Posts About Sparks
Posts About Sparks
Remember when the web was a collection of static websites, largely HTML, no CSS, and layout done with tables and frames? How about even farther back ' when your choice of mediums for design were print, film, industrial, and maybe even radio?
What about the aforementioned mediums is consistent? They were all linear. That meant we could think about things going from A-Z and stop there. Even when we got digital interfaces (enter HTML), we continued to think of interfaces as static screens for decades. It made things simple, and we put our focus into cutting the amounts of clicks on that trail to get people to the end faster. The data even seemed to prove it, with more clicks equaling 'bad' and less clicks equaling 'good.' This especially seemed to ring true in the eCommerce world where it's been accepted that the more hoops you make your user go through to buy something, the less sales you'll see. It was estimated that $4 trillion (Yes, that's trillion with a 't') was left in abandoned shopping carts in 2014, and so an entire industry of 'click reducers' have sprang up, 'optimizing' checkout flows to get people from A to Z in 1, 2, and only if necessary, 3.
That Takes How Many Clicks?
Today MV* frameworks (Model View *Whatever; Angular, React, etc.) are all the rage, and even the most basic websites have some way to serve up content or state dynamically on the fly. In the early days of the web, and still largely prevalent today, this stuff got served up from the server side. AJAX, jQuery, and the late-comers like Angular and React took that concept and ran with it ' allowing us to render all that state on the client side, unleashing the power of front-end developers and designers alike.
Many practitioners of design across various mediums often try to divorce themselves from technology. Technology is temporal and transitory; it evolves and never stays still. Good design should be permanent and everlasting (Or so our hubris gives us cause to think). This is actually a good thing, as we force ourselves to think about the constraints of the opportunities in front of us, not the technology that currently binds it.
Unfortunately, the reality is that designers don't really divorce themselves from technology, they just root themselves to past constraints that no longer exist. We still think about our website designs like they're print designs. We think of proximity in design as keeping like-things grouped together nicely on the printed page. Those savvy enough to realize their designs aren't print, but a series of hypertext documents, think of clicks instead of nearness ' but they're all wrong.
How many times have you heard someone say, 'Yeah, but that'll add an extra click'. Hearing that comment 5 years ago, I would have responded, 'Gosh, you're right, we gotta rethink this interaction thing'. Today I would respond entirely differently, I'd say, 'I don't give a crap how many clicks it takes'.
Websites used to be reeeeally slow. In pop culture we make fun of this fact, the stereotypical example is a nerd in his basement eagerly awaiting a pornographic picture to load on his screen. An hour passes, and he's thrilled to see it finally fully rendered on the screen.
Fast forward to 2016 and websites are lightning fast, that kid in his basement has more pictures than he knows what to do with. His mom is worried. And you, designer, should be too-- but not for the same reasons. You should be worried because you're still designing for static proximity, and the least amount of clicks to the desired input.
Where did we get this notion of clicks? Well, as exampled above, it used to take a long time to load a screen. Designing an interface that required a user to wait minutes before their content was available after clicking was, and still is, a big no-no. How long should we wait for a screen to load in 2016? According to Web Designer Depot, the desired time is 500 milliseconds to two seconds. Mere milliseconds more than the blink-of-an-eye.
We measure successful interactions in clicks because it was inferred that clicks take time, and add minutes to the end-user's experience. If I'm running an e-commerce store, or a marketing page, I need my user's experience to be as frictionless as possible. The logical result of this thinking is that we need to reduce the number of clicks it takes to get to checkout, or to that lead conversion form.
From a site-to-site point of view, as of 2016, the average page load is 5 seconds. But here's the deal folks, pages are a thing of the past. Conventional wisdom has it that If I've got a a checkout flow that's three pages deep, the absolute minimum amount of time it takes to get to that purchase is 15 seconds. But why do I need 3 pages of checkout flow? Why don't I have state changes instead of pages? The answer is, again, designers are still designing like it's 1999.
When we ask folks in user interviews how they think an application should work, they tell us. But it's important to remember they are telling us what-they-think, not how they actually prefer it; they tell us about their ideal interaction. Turns out, however, that the ideal state of things is not actually what they want. When processing the question they tell you what they think at that moment in absence of the actual real experience. Henry Ford is famous for saying, 'If I asked people what they wanted, they'd of told me faster horses'.
Following this logic, when people tell you they want less clicks, they are telling you they like the idea of less clicks. But really what they want is mental proximity.
Design for MENTAL proximity
I'm fond of asking people the question, 'How many clicks does it take to brush your teeth?' The point of the question is to lay bare the fact that humans don't think in clicks-- We evolved in a clickless world. This is something Amazon demonstrably understands as evidenced by some of their current innovations, like the Dash Button.
The Amazon Dash Button seems completely ridiculous on the surface to some. It's a button that does one thing, it reorders the product printed on the label. The quintessential example of the Dash Button is the Tide dash button. You place the button on your washer and dryer, and when you run out of laundry detergent, you press the button.
Upon first hearing of this, many of us thought this was a crazy stupid idea. 'I can already do that with my phone!' some said. 'Why do I need a dedicated button for something I can do on my phone with relative ease?!'.
If one analyzes the situation, they might reckon (and rightly so) that it would literally take more time to get up (from the couch, bed, etc.) and walk to the washer/dryer to press the button than it would to pull a phone out of their pocket and order more detergent through the web interface.
But, when I realize I need laundry detergent, I'm not in bed, on the couch, or anywhere else. I'm doing my laundry. The button is closer mentally and physically at the time of need than the same button represented in my phone.
What Do Your Users Need, and When Do They Need It?
Design Proximity is no longer about just physical proximity, it's about mental proximity. It's not measured in pixels from one button to another, but from one interaction to the next. It's not measured in clicks, but in the perceived nearness or proximity of that event to the next one in a chain of events.
When I ask how many clicks it takes to brush your teeth, it's easy to understand where physical proximity comes into play. I have my toothbrush, next to my toothpaste, next to the sink. I can successfully brush my teeth without having to run around looking for all-the-things.
But humans aren't solely teeth-brushing machines, we have other needs too. When I'm done brushing my teeth, there is a next event that almost always needs to happen: I need to pee. Thankfully, through who-knows-how-many-years, humankind has evolved a set of precedents that account for this mental proximity. My toothbrush and other aforementioned accoutrements all live in my bathroom, and my toilet is right there. We've got physical and mental proximity living together side by side.
So, whether you're a designer, developer, or designer/developer, we encourage you to think outside of static layouts and think about all that state you have to play with on the screen. Stop thinking about your sites and apps like they're real estate; trying to shove as much content into as small a space as possible. Remember there is no physical limit to your canvas, it's limited only by your powers of imagination. Unshackle yourself from the constraints of yesterday's technologies and open yourself up to the possibilities of today. Physical distance between elements is but one constraint, relying solely on these dimensions is like ignoring color and pretending the world is black and white; 2D instead of 3D. And don't forget what your user wants to do next.
The explosion of native mobile apps this decade put a spotlight on human centered design. Apple's iPhone and iOS were breakthroughs in part because of the way they used design to mimic humans and appeal to emotion. How good a design looks now plays second fiddle to the way it feels. New terms like 'microinteractions' and 'reactive animations' have been thrust into the designer's vernacular. It's a new era of design, the 'Experience Era.'
We're exploring microinteractions and reactive animations in our own products, looking for unique ways they could add real value for users and enhance the experience. It was with one of these explorations that our latest Playground Piece was born, Reactive Listener.
Most of the interactions on the web are causal. We click a button, a window loads. We push 'submit,' an email is sent. But what if we didn't want to be so binary. What if we want to humanize our website (on desktops) by subtly making our users aware of something before they've actually interacted with it. That's where Reactive Listener comes in.
Reactive Listener allows us to affect change over an element from a distance that otherwise would not be possible. This has all kinds of potential uses. Highlighting a clickable region of the page as one gets close to it, showing and hiding extra information as one navigates related content, and even simply subtle changes in position to make page elements feel as if they are 'alive' and reacting to you.
Our minds are exploding at the possibilities of these types of interactions, and we'd love to hear any ideas you have in the comments!
We've all been there - the project that just doesn't turn out like you hoped. You've gone over your work with the team repeatedly, and it just seems like nothing's really sticking. Maybe the design wasn't up to your standard, and you weren't sure why. Or there wasn't a lot of energy to launch the product. Or worst of all, precious time and energy was spent, and users just didn't care for it, dooming your product to stasis and death.
How did you react?
If you're like me, a flood of questions come to mind which can quickly turn into self doubt. You start to think, 'Why didn't I catch this earlier?' Or maybe you're more intuitive, and could FEEL that something was wrong all along, but didn't know what it was or what to do about it.
[Cue sleepless nights, binging on your favorite vice, and endless daydreams about finally opening that boutique coffee shop' and making millions.]
You might even have a great process. At ZURB, our's is highly iterative, involving quickly creating, showing and reacting. Maybe your process has some similarities. This is a great way to mitigate risk in the resource-intensive task of bringing a quality product to life. So how come projects can still go wrong?
The problem lies in how most of us started our design journey. In school, we're taught to care for every pixel, so as designers, we work on mastering great deliverables so our work is successful. But as you know if you've been in the profession for long enough, 80% of design is actually about communicating, discussing, and making decisions on ideas. When are we taught how to master communicating with the people who could kill our projects?
Asking the right questions in the right places
Luckily at ZURB, we get lots of practice. Every day, we have the privilege of designing world-class software with hundreds of companies, from venture-backed startups to multi-billion-dollar conglomerates, and we've discovered a few insights that help us communicate to build successful products.
Insight #1: Every project has different groups involved in them, and it's critical to understand who they are as early as possible.
Three common groups we've found in our project work are:
- Stakeholders - This is anyone who has some sway over the direction and momentum of the project. They might have an official title of influence, have some informal authority that makes others defer to them, or even be customers who have active investment in how the project turn out.
- Collaborators - This is anyone who has some skill that can add to a project's success. These could be formal collaborators placed on the team or others whose expertise you respect.
- Users - This is anyone who will end up using your product (who aren't always the same people as your customers, who primarily make purchasing decisions). This could be current or prospective.
Who are the groups of people involved in your project? By being aware of how the people involved in your project fit, you'll be able to understand who you have available to help you make good product decisions, and not miss out on talking to someone who's feedback might be critical.
Insight #2: Because of factors like convenience, power dynamics, and fear of failure, we tend to ask for feedback that these common project groups are specifically unequipped to give, dooming our design decisions with bias and inaccurate data.
- Stakeholder - We tend to think of how we can please those with power, and so we prioritize making decisions solely based on 'what they like', keeping us from making bolder design decisions based on data from real users
- Collaborator - since collaborators tend to be most accessible, we tend to go to them first to 'test our ideas'. Because we avoid conflict, we end up with a frankenstein product that incorporates their idiosyncratic and often contradictory advice on how our experiences 'should' be to 'make sense to them'
- User - IF we talk to users (and many teams don't), we tend to overly guide conversations so users will agree with our decisions and confirm our biases
How much does your communication mirror these behaviors? Getting the wrong feedback can cause you to inaccurately think users will think/behave like collaborators, stakeholders know what is good for the business all the time, and what users report is actually what they do.
Insight #3: Great designers have mastered HOW and WHEN to get the right feedback that makes products successful
- Stakeholder - since stakeholders have influence over the product's direction, momentum, and sometimes purchase, great designers leverage communication to achieve ALIGNMENT on the direction that best meets business and technical needs.
- Collaborator - since collaborators have relevant skills and knowledge to offer, great designers leverage communication to solve difficult problems that if not solved, can break the experience of the product
- User - since users are the ones with the need for the product and will be incorporating it into their lives, great designers leverage communication to validate the problems, ideas and usability of the product
If you could know something from each of your project groups right now based on how they're equipped, what would that be? By getting the right feedback (and avoiding the wrong kind), you can make thoughtful design decisions that solve major experiential issues, is in touch with real needs and desirability, and stay in a reality that your whole team is committed to building.
Get woke now
There's the old adage that you can't design in a vacuum. Stakeholders, collaborators, and users are common groups all integral to a project's success, and it's never too late in a project's timeline to reframe how we interact with each group to put our products on the best path for success. Stop appeasing stakeholders, blindly incorporating collaborator feedback, and putting words in users' mouths. Instead, start influencing stakeholders, problem-solving past stuckness with collaborators, and validating your designs with users to take your designs to the next level of success.
Two products hit the market. Feature wise, they're nearly identical and they are competing pretty closely on price as well. The difference, though, is that people love using one of them and want to pull their hair out every time they use the other. Why is the experience of using one so great and the other so awful? More often than not, it boils down to microinteractions.
Microinteractions are the magic little things that keep us coming back to the products we love. They're the satisfying little details that happen when we perform a single task. They humanize products and make them more enjoyable to use. How so? Well Nick Babich was able to sum it up in one word, acknowledgement. Humans have a very real need to feel acknowledged. We want our actions to be accepted and validated and need that reassurance. Other humans react to everything we do, so it feels more human when the things we interact with do it too. Just think about it, in a world without them we would be constantly frustrated and second guessing if our actions caused anything to happen.
As designers, microinteractions challenge us to think small. They force us to focus on the tiny moments that people engage with a digital or physical object, the moments in which people are provided with assurance and ease. But because they are so small, they are extremely easy to forget about, which would be a huge mistake.
Take your car key fob for example. Its function is to lock and unlock your car doors. Simple enough. But how do you really know that the doors lock when you push the button? Your car assures you that it understood your action and performed the task by beeping and flashing lights. If you're looking the other direction the honk can reassure you. If you're too far to hear it, the light assures you that your car is safely locked. Satisfying right?
Now imagine if you clicked the lock button and you did not hear a sound or see lights flash, would you trust that the doors locked? How would you know? Would you feel satisfied? Probably not. More than likely, you'd feel enough anxiety to walk back to the car and pull on the handle.
It's the same for your digital products, when people click something, type something, or interact with your product in any way, they need feedback from this microinteraction to assure them their work is saved, their image is uploading, or that the action they've took has been acknowledged. When the system registered what they intended and makes that known, it prevents anxiety. In other words, your product needs to learn ways to be a good listener.
The 4 Components of a Microinteraction
In his brilliant book, 'Microinteractions: Designing with Details,' Dan Saffer breaks down microinteractions into four components: The trigger, the rules, feedback, and loops/modes. Each of these components are critical to building a successful microinteraction.
The Trigger: This is the event that starts the microinteraction. Triggers can be broken up into two groups. Manual triggers happen when someone interacts with the product intentionally. These are things like the flip of a switch or push of a button. In many modern devices, it could even a clap or a wave of the hand. System triggers are automatic and occur when certain conditions are met. Your toaster beeping when your toast is done or the chime you hear when you receive a text message are system triggers.
The Rules: These are the parameters the microinteraction follows. What happens when you push the button? What can or cannot be done? The rules define exactly what happens after a trigger is performed. For example, with your car key fob, when you push the lock button, your car door locks.
Feedback: This is the verification of the microinteraction, the signal to the user that their action has been acknowledged. It can be a sound, a visual cue, vibration, movement or something else. For example, an iPhone vibrates when it is switched to silent mode.
Loops and Modes: A loop determines the length of the microinteraction. It determines whether the interaction repeats or if it changes over time. When you finish a load of laundry, your washing machine will play a sound and if you don't open the washer door, it will repeat to remind you. You want to be reminded that your wet clothes are finished so they don't sit there and get moldy. In this case it's important, but not every microinteraction needs to be repeated. Modes change the typical way things function and operate. Examples of this are changing a location in a weather app or setting a 'Do not disturb' mode on your phone.
To sum it up: The trigger initiates the feedback, the rules define what type of feedback occurs, and the loops and modes help define special cases where that feedback occurs or not.
Give me a sign!
Of all of these 4 components, by far, the most important one is feedback. But why?
It assures users that something is happening. The animation of swiping to delete an email is very useful. When you swipe, the email moves in the direction of your gesture. We've encountered examples without that animation and instead there is a popup window asking to confirm the deletion. The animation is much more related and contextual to your motion, where the popup doesn't give you continual feedback as you're interacting with the email and it feels very disconnected. Apple's Mail app does a great job of this:
It educates users on what's happening. When you're waiting for an image to upload, the loading indicator assures you that the system accepted your image and is processing it. Without that loading indicator, you're left to wonder if anything is happening and might try to keep clicking the upload button. Or if there is an error, feedback will help guide them to know something is actually wrong and help them figure out how to fix it.
It can delight users with something unexpected. A surprising detail doesn't always have to serve a purpose other than to entertain and delight. These details make using your product fun and exciting. It's always fun trying to find Yelp's hamster:
It can create memorable instances for your brand. Some microinteractions are so unique and memorable that they become synonymous with brands and even go on to influence how other products are builts. 'Pull to refresh' was an interaction invented by Loren Brichter for the Tweetie app which Twitter later acquired. The action is now forever linked to Twitter and can be seen in many other apps. Another example is Facebook's 'Like' interaction:
How can we take those opportunities for feedback to assure users, educate them, delight them, and create a memorable product brand?
Share Me Details
To successfully work microinteractions into your product, they can't be an afterthought. They aren't window dressing you include after you've built your product, they're critical components to layer in throughout the process. Think of microinteractions and the acknowledgement they provide as a sort of guiding principle throughout your design and development process. By actively looking for ways microinteractions can enhance your product early, you can shape your product around delivering an amazing experience for the user.
That being said, mockups and prototypes can never fully replicate what it's really like to use your product. It's extremely difficult to think of meaningful microinteractions when our product only exists on paper or in a wireframe. Use your live product, iterate on it, and be brutal and critical with how the experience feels. By using your actual product in real usecases, you'll uncover opportunities to enhance it with microinteractions you may have missed in prototype form.
Ultimately, remember that we're designing for people, and people want (and need) to feel acknowledged. Products that are full of well thought out, meaningful microinteractions are products people love to use. All of us crave that confirmation that what we're doing has been accepted, is valid, and is generating a result. In these small ways, you can help satisfy that very human need in your user.
The problems we've run into designing amazing products have inspired us to build powerful tools, frameworks and resources that have helped us design better and faster. We've made many of these resources freely accessible to the open source community, and it's been nothing short of awe inspiring to see how millions of designers and developers use them to create amazing sites, apps and emails.
From Frustration to Inspiration
We didn't want to use standard frameworks or libraries like jQuery, Angular, Backbone, etc because we knew that our customers would be using them too. A native solution would greatly decrease the chance of conflict or breaking their pages logic.
We scoured the net for an open source, native, @mention library and came up with nothing. So we rolled up our sleeves, put our heads down, and got to work. The result of which is Tribute, and we're incredibly proud of what we've created.
Check out our Playground Page to see how it works and give it a try!
According to recent research, 33% of people open emails based on the subject line alone and 68% decide to open based on the 'From' name. Most people spend hours of their time crafting the perfect content for their emails, neglecting these two important factors that can prevent all of that hard work from ever being seen. The truth is that people decide in seconds whether or not they will open that email you spent days working on. Subject lines, sender names and even preheader text (the preview of our email that gets displayed in our email client) all matter significantly. In general, short, clear and direct subject lines perform best for most industries. Vague, overly long, or boring subject lines kill open rates.
In some cases, a poorly chosen subject line or sender name can go beyond merely just being dull or ineffective and actually end up being rude, shocking or offensive. How so? Well, on mobile devices, subject lines and sender names are truncated. This can occasionally lead to some truly disastrous results. And mobile matters, a lot. More than half of emails are first opened on a mobile device. TL/DR: It is absolutely critical that your subject line reads well on all devices.
We're no stranger to emails here at ZURB. We've been spending a lot of time studying every facet of email and email delivery as we put the finishing touches on Foundation for Emails 2, a responsive framework for crafting HTML emails. This very framework was born out of our own needs ' we send thousands of emails every day. Foundation for Emails helps us speed up our process by drastically cutting down on development time and ensuring that our emails are fully responsive so they look great on any device.
But while we have a groundbreaking tool for developing amazing and beautiful emails, all of that hard work could be foiled by a subject line blunder. That got us thinking ... there had to be a way to quickly test out what our subject lines, sender names and preheader text looked like on the most popular mobile devices.
Sure, there are top notch paid services for testing and previewing emails on different devices, email clients and operating systems, and we are huge fans of them. But sometimes you need something quick and easy that you can test on while you're still crafting the content, without the need to go through the whole process of coding up the email.
Meet TestSubject, our latest Playground resource. TestSubject is a simple, free and easy to use tool to get a quick snapshot of what your email subject line, sender name and preheader text will look like on the most popular mobile devices. Simply copy and paste your content in and you'll get an instant preview. Avoid embarrassing gaffes and blunders, and make sure you've got a compelling message that gets people opening your message and reading your content. Using this tool will help you visualize how your subject line, sender name, and preheader text can better work together to get your email opened.
Visit the ZURB Playground and give a try!
New ZURB Master Class: Responsive Email
We've compiled all of our knowledge and insights on responsive HTML emails in a new online video course! Master responsive email by learning how to rapidly design and develop responsive emails that are on-message and display well on just about every screen, browser, and email client out there ' even Outlook.
Prototype to Production
Motion UI includes more than two dozen built-in transition and animation classes that make prototyping easy. When you move to a production environment, the library gives you total control over how your effects work.
The core of the library is a set of powerful transition and animation Sass mixins, which give you complete control over the details of an effect, from what direction an element slides, to how far it spins, to how intensely it shakes. Motion UI also includes a large number of pre-made CSS classes to help you get going quickly.
<div id="panel" data-animate="slideInRight" class="slow bounceIn"></div>
Motion is the New Flat
While previewing Foundation for Apps last year, we wrote about how 'motion is the new flat'. Animation allows us to design more expressive interfaces, by giving users queues around hierarchy, spatial orientation, and more. Foundation for Apps shipped with Motion UI, a Sass library that makes it easy to create CSS transitions and animations for your designs.
As we continue to develop the Foundation family, we're looking for ways to streamline the experience of using the three frameworks. This includes more consistent styling, naming, and architecture; revamping our CLI to build projects in any of the frameworks; and building standalone libraries that can be used by multiple frameworks.
Head on over to the ZURB Playground to see the library in action.
Just admit it, we've all done it. As designers working on responsive websites, we all grab the edge of our browser window and shrink it down to see how designs change and collapse. We thought it would be cool to add a bit of whimsy to this common interaction, or at least a little surprise and delight. We call it the CSS Flipbook!
Using some Sass and a tiny bit of HTML we recreate the feel of a flipbook. Grab the edge of your browser window and pull it back and forth for a nifty little animation, no JS necessary!
Check out the example in the Playground, download the code and start having some fun. There's all kinds of fun uses for this snippet and we'd love to see how creative you can get, so feel free to share yours with us in the comments! Who knows, we just might send you a special gift from the team!
It's always thrilling to find others who share our passion for design and aren't afraid to take risks. We've worked relentlessly since 1998 to establish ourselves as leaders in the industry and are constantly looking for new ways to improve and take design further. Our Foundation family of open source frameworks has helped push the web forward, University has trained thousands of designers around the globe, 300 of the most innovative companies in the world have partnered with us to build better websites, products and services through our Studios business, and our design platform Notable has helped our team and others create better products. In order to maintain this level of quality and innovation, we're always on the lookout for new inspiration which is why we were so eager to dive into The Next Web's bold new redesign.
Through several conversations and a Notable annotated set of screens, we asked Co-Founder and CEO Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten and Lead Designer Alexander Griffioen some tough questions about why they made specific decisions, what kind of data was influencing their design and how the new design was helping them achieve their goals.
Bringing the Homepage Back from the Dead
Ironically, the thing that makes sites like The Next Web so much fun to read, constantly fresh content, is also one of their biggest problems. With new content coming in on a regular basis, sometimes by the hour, great articles were getting pushed off the front page and away from the eyes of readers.
We wanted to show more posts on the front page and have the option to move things around a bit and keep posts promoted for hours or even days. - Boris
For many publishers, the homepage is dead as most traffic goes directly to articles from social sharing and other sources. The team at TNW viewed this problem as an opportunity, the perfect place to try some new ideas and address some longstanding issues.
We feel having a single news stream with all content pouring in chronologically no longer makes sense. Tech has become too ubiquitous for a single stream to be relevant to everyone, so we split our front page news stream up into categories. - Alex
One of the first parts of the redesign that Boris and Alex started sketching out was the cover, an area that is so dynamic in traditional print but ironically stagnant on the web.
We found it striking that somehow newspaper publishers can completely overhaul their front pages every single day, yet us tech-savvy new media guys seem to be stuck with a single template. When Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $ 19 billion, didn't that merit a full-page announcement for at least a couple of hours? We wanted that freedom. - Alex
Boris, an ideas man, dreamed out loud of 'a Minority Report-esque interface that the editor-in-chief would resize and rearrange stories as they develop.' This novel idea inspired Alex and an elegant and versatile solution was born, the cover editor. Consisting of 6 pre-designed layouts, the cover editor gives editors the freedom to pick a layout that works best for the current news offering and fill the slots by dropping posts from the editor right into the cover.
The cover/hero section doesn't necessarily display our latest content. It could be stuff that we feel deserves more 'frontpage time' than it would otherwise get. - Alex
The New Navigation Situation
The Next Web is more than just a tech blog, they've got a wide range of other offerings that need to be easily accessible yet clearly differentiated to the user. The solution? A well labeled dropdown under the TNW logo.
In addition to that main navigation component, all of The Next Web's articles are now divided into 9 categories, the naming of which are guided by two simple criteria:
- The name has to be short, yet leave no doubt as to what type of content to expect there.
- Each section should have no or minimal overlap with the other sections
Nav is always a contentious subject, and this was no different for the The Next Web team.
This selection was actually months in the making and is probably the most updated Google Spreadsheet in the project. - Alex
Content is King
Ditching the content stream synonymous with the blog format, The Next Web divides their articles by subject and places them in neat rows they call 'shelves.'
Boris came up with the bookshelf metaphor; a horizontal list of latest stories. The irregular heights of the cards, akin to actual books on bookshelf, make for a 'pleasantly messy' UI. - Alex
Changes have also been made to the content in posts themselves. Instead of purely longform articles with the conventional title, image and body of text, posts can now consist of videos, galleries, columns, deals, quotes, etc., all represented with a distinct design that helps identify their nature.
Other design changes include a slick new sharing feature that automatically reduces the URL length and improved related article suggestions, but Alex is especially proud of of the updates in typography.
A typeface, to me, is like a voice narrating your content. The typeface determines whether the same words sound deep and masculine like George Clooney, or witty and quirky like Michael Cera. - Alex
Alex looked high and low for the perfect typeface, but the inspiration came from the strangest place. While riding past a Dutch employment agency, Alex spotted this window and fell in love. He snapped this pic and sent it to Boris immediately.
Serendipitously, the typeface is ARS Maquette by ARS Type, a one-man foundry situated a few streets away from TNW HQ.
I'm pleased to say our content now sounds like Bill Murray; witty, charming, and not without a sense of humor. - Alex
This passion for typography is shared among the team. Boris told us this hilarious story about a disagreement he had with the team about font size.
I remember I pushed hard for bigger font size on one part of the site, and after much heated debate I decided a certain font size really had to be 18pt and not 16pt. Alex hated it so much he talked to Laura and they made the changes as I wanted them but then every day from that moment on decreased that font size with 0.1pt. It was so subtle I didn't notice, but after 20 days it was at 16pt and we ended up launching the new site with that. They only recently told me about that and I thought it was hilarious and also very cool they really fought for what they thought was the better solution. - Boris
Ads That Can Be Confused With Art
A major challenge for any site collecting ad revenue are the size, location and behavior of ads. It's no secret that click through rates are dropping as people develop 'ad blindness' and use of adblockers rises every year. But more prominent or flashy ads take away from the user experience and can irritate users. There needed to be a way to increase the effectiveness of ads without being obnoxious. Boris was determined to figure out a solution that benefited everyone.
I challenged the team to think about an ad solution that was so cool that some readers would forget about the article they wanted to read because they were distracted by the beauty and interaction with the ad. If they would go so far as to even tweet about the ad we would've reached that goal. - Boris
With that challenge issued and the goals coming clearly into focus, Alex and his team jumped into action. The solution is one of the coolest parts of the the redesign, a bold concept they call 'Canvas Ads.' These gorgeous images typically incorporate bold photography and occupy the whole background of the article. Many slide the article to the right to give the ad full attention. Each canvas ad has 4 triggers that bring back the content for users, giving it an interactive feel. An interesting detail are the social sharing buttons directly on the ad itself. We know what you're probably thinking, 'Share buttons on an ad!?!' But according to Boris and Alex, it's working. The trick is the ingenious way the ads are selected. The ads don't always display commercial ads; about half contain art and portfolios from artists The Next Web team chooses. There are a few reasons behind this:
This has three advantages: the first advantage is for those artists we promote. They see their traffic grow and suddenly reach millions of readers around the world. The second advantage is for our readers. They see beautiful art works instead of ads. The third advantage is that it encourages our advertisers to produce really good looking ads. They compete with artwork so their ads better be works of art as well. - Boris
So the ads look nice and all, but are they performing? We pressed Alex for some numbers.
The results of the first series of canvas ads are well beyond everyone's expectations. Whereas the industry average CTR for display ads (i.e. rectangles, leaderboards) is around 0.2%, our canvas ads are doing between 4% and 8%. Our best performing ad so far had a 15% CTR. - Alex
Shaping the Future
All said and done, the redesign took about 8 months. No change was made lightly, as the team debated over even the smallest details like the number of milliseconds for the transition of canvas ads. The redesign is bold and in many ways bucks conventions, forging a new path for online media. This thinking, to leave no stone unturned and not be limited by status quo was intentional.
Once you decide you are free to do what you want you can challenge everything and things like 'but that's just how it's done' provoke only laughter. We constantly challenge ourselves and our industry to forget the old rules and really think about the best solution for everyone. It can be daunting and scary to not being able to rely on the past, but it also means you get to shape the future. - Boris
A bold design backed by solid data, The Next Web redesign does a great job of balancing business needs with a solid user experience and puts content front and center. We want to thank Boris and Alex for taking the time to chat with us about their redesign and all of the insights they provided.
The Batman comic series has one of the most passionate fandoms in history, and never was this more apparent than in the summer of 2006 when it was officially announced that Heath Ledger had been cast as the film's iconic villain, the Joker.
The internet exploded as fanboys and fangirls largely panned the decision. Vitriol spewed from forums all over the web.
This guy couldn't act his way out of a paper bag.
I am NOT seeing this movie if he's in it.
Probably the worst casting of all time.
Believe it or not, there are a few lessons designers can learn from this story that can help us stay on track and focused as we develop new products.
Big Changes Can Spark Big Reactions
Director Christopher Nolan was tasked with completely revitalizing a damaged brand, and almost every part had to be refreshed to bring it back on track. As designers we are sometimes asked to completely refresh a product, fix a broken interface or improve an interaction. Our changes may be exceptional and undeniably better solutions than what existed previously, but we have something working against us. Science has proven that people don't like change. Whether we're aware of it or not, we all have a bias for the familiar. When we see something really different or unexpected like, say, the star of "10 Things I Hate About You" being cast as one of the greatest villains of all time, we tend to be negative.
Recently we had two members of the Rdio design team, Geoff Koops and Mike Towber, over for one of our Soapbox events. In the Fall of last year, Rdio underwent a drastic redesign that included bold use of album art, typography and image blur. It caught many people by surprise. Some users expressed frustration over some of the interface changes and were quick to voice their criticism on social networks.
Strong Opinions = Users Who Care
Nolan's unexpected casting decision prompted such a strong reaction because fans have an incredibly personal connection to the Batman mythos. In the same vein, Rdio's passionate users have a deep connection with music and the way they consume it.
"We are blessed with passionate users," Geoff said half-jokingly. While we all chuckled a bit, Mike was quick to expand on Geoff's thought, "It always feels great to have people care enough to say something." They touched on something that everyone who has created anything should understand: If people have strong opinions, even negative ones, it means they care. They care enough to voice their opinion. They're engaged with your product. These are the kind of users you want to have!
Keep Calm and Carry On
After launching our product or redesign, negative feedback can make us feel threatened, causing us to panic. There's a biological reason for this, our fight or flight response kicking in.
Recent neuroscience research has shown that our brains and bodies can respond to certain interpersonal situations the same way we react to literal threats to our physical safety.— Harvard Business Review
In the face of less-than-flattering feedback, our brains tell us we're in danger. We make hasty decisions as if our lives depend on it. These knee-jerk reactions can harm us in the long run. The solution? Stay calm and try to delay your response if possible.
Be Prepared to Fight for Your Ideas
At ZURB, we're not afraid to explore crazy or outlandish ideas. When we first dive into a project, we try to explore all kinds of things, because even bad ideas can lead to great ones. Riskier ideas require more support through the process, but that risk can often pay off in big ways.
Sometimes we need to step up to the plate and defend an idea to prevent others from trampling over it. Nolan's risky decision was based off of data he had gathered and long conversations with Heath about the direction he wanted to take the character and the story in general. He defended his choice to the media and had the data to back up his decision. The Rdio team did data gathering as well, through a custom tool built to test new ideas amongst different customer categories based on their behavior.
"It was ugly," joked Mike Towber, "but we tested tons of users. It helped us." The data this tool yielded influenced and validated their designs, making it possible for them to be confident in their choices.
In the End, Good Will Prevail
"The Dark Knight" was released in North America on July 18, 2008 to nearly unanimous acclaim. Nolan's epic crime drama captivated critics and audiences alike. Much of the buzz revolved around Heath's mesmerizing performance, which immediately spurred Oscar talk. Forums everywhere espoused Nolan's 'genius' casting choice, vindicating the director.
Rdio too, is enjoying an uptick in traffic due to their innovative redesign. Music is now exactly where it should be, front and center. Users are finding it easier than ever to discover and listen to music on their own terms, the main goal of the redesign.
There's much we can learn from both Christopher Nolan and the Rdio design team:
Stay calm: Don't take things personally. Passionate users are users who care. They're connected with our product on a deep level. Stay calm during that first wave of criticism and try not make any rash decisions. We should welcome feedback of all kinds and look for ways to improve, but hasty changes will hurt more than help us in the long run.
Make decisions with data: Nolan had several deep conversations and knew he had found someone with the talent and understanding to execute his vision. The Rdio team went to great lengths to understand their wide spectrum of users, analyzing listening styles and behaviors to find out what people value most.
Be prepared to defend your choices: If we've done our homework and feel strongly about our choices, be prepared to explain them to others. Truly great ideas need advocates, especially if they're a little crazy. Some of the biggest advancements in history came because people were willing to take risks, and design is no different.
We want to thank Geoff Koops and Mike Towber of Rdio for coming down and sharing their insights at our last Soapbox event. We're incredibly excited to sit down with our next guest, Tim Van Damme of Dropbox at noon PST April 24!
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