Apr
17

The Death of the Web Design Agency?

Source: A List Apart

Others have gone as far to say that the very concept of a user experience-focused agency simply isn’t a long-term play, largely because of what the big folks are up to. Facebook and Google went on a design/product buying spree specifically because they needed to figure out how to own this thinking themselves, and other tech companies have followed. And more traditional industries, like insurance, media, and retail? They’ll develop robust in-house capabilities soon, if they haven’t already.

Ready to pack up your things and start a landscaping business? Not so fast.

Greg Hoy, Differentiate or Die?

In The Pastry Box Project today, Greg Hoy of Happy Cog talks honestly about why the first quarter of this year sucked for most web design agencies (including ours), assesses the new and growing long-term threats to the agency business model, and shares his thinking on what we in the client services design business can do to survive, and maybe even thrive.


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Apr
17

Cennydd Bowles on UX & Design: Letter to a Junior Designer

Source: A List Apart

I admit it: you intimidate me. Your work is vivid and imaginative, far superior to my woeful scratchings at a similar age. The things I struggle to learn barely make you sweat. One day, you’ll be a better designer than me.

But for now, I can cling to my sole advantage, the one thing that makes me more valuable: I get results. I can put a dent in cast-iron CEO arguments. I can spot risks and complications months in advance. In the wager that is design, I usually bet on the right color. People trust me with their stake.

So, if you’ll humor me, maybe I can offer a few suggestions to speed you toward the inevitable.

Slow down

You’re damn talented. But in your eagerness to prove it, you sometimes rush toward a solution. You pluck an idea from the branch and throw it onto the plate before it has time to ripen. Don’t mistake speed for precocity: the world doesn’t need wrong answers in record time.

Perhaps your teachers exalted The Idea as the gem of creative work; taught you The Idea is the hard part. I disagree. Ideas aren’t to be trusted. They need to be wrung dry, ripped apart. We have the rare luxury that our professional diligence often equates to playfulness: to do our job properly, we must disassemble our promising ideas and make them into something better.

The process feels mechanical and awkward initially. In time, the distinction between idea and iteration will blur. Eventually, the two become one.

So go deeper. Squander loose time on expanding your ideas, even if you’re sure they’re perfect or useless. Look closely at decisions you think are trivial. I guarantee you’ll find better solutions around the corner.

Think it through

We’d love to believe design speaks for itself, but a large part of the job is helping others hear its voice. Persuasive rationale—the why to your work—is what turns a great document into a great product.

If you haven’t already, sometime in your career you’ll meet an awkward sonofabitch who wants to know why every pixel is where you put it. You should be able to articulate an answer for that person—yes, for every pixel. What does this line do? Well, it defines. It distinguishes. But why here? Why that color? Why that thickness? “It looks better” won’t suffice. You’ll need a rationale that explains hierarchy, balance, gestalt—in other words, esoteric ways to say “it looks better,” but ways that reassure stakeholders that you understand the foundations of your craft. Similarly, be sure you can explain which alternatives you rejected, and why. (Working this through will also help you see if you have been diligent or if you’ve been clinging to a pet idea.) This might sound political. It is. Politics is just the complex art of navigating teams and people, and the more senior you get, the more time you’ll spend with people.

Temper your passion

Your words matter: be careful not to get carried away. Passion is useful, but you’ll be more effective when you demonstrate the evidence behind your beliefs, rather than the strength of those beliefs. Softer language earns fewer retweets but better results. If you have a hunch, call it a hunch; it shows honesty, and it leaves you headroom to be unequivocal about the things you’re sure of.

Similarly, your approach to your work will change. Right now design is an ache. You see all the brokenness in the world: stupid products, trivial mistakes, bad designs propped up with scribbled corrections. That stupidity never goes away, but in time you learn how to live with it. What matters is your ability to change things. Anyone can complain about the world, but only a good few can fix it.

That fury, that energy, fades with time, until the question becomes one of choosing which battles to arm yourself for, and which to surrender. Often this means gravitating toward the biggest problems. As you progress in the field, your attention may turn from tools and techniques to values and ethics. The history of the industry is instructive: give it proper attention. After all, all our futures shrink with time, until finally the past becomes all we have.

You’ll come to appreciate that it can be better to help others reach the right outcomes themselves than do it yourself. That, of course, is what we call leadership.

Finally, there may come a point when you realize you’re better served by thinking less about design. Work and life should always be partially separate, but there’s no doubt that the experiences you have in your life shape your work too. So please remember to be a broad, wise human being. Travel (thoughtfully) as much as you can. Read literature: a good novel will sometimes teach you more than another design book can. Remind yourself the sea exists. You’ll notice the empathy, sensitivity, cunning, and understanding you develop make your working life better too.

But you’re smart, and of course you realize this is really a letter to the younger me. And, alongside, it’s a lament at my nagging sense of obsolescence; the angst of a few grey hairs and the emerging trends I don’t quite understand. Which is mildly ridiculous at my age—but this is a mildly ridiculous industry. And you’ll inherit it all, in time. Good luck.

Yours,
Cennydd


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Apr
13

My Sketchbook Color Coding

View Original article: My Sketchbook Color Coding

Apr
11

Matt Griffin on How We Work: My Life with Email

Source: A List Apart

I’d like to take a moment to address something decidedly unsexy. We all do it. And it’s never pretty. You guessed it: I’m talking about email.

No, I don’t mean responsive design approaches for email newsletter templates. Nope. Not even that much fun. I’m talking about reading and responding to that everyday, humdrum, never-ending stream of communication that flows through the inscrutable ether to your very own inbox.

Staying in control of your life with email is a challenge (look no further than your friends’ triumphant cries of “inbox zero!”). When you run your own business, as I do, there is every motivation to always stay on top of these messages. It is, after all, your thing. You own it. Shouldn’t you be addressing every issue as it crops up, and responding with lightning speed?

This lifestyle really caught up with me a year or so ago. It was affecting my sleep and productivity, and saddling me with all kinds of extra cognitive overhead. It was no fun at all. Over the course of several months, I worked at establishing rules and procedures for email that helped me regain my sanity and improve the quality of my workdays (not to mention my weekends). In no particular order, here they are:

We don’t need no stinking badges

One of the first and most obvious things I did was turn off notifications and badges for email. Turning on email notifications is like asking to be interrupted by anyone at any time, no matter what you’re doing. If you must have notifications, consider adding essential people to a VIP list, and hiding all other notifications. Ask yourself, “who would I need to drop everything for, no matter how important my task is at that moment?”

Filters, filters, filters

OMG, filters, guys! Filters that route the endless stream of notifications (for instance Basecamp updates, or emails from your ticketing system) are great. They keep things organized neatly so that you can address like emails all at once. Since these sorts of emails will often be project-specific—this also makes it easier to remember to track your time while you’re doing it (hint, hint).

More apps!

On the weekend, I really don’t want to accidentally open a troublesome work email. To keep a clear distinction between my personal and work emails, I started using a separate app for personal email. Personally, I’m quite happy with Mailbox, but I also know some smart folks who like Boxer. I’m sure there are plenty of other great ones, too (reader comments, activate!).

Say when

Just like the ticket queue of tasks, you’re never really finished answering emails. To help me focus on my home life when I’m not at work, I use a timed “do not disturb” setting in iOS to make sure that I get no notifications of anything between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Save your brainpower

I find that my mind is sharpest and I do my best work in the morning, and yet I used to start each work day with email—a task that arguably requires the least of my creativity and mental acuity. So now I set aside the first hour of my day for something challenging. I often write these columns during that time slot. Or tackle a particularly gnarly IA or design problem. But email? Email can wait till 10 a.m.

It’s all in the timing

And when you’ve finished that batch of email responses and are ready to return to your work? Close that email client, friend! Don’t open it back up until you’re ready to dedicate your attention to it again. Otherwise, it’s just a distraction. I find it useful to set times for checking my email throughout the day, for instance 10 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 4 p.m.

Inaction leads to rumination

Ever check your email while you only have a few seconds or minutes to spare? You get some troublesome message, but don’t really have time to read through it carefully or respond. Then you spend the next few hours with that static buzzing around your brain, distracting from whatever it is you’re working on. I now have a simple rule: if I don’t have time to sit down and directly address whatever messages may be waiting for me, I don’t check my email. Making reading and responding to email a dedicated task keeps you out of that vague cognitive limbo, and can reduce the anxiety of opening the inbox.

Expectations for the medium

Remember: email is asynchronous communication. By its nature, it encourages a lag in response, and everyone expects that. If there’s a real emergency, someone will doubtless pick up a phone. Email can wait a few hours, even a day. The world won’t explode, and you won’t get fired. Give those messages their proper place in the hierarchy of your day.

And on and on

There are doubtless many other ways to keep the great beast email under control. These are the ones that have helped me hold on to my sanity and reduce email-induced anxiety. These little strategies make me happier and more productive every day.

How about you? What are your email troubles? What have you tried that’s worked? Get in those comments, people, and share what you’ve learned. Something tells me we could all use a little help in this department.


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Apr
11

Style Guides On Parade

Source: A List Apart
» Style Guides On Parade

If you loved this week’s “Creating Style Guides” piece by Susan Robertson, you’ll thrill to Susan’s follow-up posting, on her personal site, of style guide links galore!


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Apr
10

This week’s sponsor: New Relic

Source: A List Apart

Thanks to our sponsor, New Relic.

New Relic helps web and mobile app developers improve app performance by showing you bottlenecks and making it easy to spot code bugs. Do your apps a favor, try New Relic.


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Apr
09

Better Communication about UX Design

Source: UXMatters – By Peter Hornsby
Published: April 7, 2014
“The way many designers talk and write about user experience leads to a perception that design is largely subjective and does not have the same level of rigor as other disciplines.”

I’ve recently found myself becoming increasingly frustrated by some of the language that the UX community uses in talking about design and in writing articles about design. As a community, UX designers are working hard to raise the profile of User Experience. Look around any UX site and you’ll see a stack of articles about how User Experience can do better, achieve more, and have greater influence within organizations. But the way many designers talk and write about user experience leads to a perception that design is largely subjective and does not have the same level of rigor as other disciplines. In turn, this leads to a reduction in the status of User Experience within organizations, making it harder to deliver good design in support of broader organizational goals.
Intuitive Isn’t
To my mind, the greatest offender is the use of the i-word: intuitive. This term often crops up in debates about Mac versus PC. Many Mac proponents use the i-word: “It’s so much more intuitive! It just works.” In reality, when debating Mac versus PC, my experience has been that the most “intuitive” system is the one a user is already familiar with. So, if you’re a PC user, you can be more productive on a PC because you already have a depth of knowledge about it. Similarly, if you’ve worked on a Mac for years, a Mac will be your tool of choice to get work done.
Better Communication about UX Design

Apr
09

Mapping User Journeys Using Visual Languages

Source: UXMatters – By Shean Malik
Published: April 7, 2014
“Journey mapping helps us to create a mental model of an experience that the user goes through to achieve a goal.”

A user journey, or journey map, visualizes a path or flow through a Web site, application, or service experience—from a starting point to an end objective—based on the user’s motivations and experiences. Journey mapping helps us to create a mental model of an experience that the user goes through to achieve a goal. This valuable information lets us document and visualize existing paths that the user takes and, in turn, analyze and improve upon them. This sounds wonderful does’t it? Well, it is. But we often encounter problems when we start trying to communicate these journeys in a language that presents well and adds value.
A common approach that UX architects have taken in visualizing journey maps has been to use the symbols of flowcharts and process charts—that is, generic shapes like boxes and arrows—in representing these paths. But we’ve lacked any meaningful way of representing the actual experience, and this is at least as important to understand and use as the basis for our work as the process flow itself. The conventional approach to journey mapping, shown in Figure 1, is uninspiring.
Mapping User Journeys Using Visual Languages

Apr
09

The Moderator’s Survival Guide: Handling Common, Tricky, and Sticky Situations in User Research

Source: UXMatters – By Donna Tedesco and Fiona Tranquada
Published: April 7, 2014
This is a sample chapter from Donna Tedesco and Fiona Tranquada’s new book, The Moderator’s Survival Guide: Handling Common, Tricky, and Sticky Situations in User Research. 2014 Morgan Kaufmann.
Chapter 2: In the Trenches: Six Steps for Handling Situations
“Once a session begins, you can follow six simple steps to figure out the best course of action when something unexpected, tricky, or sticky happens.”

Once you’ve understood your role as the moderator and the different styles of moderating, you can start thinking about how to handle the different kinds of situations that may arise during the session. Some of these situations will challenge your interpersonal skills; others will push the limits of your troubleshooting and crisis-handling capabilities. Although there are common circumstances you’re almost guaranteed to encounter, we can’t predict what else might happen. Even after our years in user research, we’re still surprised—and sometimes delighted, shocked, or horrified—by what happens when we’re one-on-one with a participant. This chapter provides a set of guidelines (as shown in Table 2.1) to help you decide exactly what to do when something unexpected, sticky, or tricky happens during your session.
The Moderator’s Survival Guide: Handling Common, Tricky, and Sticky Situations in User Research

Apr
09

Communicating User Experience

Source: UXMatters – By Igor Geyfman
Published: April 7, 2014
“There’s another job that … often gets overlooked or neglected: effectively communicating all of the hard work that you’ve put into the design to the cross-functional team on which you rely to bring these interactions into reality.”

You know that wonderful feeling when you’ve created the perfect prototype. You’ve done everything by the book. Personas, check. Customer-journey map, check. Task-flow analysis, check. Usability studies, check. You’ve dotted every user experience i and crossed every customer delight t. Now, it’s the moment of truth, you’re presenting your uber-prototype to your cross-functional team and expect that they will all bask in your user experience brilliance—except they don’t. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you might think that they all hated it—probably because they’re all stupid and just don’t get it. The truth is: They’re probably not stupid. Most likely you’re right that they don’t get it—but that’s your fault.
I’m going to share two oft-heard statements with you. If at least one of them sounds familiar, you should read on.
Statement 1: “Yeah, I understand what you’re saying, but we really need to focus on conversions. I just don’t like it.”
Statement 2: “There’s no way that we can code this. This is too hard, and it’s going to take too long. It’s impossible.”
Communicating User Experience

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