Colors should reflect the physical world. Seeing objects that are colored different than real world expectations causes cognitive confusion. For speedy recognition, use colors that are normally associated with objects, e.g., bananas are yellow.

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3.  Enhance meaning.  Colors can be used for emphasis, to display a most important element or message. The example below shows an emphasis on red that gets our attention and clues us to what the site is all about.

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4.  Convey structure.  In addition to speeding visual search, color can structure a page or presentation. It offers yet another form of organization, allowing the user to quickly identify and recognize information.

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5.  Establish identity.  In today’s world, brand identity is the greatest visual recognition element of any business or organization. Color is ubiquitous and is a source of information; incorporating and utilizing the appropriate color palette in your visual design will reinforce the client’s brand throughout the user experience.

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6.  Symbolism.  Color can also be used to represent cultural and psychological concepts. Color in design is very subjective. What evokes one reaction in one person may evoke a very different reaction in someone else. Sometimes this is due to personal preference, and other times due to cultural background. Context plays a large part in color symbolism. One color can have positive or negative connotations depending on the larger framework. Take a look at the “white” website image below. In western cultures, white represents color of purity and peace. In Eastern and Asian cultures, white is the color of death. Understanding the cultural context of your client’s audience can alert you to culturally based color sensitivity. 

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7.  Improve usability.  Colors impact site visitors psychologically, and can affect the user’s experience. In user interfaces, color informs visitors of the most important functions and areas of the screen. Take the user’s need and site functionality into consideration before strategizing your use of color.

8.  Communicate mood.  Color creates mood. Research shows that lighter colors have a more positive effect on users than darker colors. The following link provides examples of colors and the psychology it impacts.  http://usabilitygeek.com/colour-user-experience-psychology/

9.  Show associations.  Color can be used to indicate associations to groupings or other graphical elements. For example, we recognize the U.S. political party colors to be blue for democratic and red for republican. In the same way, colors used in web design can be utilized to help a user identify certain information or functionality.

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10.  Express metaphors.  You have heard of feeling blue or seeing red as metaphors for being sad or angry. Metaphoric inferences can be translated visually in your design.  Utilizing a color like pink, for example, can translate into a young, teen girl experience for a youth clothing store.

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In the end, don’t be afraid to experiment with the use of color to enhance the appearance and functionality of your design. Color has great meaning and will you create an impactful, functional and beneficial user experience.

 Tell us about your color experience and design considerations. Are there specific colors you avoid in your design to improve the user experience?

“5 Quick Ways to Improve Website Usability”-usabilitygeek.com

“10 Reasons to Use Color”-understandinggraphics.com

“Color Theory for Designers” –smashingmagazine.com

Posted in Creative, Design

Presenting is a Skill

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If you’ve ever been to a meeting, then chances are you have sat through at least one bad presentation. A presentation that contains a series of slides with so much text that nobody can actually read it. A presenter that takes the time to go through every bit of that text on all 40 slides. Content so bland that it makes you want to fake an illness. And let’s not forget clip art…

Why are these presentations so bad? Is it because the presenter is nervous, or simply not an eloquent speaker? Is it because PowerPoints are inherently painful? No, I believe it is simply that these individuals have not been trained how to present. The ability to present is not a talent that is reserved for only the most charismatic individuals. Anybody can learn to be an effective presenter. They just need to be given the proper guidance and training in order to successfully deliver their message.

Nowhere is this more important than in the consulting world. In my time, I’ve seen many consultants put in a lot of hard work into developing deliverables, only to have them fall flat in a client presentation. It’s not because the deliverables were of poor quality, but because the message was not properly conveyed. A poor presentation tends to reflect negatively upon the subject of that presentation.

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Presentation is a practiced skill. With the proper training and experience you can strengthen your skills over time. Yes there will be times when things won’t go smoothly. For instance, when your presentation is scheduled for an hour, but your client tells you they only have 15 minutes. However, if you start with these 7 basic principles you can avoid many of the pitfalls of the bad presentation.

1. Know Your Audience
Whenever you are presenting, it is essential to know your audience. A technical team may want a very detailed explanation of the topic that consist of 40 slides, however if you’re presenting to a CMO or CIO, your presentation will need to be more succinct and to the point. Knowing your audience will help you create the right type of presentation.

2. Set Expectations
When presenting project deliverables, it’s important that your audience understands where you are within a given process. If it’s only the second week of a twelve week project and you’re showing some early design concepts, then your audience should know that they are being involved early on in the process. That will set their expectations for the completeness of the work they are seeing. It would be a mistake to assume that everybody attending understands the project schedule and milestones heading into the meeting. For this reason, I typically begin my presentations with a project timeline that shows the client where we are in project and what are the next steps.

3. Provide context
Don’t assume the client knows what they reviewing. You know it, you’ve been working on it for the past week, however the client may have no idea what they are reviewing and why they are reviewing it. Take a style tile for example. A style tile utilizes, colors, fonts, typography, imagery and iconography to convey the visual communication of a site without specifying the layout, content or functionality. However without the proper context, a client may interpret a style tile as a mockup of the site. As a result, they may be giving you feedback on elements such as the layout or content, instead of the visual communication. Which brings me to my next principle.

4. Give Direction
Before you ask for feedback on a deliverable, you should specify the purpose of the deliverable and the type of feedback you are looking for. If it’s a style tile, you may want feedback on the aesthetics and branding elements. If it’s a prototype, you may want feedback on the organization of content or specific interactions. Whatever your goals are, if you establish the rules upfront, you will get more valuable feedback.

5. Focus on the Why
When presenting something like wireframe or a mockup, its important to focus on the design decisions you have made vs. the elements that exist on the screen. I’ve seen too many designers struggle because they gave a tour of their design, instead of focusing on the why. When a designer simply points to a feature and describes it “Here is the login box”, they are simply pointing out what the client can clearly see. The message that should be expressed is “We included a highly visible login area on the home page, because it is a primary task for our users coming into the home page. The placement, which aligns with best practice standards, is in the area where users expect to find it.” This type of explanation will validate your design decisions and communicate to the client that every detail of the design has a purpose. Clients want to know that you’ve thought about their unique challenges and have provided solutions that address those challenges. If you and the client agree on the intent, then you can work together to refine the specific execution of the concept.

6. Know Your Material
Nothing is more frustrating than a presenter that just reads the text on a slide or in the above example, just points out what can be plainly seen. If the presentation had all the information that the client needed, then they wouldn’t need you to present. You are a very important part of the message. And in order for you to be effective, you must know your material. That doesn’t mean that you have to memorize every bullet on your slide, or perfectly recapture what’s in the notes. You can simply focus on what you feel are the most important elements and then let your excitement shine through. If you’re excited about the topic you’re presenting, the client will feel it too.

7. Engage Your Audience
This principle goes hand-in-hand with knowing your material. You can’t communicate with your audience if you’re staring at your presentation. As the presenter, it’s your responsibility ensure that you’re audience is engaged. The best way to do that is by putting their needs at the forefront of your messaging. Whenever possible, connect directly with the individuals in the room and address their challenges. Also, pay attention to the feedback you’re getting (verbal and non-verbal). If you’re unsure whether you’re capable of reading body language, check out this article by R.L. Howler (http://www.presentationdynamics.org/read-your-audience/). Focus on the points that are hitting home and gloss over topics that are not of interest. The key is to keep the audience engaged so that you can successfully deliver your message.

Yes, presentation is a skill. It’s something that can be learned, practiced and mastered. It may not come naturally to everyone, but following these basic principles will set you on the path to more effective presentations.

This Post Is Late

Why is time management so hard for this creative professional?

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Morphart Creation

I wanted to go ahead and get that out upfront. My week for writing and posting was last week, and I have this lovely plan to write and post on a semi-regular basis going forward. Like many of the creative people I work with, however, I find I am not always successful at managing my time to my advantage. Sometimes, I’m terrible at it.

Time management is hard. It isn’t simply that we have busy jobs. We are all tasked with deadlines and responsibilities, often managing multiple internal and client projects at the same time. We have busy personal lives. Many of us have kids, and some of us are going to school or pursuing additional training and education. We have creative pursuits and other interests and commitments, plus bills and home or car repairs and doctor appointments and extended friends and families that need us. We have a life and a professional life, and we generally like them both.

The way we manage our time has something to do with the way we think, as well. The creative mind doesn’t like to simply solve a problem or meet a challenge and be done. Our approach includes the tendency to go beyond problem solving to imagining “what else.” We poke at things, and then peel them back to reveal hidden intricacies. We twist them around, sometimes breaking them, yes, but then putting them back together in a new or enhanced way.

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I&I musings – css, Apache, jQuery, web storage and LeanUX

CSS multi-language support

Chiuhua Chen, senior front end developer and prototyping expert at Perficient XD, is currently working on a web application that has a visual design supporting only english language. As with every other I&I Musingsproject, the business later on proposed support for multi-language support. When the application is in another language, spanish or Chinese, due to design constraints, the page appears messed up with some text occupying more width than what is actually allocated. On further research and checking with other peers, Chiu is working on implementing language specific stylesheet which would override the generic css file to take care of this issue. Lead front end developer Jacob Schulke has a few good points on the topic and has already shared his thoughts here. To learn more on how Chiu is tackling the multi-language css support issue, get in touch with her here.

Apache Virtual Hosts

Derek Montgomery, senior front end developer at Perficient XD, with a strong penchant for infrastructure setup and command line coding, is currently working on setting up a new virtual host for Perficient XD and doing further research on the topic, agrees that “If you have made a website, you have probably used Apache. One widely used application of virtual hosts is shared web hosting, whose prices are lower than a dedicated web server because many customers can be hosted on a single server”. He points out virtual hosts can potentially solve problems such as –

  • I have one domain (perficientxd.com), but I want multiple subdomains (e.g. dev., client., etc.).
  • I have one IP address available, but I need to test how multiple subdomains would function(use ports)!
  • Cost efficient, and pretty easy to configure and test.

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Agile and UX Design: Can they work together? Part One

Diet pills and Agile have a commonality – people want a quick fix to lose weight only slightly more than they want a fix to all their project management issues. Unfortunately, diet pills nor agile are silver bullets to correct either concern. It takes dedication, work and an understanding of the principles behind the body’s metabolism to lose weight. Likewise, it takes dedication, work and an understanding of the principles behind agile to improve delivery of a project. Once you understand these principles you can become a two pizza team, improve project delivery and lose weight at the same time.

This is the first part of an ongoing series attempting to not only bring clarity to what it means to be agile, but also to answer the question, can agile methodologies work during the UX design phase of a project? I have heard arguments on both sides of that debate. Many designers saying ‘no’ it doesn’t work and the more traditional waterfall methodology works best. Why? Because you have to business requirements before you can start wireframes and you have to have wireframes before you can start creative design. Before starting creative you have to have a content strategy which depends on the wireframes, which depends on the business requirements and on and on. While I am not arguing these needs I want to explore the possibility of providing these needs within an agile process.

But, before the exploration of this feasibility can begin let’s first define what agile means. I hear the word tossed about to describe a single methodology of project management or software development. Ask a project team what methodology they are following and often you hear “we are using agile”. What does that mean? Each week we change our process because we didn’t like what we did last week? Or, the client wants us to change how we are doing things because they didn’t like what we did last week? That isn’t agile, that’s chaotic and reactive. So, what is agile?

It’s difficult to define as agile is an umbrella term for multiple approaches to project management of software development projects. At the core, agile is a group of methods that enable small, cross-functional teams to quickly deliver business value in an iterative, collaborative approach. Where change is expected, not feared and where requirements can be expanded upon as the team learns more. Where conversation and collaboration are valued over strict adherence to a set plan defined before the requirements are even made clear to the customer, let alone the team.

The agile manifesto describes the values and principles of agile software development practices and I won’t take the time to reiterate them here, but if you don’t know them I suggest checking out that link. The manifesto itself is made up of four key values supported by twelve principles.

Agile Manifesto Values

Agile Manifesto Values

Some agile methods which exhibit these values and principles are:

• Scrum – arguably the most popular
• Kanban
• XP (Extreme Programming)
• Lean Software Development
• Feature Driven Development
• DSDM (Dynamic Systems Development Method)
• Crystal

This is not an exhaustive list of all agile methodologies, but some of the more popular ones currently in use. Which of the approaches to use depends on the team’s knowledge and expertise in each methodology, their culture and sometimes the project goals.

Making a move to agile is a cultural change that impacts the entire organization, not just the IT department. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. An evolution not a revolution. There is compelling evidence that iterative methods reduce project risk, compared to more traditional waterfall approaches. Next time we’ll move into the discussion of bringing Agile and UX together.

In the meantime, have you been involved in a cultural shift to using agile? What pain points did you find and how did you resolve them?

Adobe Summit: Building a Global Digital Marketing Platform

This session had a nice abstract that set some high expectations for a case study.

Creating a dynamic platform to support global digital marketing programs? PwC and USG developed a strategic plan and roadmap to deliver an integrated solution that enables local markets to take advantage of the global investment, from digital asset management, assets and product data, to developing country-specific workflows, while also ensuring brand compliance and consistent analytics and measurement. This scalable, Adobe Marketing Cloud based solution provides USG with the framework to target its marketing and optimize experience based on real-time data. Learn how USG and PwC collaborated to develop a cloud-based platform based on Adobe Experience Manager, Adobe Analytics and Adobe Tag Manager, and DAM. In this session: – Learn how starting with a Mobile First mentality drove the experience design – Discuss global analytics dashboards – Explore marketing automation platform integration, and hear how USG is leveraging the platform for their employee intranet This session is for digital marketers.

Data

  • 50 billion connected devices by 202
  • 2X the E7 GDP will double
  • Gartner by 2017 the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO
  • eMarketer – just under 40% of marketing big data spending will go to software investment

USG is a building manufacturer. They had a large impact in the recent downturn and needed to deal with that plus making changes in how the company dealt with the market.  They had a lot of challenges including an outdated site, outdated technology, no clear user experience, no analytics or decent benchmarks. On top of that they were in the midst of going global

The old site was a bunch of links focused on their products and not much. It had little valuable information.

What did they do?

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