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Archive for the ‘Design’ Category

A Glimpse at Wired.com’s Redesign

Looks like the folks over at Wired launched a redesign of their site yesterday.  I was just reading through an article about it written by their engineering director.

http://www.wired.com/2015/03/wired-dot-com-from-the-devs/Wired.com Redesign

I’ll let you creative types comment on the actual design of it, but there are some interesting things they are doing developmentally that strike my…interest.

First, they appear to be using Flexbox, which is an awesome layout tool, but won’t really help you if you need to support older versions of IE.  I’m glad to see a large company taking the plunge and using modern practices to take the web into the future and not being held back by older browsers. I wonder what their browser usage stats are; speaking with Perficient XD’s Manny Muriel, he made a good point:

That is interesting that they are using Flexbox. I just tried their site out on IE8, and it is completely broken. Maybe the amount of hits from old IE are too few for them to care anymore.

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Designing the small details – “Microinteractions”

Dan Saffer's text

Dan Saffer’s text

Part 1 of 2

As a usability researcher it’s important for me to stay aware and informed of guidelines for designing user interactions. Also, I want to be literate about topics within user experience design. So Dan Saffer’s book Microinteractions – Designing with Details caught my attention. His text is interesting; it focuses on the importance of the small details, the small pieces of functionality within a digital design. Saffer thinks these small details are really important because they can be “signature moments” that impact the entire experience of a product. Now that I’ve read his book, I would agree. To illustrate his perspective Saffer has included numerous examples of when a microinteraction created an enduring signature moment, for example Larry Tesla’s creation of Copy/Paste in 1973, and a lackluster one, “the initial intrigue with Google + Circles fell flat against Facebook when sorting users into circles became tiresome and gimmicky.”

What are Microinteractions?

I have to agree with Saffer on the importance of the details in designing, but it’s difficult to always know which design elements are microinteractions. As Saffer would say they “are all around us, from the turning on of an appliance to logging into an online service.” And, these “small pieces of functionality,” as simple and brief as they are, can delight or frustrate us over and over with every interaction. I can think of a situation in which I experienced the feeling of frustration when I had to log into a retail site to access tracking details on my purchase. This merchant’s microinteraction “rule” wasn’t a wise choice because it sacrificed my user experience by adding unnecessary complicatedness. It could have been much easier with an email that contained the shipper’s tracking number linked to the carrier’s site. Read the rest of this post »

This Post Is Late

Why is time management so hard for this creative professional?

wonderlandrabbitgfairy001_vectorized

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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CSS Pixel Ratio (or “How Big is My Phone?”)

When designing and developing a website for mobile devices, there are many things one needs to consider. Are you using a responsive or adaptive approach? What devices / browsers should be supported? What are the major breakpoints? When trying to answer these questions, we as designers and developers tend to focus on mobile device resolutions as a deciding factor, but one thing that is often overlooked when considering the size of a mobile device is the CSS pixel ratio.

Put plainly, CSS pixel ratio (also referred to as device pixel ratio) is the relation between a device’s physical pixels and logical pixels. Especially with the advent of retina screens, the pixel resolution of modern mobile devices is growing at a fast rate. Consider that the iPhone 3g had a resolution of 320×480 px, the iPhone 4s’ resolution was 640×960 px, and now some phones like the LG Nexus 5 boast a resolution of 1080×1920 px. How is one supposed to design a website for all mobile devices when their screen sizes are so vastly different? That is precisely why the device-pixel-ratio was created. Read the rest of this post »

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.

Read the rest of this post »

Are Two Pizzas Enough?

Imagine being an executive for one of the largest pizza chains in the world and being invited to a meeting titled “Why Two Pizzas Are Enough”. How would you react? Would you be concerned a few zeroes had been left off? I did a contract role as an agile coach for just such a major pizza chain a few years ago. When it was time to give the executive management team an overview of Agile and Scrum (the specific methodology the company was interested in implementing) I was advised to not call the meeting Agile or Scrum. After asking why I should avoid this I was told that the business was sick and tired of hearing about both Agile and Scrum and they wouldn’t come if they knew what it was about. I used the analogy of two pizza teams to grab their attention and boy did I grab their attention! Every Executive attended the meeting.

In last week’s article “Agile and UX Design: Can they work together?” I mentioned the concept of a two pizza team. In this article I give more definition behind this concept and how it applies to agile approaches.2 Pizza Teams

The two Pizza team terminology was coined by Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon. You can read more about his concept and how it has become part of the culture at Amazon by reading the Fast Company article “Inside the Mind of Jeff Bezos”.

What is the two pizza team analogy? In Scrum, and most Agile methodologies, the team is meant to be a small, cross-functional, empowered team of approximately 5 – 9 people, depending on the project size. Therefore when your team has to work through lunch or late into the evening, as you know you do when you work on a project, the company can feed the team with two pizzas. I.e. Two pizza teams.

There is more accountability in smaller teams and they tend to avoid the issue of social loafing. According to social psychology, social loafing is the phenomenon where individuals tend to put forth less effort when working in a group than when they are working individually or coactively. Small teams in which each member is accountable for specific tasks for the project will avoid this concern and hold each other accountable on a daily basis for the work being produced.

There is, on occasion, a concern raised with the small number of team members when a project may be extremely large and require more than the recommended 5 – 9 person team. In this event, review the project goals and determine a team structure in which multiple Scrum (or whichever agile methodology is being used) can be structured reporting into one Project Manager or Product Owner (whichever role title your project is using). In many projects a quick review of the goals or epics will show a natural delineation into individual teams. These teams should be able to communicate with each other, but limit the communication paths necessary between the teams. In other words, if team A is unable to complete their work because they must first coordinate with additional teams the project will stall. Minimizing communication overhead while still encouraging communication between teams is a key strategy to the success of multiple teams within the same project.

Try the two pizza team concept when your organization on a smaller scale first. Something as simple as a meeting in which a decision or consensus needs to be reached or if there is a larger problem which you are attempting to solve, break it into smaller chunks and assign a small team to each chunk to solve. See how quickly and effectively these small teams can work. Not only will your problem get resolved, your corporate lunch bill will go down.

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?

Abstracting the UI Layer

Last month at the IBM Digital Experience Conference, Shyam Sunter, a Perficient Technical Solution Architect, and I presented on a method for abstracting the user interface code (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) out of WebSphere Portal. A key part of this presentation was going over why this abstraction was important.. It’s of my opinion, that abstracting the UI code out any platform, be it WebSphere Portal, Sharepoint, SiteCore, what have you, is vital for building modern, cross channel digital experiences. Supporting an abstracted UI layer is a common practice for many digital platforms, especially in the start up space. It’s time that the enterprise world starts to consider adopting this practice as digital solutions become more pervasive and complex.

 

Diagram showing the various layers that make up a user's digital experience.

Elements of User Experience

 

For a long time now, User Experience professionals have been working in a world of abstracted layers. This is best illustrated by Jesse James Garret’s famous 2010 diagram of the Elements of User Experience. Even when the web was simply made up of two layers, structure and style, designers used these abstracted layers to map out the overall structure, information design, behavioral touchpoints, and visual design elements of a given solution. As the web matured and additional technical layers were added, such as behavior, content, and contextual awareness, these layers became more important for us to work through and support. Modern digital solutions, such as Disney’s My Disney Experience, Airbnb, Uber, and many many more, are ones built on top of these abstracted layers so that their overall solution is more scalable and maintainable.

Modern Web Architecture

Several other benefits manifest themselves as well, including:

  • Design teams being given ownership and control over the development and deployment of the user interface layer. Design is naturally an iterative process, which involves creating and testing various solutions to a given problem. Having control over the UI layer, gives design teams the freedom and flexibility to try out new solutions and to simply “play” with the overall design.
  • Publishing UI code more frequently. With the control of the UI layer living in the hands of the design team, code can be pushed out more “real time”. This doesn’t always mean to the production environment, but users and stakeholders are able to touch, feel, and play with a new design quicker and in a realistic environment.
  • Easier to support cross channel solutions. It isn’t news that the days of people being chained to a desktop computer and chair are over. But, the new world of multiple digital devices and varying resolution sizes is a still new, and it’s really complex. By supporting a stand-alone UI layer, it’s easier to contextual deliver the right design for the right environment.
  • Proper support for accessibility standards. Accessibility doesn’t just apply to UI code, but a good chunk of it does. If you don’t have a backend platform interjecting its own code or compiling code that a UI developer has written, many accessibility issues can be addressed in a more streamlined fashion.

 

Ultimately why does having an abstracted UI layer matter though? Because there is no such thing as just having a website or just having an app anymore. It’s about providing a digital service that people can interact with, play with, and enjoy at any time from any device. Many things go into ensuring that the resulting experience is a pleasing one, but taking the time to build a UI layer that isn’t, at least fully, dependent on a backend platform is one of the key methods for properly serving people who use your digital solution.

Designing From A Fresh Perspective

As a designer, its easy to fall into patterns that conform to established models. But to truly innovate, you must bring a fresh perspective to every design challenge. I was recently reminded of the value of a fresh perspective, when my 7 year old daughter took on the challenge of making a computer for her American Girl Doll. Because we all know that any self-respecting doll, has gotta be connected.

IMG_3311

American Girl Doll Using Her Laptop

However, this was not an ordinary computer. It was a Mac, which was already enough to make me proud. But it was also customized to her doll’s very specific needs. First of all, it was purple, which is the doll’s favorite color, it was also sized perfectly so that it could fit into her purse and it even had a rear facing camera to take pictures of the other dolls while she was on “Facebook.” But what amazed me the most was the keyboard layout. Yes it included most of the typical numbers and letters that you’d find on a keyboard. However this keyboard was also personalized. It had special keys for her email address, zip code, and Facebook username “in case she got tired of typing.” This really made me realize how much I hate typing in my email address all the time, especially on mobile devices. Wouldn’t it be great if I could have a single key that take care of that for me? Yes, I know most web browsers retain email inputs to support an autofill function, however mobile browsers typically don’t support that capability as well. And in mobile interactions, that capability would have most value.

IMG_3313

Personalized Keyboard

In designing her computer, my daughter never considered the limitations that come with a standardized physical keyboard. In her mind, a computer should be customized to meet the needs of the user. And in today’s world of virtual keyboards and personalization features, there is the opportunity to make that reality. It might even change the way we think about our personal devices. So in your next project, try injecting a fresh perspective and you may be surprised with the results.

 

 

 

 

Creativity: A Matter of Taste

What’s the #1 quality attributed to designers? Creativity. A creative director literally manages creatives… in the creative department. This isn’t just organizational, it’s procedural. For instance, Lean UX promotes design studio activities in which participants create dozens of rapid-fire sketches. Those outbursts of creativity are great, but what’s rarely discussed is taste level. I feel that good taste is as important as anyone’s ability to brainstorm. Here are some elements of taste for consideration in your designs.

Creativity: A Matter of Taste1. Aesthetics. Visual design and branding are more than creative colors and custom layouts. Studies have linked visual design to users’ perceptions of usability and credibility. The better a visual design, the more users will trust it. Good designers track trends (without impersonating them) and avoid anachronisms.

2. Simplicity. Feature sets grow bloated because teams want to add value to products. It’s much harder to explain what you didn’t do. However, creativity isn’t just about new functions and use cases. It’s about ingenuity in combining and reducing those features. For example, which sounds like a more tasteful checkout UX: a 1-click button, or pop-up ads and pre-marked checkboxes for email newsletters? When I’ve worked on the latter, they always tested poorly.

3. Social customs. Users want ethical, safe experiences. No-nos include vulgarity, invasion of privacy, and moral affronts. For instance, Google Glass is a cutting-edge technology that’s sometimes misunderstood as a 24/7 surveillance tool. Rightly or wrongly, social judgments affect purchasing decisions.

4. Metaphors. Designers often map features to a UI metaphor to leverage users’ mental models. Caution is warranted for metaphors that may look contrived or tacky. As a simple example, horizontal tab UI mimicking file folders is easily understood. But occasionally designers position their tabs perpendicular to the page to be unique. Reading sideways labels is a creative UX, but in a not-so-good way.

5. Accessibility. Small web fonts aren’t sexy, they’re hard to read. Green and red buttons for positive and negative actions? About 5% of the population can’t distinguish them. Sometimes designers fall in love with visuals; I’ve been guilty of this many times. However, it’s poor taste to trumpet a beautiful design at the expense of those who can’t use it.

I hope these ideas are useful not only for designers, but any project member who defines, reviews or implements design. Do you have additions to this list? Please feel free to add a comment.

Posted in Design, Musings, UX