This advice works both ways:
This advice works both ways:
My week at the Belfast TradFest culminated in a cathedral.
Everyone who has been taking classes during the week made their way to Belfast cathedral for a communal finish. Every class played a short piece to round out their week of workshops.
The whole experience was quite lovely. At one point, I was unexepectedly moved to tears by the performance of the cello class (not a common instrument in Irish traditional music).
When I got home, I decided to send a message to Neil Martin who taught that class. It was just a quick line or two to tell him how special it was.
He responded, saying he found the whole experience of the closing concert very moving and powerful.
I was glad I sent that note of thanks.
Then, a day later, I received my own note of thanks. It wasn’t music-related. Someone I had met and chatted with at a conference last year told me that they had just watched the video of my talk, The State Of The Web. They were very moved by it. Then they took the time to send me an email to tell me. As you can imagine, I was really touched to be on the receiving end of that.
I resolved that I would do it more myself. Whether it’s a piece of music, writing, or anything else, I’m going to try to remember to pass on my appreciation more often.
That’s a good place to end, isn’t it? A nice heart-warming reminder that small acts of thoughtfulness can make a big difference to someone else’s well-being.
But there’s a corollary to that lesson. Acts of thoughtlessness will almost certainly make a very big difference to someone else’s well-being.
This is something I know in theory but struggle with in practice. I’ve experienced the regret of wishing I hadn’t acted so stupidly in my dealings with work colleagues, for example.
There’ll be some discussion happening on a topic that I might have strong feelings about, and I let those strong feelings take over my behaviour. Quite frankly, I act like a dickhead.
Sure, I can analyse it in hindsight and identify what causes this unintended behaviour, but that sounds an awful lot like excusing it. In the end, it doesn’t matter what my intentions were or what the circumstances were. It’s my actions that matter. More specifically, it’s the effect of my actions on other people that matter.
So, yeah, I am going to try to do more of those small thoughtful acts, like sending thank-you messages to people. But frankly, that’s a stretch goal. The shamefully low bar I first have to pass is to simply treat people with the respect they deserve. To paraphrase the Hypocratic oath: first, don’t be an asshole.
There’s an oft-quoted adage:
They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
This is usually applied in the inspirational, positive sense: get out there and make people feel good! But it works equally well as a warning.
Following on from Jeffrey and Margot, the third talk in the morning’s curated content at An Event Apart Seattle is from Sarah Parmenter. Her talk is Designing for Personalities. Here’s the description:
Just as our designs today must accommodate differences of gender, cultural background, and other factors, it’s time to create apps, websites, and internal processes that account for still another strand of human diversity: our very different personality types.
In this new presentation, Sarah shares real-life case studies demonstrating how businesses and organizations large and small are learning to adjust the thinking behind their websites and processes to account for the wishes, needs, and comfort levels of all kinds of people.
We know that the world is full of different conventions—currency, measuring systems, and more—and our web forms address these differences. Let’s do the same for the emotional and psychological assumptions behind our customer profiles. Let’s learn to design for a palette of different personalities.
I’m going to do my best to write down some of what she says…
Sarah works with Adobe, and at a gathering last year, she ended up chatting with some of her co-workers about ancestry, for some reason. She mentioned that she had French and Norwegian roots. The French part is evident in her surname: parmentier means potato farmer. So Sarah did a DNA test. It turned out that Sarah had no French or Norwegian roots—everything in her ancestry came from within an eighty mile radius of her home. It was scary how much she strongly believed for years in something that just wasn’t true.
It’s like that on the web. There are things we do because lots of people do them, but that doesn’t mean they work. Many websites and digital processes are broken and it’s down to us to fix it.
With traditional personas, we make an awful lot of assumptions about people. Have a look at facebook.com/ads/preferences. See just how easy it is for computers to make startling amounts of assumptions.
The other problem with personas is that they are amalgamations. But there’s no such thing as an average costumer. The Microsoft design team add much more context so that they can design for real people in real situations.
Designing for personas only takes care of a fraction of the work we need to do. When we add in another layer of life getting in the way, and a layer of how someone is feeling, you’ve a medley of UX issues that need solving.
The problem is that personality traits aren’t static. They evolve with context. Personas are contextual but static. What we should really be doing is creating the most desirable experience for the user, and we can only do that by empowering them, as Margot also said. We need to give our users control.
If there were such controls, Sarah would use them to reduce motion on websites. She suffers from motion sickness and some websites literally make her sick. There is a
prefers-reduced-motion media query but so far only Safari and Firefox support it. It’s hard to believe that we haven’t been doing this already. This stuff seems so obvious in hindsight.
Sarah asks who in the room are introverts. People raise their hands (which seems like quite an extroverted thing to do).
Now Sarah brings up the Meyers-Briggs test, a piece of pseudoscientic bollocks. Sarah is INFJ—introversion, intuition, feeling, judging. Weird flex, but okay.
Introverts will patiently seek out complex UX patterns if it aligns with their levels of comfort. These are people who would rather do anything rather than speak to someone on the phone. An introvert figured out that if you sat on the Virgin Atlantic homepage long enough, a live chat will pop up after twenty minutes.
Apple is great for introverts. They don’t bury their chat options (unlike Amazon). Remember, introverts are a third of the population.
Users will begin to value those applications and services that bother them the least, respect their privacy, and allow them a certain level of control.
Let’s talk about designing compassionate products.
What we’re asking of people in time-critical or exceptionally personal situations is for them to have the foresight to turn on incognito mode. Everyone has an urban legend horror story about cookies following them around the web. Cookies can seem like a smart marketing solution until context lets them down.
Sarah’s best friend got pregnant. She started excitedly clicking around the web looking for pregnancy-related products. She sadly lost the baby. Sarah explained to her how to use a cookie eraser. Her friend that she was joking. Sarah showed her how to clean her search history. But if you’ve liked and subscribed a bunch of things while you’re excited, it’s not that easy—when the worst happens—to think back on everything you did.
There’s an app that’s not in the US. It’s a menstrual cycle and fertility tracking app. It captures a lot of data. At the point when Sarah’s friend lost her baby, this change was caught by the app. The message she got was lacking in empathy. It was more like market research than a compassionate message. At a time when they should’ve been thinking of the mindset of their user, they were focused on getting data. No one caught this when the app was being designed.
The entire user experience of our websites and apps is going to rely on how empathetic we are.
We don’t always save things to reminisce; we save to give us the option to remember. We can currently favourite a photograph or flag as inapropriate. It would be nice to simply save something to a memory vault.
Bloom and Wild is a company in the UK. They send nice mailbox flowers. On March 5th last year, Sarah sent an email to the CEO of Bloom and Wild. She had just received a mailout about mother’s day after her mother passed away. Was their no way of opting out of receiving mother’s day emails without unsubscribing completely?
Well, yesterday they finally implemented it! Bloom and Wild have been overwhelmed by the positive response.
For those of us trying to make the web a better place, sometimes it can be as simple as reaching out to point out what companies could be doing better. And sometimes, just sometimes, they listen.
As standard, we should be giving users end-to-end control over how they interact with us.
Sarah wants to talk about designing a personal UX journey. For one of her clients, Sarah dip-sampled hundreds of existing customers. There were gaps in the customer journey. They think that what was happening was the company was getting very aggressive after initial interaction—they were phoning customers. Sarah and her team started researching this. That made them unpopular with other parts of the company. Sarah gave her team Groucho Marx glasses whenever they had to go and ask people uncomfortable questions.
Sarah’s team went on a remarketing effort. They sent an email to people who were in the gap between booking an appointment and making a purchase. They asked the users what their preferences were for contacting them. The company didn’t think they were doing anything wrong but this research showed that 76% of people prefered to avoid phone calls.
They asked a few more questions. If you ask questions, there has to be value in it for the users. Sarah got the budget for some gift cards. They got feedback that many people don’t like taking calls, especially when they’re at work. The best: “I’m an intorvert. I hate calls. Sorry.”
The customer feedback was very, very clear. Even though this would take a lot of money to fix, it was crucial to fix it. Being agile was crucial.
Then they looked at a different (shorter) gap in the customer journey. It was clear that an online booking service was desirable. They made a product quickly that booked more appointments in ten days than had previously been booked in a month by sales agents.
They also made a live chat system. You see a very slow roll-out. At the beginning, it has all new customers. After a while, people return with more questions.
The mistake they made was having a tech-savvy team with multiple browser windows open. That’s not how the customer service people operate. They usually deal with people one on one. So they were happy to leave people waiting on live chat for twenty or twenty five minutes, and of course that was far too long. So when you’re adding in a new system like this, think about key performance indicators that you want to go along with it e.g. live chat must have a response within five minutes.
There’s also a long tail of conversion. Sometimes the sales cycle is very lengthy. They decided to give users the ability to select which product they wanted and switch options on and off. It was all about giving the power back to the user. This was a phenomenal change for the company. They were able to completely change the customer journey and reduce those big gaps. They went from a cycle of fourteen weeks to seven days. They did that by handing the power back to the user.
Sarah’s question for the audience is: What is stopping your user completing your cycle? This can be very difficult. You might have to do horrible things to validate a concept. It’s okay. We’re all perfectionists, but sometimes you have to use quick’n’dirty code to achieve your goal. If the end goal is we’re able to say “hey, this thing worked!” then we can go back and do it properly.
When we talk about HTML and CSS these discussions impact the entry point into this profession. Whether front or backend, many of us without a computer science background are here because of the ease of starting to write HTML and CSS. The magic of seeing our code do stuff on a real live webpage! We have already lost many of the entry points that we had. We don’t have the forums of parents teaching each other HTML and CSS, in order to make a family album. Those people now use Facebook, or perhaps run a blog on wordpress.com or SquareSpace with a standard template. We don’t have people customising their MySpace profile, or learning HTML via Neopets. We don’t have the people, usually women, entering the industry because they needed to learn HTML during that period when an organisation’s website was deemed part of the duties of the administrator.
I agree with every single word Rachel has written.
I care not a whit what tools or frameworks, or languages you use to build something on the web. But I really care deeply when particular tools, frameworks, or languages become mandatory for even getting a foot in the door.
This is for everyone.
I might be the “old guard” but if you think I’m incapable of learning React, or another framework, and am defending my way of working because of this, please get over yourself. However, 22 year old me would have looked at those things and run away. If we make it so that you have to understand programming to even start, then we take something open and enabling, and place it back in the hands of those who are already privileged. I have plenty of fight left in me to stand up against that.
An excellent thorough analysis by Chris of the growing divide between front-end developers and …er, other front-end developers?
The divide is between people who self-identify as a (or have the job title of) front-end developer, yet have divergent skill sets.
On the other, an army of developers whose interests, responsibilities, and skill sets are focused on other areas of the front end, like HTML, CSS, design, interaction, patterns, accessibility, etc.
It’s our job as designers to bring clarity back to the digital canvas by crafting reading experiences that put readers first.
Telling other people working on the web and doing a great job building web sites that they are useless because they focus on HTML and CSS is very wrong.
The sentiment is that front-end development is a problem to be solved: “if we just have the right tools and frameworks, then we might never have to write another line of HTML or CSS ever again!” And oh boy what a dream that would be, right?
Well, no, actually. I certainly don’t think that front-end development is a problem at all.
What Robin said.
I reckon HTML and CSS deserve better than to be processed, compiled, and spat out into the browser, whether that’s through some build process, app export, or gigantic framework library of stuff that we half understand. HTML and CSS are two languages that deserve our care and attention to detail. Writing them is a skill.
When every new website on the internet has perfect, semantic, accessible HTML and exceptionally executed, accessible CSS that works on every device and browser, then you can tell me that these languages are not valuable on their own. Until then we need to stop devaluing CSS and HTML.
It’s a real shame that Hannah and Matt are shutting down This Is My Jam—it’s such a lovely little service—but their reliance on ever-changing third-party APIs sounds like no fun, and the way they’re handling the shutdown is exemplary: the site is going into read-only mode, and of course all of your data is exportable.
Yahoo, Google, and other destroyers could learn a thing or two from this—things like “dignity” and “respect”.
A modest proposal: respect.
Twitter has come in for a lot of (justifiable) criticism for changes to its API that make it somewhat developer-hostile. But it has to be said that developers don’t always behave responsibly when they’re using the API.
The classic example of this is the granting of permissions. James summed it up nicely: it’s just plain rude to ask for write-access to my Twitter account before I’ve even started to use your service. I could understand it if the service needed to post to my timeline, but most of the time these services claim that they want me to sign up via Twitter so that I can find my friends who are also using the service — that doesn’t require write access. Quite often, these requests to authenticate are accompanied by reassurances like “we’ll never tweet without your permission” …in which case, why ask for write-access in the first place?
To be fair, it used to be a lot harder to separate out read and write permissions for Twitter authentication. But now it’s actually not that bad, although it’s still not as granular as it could be.
One of the services that used to require write-access to my Twitter account was Lanyrd. I gave it permission, but only because I knew the people behind the service (a decision-making process that doesn’t scale very well). I always felt uneasy that Lanyrd had write-access to my timeline. Eventually I decided that I couldn’t in good conscience allow the lovely Lanyrd people to be an exception just because I knew where they lived. Fortunately, they concurred with my unease. They changed their log-in system so that it only requires read-access. If and when they need write-access, that’s the point at which they ask for it:
We now ask for read-only permission the first time you sign in, and only ask to upgrade to write access later on when you do something that needs it; for example following someone on Twitter from the our attendee directory.
Far too many services ask for write-access up front, without providing a justification. When asked for an explanation, I’m sure most of them would say “well, that’s how everyone else does it”, and they would, alas, be correct.
What’s worse is that users grant write-access so freely. I was somewhat shocked by the amount of tech-savvy friends who unwittingly spammed my timeline with automated tweets from a service called Twitter Counter. Their reactions ranged from sheepish to embarrassed to angry.
I urge you to go through your Twitter settings and prune any services that currently have write-access that don’t actually need it. You may be surprised by the sheer volume of apps that can post to Twitter on your behalf. Do you trust them all? Are you certain that they won’t be bought up by a different, less trustworthy company?
If a service asks me to sign up but insists on having write-access to my Twitter account, it feels like being asked out on a date while insisting I sign a pre-nuptial agreement. Not only is somewhat premature, it shows a certain lack of respect.
Branch and Medium are typical examples of bad actors in this regard. The core functionality of these sites has nothing to do with posting to Twitter, but both sites want write-access so that they can potentially post to Twitter on my behalf later on. I know that I won’t ever want either service to do that. I can either trust them, or not use the service at all. Signing up without granting write-access to my Twitter account isn’t an option.
I sent some feedback to Branch and part of their response was to say the problem was with the way Twitter lumps permissions together. That used to be true, but Lanyrd’s exemplary use of Twitter for log-in makes that argument somewhat hollow.
In the case of Branch, Medium, and many other services, Twitter authentication is the only way to sign up and start using the service. Using a username and password isn’t an option. On the face of it, requiring Twitter for authentication doesn’t sound all that different to requiring an email address for authentication. But demanding write-access to Twitter is the equivalent of demanding the ability to send emails from your email address.
The way that so many services unnecessarily ask for write-access to Twitter—and the way that so many users unquestioningly grant it—reminds me of the password anti-pattern all over again. Because this rude behaviour is so prevalent, it has now become the norm. If we want this situation to change, we need to demand more respect.
The next time that a service demands unwarranted write-access to your Twitter account, refuse to grant it. Then tell the people behind that service why you’re refusing to sign up.
And please take a moment to go through the services you’ve already authorised.