Archive for the ‘Comic’ Category

Gut Glut

Monday, October 8th, 2012
CSSquirrel #104: Gut Glut

Today’s guest star is Nishant Kothary, who didn’t work on the new amazing and fully responsive redesign. The comic also features the consequences of the Squirrel’s misunderstanding the concept of “designing with your gut”.

(I wish it was as simple as eating pepperoni pizzas. I would be the best intuitive designer ever.)

Although Nishant did not work on the new design, he did write a great post telling the Story of the New (and his own small part in that), which is a great piece that looks at what made the new design so amazing. Which it turns out, is a complex, nuanced combination of many factors, including (but not limited to), designing by the gut at times.

When even Gruber says that Microsoft’s new site looks great, you know they’ve hit the ball out of the park. It makes you wonder what kind of world we live in, where suddenly Microsoft’s design aesthetic seems to be, well, awesome. From their new logo and their new site, to the Metro UI (I know, it’s not called that anymore) of Windows 8, they’ve got it going on.

It’s a crazy world.

As great as the redesign is, the reason for Nishant’s inclusion in today’s comic instead of one of the site’s designer is the meat and morale of his post: In our reality successful websites (or successful projects of any type) are rarely (if ever) in debt to a single underlying cause. Awesome techniques, rockstar designers, understanding management, these may be some of literally dozens of contributing factors. To me this is great, because it means we can learn dozens of valuable lessons by examining these success stories.

Nishant tells the story like this as well, touching on several aspects that made the redesign the success that it is, then ending by contributing it all to the twenty-five people that were involved in that project.

There was a tweet by Dan Cederholm last week that touched on the topic of what goes into making good websites.

Web design is getting f’ing complex. Biggest concern is for those just starting to learn.

Which, really sums it up. There’s so many aspects to good design that it’s impossible to find a single magic bullet (as awesome as responsive design is.) I appreciate the new for reminding us that our industry is about a lot more than just buzzwords.

The Folly of Tool Obsession

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
CSSquirrel #103: The Folly of Tool Obsession

The well-dressed and well spoken Aarron Walter stars in today’s comic as witness to the tragic results of the Squirrel’s folly. The Frankenpersona, a vile result of the obsession over the use UX tools over the actual needs of the users, may not be marching down the hallways of your web team’s studio, but I’m sure you’ve seen similar ugly beasties in your time in the trenches.

I know I have.

I’m not sure if employees of Mailchimp are expected to produce newsletters on a regular basis as a part of their job, but Aarron does. Issue 8 of his On My Mind newsletter got the the following review from his fellow Mailchimper Jason Beaird:

Everyone who works in UX should read @aarron’s latest “On My Mind” newsletter.

Although he might be subject to a certain amount of coworker bias, I’m going to back up what he said. Go read it.

Honestly, I don’t have a lot of additional insight to add other than the fact that I’ve seen exactly what he’s talking about: Team members that become obsessed with tools and processes to the detriment of the project and its end users. I’ve become obsessed like that. It never ends well.

This doesn’t extend just to UX Design. Heck, it doesn’t just extend to web professionals. It extends to pretty much anything.

Tools are great. Without them we’d probably still be fighting bears in hand-to-hand combat and living on a diet of easy-to-catch animals and the less troublesome plants, like sloths and sunflowers.

But tool obsession is just nuts. The means don’t justify the ends just because the means use the coolest new hip technique. In the end, a product has to stand on how it works for the users. And to make those great products, we need to remember that our workflow needs to be flexible. We should accept common sense or acknowledge better ideas when they appear. Even if it’s from teammates who aren’t using our favorite process.

He uses the story of Narcissus as a metaphor about the impact of a blind obsession with tools, referencing how the mythical youth became so enamored by his reflection (his tools, if you will) that he became its servant, numb to the actual people around him in service of his own mirrored image.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Aarron’s article that I think really touches to the core of what he’s saying.

As our tools have evolved, so too have our teams, dividing into specializations that help us build for many platforms, create better content, and design more usable experiences. But as we divide, we understand one another less, causing us to lose our empathy for the challenges of the designer or developer we work with. When we no longer feel the pain of our peers, we stop listening to their recommendations and ignore the limitations they face. That’s how political unrest arises in teams, and the loser in those battles is always the user.

The Savage Beatings Anti-Pattern

Monday, October 1st, 2012
CSSquirrel #102: The Savage Beatings Anti-Pattern

Just so we’re clear, in no way do I think that Jeremy Keith (one of today’s guest stars) would actually do any violence to Michael Sippey (the other guest star) or any other person in real life. I do, however, share Jeremy’s well documented rancor about the email notification anti-pattern. Which, among many other shameful companies, Twitter is notorious for its participation.

For those precious few of you who haven’t been victims of it, the anti-pattern in question is as follows:

  1. A site creates a new notification/email/spam.
  2. An option is created for their existing users to sign up for this further bloat to their in-boxes.
  3. As a “convenience”, it is set to “yes” by default.
  4. If for some reason (Heaven forfend!) you don’t like spam, you must then follow a link to their site, log INTO said site, and then un-click the offending “Yes” that’s on an item labeled something patently false like “Emails You’ll Really Want”.

This isn’t a customer service. They know it. And we know it. It’s force-feeding end users in the desperate hopes of squeezing extra profits out of our bloated corpses.

So what do we do about it?

I’m going to suggest we follow Jeremy’s advice.

Document (aka, blog) the situations when they occur, so there’s a greater awareness for new startups entering the space that this type of interaction and marketing is unwanted and hostile to users.

We probably shouldn’t threaten them with bats, but I suggest communicating directly with offenders. They may not change from one voice, or ten, or a hundred. But if enough people complain, maybe they’ll get the picture.

Also, participate in efforts to proactively communicate what web patterns suck, such as pointing people to Harry Brignull’s Dark Pattern Wiki (which doesn’t currently have this anti-pattern listed on it, but certainly should.)

Those are the best ideas I’ve got. Documentation, mockery, notification and education.

Got your own? Let me know via one of the response methods below. Or, heck, if you actually like being signed up for spam without your prior consent, please let me know. You’re likely the last of your kind and belong in a museum.


Monday, September 24th, 2012
CSSquirrel #100: Misdirection

One word that comes to mind when I think of today’s guest star, Faruk Ateş, is passion. Anyone familiar with his Twitter account or blog might find, from time to time, passionate zeal about many things. Including Apple.

I’m not convinced a company sitting on dozens of billions of dollars of cash needs apologists. I’ve got it on good authority that they’re doing OK. But that doesn’t stop Apple fans (which today Faruk is representing) from swarming to the company’s defense at a whiff of criticism.

So I’ll clinch my butt cheeks tightly as I proceed to criticize.

The iPhone 5 is out. Along with it came iOS 6. And along with that came some interesting software changes. To put it mildly.

Let’s clear things out first. The iPhone 5 is a great, top of the line, modern phone. It’s an unbelievably light and thin piece of gossamer and wonder that represents just how crazy technology is these days. I’m not daring to imply otherwise.

But despite that, it’s also something of a catch-up phone. With the exception perhaps of its surprisingly lightweight and thin physique for a phone with its feature-set, the phone isn’t exactly sporting anything revolutionary. Yes, Tim Cook made it a point to tell us how awesome it is, really pumping it up. Which he should, because that’s his job. But he may have overstated how unprecedented the iPhone’s many new… for it… features are.

Does that make it a bad phone? Heavens, no. It’s a thoroughly impressive, gorgeous, modern phone. But it’s now part of a pack of modern phones with comparable feature sets.

Which is great. I like healthy competition.

What is less great is a few changes to the software that phone (and other iPhones, like my own 4S, that have been updated to iOS 6) have brought upon us.

Exhibit A: the new iOS Maps.

There’s probably a great reason they decided to replace Google Maps with their own self-made app. I’m thinking it involves buckets of cash and super-valuable user data. Also, it’s no surprise that the honeymoon days between those companies ended about twelve seconds after Android was introduced to the world.

But it’s shocking that Apple, who so carefully crafts experiences as mundane as removing their products from the packaging, dumped such a thoroughly substandard replacement with so many glaring errors upon us.

Dylan and I talk about this in detail during our inaugural Squirrel and Moose podcast, in case you want to hear more on that topic. But in short, it’s disappointing, and it’s not the Apple I’m used to seeing, and I’m glad that at least some of the loyal Apple followers are admitting that this is a misstep.

Because no matter how well you dress it up, a turd is a turd.

Despite how public and loud the dissatisfaction is with iOS Maps, iOS 6 presents us with something far worse that we should be paying more attention to.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the new App Store. Read that. Please. Take a gander. Heck, if you’ve got an iDevice of some sort, go look at it yourself. Use it. Try to find new stuff. Having problems? Yeah…

This just doesn’t make sense. It’s not helping the users, it’s not helping the third party developers. It’s just bad. If you want to find a new app, and you aren’t specifically looking for something by name, have fun finding anything that isn’t a best-seller.

I’m not sure how this helps Apple, or help the iPhone user experience.

Apple is a big, rich company with lots of smart, talented employees. These missteps, and there’s plenty this time around, are so uncharacteristic that it’s baffling. Especially at a time when the competition is so strong. I’ve had an iPhone for years now, but despite its sparse app landscape I’m beginning to think about picking up a Windows Phone the next time I upgrade. iOS 6 isn’t helping convince me otherwise.

The iPhone 5 is a great phone, an evolutionary device even if it’s not a revolutionary one. It’s sold millions, and will sell millions more. But iOS 6 is a step backwards, a devolution if you will. And if Apple doesn’t double down on fixing their blunder, they’re going to run the risk of simply being one of many great smartphone makers instead of being the great smart phone maker.

[Update: Here's a new post by Jared Spool talking about iOS6 Maps and the opportunity it provides us to show the value of (and need for) investing in quality content in websites and apps.]

Game Break

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012
CSSquirrel #100: Game Break

It’s true. I pre-ordered Borderlands 2, but thanks to the wonders of shipping delays the game is somewhere between the warehouse and my home. It will be days yet before it makes it into my hands. Part of me wonders at the purpose of pre-ordering something if it’s not shipped in time to be received on launch day, but somehow I’ll survive. Like the Squirrel, I might choose distract myself through the powers of make-believe. Whatever it takes, right?

Don’t let my current game-related obsession fool you, however. I’m not suddenly competing with Penny Arcade for the title of “best gamer comic ever”. Today’s comic actually touches on the field of web design while discussing games for a very specific reason. Today’s guest star is Anna Debenham, a freelance front end developer from Brighton, UK. Anna is one of those brilliant web people that continues to add to that city’s reputation of being stuffed full of an unfair amount of awesome talent.

If somehow you haven’t heard of her yet, you will have a hard time continuing that trend going forward. Among other things she has contributed to 24 ways, shared her wisdom at conferences (she will be speaking at the upcoming Full Frontal 2012), and has just had a very interesting article about testing websites in game console browsers published over at A List Apart.

The article is a good read, and I recommend you check it out because it probably contains wisdom you need but currently lack.

I know I did.

Yes, I already knew that people were browsing websites via consoles. Yes, I knew that in some cases those consoles’ browsers aren’t nearly as capable as a typical desktop experience. But in my head that wasn’t something I needed to worry about. After all, how often are people browsing the web via their PS3?

A lot, it turns out. According to Anna’s article, a full one in eight people overall (in the UK, US and France) and one in four teens use their game console to browse the web on a regular basis. That, my friends, is a lot of people.

It’s an amount we probably can’t afford to ignore.

Among other things, this means that I now need to start thinking about how client sites might look in console browsers. I wonder if I can use this data to get Mindfly to set up an Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii in the studio.

You know, for work purposes.

This also reminds me of the need for community device labs that Jeremy Keith (another Brighton design wizard) has been thumping for. There’s so many bloody web-connected devices these days that it’s outside of the budget of most studios or teams to build a thorough collection themselves. Which is why he advocates the need for designer communities to support each other in putting together an open lab for one another to contribute towards and make use of. In his posts Jeremy spoke mainly about having mobile and tablet devices, but after reading Anna’s article I think there’s good reason to include consoles and even browser-capable toasters in such collections.

Let’s be honest, if a toaster can’t connect to the Internet yet, one soon will.

Should we be designing for every device, including consoles, with our websites? No. That way lies madness. There’s simply too many to account for, and by targeting all the ones you know you’ll be explicitly excluding the ones you don’t.

Nor should we get caught up in the mentality of targeting sites to specific devices. Every time you build a site to render specifically on an iPhone you’re failing to take into account how many other smartphones are out there with different capabilities and screen dimensions. Despite how abundantly clear this is, I see the same mistake made over and over again.

Don’t make your sites for specific devices. Please.

Anna rightly points that out herself in her ALA piece:

We can’t tailor experiences for every possible use case on every device, but we can use what we know about console web browsing to build a better overall experience. Like we’ve done by designing with mobile in mind, considering how a site could be used on a console can have a knock-on effect of making it easier to use overall.

Jeremy Keith speaks to that same point in the article of his that I linked above:

In fact I’ve found that one of the greatest benefits of testing on as many different platforms as possible is that it stops me from straying down the path of device-specific development. When I come across a problem in my testing, my reaction isn’t to think “how can I fix this problem on this particular device?”, which would probably involve throwing more code at it. Instead I think “how can I avoid this problem?” The particular device may have highlighted the issue, but there’s almost always a more fundamental problem to be tackled …and it’s very rarely tackled by throwing more code at it.

So do yourself a favor. Go check out Anna’s article about consoles. If you haven’t already done so, start thinking about what it means to be a web designer in a world where virtually every device we can think of can visit your website, and what it takes to make a design robust enough to survive on them all. And the next time you start thinking about tailoring for specific devices, stop and remember that’s a trap you can’t afford to fall for in our modern device-happy world.