HTML5: Perks + Graceful Degradation

From Smashing Magazine, some of the lesser-known delights of HTML5:

  • <a> is a block element
  • placeholder text within forms (I’m very excited about this one!)
  • improved method for defining page sections

My favorite update is that the W3C guidelines dedicates an entire section to compatibility and graceful degradation.

It’s time to celebrate the end of the myth of cross-browser consistency. Adaptive design used to be about designing for IE vs. Firefox and 800x600 vs. 1024x768. But that’s all changed with the new proliferation of devices such as mobile phones, tablets, high resolution monitors, dashboard displays, and web TV.

It’s not longer just the web developer’s challenge to make sure that everything looks exactly the same across all browsers and devices. The designer must work in tandem to ensure that the user experience adapts smoothly across the many devices through which we now live.

You're better at solving someone else's problems

Studies show that people solve problems more quickly & creatively when they think about them in the abstract. However, when faced with challenges in our proximity (space/time/social connections), people tend to think concretely. Thus when solving problems, it can be useful to take a step back and/or find others to problem-solve with you. More tips for creative collaboration in Daniel Pink’s article

Sounds like yet another reason to continue working across business unit lines. Regular check-ins, discussions, and design reviews may help to move our projects forward more quickly & with higher quality.

By the way, there have been times when this technique has been quite helpful:

When partners aren’t an option, establish distance yourself. Create some psychological space between you and your project by imagining you’re doing it for someone else or contemplating what advice you’d give to another person in your predicament.

iPad vs "the other guys"

From AllThingsDigital, “consumers don’t want tablets, they want iPads”

These statistics do not surprise me. Over the past few months, we’ve interviewed over 50 small business owners about how they use mobile devices in their work and personal lives. I’ve heard many of them say, “I want to get an iPad”, “I’m just about to buy an iPad”, or “I just got my iPad a few weeks ago”. I never heard anyone say, “I want to get a tablet”– they specifically called out the iPad.

Of the users that we spoke to, only 2 mentioned tablets other than the iPad, and they did not describe them favorably. One told us how he’d bought a Xoom for his wife but they both disliked it so much that he was planning to return it. 

For some more thoughts on “iPad vs. everyone else”, check out Marco Arment’s highly relevant blog post: “There really isn’t much of a ‘tablet’ market”

BayCHI: Turning Mediocre Products into Awesome Products (Zurb)

I recently attended a BayCHI talk entitled “Turning mediocre products into awesome products,” led by two members of interaction design consultancy Zurb.

Amidst screenshots, photos, and Star Wars references, Jonathan Smiley & Jeremy Britton told the story of how they designed & launched a new product in 4 months. My notes from the talk follow:

“Design for People”

Design Principles:

  • Small details can change the world
  • Craft matters (you need to be able to design and build it!)
  • Everybody should be able to design - “Can’t draw stick figures? Pick up a yellow pen and highlight something. Can’t pick up a yellow pen? Pick up a red pen and cross something out”
  • You need people
  • Ask “why” five times
  • We love businesses with a long-term view
  • UX design doesn’t exist (as a discipline) since you can only control ½ of the experience; the other person brings their own context to the table

What do you need to make awesome products?

  • Lots of enlightened trial & error
  • Customer feedback ASAP
  • Team behind it - buy-in, want it to succeed

After this talk, challenge yourself to:

  • Design 1 more prototype
  • Demo with 5 more real customers
  • Create 1 more team advocate

The “lone genius” doesn’t exist - everyone’s heard fables of insight happening overnight, but we know that’s false & lots of work goes into every great invention

- ex: the lightbulb

- ex: Steve Jobs (has deep intuition for people, iterates, fails)

Building Verify

Week 1: Sketches

  • multiples -> no ego bruise (don’t feel bad about ones that suck)
  • fast -> in a flow (don’t need to set up anything beforehand)
  • cheap -> easier to repeat
  • disposable -> just a spark (easy to chuck bad stuff)
  • opportunity -> “wow” moments (accidental moments of insight)

Sketching becomes the “requirements” doc - better than a huge doc because they look less intimidating so people respond to them more honestly & productively

Month 1: Prototype

  • Front end code in ~1 week
  • “Spec” - Created a single page that lists out every screen in the app in order to build the app, including thumbnails of what they screens will look like. Divided up by user task. Links directly to the pages.
  • Literally scanned, chopped up, and dropped hand-sketched icons into the app

Month 2: Test Ideas & Iterate

  • presented at “Demo 2010” conference, got lots of excitement & signups
  • shared with users & iterated

Month 3: Private Release & Feedback

  • beta with 200-300 users
  • once people were using & paying for it, feedback came in strong
  • continued to learn user behavior - when added links to more tests at the bottom of the “Thank You” page, they found users would usually take another test because they’d found the last one to be so quick & fun

Month 4: Launch!

Additional Reading Material

What's new in iOS 5

According to,

Apple mentioned 10 major features out of the 200 features they’ve claimed to have added in this latest version of iOS5.

The site has compiled a list of 165 of those changes, and will continue to add new ones as they are found.

From what I’ve seen thus far, the features which will most impact our app design will be Reminders, Twitter integration, and possibly iCloud.

But why is being lazy a good attribute for doing UX design? Because it prevents one from doing stupid, cute, things. Sure, some of those stupid/cute things might be brilliant, but most of them would diminish the UX of the product or perhaps take a lot of your development time for no real improvement to the final result.

Just like in evolution, there are lots of mutations but only a very few of them will actually be useful.

Plain Clip

I do a lot of copying-and-pasting between programs (copying things into/out of emails, moving stuff around Evernote, copying snippets off the web, updating Word files, etc.) and it’s always a headache to deal with formatting. Using the ol' copy - open TextEditor - specify plaintext - paste - select all - copy - paste method is frustratingly inefficient.

Thus I was absolutely delighted to find Plain Clip (Mac OSX only). This little app is so simple it has no UI, but it adds big value by stripping out formatting with just one click. 

Here’s how:

1. Download the application

2. Install to your Applications folder

3. Add a shortcut to the app in your Dock by dragging & dropping

4. Copy something with nasty formatting (Cmd-C), then click the app shortcut in your dock, then paste as usual into another file (Cmd-V)

Voila! Lovely plaintext, right where you want it.

Customer Care in Mobile Apps

Some tips from Mashable about customer support in mobile apps:

  • When building an app, acknowledge that some aspect of “traditional care” (support agents, phone help, help documents) may still be needed and plan for them
  • Streamline the experience - app could be used to immediately transfer the users to the right agent or schedule a callback while giving the agent proper context
  • Notifications can be useful for informing users about outages and other problems before they encounter them and have a bad experience
  • Use the info that you know about users of the app (usage history, etc.) to tailor the support experience to them
  • Take advantage of unique mobile capabilities (touch, voice input) to help users find what they need faster

Android Design Guidelines | Mutual Mobile

A set of unofficial Android Design Guidelines from the folks at Mutual Mobile. I found it to be a useful translation of the Android Developer design guidelines into “design speak”.

Useful recommendations include:

  • Dimensions for common UI elements (such as tab bar) across devices
  • When to customize or go with default UI components
  • Things to watch out for when specifying rich visual design
  • How to size & export button/icon assets
  • Using draw9patch
  • … and all sorts of other little hints & tricks for avoiding Android “design disasters”

Chart: How Many Users Does Twitter REALLY Have?

It seems that “175 million users” may be a bit of an exaggeration. This article estimates the number of active Twitter users to be closer to 56 million. Although the math is a bit shady, it’s interesting to see the thought process that they went through.

Bonus fun fact:

At Facebook, a company source tells us, they believe that a user is not going to end up sticking around unless they make friends with 10 people.

A/B Testing inspiration

A/B testing examples that might help you to decide whether to use that marketing popup or not (of course, the only way to really know is to do some A/B testing of your own!) - Various websites can share and comment on the results of their own A/B tests

Which Test Won - A “hot or not” style gallery where you guess which test won before seeing the answer & proposed explanation

EightShapes Unify Documentation System

Templates and snippets for design documentation, wireframes, and more within Adobe InDesign. The website is well documented and has several video tutorials. If you prefer to jump in, download the pack and open “documentation/IASummit2008.InstantDeliverableMix.NathanCurtis.pdf” for an overview of available templates.

Once I’d familiarized myself with the system, I was able to set up a decent looking design review document in just a few clicks. Since this is using InDesign, this enables a separation between the presentation layer and actual files. The EightShapes Unify blog has a few articles about sourcing library artwork.

Hint: If you’re new to InDesign, note the differences between templates (.indt) and snippets (.inds). You can open a template directly in InDesign, but in order to add a snippet, you must add it to an existing document.

Kano Model - Invest in Customer Delight

The Kano Model describes the relationship between the investment in a product and customer satisfaction.


  • Performance Payoff: In general, more investment in (the right areas of) your application will increase customer satisfaction.
  • Basic Expectations: If your application sets user expectations by making a promise, then you must invest in meeting this expectation or risk frustrating your customers. However, meeting expectations won’t necessarily inspire delight.
  • Excitement Generators: To increase delight, strive to “under promise and over deliver”. The classic example of this is Zappos, which may promise 4-5 day delivery, but ship the item much faster.
  • Change: Realize that over time and industry adoption, delight may eventually turn into basic expectations.

Kano Model: a tool to predict user satisfaction