Posts About Sparks
The last few Soapbox speakers that we've had have all spoken in someway about how it's important to get your story straight. We often chat about story around ZURB. Mostly, it's about telling the ongoing story that we've built over the course of the past 15 years and how we can do that better. That is try to find stronger ways to explain who we are, where we come from and what we stand for.
Recently, we ran across a New York Times article that broke down how important storytelling is to the morale of a family. And what is a company but another kind of family? What really caught our eye was this little bit:
... if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family's positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones.
Think about it for a second. It's more than just retelling that story, it's about refining it. That's something not only for families, but for products as well. Mostly, it's for those building your products.
Another way to think about story is vision. What's the vision you're trying to convey. What is it specifically that you're trying to achieve. YouSendIt CEO Brad Garlinghouse said at his Soapbox that having a good vision and telling it well requires knowing who you are. We add that you have to also articulate it well.
Brad knows all too well the consequences of not being able to do so. After all, he wrote the Peanut Butter Manifesto on why Yahoo had lost its way, trying to be too many things to too many people. Along the way the search engine forgot who it was. And, at that time, employees could no longer effectively rally behind the each other as family. They had nothing to fight for anymore.
Brad used YouSendIt as an example, saying the company "is going to empower you to share and control your content like a professional." We too can say who we are succinctly. We're a close-knit group of product designers who help companies design better products faster. We've known that for quite some time. We've also been able to articulate our vision for the world. And we work hard to continue to say it well, figuring out better ways to communicate it, whether its through words or pictures.
In order to tell you story better, you have to be able to do the following:
Knowing who you are and what you stand for is half the battle. In order to keep telling that story well, you've got to refine it, make it better not only for your customers, but for your employees as well and gives them something to rally behind as a family.
We've been having more and more conversations around content and mobile lately. Last week, while we were in the midsts of releasing Foundation 4, Bryan made an observation on how we have to take a critical eye to how content is placed in a mobile context. Which brought to mind, does that mean mobile also changes the way we write that content?
The other day, we came across LukeW's notes on Karen McGrane's talk at An Event Apart, "The Mobile Content Mandate." What particularly caught our eye was this bit in Luke's notes:
There is no such thing as writing for mobile. There is just good writing.
Mobile is a catalyst that forces you to write better, more concise copy without sacrificing clarity, Karen stated. There's no need to write separate copy for desktop, tablet and smartphones. If the content is well-written and engaging, it can carry you from device to device.
After all, well-written content in concert with form elements and visuals can make a page more desirable to use, regardless if it's on a desktop browser or a mobile one. But what makes good copy? SEOmoz says that great content has the makings of:
But that's not to say there isn't a need for a mobile strategy, that you don't have to plan out how best to structure your content. It's a good rule of thumb to have just that. However, what Karen is saying, in the end, is that if you have all the makings of great copy, you don't need to write specifically for mobile. That your copy will transcend the device it's read on.
We've moved beyond devices. Our smartphones, our tablets have become extensions of ourselves. And the most perfect example of this is Google's upcoming glasses Certainly, it's the most organic, electronic extension. Yet it might be the most limiting.
WIth Glass, we'll see the world slightly differently. Products, apps will all be within the blink of an eye. Now Google has given us a peek into how folks will interact and use the device. Check out this video and notice how it might not be as liberating as you might think:
A lot of the interactions are through voice, which could hinder where Glass could actually be used. Sure, it'll be terrific in a car, where we're handsfree. But we know how frustrating using voice commands can occasionally be (we're looking at you, Siri). For example, Siri:
That's not to say that they aren't advantages. There are. Like we said, it's convenient for remaining handsfree while driving, especially when sending text messages. You don't have to use your fingers to actually use your phone. And Glass seems like the next step in this handsfree evolution. But you can't use voice all the time.
Think about it. You're in a library and you need to Google something. It becomes difficult to use voice commands, you might disturb others. Or the reverse, you're at an outdoor concert with wind, crowds and speakers. The noise might render your Glass useless. It wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of what you're saying. You won't be able to tell it to record the concert or snap pictures of your friends. And for those of us that wear prescription glasses, we might be out of luck (although, we could foresee a prescription model down the road). And using them for scuba diving might be a bit difficult.
Right now, it also seems that you'd be completely reliant on voice, so you won't be able to manipulate data. Although, that might not be too far off.
While Glass might seem limiting, it's still exciting to see this one step closer to being in our actual hands. For all it's limitations, there's plenty of more opportunity opened up by it. How do designers work around these limitations? How do we build products where we can manipulate data or tools without the use of our hands or gestures, only our voice?
Limitations are only constraints by any other name. And those can only force us to design smarter and can actually be liberating.
Remember in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" how Captain Picard's desk was littered with dozens of tablet computers, all of various shapes and sizes, for a variety of tasks? Seems kinda silly nowadays when the iPad came out. One device that could do everything ... nearly. Now we have different shaped iPads, Kindles and other tablets.
Not so silly after all. But what's more surprising is how much the tablet is becoming our go-to computing device, so much so that it's slowly stomping out other devices. Here's some numbers recently collected from our good friend LukeW:
Luke also notes that folks aren't buying devices dedicated solely to one purpose in their lives. That is a no-frills cell phone, a basic "point-and-shoot" camera, you get the idea.
One thing is that we're expecting more and more out of our devices. We want them to do more. We're no longer satisfied with devices that live for solely one thing.
You might be thinking, "whoa, hold your horses ... does this mean we should start designing solely for tablets then?" Nope. We can't go backwards to the days when we designed specifically for one device. Just because tablets are taking the lead doesn't mean that the tablet will rule the device nest. Quite the opposite, this means now more than ever we need to design for multi-devices in mind.
Here's why: there are still dozens upon dozens of tablets on the market. There's the iPad, it's mini-me, the various Kindles and who knows what else on the horizon. Speaking of tomorrow, there are also smartwatches and, of course, Google Glasses. And we doubt that anyone will toss out their smartphone anytime soon. Well, unless the Blackberry makes a come back (kidding).
Numbers like these just go to show us how imperative it is to design for multiple devices, to do so responsively. It's the only way we can meet the hungry of an ever-growing mobile audience.
Devices are changing quickly. What we use today will no doubt change in the years to come. How we interact with them will be different. Just think about how we used cell phones five years ago compared to how we do today. Things are moving at warp speed. The future is here. We're building it now.
At the start of the year, we tapped into our inner soothsayer and featured what we saw coming up in the near future for responsive design. We highlighted things a little ways down the road, like devices in our ears, our cars and our eyes that could change how we approach design.
Now there's something else to consider — paper tablets. We ran recently into an article and video that featured these sheet-thin devices. Take a look:
Smart paper has been made. One day it could be in our hands. Sure there are things to work out, like having the processor housed within the sheet. Right now, it's housed elsewhere and the device has to be plugged in.
We talked at the office that it looks incredibly hard to use. So there could be some usability problems yet to solve. Typing, for instance, might not be the best for that format. Maybe it's better suited for writing with a stylus.
That being said, within five years our iPads could give way to iPaper.
A flexible screen makes responsive design even more of an imperative. Imagine how people will use your products and how they'll look on a screen that they can roll up into their hands like a newspaper. The possibilities are endless. Let's just hope folks don't use their smart papers to swat flys with.
Happy New Year! 2013 is here and we can't help but keep thinking that we're really living in the world of tomorrow.
Think about it, science fiction is rapidly becoming fact as technology achieves what only writers could once dream. And you don't have to be a soothsayer, or a science-fiction author, to see that wearable devices will one day be an everyday reality for all of us.
We've all seen the nifty video that showcases the possibilities of their Project Glass. That video only gave us a taste of what could be achieved with a wearable heads-up display, and certainly was more wistful thinking than potential reality.
But what does this all mean for how we design products in the not-so distant future?
Jonathan has previously pointed out that wearable devices, such as Google Glasses, are really extensions of self. That the devices will merely disappear as we have more integrated forms of interaction where content is paramount and data is ubiquitous.
That's something the Google Glasses design team is firmly working toward. Babak Parviz, head of the the project team, recently gave some hints on what's to come. Here's a few key points:
These tidbits all suggest that our eyes will very soon do the walking on the web, which creates some interesting design challenges. Let's take a look.
Our products will one day no longer be confined to a display screen. With a heads-up display, our products will be right in our user's eyes. That means we'll have to consider how best to present content on those devices.
Or as the Nieman Journalism Lab recently put it, we'll have to ask:
How does this look jammed right into a user's eyeball?
The lab may have been asking in terms of news organizations, but it's a question that all product designers will have to consider. We've already begun moving into a mobile-first design ethos, but will there come a day when we take an eyeball-first approach?
Another consideration will be how we actually interact with devices without a touch pad. We're already aware that true hover states don't exist when it comes to mobile devices. We also have to take into consideration the size of touch targets when it comes to fingertip actions.
Now we're in the early stages of voice commands with things like Siri. Researchers are fast at work at the use of spacial gestures. With a wearable device, the day will come when our interactions won't be trapped in four corners.
While Google Glasses may have its own line of native apps, users still expect to have the same content parity across all devices. And whether it's on a smartphone, tablet, desktop or Chrome for Your Eyeball, users will still want the same functionality. Which responsive design does allow for.
In other words, responsive design is the first step to meeting the challenges that wearable devices present. We have a lot of work to do in the coming year. But tomorrow is no longer around the corner. It's here. And we may all soon have responsive design in our eyes.
The holiday season is officially in full swing, and many people are finishing off their lists in time for the upcoming holidays. We all know that mobile commerce is growing and an important consideration for buyers and sellers everywhere as people rush to make their final purchases.
eBay, the famous auction site, has had a great year in mobile. We came across an interesting conversation between eBay's VP of Mobile and our friend Robert Scoble. The conversation covers the impact of mobile on e-commerce, and how it fits into eBay's broader mobile strategy for this holiday season and beyond.
Steve Yankovich, eBay's VP of Mobile and now VP of Innovation and New Ventures, chimed in with a few key thoughts on how mobile will shape the future of e-commerce, referencing their newest mobile initiative, eBay now.
Yankovich believes that for mobile initiatives to succeed, context and personalization are very important. If a mobile e-commerce play lacks in either of these areas, it will be difficult to gain traction and could turn users away.
Google Glass, the search engine's new wearable computer, is one interesting example. Yankovich says that Glass has to continuously "be smart about what is shown," or users will take them off. It makes sense — any irrelevant information that is served up will cause the wearer to become annoyed and potentially stop using the product.
Yankovich also points out a key difference in commerce from then to now. In the past, when we would shop online, we typically didn't do it around other people. With the rise of mobile devices, people are shopping around others more than ever.
When someone makes a purchase on their mobile device and are surrounded by others, they are naturally inclined to tell others about it. This "social shopping — essentially word of mouth " has opened a new acquisition channel for eBay and their users, says the VP.
If you're interested in seeing the full interview, take a peek at the video below:
Our friend Cass Phillipps knows a bit about failure. After all, she produces FailCon, a conference where leading entrepreneurs and designers speak about their own failures. So it's no surprise that she's got a story or two of her own. And she's got a good one on how failure turned into her passion.
Watch the video below and take note of how Cass took an interest in her own failure and turned it into an advantage:
Our ears perked up when Cass said:
Failure hurts. Failure hurts a lot.
She makes a good point when she says that failure becomes riskier as we get older. It no longer becomes falling off a bike, as she put it. After all, as she showed, passion is dangerous and failure is inevitable. It's easier to give up. Or is it?
What's needed is not just passion, but passion to fail and do so fast. Before we go on, let's be clear on the type of passion and failure we're discussing.
When it comes to passion, we're talking about investing yourself fully into your craft and your ideas, even when there may only be a slim chance of a financial reward or none at all.
For failure, we're referring to the concept of fail fast, which is not a strategy for coping with defeat. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's a means to win by shedding the wrong answers quickly. The concept isn't an excuse to seek failure. In other words, it's knowing how to fall flat on your face so that you can triumph in the end.
Which brings us back to Cass and how she spoke about getting the blueprint to failure. But it's more than just studying the plans. It's dissecting them, figuring out the mechanics of why you failed and how that can speed you to a win. It's something winners have long since figured out.
After all the more you win, the more you're likely to win again. So it's not passion for failure that we're seeking. It's passion to fail fast so that we can succeed.
Seems a lot of people are talking culture lately. What it takes to build a strong company culture? How does culture affect employees? What are the cultural values that a company holds dear?
Watch the video below and take note of the one thing Tony would change if he started the company today.
We completely understand where Tony's coming from and get his desire to have all his ducks in a row from the very beginning. After all, Zappos has written the book on culture and we greatly respect what he and Zappos has done in that arena. But, as we said yesterday, outlining cultural values from the very first day isn't really feasible, agreeing with Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson that it's something you can't create but can only articulate.
It's like what Levar Burton recently said about the casting of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The producers didn't know when they were casting the series whether the actors would have chemistry. That was something that evolved as the actors worked together. The same goes for culture and a company's values.
You can't impose cultural values from the start. You're still figuring out the chemistry of the company, the employees. You're still user testing, so to speak, your company as a product, exploring and refining what you exactly stand for. But the day will come when you'll want to put the stake in the ground and articulate the values that have sprouted from those early days.
That being said, like an acting troupe, you have to toss a group together and see what chemistry comes of it first.
Around ZURB HQ, we have many discussions about mobile and how it fits within our thinking. Today, Bryan highlighted a conversation he had centered around ensuring that a button was visible (read: usable) on mobile devices. But what excited Bryan wasn't the button (though he gets excited about those details). No, what got him stoked was the notion that we were thinking with the mobile user in mind, thinking about it before all else.
With more and more people pulling out their phones to do things like shopping, as we wrote about on Monday and yesterday, mobile is fast replacing desktop as our go to web device. Of course, our friend and advisor LukeW has been advocating a mobile-first approach for sometime now. And, at ZURB, we're huge proponents for multi-device design, but we've worked in the past from the desktop view down to a mobile one.
Now desktop isn't going away and it'll always play a part in what we do. Yet we've been making the move over the last couple of years to further consider mobile as a crucial component in our work. We're even making Foundation, our responsive framework, more mobile-first friendly. Because even if we're designing something as simple as a button, mobile has to be part of everything we do.