Tags: book

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Saturday, November 18th, 2017

Hooked and booked

At Booking.com, they do a lot of A/B testing.

At Booking.com, they’ve got a lot of dark patterns.

I think there might be a connection.

A/B testing is a great way of finding out what happens when you introduce a change. But it can’t tell you why.

The problem is that, in a data-driven environment, decisions ultimately come down to whether something works or not. But just because something works, doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.

If I were trying to convince you to buy a product, or use a service, one way I could accomplish that would be to literally put a gun to your head. It would work. Except it’s not exactly a good solution, is it? But if we were to judge by the numbers (100% of people threatened with a gun did what we wanted), it would appear to be the right solution.

When speaking about A/B testing at Booking.com, Stuart Frisby emphasised why it’s so central to their way of working:

One of the core principles of our organisation is that we want to be very customer-focused. And A/B testing is really a way for us to institutionalise that customer focus.

I’m not so sure. I think A/B testing is a way to institutionalise a focus on business goals—increasing sales, growth, conversion, and all of that. Now, ideally, those goals would align completely with the customer’s goals; happy customers should mean more sales …but more sales doesn’t necessarily mean happy customers. Using business metrics (sales, growth, conversion) as a proxy for customer satisfaction might not always work …and is clearly not the case with many of these kinds of sites. Whatever the company values might say, a company’s true focus is on whatever they’re measuring as success criteria. If that’s customer satisfaction, then the company is indeed customer-focused. But if the measurements are entirely about what works for sales and conversions, then that’s the real focus of the company.

I’m not saying A/B testing is bad—far from it! (although it can sometimes be taken to the extreme). I feel it’s best wielded in combination with usability testing with real users—seeing their faces, feeling their frustration, sharing their joy.

In short, I think that A/B testing needs to be counterbalanced. There should be some kind of mechanism for getting the answer to “why?” whenever A/B testing provides to the answer to “what?” In-person testing could be one way of providing that balance. Or it could be somebody’s job to always ask “why?” and determine if a solution is qualitatively—and not just quantitatively—good. (And if you look around at your company and don’t see anyone doing that, maybe that’s a role for you.)

If there really is a connection between having a data-driven culture of A/B testing, and a product that’s filled with dark patterns, then the disturbing conclusion is that dark patterns work …at least in the short term.

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

Learn Web Design Fundamentals and Shortcuts with Hello Web Design - Hello Web Books

Tracy’s new book is excellent (and I had the great honour of writing a foreword for it).

Programmers, developers, marketers, and non-designers — want to become a better designer? This short book has everything you need.

Sunday, November 5th, 2017

Against an Increasingly User-Hostile Web - Neustadt.fr

With echoes of Anil Dash’s The Web We Lost, this essay is a timely reminder—with practical advice—for we designers and developers who are making the web …and betraying its users.

You see, the web wasn’t meant to be a gated community. It’s actually pretty simple.

A web server, a public address and an HTML file are all that you need to share your thoughts (or indeed, art, sound or software) with anyone in the world. No authority from which to seek approval, no editorial board, no publisher. No content policy, no dependence on a third party startup that might fold in three years to begin a new adventure.

That’s what the web makes possible. It’s friendship over hyperlink, knowledge over the network, romance over HTTP.

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

Never Use Futura

The book draws together the many and varied uses of Futura that make it a universal language while simultaneously confirming its unique typographic voice. The book is a playful yet passionate rebuttal to the perceived dominance of Helvetica as the typeface of modern design.

André Staltz - The Web began dying in 2014, here’s how

This is the clickbaitiest of titles, but the post has some good sobering analysis of how much traffic driven by a small handful players. It probably won’t make you feel very cheery about the future.

(For some reason, this article uses all-caps abbreviations for company names, as though a stock ticker started generating hot takes: GOOG, FB, AMZN, etc. It’s a very odd writing style for a human.)

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

Voice Guidelines | Clearleft

I love what Ben is doing with this single-serving site (similar to my design principles collection)—it’s a collection of handy links and resources around voice UI:

Designing a voice interface? Here’s a useful list of lists: as many guiding principles as we could find, all in one place. List compiled and edited by Ben Sauer @bensauer.

BONUS ITEM: Have him run a voice workshop for you!

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Design Systems | susan jean robertson

Susan reviews Alla’s superb book on design systems:

If you’re interested in or wanting to create a design system or improve the one you have or get buy in to take your side project at work and make it part of the normal work flow, read this book. And even better, get your colleagues to do the same, so you’ll have a shared understanding before you begin the hard work to build your own system.

Susan also published her highlights from the book. I really like that!

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

Virginia Heffernan on Learning to Read the Internet, Not Live in It | WIRED

A beautiful piece of writing from Virginia Heffernan on how to cope with navigating the overwhelming tsunami of the network.

The trick is to read technology instead of being captured by it—to maintain the whip hand.

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

The Nature of Code

A web book with interactive code examples.

How can we capture the unpredictable evolutionary and emergent properties of nature in software? How can understanding the mathematical principles behind our physical world help us to create digital worlds? This book focuses on the programming strategies and techniques behind computer simulations of natural systems using Processing.

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

JavaScript Systems Music

A massively in-depth study of boundary-breaking music, recreated through the web audio API.

  1. Steve Reich - It’s Gonna Rain (1965)
  2. Brian Eno - Ambient 1: Music for Airports, 2/1 (1978)
  3. Brian Eno - Discreet Music (1975)

You don’t have to be a musician or an expert in music theory to follow this guide. I’m neither of those things. I’m figuring things out as I go and it’s perfectly fine if you do too. I believe that this kind of stuff is well within reach for anyone who knows a bit of programming, and you can have a lot of fun with it even if you aren’t a musician.

One thing that definitely won’t hurt though is an interest in experimental music! This will get weird at times.

An Epitaph for Newsvine » Mike Industries

Newsvine has closed. Mike reflects on what he built, with a particular eye to the current online news situation.

When we look at how the average person’s news and media diet has changed over the last decade or so, we can trace it directly back to the way these and other modern organizations have begun feeding us our news. Up until 10 or 15 years ago, we essentially drank a protein shake full of news. A good amount of fruits and vegetables, some grains, some dairy, some tofu, and then a little bit of sugar, all blended together. Maybe it wasn’t the tastiest thing in the world but it kept us healthy and reasonably informed. Then, with cable news we created a fruit-only shake for half the population and a vegetable-only shake for the other half. Then with internet news, we deconstructed the shake entirely and let you pick your ingredients, often to your own detriment. And finally, with peer-reinforced, social news networks, we’ve given you the illusion of a balanced diet, but it’s often packed with sugar, carcinogens, and other harmful substances without you ever knowing. And it all tastes great!

There’s also this interesting litmus test for budding entrepreneurs:

We didn’t know for sure if it was going to work, but the day we decided we’d be happy to have tried it even if it failed was the day we ended up quitting our jobs (incidentally, if you are thinking about leaving your job for a new risky thing, this is the acid test I recommend).

A good science fiction story… - daverupert.com

Dave applies two quotes from sci-fi authors to the state of today’s web.

A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.

—Frederik Pohl

The function of science fiction is not only to predict the future, but to prevent it.

—Ray Bradbury

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

Essential Image Optimization

Following on from Amber’s introduction, here’s a really in-depth look at image formats, compression and optimisation techniques from Addy.

This is a really nicely put together little web book released under a Creative Commons licence.

How to Trick Yourself into Writing a Book in Five Easy Steps

Great advice from Jen on writing a book:

  1. Write emails to Ted. Try to find a little comfort zone inside the larger uncomfortable task.
  2. Don’t write a Book. Write Chapters. Break a large chore into smaller tasks and focus on one at a time.
  3. Trap yourself. Set up a workspace that limits distraction and procrastination.
  4. Don’t despair the zero-word-count days. Give yourself credit for behind-the-scenes work, even self-care.
  5. Get amnesia. Keep your eye on the prize.

A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages (PDF)

Alan Kay’s initial description of a “Dynabook” written at Xerox PARC in 1972.

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

The Woman Who Smashed Codes - Jason Fagone - Hardcover

This book—released today—looks right up my alley.

After World War I, Smith used her talents to catch gangsters and smugglers during Prohibition, then accepted a covert mission to discover and expose Nazi spy rings that were spreading like wildfire across South America, advancing ever closer to the United States. As World War II raged, Elizebeth fought a highly classified battle of wits against Hitler’s Reich, cracking multiple versions of the Enigma machine used by German spies.

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

My foreword for Design Systems. — Ethan Marcotte

Ethan’s foreword for Alla’s brilliant book.

(I know the book is brilliant because I was reviewer throughout. Pre-order it now.)

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

The Web in 2050 · Jacques Mattheij

This is the way the web ends
This is the way the web ends
This is the way the web ends
Not with a bang but a duopoly.

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

What Blade Runner is about, and the Narcissist Creator Razor ( 1 Sep., 2017, at Interconnected)

George Lucas, Ted Chiang, Greg Egan, Stanley Kubrick, Tom Stoppard, William Shakespeare, and Ridley Scott are all part of Matt’s magnificent theory that the play is the thing.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are replicants.

Characters look like people, except they exist for only the duration of a movie — only while they are necessary. They come with backstory and memories fully established but never experienced, partly fabricated for the job and partly drawn from real people known by the screenwriter. At the end, they vanish, like tears in rain.

Friday, September 1st, 2017

John Lanchester reviews ‘The Attention Merchants’ by Tim Wu, ‘Chaos Monkeys’ by Antonio García Martínez and ‘Move Fast and Break Things’ by Jonathan Taplin · LRB 17 August 2017

Triple the hand-wringing in this combined review of three books:

  • The Attention Merchants: From the Daily Newspaper to Social Media, How Our Time and Attention Is Harvested and Sold by Tim Wu,
  • Chaos Monkeys: Inside the Silicon Valley Money Machine by Antonio García Martínez, and
  • Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon have Cornered Culture and What It Means for All of Us by Jonathan Taplin.

What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality.