Posts About Sparks
The impact that Apple had — and continues to make — on modern design is hard to miss. The idea of “flat” colors instead of textures in iOS7 wasn’t a surprise. But whether their September upgrade influenced design trends today or they’re following a shift brewing over the past few years, everywhere we look we see flat, geometric, texture-free interfaces.
It’s said that anyone can predict today. What about tomorrow? While we can’t make promises, here are a few things we expect in the coming years.
Simple and single numbers. Specialized interfaces will feature a single datum and rely on users’ memories to fill in the gaps. For example, when you launch your favorite weather app and see a giant “72” on a cool blue background, you can infer it means “72 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Dabbling with black and white. What’s flatter than flat color? No color. Sapping away hues for a grayscale interface isn’t always practical — let alone practical — but we may see a brief comeback before users are drawn back to candy-colored competitors.
Geometry, but more of it. When we recently redesigned our free icon set, our designers maintained consistency with each other by using the same circles, squares and triangles. We think designers in general will keep using fundamental building blocks to build complex shapes rather than using fewer shapes with complex curves.
Gestures replace buttons. Sometimes. Swipes, pinches, zooms will become more common than single or double taps — but mostly in the operating system, not within websites or web apps.
Voice interfaces. Swipes might not stand a chance. Touch UI will start to look dated as people find convenience in Siri, Android 4.3 Voice Search, Dragon, Skyvi, or other apps that interpret the human voice.
Apps with personality. But while you may spend more time talking to your phone instead of on it, anything interactive will seem to be an entity, not a mere tool. But this may fade alongside black-and-white design. Especially when combined with voice UIs, users may not appreciate apps that talk back.
Virtual keyboards. All-glass devices were the first step away from physical keyboards. The next step will be virtual representations of real buttons. We’ve seen prototypes before. They’ll be customized with your favorite shortcuts, and even sized properly for your fingers.
Interfaces meant to be worn. A swath of new devices will weave their ways into our shirts, hats, shoes, cars… Design for these devices will follow suit. Watch out for:
- One-handed UIs for wristwatch (wrist-top?) devices.
- Single-purpose interfaces for specialized functions like calories burned.
- Shirts that warn you if they clash with your pants. Well, maybe not, but we wouldn’t put it past a Kickstarter campaign to try that on.
A wise man once said that the universe isn’t stranger than we imagine; it’s stranger than we can imagine. The device on which you’re reading this is the stuff of yesteryear’s science fiction. Maybe few — or none — of our predictions will come true. That’s fine if, in five years, we look back at this blog post and think, “keyboards — how quaint.”
For a product designer, an interface is not just a collection of words and pixels. Everything we design is a potential study in human behavior. Understanding human behaviors and motivations can help designers create interfaces that people truly connect with. But being able to defend your thinking in a stakeholder presentation is another story.
Stakeholders may (wrongly) see our work as designer's whimsy, and it's our job to defend our designs with as much passion as went into producing them. What they need to hear is some solid proof that whatever we're proposing is going to have a BIG impact on the business.
Over the years we have learned many design patterns that help us streamline our process. And every pattern has its own purpose, rooted in natural human behavior. Lucky for us, human behaviors have been studied for millennia. There are hundreds of years of psychological research that, when used with purpose, help designers make deliberate design choices and provides solid proof to back them up.
We've been investigating in earnest these behaviors, identifying some 76, so that we could better use them in our work. Let's take a look at eight behaviors that you can wield in the next feedback session.
Your interface has a specific task — say book a flight or a hotel room — that you want users to accomplish. And while you may have other elements present, your users won't notice. They'll remain focused on the task at hand.
How to Use It
When designing a goal-specific workflow, keep the peripheral content to a minimum and present only very relevant info. Otherwise, a user may get distracted and not follow through on the task. Articulate how you've considered what a user's most relevant need or interest is in your design. Highlight how the relevant information and certain functions aide a user in accomplishing a given task.
Behavior can be reinforced through rewards, kind of a Pavlov's Dog situation. If a user's achievements are acknowledged, she'll be more likely to engage in activities. American psychologist Henry Murray was the first person to use the term in the late 1930s after recognizing achievement as an important source of human motivation.
How to Use It
A common incarnation of Achievement is to use rankings, badges or status in your design. It's important to set goals that are specific and challenging, but achievable and meaningful at the same time. Don't present someone with a reward that's unachievable or a long way off — it will create low motivation in your users. By setting small goals, you can increase confidence in your user quickly and keep them coming back for the next carrot. Incidentally, using Achievement also helps the business gauge user engagement, an easy metric on which to follow up.
Word of mouth is very powerful. Economists have known for years that people base their decisions on what they hear from friends or strangers. Same with digital products. Users who are on the fence can be easily swayed if they see other people enjoying a product. Angry Birds, anyone?
How to Use It
Showing potential users how many people are using your service or product and how much they like it could encourage your audience to follow the 'trend.' Social proof, which can be considered a motivator on its own, is another version of Bandwagon. Showing testimonials, number of followers can convince a cautious user that your product holds water.
When given a choice, people will always flock toward the familiar over the unfamiliar. How many of us immediately chose an unfamiliar, new product over one that we know is reliable and gets the job done? Or think of it this way: if you're a Coke drinker, when was the last time you said, "um — let me give Pepsi a try."
How to Use It
Give users a taste of your product to persuade them to buy. Getting in front of your customers — through advertisements, giveaways, free trials — will make your product seem more familiar to them. However, don't repeat your ads too much or you'll become background noise to your potential users. You can also connect to users who are already onboard with your product. The more you foster those connections, the stronger the trust you build with your audience.
5. Relative Value
People have a hard time gauging absolute value. It's also human nature to make comparisons. Users often compare products against alternative ones, using either on-hand information or other references they trust to help them assess the product's relevance.
How to Use It
Give your customer a comparison, any comparison. Comparing your products to competition will often make yours more appealing. Illustrate the different options to communicate how your product is a better value.
For pricing, provide premium and budget versions alongside regularly-priced products. This will likely steer their attention to the most desirable price point. You can also show the original price and savings when a product is on sale to give the customer a sense of value they're getting.
6. Recognition Over Recall
People have two types of memory: recognition and recall. But when it comes to your users, it's easier for them to recognize what they've previously seen or experiences rather than recall them from memory.
Multiple-choice or one-click options are easier ways to help users find what they are looking for on a site.
How to Use It
When trying to get more information about a user, don't ask them to write what they like. Instead, present a list of items that represents a certain category of data. Users recall much more simply clicking on data. It'll also help you collect a much broader pool of data whilst providing a fun challenge for the user.
7. Peak-End Rule
What do you remember from your last vacation? Likely some key moments. That's because people mostly judge past experiences by their highlights, either pleasant or unpleasant, and how those experiences ended.
How to Use It
Create peaks and endpoints for users. Peaks can be the core values you provide or an Easter Egg that'll surprise your user. Endpoints can be obvious, such as completing an order, or subtle, like a friendly or funny registration confirmation page. In either case, give your user something memorable to latch onto during, or at the end of, their workflow.
The fastest way to get someone to desire something is to make it scarce. They'll want it more if they think it's in danger of vanishing for good — say a short supply or only available for a limited time.
How to Use It
Scarcity could be time- or quantity-based. Highlight the amount of products still left or how it's only available for a certain period of time. Users will then perceive the products more worthwhile.
Get Into People's Heads
By using natural human behaviors in our work, we can get into people's heads with words and pixels. Solid proof can turn, what at a glance looks like, a trendy layout into an ingenious solution that can hold up against even the toughest critics. That, by the way, is Authority at its finest — a human nature of being more likely to act if we are presented with reliable evidence.
Digital product design plays on all the emotional and cognitive strings that offline products and marketing has been practicing since the beginning of products and marketing. Do you have a Buy-9-Get-10th-Free card to your local ice-cream shop, or have you ever fallen victim to a closeout sale? Then you've participated in Achievement and Scarcity in your own human experience. Wield these principals and you'll be able to better defend your design decisions in that next client meeting.
We recently noticed something astonishing. 817 different mobile devices accessed ZURB.com in the past 30 days. That's amazing! Having a flood of smartphones and tablets access our site proves that responsive design isn't a choice anymore.
The number has grown by leaps and bounds in the past couple of years. We recorded 142 mobile devices coming to our site when we release Foundation in 2011. Now it's 817 — a 475% increase in just two years.
These aren't users who casually check out the site and leave after a few seconds. The broad base of them are sticking around for a minute and 55 seconds. Sure, it's lower than the four-and-a-half minutes of the average desktop users, but mobile users are snackers.
It's only going to continue to grow. Consider this: 38% of mobile usage in the last six months came from 3,430 different devices and operating systems. Tablet use has shot up 10% in that time as well. Which goes to prove that responsive design is crucial to meeting the needs of customers across a variety of smartphones and tablets.
It's impossible to design for every specific device. Responsive design is the only way to ensure our products do reach as many people and as many different devices as we can. It's the only practical solution that allows companies to serve up content to a growing mobile audience.
Alright, they make you look more than a little like a cyborg. Wearing them out in person is awkward and makes you weirdly self-conscious. But you can't deny that 'Glass' from Google is fascinating technology. And Foundation works pretty well on it.
We were lucky enough to secure a pair through the #ifihadglass Explorers program, and we've been playing around with them all week. While people have written ad nauseam about the experience of wearing Glass, we had a more specific thing we wanted to play with: exploring the web through them. Amazingly enough, it's not a terrible experience.
Accessing the Web
Almost everything on Glass is voice-cued, so to reach a Website at all you need to tell the device to Google something, for example "Product Design Company in Campbell." After showing you the Google results you can elect to View Website, an action made available in the last Glass update.
Glass does render arbitrary pages, and does a … pretty good job. Performance-wise Glass is about on par with a 2-year-old Android device. Pages render somewhat slowly and anything that requires significant hardware like CSS transitions (with a decent frame rate) is going to suffer quite a bit. That being said it is a modified version of Chrome and it renders pages correctly in most cases.
Using a Page
When it comes to using a page, the controls are intriguing and pretty cleverly done. Using the touchpad on the side of the device you can easily scroll up and down by sliding your finger along it. Sliding along with two fingers zooms in and out (a very choppy affair). Where it gets cool is when you hold down with two fingers and just … look around.
As you move your head, the built-in accelerometer translates your head's movement into both a means of panning around the page, as well as the means of targeting a link to select. A reticle in the center of the screen shows your target, and tapping on the touchpad gives you an option to select and follow the targeted link. It's a crafty way of using a natural action like looking around and mapping it to the Web. It works really well, even if you look like an aimless idiot to anyone watching you.
Foundation + Glass
Once we learned how it worked and what it displayed we were pretty confident Foundation 4 would have no issues on Glass. The pages it shows are presented as mobile screens which makes sense; Glass reports a resolution of 640x360. Foundation 4 being mobile first, pages are rendered as small screen pages using the small device grid.
We found one issue with Clearing which has some trouble with how Glass handles the canvas panning, and of course some things like Joyride can be a bit tedious to pan around and deal with, but by and large Foundation 4 has you covered for Web sites being shown on Glass. We'll do some more testing and verify this but we were pretty happy that our thesis for Foundation, being ready for devices that don't exist yet, is holding up. Foundation 4 was ready for Glass. Pretty neat.
Velociraptors have been hard to spot in recent years. You can thank the downfall of that Jurassic exhibit off the coast of Costa Rica. (Really, what were they thinking?) After that, raptors were practically extinct. Unless you know the Konami-Code. Then you might be lucky to see one in the wild of the interwebs. We recently had a raptor sighting while browsing Vogue's UK site and punching in the Konami-Code.
A few of the Raptors spotted on Vogue UK. Don't ask what we were doing on there. We just like fashion and the web. Stop judging.
Anyhoo, we were delighted to discover that this raptor took after Madonna. She came dressed to impressed, wearing some stylish headgear. A new chic raptor loads each time. So far, we've found six. How many more can you find?
A Raptor of Your Very Own
While we don't know how Vogue corralled their Raptor, we can help you capture your very own for your site. We have a jQuery plugin that will allow you to do the same thing. You can make your site Velociraptor ready with screech included — just like a "Jurassic Park" action figure.
Apple's new iOS7 is a great step forward full of useful innovations and a great visual refresh, but their work has been marred by the design details that people simply can't look past.
Tim Cook unveiling iOS7 to the WWDC audience. (Image from Apple)
The other day Apple unveiled a series of updates to their products and operating system to a room full of designers and developers, as well as to those clever enough pull up apple.com on Safari. While the updates to OSX, Mac Pro and Apple Air were met with open arms, the highly anticipated iOS7 wasn't. Some people welcomed the change. However, there was an overwhelming amount of people who told it to go back home (and they made sure to echo that sentiment via Twitter.)
iOS7 doesn't need to revert back; rather, it needs to take what it has and do some refinements before it launches this fall.
A Much Needed Evolution
iOS needed to update. We all knew that. When it was released, realistic elements were needed to familiarize users with the device. There had never before been a fully touch-screen phone. The little skeumorphic touches — such as popping the keyboard keys off the background to imitate an actual keyboard or a notepad with ripped papers — helped people understand what they needed to do.
It was intuitive.
Apple carried iOS's realistic visuals to the iPad, which, again, needed some familiarizing since its touch interface was a such a new concept (amidst critics touting it as the 10" iPhone). But how else would users instinctively know that turning a page in iBooks was as simple as swiping the page, similar to how you would in an actual book?
Flash forward to today. Almost six years later. Those skeumorphic details still exist, but we've been trained to use them. We know that, yes, we tap on things to select something, or that we swipe to move an item or progress somewhere further. These gestures are natural for the everyday user, so all those extra hints (look, it's a compass — tilt it to find where north is as you would a normal compass) aren't as necessary today as they were in 2007.
iOS7 — The Start of Something Great
When iOS7 was announced, we were ecstatic. This was a major facelift — a redesign worthy of setting new standards in the industry, and one that introduces much more intuitive gestures to some of the most common actions today's iPhone users do.
For example, to fully quit an app in iOS6, users must access the multi-task panel, tap and hold the appropriate app icon until the close "x" appears, then tap that "x". To fully quit an app in iOS7, users access the multi-task screen, find the appropriate icon, and swipe up. Changes like that may seem minor, but they're the ones that make a product go from good to great.
Everything in iOS7, from the thoughtfully crafted animations to AirDrop to the new icons, have been redefined, and we're huge fans. It's definitely the direction Apple needs to continue delivering delightful, highly-anticipated products to their customers.
Multi-tasking in iOS7 is more visual, and it's easy to switch to another app (tap), view open apps (swipe left/right), and fully quit one (swipe up). (Image from Apple)
But Those Icons … The Horror!
With every release, however, comes critics. Seconds after the announcement came a flurry of tweets proclaiming blasphemy in the form of the app icons. "They're too vibrant," "The gradients are too harsh," "What's up with Game Center?" Within a few hours and Dribbble was filled with solutions to these criticisms.
These were all valid arguments. The line work wasn't consistent, a few gradients were more severe than others, and, aside from the colors, the icons didn't feel like a cohesive set. But we think that's OK!
Think about it. If you own an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, when was last time you only had the stock Apple apps? These icons will be living next to every other app you have (or in some folder anyway), and surely they all don't fit a single style and color palette. Vine's icon is fairly flat with a subtle text shadow while the Instagram icon is extremely rich in detail.
And hey, the Newsstand icon is a nice upgrade!
Example of the new icons mixed with other icons.
Wait, Look at That UI. What a Lousy Execution!
It's fair to argue that. While the interactions are more intuitive in this upgrade, the visual execution suffered a little. Apple's pixel-perfect, leather-stitched designs were swapped with a flatter, more streamlined design that came with a few flaws: visual weights of the icons aren't balanced, line weights vary too much, etc. "Simplicity is actually quite complicated," as they've noted. But it's Apple — we expect perfection.
That's where iteration comes into play.
While the icons in Mail work nicely together, the back/forward arrows in Safari feel unbalanced next to the other icons in that tab bar.
iOS7 is out there for all of us to touch and test. Now Apple must use feedback from early adopters to refine the operating system before its fall launch. The interactions are there. It's the visual refinement that needs to be addressed.
You Go, Apple
To create [iOS7], we brought together a broad range of expertise from design to engineering. With what we've been able to achieve together, we see iOS7 as defining an important new direction, and, in many ways, a beginning. Jony Ive
Jony Ive sums it up perfectly. It's a beginning. It's a beginning of great forward-thinking design that focuses on users and thinks two steps ahead for them. It's a beginning of rethinking standards, and a beginning of a new voice emerging from Apple.
Everyone's going to have an opinion about iOS7. As for us, we fully support the direction Apple's going. We're all about pushing products forward to make them more usable, as well as to have their own unique voice. For Apple, that voice has been established with its iOS7 design (and that voice comes in male or female).
You go, Apple.
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.
Story is Vision
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.
Tell Your Story Better
In order to tell you story better, you have to be able to do the following:
- Write it down. A story isn't good unless you put it into written words. Keep a doc — Google or otherwise — around so that others can refer to it. You can even write it as a Dreadful Mission Statement.
- Make it real. Writing down your story also makes it real. It becomes tangible, something others can touch. But more than writing it down, it has to also be actionable to be real. Is it something that can be accomplished?
- Speak from the heart. If you can't speak from the heart, if you don't believe in it, then others won't either.
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:
- Credibility: Think of this as write what you know. Better yet, write to your expertise, your strengths.
- Real effort: It really shines through when a post is well-researched and the writer has put time into it. That care shows.
- Actionable: This is the takeaway that urges readers or users to take action
- Begs to be shared: Good content is something that needs to be shared, but you should also want and be proud to share it.
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:
- E-book readers, solely meant for reading, will plummet this year to 14.9 million shipped, a 36% decrease. By 2016, that number will drop even further to 7.1 million. Tablets that do more than display books are to blame.
- Notebooks with Windows inside dropped 24% compared to last year. The finger is firmly pointed at tablets and, of course, our smartphones.
- Tablets are expected to outpace smartphones this year in sales, 9.4% of the 15% of all US mobile sales.
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.
So What Does This Mean?
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.
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