No Good Can Come of Bad Code: Ask Dr Web in A List Apart
Remember: the future will come whether you design for it or not. If your company charges $300,000 for a website that won’t work on next week’s most popular device, your company won’t be able to stay competitive in this business. It might not even be able to stay in the business, period. After all, clients who pay for sites that break too soon will look elsewhere next time—leaving your company perpetually hunting for new clients in a downward spiral of narrowing margins and diminishing expectations.
Your company’s survival is tied to the ability of the products it makes to work in situations you haven’t imagined, and on devices that don’t yet exist. This has alwaysbeen the challenge of web design. It’s one A List Apart has taken seriously since we began publishing, and our archives are filled with advice and ideas you can boil down and present to your bosses.
Forget Air Hockey, Zen Gardens, and sleep pods: a true “dream” company invests in its people—fostering a workplace that supports dialogue, collaboration, and professional development. From onboarding new hires to ongoing engagement, Justin Dauer shares starting points for a healthy office dynamic and confident, happy employees. ☛
Every product has a personality—is yours by design? Meg Dickey-Kurdziolek shows you how Weather Underground solved its personality problems by creating a design persona, and teaches you collaborative methods for starting a personality adjustment in your company. ☛
A byte saved is a follower earned: Web Performance Then And Now
FIFTEEN years ago this month, a plucky ALA staffer wrote “Much Ado About 5K,” an article on a contest created by Stewart Butterfield that challenged web designers and developers to build a complete website using less than five kilobytes of images and code.
As one group of modern web makers embraces mobile-first design and performance budgets, while another (the majority) worships at the altar of bigger, fatter, and slower, the 5K contest reminds us that a byte saved is a follower earned.
Does the internet ever stop you in your tracks? Does it sometimes make you pause and think about what you’re doing? Andrew Grimes calls such moments meta-moments. He walks us through why meta-moments are occasionally necessary and how we might build them into the experiences we design. ⇛
Experience management systems are making it easier than ever to customize content for your visitors—but are you using your newfound personalizing powers for good (or for creepy)? Colin Eagan shows that personalization can be done, thoughtfully, using the same tools you would apply to any content strategy conundrum: by asking why, being deliberate, and putting users first. ⇛
From ATMs to Siri to the button text in an application user interface, we “talk” to our tech—and our tech talks back. Often this exchange is purely transactional, but newer technologies have renegotiated this relationship. Joscelin Cooper reflects on how we can design successful human-machine conversations that are neither cloying nor overly mechanical. ⇛
The web operates in ways that can conflict with our traditional view of what a “story” is. Content is chunked, mixed, and spread across channels, devices, and formats. How do we understand story lines, characters, interactions, and the role of the audience, given this information sprawl? Cue nonlinear narratives—Senongo Akpem guides us past basic “scrolly-telling” to immersive, sometimes surprising experiences. ⇛
A List Apart № 393: Inventing & Documenting Design Patterns
A style guide, also referred to as a pattern library, is a living document that details the front-end code for all the elements and modules of a website or application. It also documents the site’s visual language, from header styles to color palettes. In short, a proper style guide is a one-stop guide that the entire team can reference when considering site changes and iterations. Susan Robertson shows us how to build and maintain a style guide that helps everyone from product owners and producers to designers and developers keep an ever-changing site on brand and on target.
For years we’ve seen the web as a two-dimensional space filled with pages that sit side by side on a flat, infinite plane. But as the devices we design for take on an increasingly diverse array of shapes and sizes, we must embrace new ways of designing up and down. Designing on the z-axis means incorporating three-dimensional physics into our interface designs. Wren Lanier explains how, by using the z-axis to place interface elements above or below one another, we can create better design systems that are more flexible and intuitive to use—and create new patterns that point the way to future interactions.
Though some decry flat user interfaces as pure fashion, or as the obvious response to skeuomorphic trends, many designers have embraced the flat approach because the reduction in visual styling (such as gradients, drop shadows, and borders) creates interfaces that feel simpler and cleaner. Trouble is, most flat UIs are built with a focus on the provision of content, with transactional components (i.e., forms) receiving very little attention. So what happens when flat UIs and forms collide? User experiences can, and often do, suffer. Keep your flat forms from failing by using controlled redundancy to communicate difference.
Digital projects begin in high spirits and tip quickly into miscommunication and crisis. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Extend your early kickoff meeting harmony throughout the life of your projects. By understanding your client’s organizational drivers and key players before the sticky note sessions even begin, you can establish the momentum needed to keep the extended team focused on goals. And by managing stakeholder communications throughout the job, you can avoid land mines, save time and effort in the long run, and deliver a project that satisfies stakeholders, agency, and users alike.
Your inbox overflows with customer emails suggesting features and improvements. Instead of benefiting, you feel overwhelmed by an unmanageable deluge. You conduct usability tests, user interviews, and competitive analyses, creating and sharing key insights. Yet within months, what you learned has been lost, forgotten, or ignored by someone in a different department. What if you could sift, store, and share all your customer learning in a way that breaks down silos, preserves and amplifies insights, and turns everyone in your organization into a researcher? MailChimp’s user experience director Aarron Walter tells how his team did it. You can, too.
Silos: good for grain, awful for understanding customer behavior. Just as we favor the research tools that we find familiar and comfortable, large organizations often use research methods that reflect their own internal selection biases. As a result, they miss out on detecting (and confirming) interesting patterns that emerge concurrently from different research silos. And they likely won’t learn something new and important. IA thought leader Lou Rosenfeld explains how balance, cadence, conversation, and perspective provide a framework enabling your research teams to think across silos and achieve powerful insights even senior leadership can understand.
AS PUBLISHER of A List Apart for people who make websites, I’m delighted to present our second annual ALA Summer Reading Issue—a deep pool of editor’s picks from the recent archives of A List Apart, sprinkled with some of our favorite outside links.
If you’re designing, developing, strategizing, or creating content for today’s multi-device web, these are the articles you need to read.
Same as last year, this issue is also available as a Readlist, suitable for beach reading on Kindle, iPhone, iPad, Readmill, or other ebook reader. So what are you waiting for? Dive in!