Human consciousness is the most astonishing thing, and most of it happened in deep time, beyond the reach of any writing and most legends. Human experience, in general, is prehistoric. And prehistoric experience was just as full as yours and mine: just as deeply felt, just as intelligent, just as real. What we know of it is mostly from durable artifacts and graves. I’m thinking of the woman found near the Snake River, buried at the end of the ice age with a perfectly crafted and unused stone knife tucked under her head. I’m thinking of the huge conical hats, beaten from single pieces of gold and inscribed with calendars, found north of the Alps. I’m thinking of Grave 8 at Vedbæk, where a woman held her premature baby on the spread wing of a swan. These are snapshot that experts can assemble into larger ideas, but what they tell all of us is that we’ve been people, not just humans, for a very long time.
Monday, April 6th, 2020
Saturday, February 15th, 2020
- Wrong: web workers will take over the world
- Wrong: Safari is the new IE
- Right: developer experience is trumping user experience
- Right: I’m better off without a Twitter account
- Right: the cost of small modules
- Mixed: progressive enhancement isn’t dead, but it smells funny
Maybe I should do one of these.
Saturday, January 25th, 2020
Doomsday vs. the Long Now.
Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020
This is a wonderful interactive explanation of the way CSS hierarchy works—beautiful!
Tuesday, January 7th, 2020
Monday, January 6th, 2020
Websites sit on a design spectrum. On one end are applications, with their conditional logic, states, and flows—they’re software.
On the other end of the design spectrum are documents; sweet, modest documents with their pleasing knowableness and clear edges.
For better or worse, I am a document lover.
This is the context where I fell in love with design and the web. It is a love story, but it is also a ghost story.
Monday, July 1st, 2019
Tuesday, May 28th, 2019
It’s Armistice Day in the world of HTML:
WHATWG maintains the HTML and DOM Living Standards.
W3C stops independent publishing of a designated list of specifications related to HTML and DOM and instead will work to take WHATWG Review Drafts to W3C Recommendations.
It feels like the loop is finally being closed on what I wrote about in the opening chapter of HTML5 For Web Designers back in 2010.
Tuesday, May 21st, 2019
Coming to your inbox soon:
The Training Commission is a speculative fiction email newsletter about the compromises and consequences of using technology to reckon with collective trauma. Several years after a period of civil unrest and digital blackouts in the United States, a truth and reconciliation process has led to a major restructuring of the federal government, major tech companies, and the criminal justice system.
Saturday, March 9th, 2019
Monday, March 4th, 2019
Designing for Personalities by Sarah Parmenter
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.
- Respect privacy and build in a personal level of UX adjustment into every product.
- Outlier data can create superfans of your product.
- Build the most empathetic experience that you can.
Tuesday, February 19th, 2019
An Interview with Nick Harkaway: Algorithmic Futures, Literary Fractals, and Mimetic Immortality - Los Angeles Review of Books
Nick Harkaway on technology in fiction:
Humans without tools are not magically pure; they’re just unvaccinated, cold, and wet.
SF is how we get to know ourselves, either who we are or who we might be. In terms of what is authentically human, SF has a claim to be vastly more honest and important than a literary fiction that refuses to admit the existence of the modern and goes in search of a kind of essential humanness which exists by itself, rather than in the intersection of people, economics, culture, and science which is where we all inevitably live. It’s like saying you can only really understand a flame if you get rid of the candle. Good luck with that.
And on Borges:
He was a genius, and he left this cryptic, brilliant body of work that’s poetic, incomplete, astonishing. It’s like a tasting menu in a restaurant where they let you smell things that go to other tables and never arrive at yours.
Thursday, January 31st, 2019
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.
Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019
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.
Friday, January 18th, 2019
It’s our job as designers to bring clarity back to the digital canvas by crafting reading experiences that put readers first.
Wednesday, January 9th, 2019
Friday, December 28th, 2018
Well, this an interesting format experiment—the latest Black Mirror just dropped, and it’s a PDF.
Wednesday, November 28th, 2018
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.
Tuesday, November 27th, 2018
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.
Thursday, September 27th, 2018
“What if someone doesn’t browse the web like I do?”