"A screen doesn’t care what it shows any more than a sheet of paper cares what’s printed on it. Screens are aesthetically neutral, so the looks of things are not a part of their grain. Sorry, internet. If you want to make something look flat, go for it. There are plenty of reasons to do so. But you shouldn’t say you made things look a certain way because the screen cared one way or the other."
I love how at least half of those apply to people who keep sending me negative comments about do-not-reply. So, all you ”Do you really think you’re smarter than people who thought of this pattern years ago?” and „Do you really think Google/Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr haven’t tested it?” people – go read it and learn to think for yourselves.
I just finished reading Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, two of the partners at 37signals. Given that LayerVault is a remote company, a few people around the web have been asking what my thoughts were on the topic. I haven’t written too much about how LayerVault works as a remote company, so now seems like a good time to share how we do it.
For a while now, I had a beef with companies that use “noreply” addresses for their incoming communication. Since email was never meant to be a one-way medium, I believe that doing something like that is simply showing people that you don’t care and all that you can offer to them is lackluster experience. It’s even worse if these no-reply emails are connected to things you deeply care about, like notification about changing your password (it might have not been you, right?) or cancelling your account. It makes the entire application feel unprofessional and impersonal to do this.
Because of that, I started a new Tumblr blog, dubbed do-not-reply where I decided to collect and curate list with screenshots of “noreply” emails that people are receiving from companies. Since doing this is bad user experience, the examples need to be shown and corrected and my blog will hopefully help that.
Every weekend, I tend to spend a lot of time doing sketching and hand lettering on my Moleskine or my amazing DotGrid notepad. I like to do sketching for fun and during my design process at work, for at least a couple of reasons.
It gets me out of digital
We all know that digital is great and amazing and everything cool, but there’s something very visceral and fun about pen and paper that a screen just can’t deliver. Also, when you start sketching, you usually end up with imperfect work that you have to iterate over and over to fix and that’s a great mindset if you work in digital products.
It gets me out of my comfort zone
Let’s be honest - I’m pretty bad at sketching. I obviously always did and keep doing some sketching and drawing, but I never aspired to being an illustrator or a typographer, so most of my sketches are - franky - quite lame. Every once in a while I end up with something that I really like, but it’s still not even close to professional illustrators. And I enjoy that. I enjoy doing something that’s very closely related to my field (lettering, for example, especially since most of the web is still typography) but also something that I’m not even remotely good at. It’s a great, humbling lesson that I can recommend to everyone.
It’s often about the broad strokes
Sketching at work has one really good upside — it’s all about broad strokes, not details. While I can sketch out the details, most of the time sketching is all about broad strokes, ideas and basics and it really gets the job done. Every time we try to sketch out ideas at Lifetramp as a team, I actually insist on using wide markers (even though Adam sometimes hates me for that, I know) rather than pencils so we can focus on the biggest picture possible.
It’s really (and I mean: really) relaxing
There’s something really nice about being able to just kick back and draw some ugly pictures or a typeface that’s probably really lame. I treat it as a form of meditation - I put on my headphones with some relaxing music and I just keep drawing. No time pressure, no goal - just me, a pencil, a couple of pens and tons of ink in my notepad. Nobody expects it to be good, nobody expects it to be final, nobody tells me what I should draw. Serenity.
I really hope this post will inspire you to buy a pencil, a notepad and spend an hour or so a week to do some random sketching. It’s a great thing to do to get your creative juices flowing. And don’t worry about the outcome, you’re doing this for yourself anyway!
Recently, I’ve been rewriting entire style guide for Lifetramp to Sass, to make it a living style guide. My reasoning for that was simple - style guides are usually the most unsexy thing in the product design process and maintaining one that works is usually a pain in the backside. Since the first version of Lifetramp will be working on a Rails backend and Sass is a very viable option, I’ve decided to go with the approach, inspired by this talk by Jina Bolton, that I’ve been using before with Clockwork - a living style guide that is being kept up to date with modular Sass and needs to be maintained only when you create new UI elements.
There’s two major upsides to this approach - first of all, because everything design-related is in your application’s Sass files anyway, the style guide keeps updating itself automatically every time you change anything in the styles. Also, because it’s Sass, you can keep everything in mixins, extendable silent classes (%) and variables and it’s really quick to update and maintain if done right. The biggest upside for me is ability to spot errors, inconsistencies and edge cases in design just by glancing at the style guide test page.
The minor obstacle is that you really have to wrap your head around modular CSS architectures like SmaCSS, BEM or OOCSS, understand how they work and either choose one that works best for you or mix and match it into your own modular system. Actually, this might turn out to be an upside after all, since you end up learning new things and writing more efficient selectors, too.
If you haven’t tried the modular approach to CSS and using Sass style guides yet, I highly recommend you to try. While it seems like boring work, because we’re all so creative and prefer spending time doing creative stuff, if your project and team grows quickly, you’ll thank yourself for spending that time learning.
100% agreed on that. Hijacking scroll is terrible, terrible idea and while it might look good for marketing department, user experience gets impaired by doing that. If you really have to make a “scrollie” do it make it look natural, like KitKat did
While I was in the doctor’s office I noticed a document on his wall called ‘What A Surgeon Ought to Be’ written in the 14th century. I’ve changed a word or two but it seems like good advice for our profession.
”Not all animation needs to be bold. You don’t need everything to be springy and bounce and zip and flash and overshoot into place. Sometimes something understated like a dissolve with a dash of translation will help soften a state change.”
I’d even say that from my experience designing user interfaces so far, most of the times all you really need is a dash of translation to soften a state change.
Since I quit a safe job at Kanbanery and started freelancing again, I longed for doing something meaningful. Something that really will make me want to get up in the morning and work hard until late night to make it happen. Freelancing, or client work in general, while very satisfying and certainly well paying, is never something I can own from the beginning to end. Projects come and go, things disappear, things get bought and I want to build something that I have full control on and take credit if it succeeds. And something that will still be damn satisfying to try, even if it fails.
So I’m teaming up with Adam to build Lifetramp, an idea to allow people to try out different lifestyles and rebuild their lives around their passions and dreams, rather than yet another 9-to-5 in a corporation. The idea is something I can really relate with and something that I would personally use, so I’m going full focus on making it real for the next couple of months. Pretty much everything I set aside from freelancing is going into this thing and we’re both very focused on making it big. Since I wanted to go back to building things, rather than just designing them, for a while, I’ll be also doing parts of technical side, while Adam handles all the business, fundraising and community building. Soon, we’ll most likely be looking for a real developer to join us here in Krakow and take over the CTO role and another someone to help us on the PR and marketing side, too, so if you’re interested in helping, feel free to get in touch.
TL;DR: For the next couple of months, I’ll be using a lot of my time and money to build a startup. Wish me luck.
Over the years, Apple has been shipping superior products. My mom loves her iPhone. I loved all my MacBooks. And then, something happened. I was really disappointed by the screen of my iPad Mini, especially compared to my wife’s Nexus 7. After this slight disappointment, iOS7 came around. The new gesture interfaces are a piece of art. Visuals - a great example of failing at visceral sense of design.
Johan Rosse wrote on his blog: “My initial reaction to iOS7 was that it was ugly.”. My initial reaction was: it’s probably going to be great, but it looks cheap. Everyone I talked so far reacted similar right after the initlal keynote or after installing it on their devices for the first time. The web delivers even more extreme reactions. From emotional design perspective, Apple - for the first time in years - failed at grasping the visceral part of design, the part that makes you want to lick it. A lot of my friends, after using it for a while, are saying “I hated it, now I got used to it”. That’s the behavioral and reflective part kicking in. That was expected, too, that’s how easing into design works — your instincts and first impressions make place for more refined reflections and simply “getting used to it”. Unfortunately since Apple is known for releasing very visceral products (new iPhones are a great example), I’m still not sure if the seventh iOS won’t backfire.
One might argue that usability trumps visuals. That’s true, but not necessarily. Donald Norman already knows that people prefer things that work and look great over things that just work great. And it’s not about flat vs skeuomorphic. It’s not about ornamented vs minimal. It’s about “meticulously considering”, as Jony Ive puts it, every little detail, making it feel well done, no matter if it’s one or the other. It’s about not using cheap gradients. It’s about users’ gut reaction being “this looks amazing”, rather than “quite ugly but guess I’ll get used to it”. It’s about importance of visceral first reaction.
At customer discovery workshops, I talk with many entrepreneurs. From time to time, I hear the argument that BMC is not that important, and that it does not really add value to what they do. My opinion is exactly the opposite. Let me list some arguments for why a business model canvas matters:
The basic premise is simple. Provide people with information about their actions in real time (or something close to it), then give them an opportunity to change those actions, pushing them toward better behaviors. Action, information, reaction.
Disclaimer: a lot of stuff here is unedited copypasta from conference notes and might not really make sense sometimes.
I was looking for a good photo to sum up the conference and I settled with this one: Brains/Beers. Both at the same level of importance. Great, insightful talks and cool drink-up afterparties where I managed to meet awesome people.
I just came back from the sunny (not really) Cardiff, where I was attending first edition of brand new conference for designers and developers alike, HybridConf. I also spent 5 hours at the Bristol Airport due to really bad connections between Cardiff and Bristol early in the morning, so if some of what I write doesn’t make sense, I apologize. Anyway. Conference was held 15-16 August 2013 in Cineworld, Cardiff, and was organized by one and only duet - Zach Inglis and Laura Sanders, who did amazing job for a first edition of such a big event. Really, guys, hats off, I stand amazed. Venue was a cinema, which means it had probably the comfiest chairs you might want at a conference, there was food, coffee, wi-fi, good parties and everything one might look for in a conference. Let’s talk about the conference then!
The day was the development day, focused mostly on technicalities of web design and modern web development.
Unfortunately I didn’t make it for the first talk of the day, From ideas to exits by Tikhon, so I can’t say anything about it, but probably there’s going to be someone who made it and will write, stay tuned.
Second talk of the day was a great overview of responsive web design, Flux and Flexibility, by Dan Donald. Biggest takeaway, which I always tried to force when starting with RWD: create breakpoints where design stops making sense, not arbitrarily based on available devices, embrace flexibility and have fun.
Then came Matt Sears with his Engineering Beauty, a quick 101 overview of good design practices for developers, Nothing new for a designer who knows his job, a bit in tone of one of my old posts. Very useful for developers who want to make UIs that don’t suck and want to understand why designers hiss when you tell them that typeface you use doesn’t matter. All-around cool talk.
James Young, Creative Director of Offroadcode gave us a lot of useful tips on what they learned about business and marketing by selling japanese kitchen knives. While it’s a niche market, a lot of takeaways can be useful somewhere else - e.g. it’s good for conversions if cart remembers what you wanted to buy for a long, long time, or that getting covered by bloggers by giving free stuff out or creating content that links to your site works a magnitude of order better than AdWords. Which I kind of expected anyway.
Here we approach the highlight of the first day for me, which was Brian Corrigan’s talk on building kick-ass software teams. Focusing on honesty over management, being open about stuff and rallying people together for a common goal. A lot of great ideas and insights, really worth watching as soon as videos become available.
Later, Desi from thoughtbot (TIL: it’s supposed to be all lowercase) gave a lot of valuable insights into hiring process from the other side of the table, Peter Cooper shown a lot of good uses for screencasting, including how can be used as a lethal weapon against… no, wait… to work with the clients. And Bryan Liles gave a really good talk about technicalities of visualizing data on the web.
The day ended with a bowling tournament and a bit too much cider. Ouch. Luckily the hotel was right next to the venue and I had a lot of cold water waiting for me in the room.
Here’s where I had most fun, obviously. The design day.
Unfortunately, due to cough unforeseen circumstances cough I just caught a glimpse of the first talk (conferences should start later if they have an afterparty after day one, just saying), but you can find notes and a short write-up on Frank West’s blog. From what I managed to gather with my limited cognitive resources, Nick focused on how building a great customer experience should be the topmost priority and how much client cares that your company is different sections and channels (hint: not at all).
Later, Julie from Github gave us a great overview of how designers can help open source and build their portfolio and networks by doing that. Also, I learned about Hackspots, which are probably the best thing since sliced bread.
PJ McCormick, design lead at Amazon gave a great talk on how to lead your design process to fully understanding your client, no matter if it’s an external or internal client and how “I hate this” can be quickly defused by asking specific questions into “I hate badly done fixed elements”. Overall, really valuable stuff.
Fabio gave a short talk how being open to community and instant feedback (example given was mostly Dribbble) can help you become more effective as a designer and how just posting stuff online can help you quickly improve and become known in the community. Fabio has been in business for just three years now and everyone knows him. Awesome.
The highlight of the day was Etsy Product Design Principles by Cap, which was basically building a kick-ass software team by Brian, but with design. A lot of insights into how Etsy builds the product by trial, failure, experimentation and iteration and how failing is okay because it yields results and knowledge in the long run. Great team consists of design generalists involved early, no silos and cross-team work.
After the lunch, Jessie showed us how techniques used in improv can help us communicate and work, including really cool "Yes, and…" approach.
Carl Smith (he’s one hilarious sir, by the way) using videos and a bit of profanity talked about The Dark Science of Being Remotely Successful and how nGen Works resolve problems that often happen in remote teams.
James from Simple As Milk, apart from showing his nipples on the first slide, talked about how confidence sells things and gave a few cool ideas to increase your confidence with strangers and in awkward situations (hint: it involves asking strangers for money and peeking in urinals)
Andrew showed us how to fly an AR.Drone with Node.js and Cameron Moll spoke about how people and relationships are the most important thing in our business and how can you change the world. At least at a small scale.
Day was tied up with an epic afterparty at Bacchus, even more epic game of Cards Against Humanity with fifteen (!) people, beers, ciders and fun and games. And Simple As Milk intervening when the bar was closed due to overdraft tab, like bosses.
HybridConf was an epic experience, I met a lot of great people, listened to a lot of great talks, drank a lot of great cider, failed miserably at QWOP and had great fun. But seriously, Wales, get better weather in August, this one wasn’t great at all.
From what I got from Zach, they’re already thinking about next year’s HybridConf so go ahead and sign up. I will be there for sure.