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Working Together: How Designers And Developers Can Communicate To Create Better Projects




Working Together: How Designers And Developers Can Communicate To Create Better Projects

Rachel Andrew



Among the most popular suggestions on Smashing Magazine’s Content User Suggestions board is the need of learning more about the interaction and communication between designers and developers. There are probably several articles worth of very specific things that could be covered here, but I thought I would kick things off with a general post rounding up some experiences on the subject.

Given the wide range of skills held by the line-up at our upcoming SmashingConf Toronto — a fully live, no-slides-allowed event, I decided to solicit some feedback. I’ve wrapped those up with my own experience of 20 years working alongside designers and other developers. I hope you will add your own experiences in the comments.

Some tips work best when you can be in the same room as your team, and others are helpful for the remote worker or freelancer. What shines through all of the advice, however, is the need to respect each other, and the fact that everyone is working to try and create the best outcome for the project.

Working Remotely And Staying Connected

The nomadic lifestyle is not right for everyone, but the only way to know for sure is to try. If you can afford to take the risk, go for it. Javier Cuello shares his experience and insights from his four years of travel and work. Read article →

For many years, my own web development company operated as an outsourced web development provider for design agencies. This involved doing everything from front-end development to implementing e-commerce and custom content management solutions. Our direct client was the designer or design agency who had brought us on board to help with the development aspect of the work, however, in an ideal situation, we would be part of the team working to deliver a great end result to the end client.

Sometimes this relationship worked well. We would feel a valued part of the team, our ideas and experience would count, we would work with the designers to come up with the best solution within budgetary, time, and other constraints.

In many cases, however, no attempt was made to form a team. The design agency would throw a picture of a website as a PDF file over the fence to us, then move on to work on their next project. There was little room for collaboration, and often the designer who had created the files was busy on some other work when we came back with questions.

It was an unsatisfactory way to work for everyone. We would be frustrated because we did not have a chance to help ensure that what was designed was possible to be built in a performant and accessible way, within the time and budget agreed on. The designer of the project would be frustrated: Why were these developers asking so many questions? Can they not just build the website as I have designed? Why are the fonts not the size I wanted?

The Waterfall versus Agile argument might be raised here. The situation where a PDF is thrown over the fence is often cited as an example of how bad a Waterfall approach is. Still, working in a fully Agile way is often not possible for teams made of freelancers or separate parties doing different parts of the work. Therefore, in reading these suggestions, look at them through the lens of the projects you work on. However, try not to completely discount something as unworkable because you can’t use the full process. There are often things we can take without needing to fully adopt one methodology or another.

Setting Up A Project For Success

I came to realize that very often the success of failure of the collaboration started before we even won the project, with the way in which we proposed the working relationship. We had to explain upfront that experience had taught us that the approach of us being handed a PDF, quoting and returning a website did not give the best results.

Projects that were successful had a far more iterative approach. It might not be possible to have us work alongside the designers or in a more Agile way. However, having a number of rounds of design and development with time for feedback from each side went a long way to prevent the frustrations of a method where work was completed by each side independently.

Creating Working Relationships

Having longer-term relationships with an agency, spanning a number of projects worked well. We got to know the designers, learned how they worked, could anticipate their questions and ensure that we answered them upfront. We were able to share development knowledge, the things that made a design easier or harder to implement which would, therefore, have an impact on time and budget. They were able to communicate better with us in order to explain why a certain design element was vital, even if it was going to add complexity.

For many freelance designers and developers, and also for those people who work for a distributed company, communication can become mostly text-based. This can make it particularly hard to build relationships. There might be a lot of communication — by email, in Slack, or through messages on a project management platform such as Basecamp. However, all of these methods leave us without the visual cues we might pick up from in-person meetings. An email we see as to the point may come across to the reader as if we are angry. The quick-fire nature of tools such as Slack might leave us committing in writing something which we would not say to that person while looking into their eyes!

Freelance data scientist Nadieh Bremer will talk to us about visualizing data in Toronto. She has learned that meeting people face to face — or at least having a video call — is important. She told me:

Nadieh Bremer

“As a remote freelancer, I know that to interact well with my clients I really need to have a video call (stress on the video) I need to see their face and facial/body interactions and they need to see mine. For clients that I have within public transport distance, I used to travel there for a first ‘getting to know each other/see if we can do a project’ meeting, which would take loads of time. But I noticed for my clients abroad (that I can’t visit anyway) that a first client call (again, make sure it’s a video-call) works more than good enough.

It’s the perfect way to weed out the clients that need other skills that I can give, those that are looking for a cheap deal, and those where I just felt something wasn’t quite clicking or I’m not enthusiastic about the project after they’ve given me a better explanation. So these days I also ask my clients in the Netherlands, where I live, that might want to do a first meeting to have it online (and once we get on to an actual contract I can come by if it’s beneficial).”

Working In The Open

Working in the open (with the project frequently deployed to a staging server that everyone had access to see), helped to support an iterative approach to development. I found that it was important to support that live version with explanations and notes of what to look at and test and what was still half finished. If I just invited people to look at it without that information we would get lists of fixes to make to unfinished features, which is a waste of time for the person doing the reporting. However, a live staging version, plus notes in a collaboration tool such as Basecamp meant that we could deploy sections and post asking for feedback on specific things. This helped to keep everyone up to date and part of the project even if — as was often the case for designers in an agency — they had a number of other projects to work on.

There are collaboration tools to help designers to share their work too. Asking for recommendations on Twitter gave me suggestions for Zeplin, Invision, Figma, and Adobe XD. Showing work in progress to a developer can help them to catch things that might be tricky before they are signed off by the client. By sharing the goal behind a particular design feature within the team, a way forward can be devised that meets the goal without blowing the budget.


Screenshot of the Zeplin homepage


Zeplin is a collaboration tool for developers and designers

Scope Creep And Change Requests

The thing about working in the open is that people then start to have ideas (which should be a positive thing), however, most timescales and budgets are not infinite! This means you need to learn to deal with scope creep and change requests in a way that maintains a good working relationship.

We would often get requests for things that were trivial to implement with a message saying how sorry they were about this huge change and requests for incredibly time-consuming things with an assumption it would be quick. Someone who is not a specialist has no idea how long anything will take. Why should they? It is important to remember this rather than getting frustrated about the big changes that are being asked for. Have a conversation about the change, explain why it is more complex than it might appear, and try to work out whether this is a vital addition or change, or just a nice idea that someone has had.

If the change is not essential, then it may be enough to log it somewhere as a phase two request, demonstrating that it has been heard and won’t be forgotten. If the big change is still being requested, we would outline the time it would take and give options. This might mean dropping some other feature if a project has a fixed budget and tight deadline. If there was flexibility then we could outline the implications on both costs and end date.

With regard to costs and timescales, we learned early on to pad our project quotes in order that we could absorb some small changes without needing to increase costs or delay completion. This helped with the relationship between the agency and ourselves as they didn’t feel as if they were being constantly nickel and dimed. Small changes were expected as part of the process of development. I also never wrote these up in a quote as contingency, as a client would read that and think they should be able to get the project done without dipping into the contingency. I just added the time to the quote for the overall project. If the project ran smoothly and we didn’t need that time and money, then the client got a smaller bill. No one is ever unhappy about being invoiced for less than they expected!

This approach can work even for people working in-house. Adding some time to your estimates means that you can absorb small changes without needing to extend the timescales. It helps working relationships if you are someone who is able to say yes as often as possible.

This does require that you become adept at estimating timescales. This is a skill you can develop by logging your time to achieve your work, even if you don’t need to log your time for work purposes. While many of the things you design or develop will be unique, and seem impossible to estimate, by consistently logging your time you will generally find that your ballpark estimates become more accurate as you make yourself aware of how long things really take.

Respect

Aaron Draplin will be bringing tales from his career in design to Toronto, and responded with the thought that it comes down to respect for your colleague’s craft:

Aaron Draplin

“It all comes down to respect for your colleague’s craft, and sort of knowing your place and precisely where you fit into the project. When working with a developer, I surrender to them in a creative way, and then, defuse whatever power play they might try to make on me by leading the charges with constructive design advice, lightning-fast email replies and generally keeping the spirit upbeat. It’s an odd offense to play. I’m not down with the adversarial stuff. I’m quick to remind them we are all in the same boat, and, who’s paying their paycheck. And that’s not me. It’s the client. I’ll forever be on their team, you know? We make the stuff for the client. Not just me. Not ‘my team’. We do it together. This simple methodology has always gone a long way for me.”

I love this, it underpins everything that this article discusses. Think back to any working relationship that has gone bad, how many of those involved you feeling as if the other person just didn’t understand your point of view or the things you believe are important? Most reasonable people understand that compromise has to be made, it is when it appears that your point of view is not considered that frustration sets in.

There are sometimes situations where a decision is being made, and your experience tells you it is going to result in a bad outcome for the project, yet you are overruled. On a few occasions, decisions were made that I believed so poor; I asked for the decision and our objection to it be put in writing, in order that we could not be held accountable for any bad outcome in future. This is not something you should feel the need to do often, however, it is quite powerful and sometimes results in the decision being reversed. An example would be of a client who keeps insisting on doing something that would cause an accessibility problem for a section of their potential audience. If explaining the issue does not help, and the client insists on continuing, ask for that decision in writing in order to document your professional advice.

Learning The Language

I recently had the chance to bring my CSS Layout Workshop not to my usual groups of front-end developers but instead to a group of UX designers. Many of the attendees were there not to improve their front-end development skills, but more to understand enough of how modern CSS Layout worked that they could have better conversations with the developers who built their designs. Many of them had also spent years being told that certain things were not possible on the web, but were realizing that the possibilities in CSS were changing through things like CSS Grid. They were learning some CSS not necessarily to become proficient in shipping it to production, but so they could share a common language with developers.

There are often debates on whether “designers should learn to code.” In reality, I think we all need to learn something of the language, skills, and priorities of the other people on our teams. As Aaron reminded us, we are all on the same team, we are making stuff together. Designers should learn something about code just as developers should also learn something of design. This gives us more of a shared language and understanding.

Seb Lee-Delisle, who will speak on the subject of Hack to the Future in Toronto, agrees:

Seb Lee-Delisle

“I have basically made a career out of being both technical and creative so I strongly feel that the more crossover the better. Obviously what I do now is wonderfully free of the constraints of client work but even so, I do think that if you can blur those edges, it’s gonna be good for you. It’s why I speak at design conferences and encourage designers to play with creative coding, and I speak at tech conferences to persuade coders to improve their visual acuity. Also with creative coding. :) It’s good because not only do I get to work across both disciplines, but also I get to annoy both designers and coders in equal measure.”

I have found that introducing designers to browser DevTools (in particular the layout tools in Firefox and also to various code generators on the web) has been helpful. By being able to test ideas out without writing code, helps a designer who isn’t confident in writing code to have better conversations with their developer colleagues. Playing with tools such as gradient generators, clip-path or animation tools can also help designers see what is possible on the web today.


Screenshot of Animista


Animista has demos of different styles of animation

We are also seeing a number of tools that can help people create websites in a more visual way. Developers can sometimes turn their noses up about the code output of such tools, and it’s true they probably won’t be the best choice for the production code of a large project. However, they can be an excellent way for everyone to prototype ideas, without needing to write code. Those prototypes can then be turned into robust, permanent and scalable versions for production.

An important tip for developers is to refrain from commenting on the code quality of prototypes from members of the team who do not ship production code! Stick to what the prototype is showing as opposed to how it has been built.

A Practical Suggestion To Make Things Visual

Eva-Lotta Lamm will be speaking in Toronto about Sketching and perhaps unsurprisingly passed on practical tips for helping conversation by visualizing the problem to support a conversation.

Eva-Lotta Lamm

Creating a shared picture of a problem or a solution is a simple but powerful tool to create understanding and make sure they everybody is talking about the same thing.

Visualizing a problem can reach from quick sketches on a whiteboard to more complex diagrams, like customer journey diagrams or service blueprints.

But even just spatially distributing words on a surface adds a valuable layer of meaning. Something as simple as arranging post-its on a whiteboard in different ways can help us to see relationships, notice patterns, find gaps and spot outliers or anomalies. If we add simple structural elements (like arrows, connectors, frames, and dividers) and some sketches into the mix, the relationships become even more obvious.

Visualising a problem creates context and builds a structural frame that future information, questions, and ideas can be added to in a ‘systematic’ way.

Visuals are great to support a conversation, especially when the conversation is ‘messy’ and several people involved.

When we visualize a conversation, we create an external memory of the content, that is visible to everybody and that can easily be referred back to. We don’t have to hold everything in our mind. This frees up space in everybody’s mind to think and talk about other things without the fear of forgetting something important. Visuals also give us something concrete to hold on to and to follow along while listening to complex or abstract information.

When we have a visual map, we can point to particular pieces of content — a simple but powerful way to make sure everybody is talking about the same thing. And when referring back to something discussed earlier, the map automatically reminds us of the context and the connections to surrounding topics.

When we sketch out a problem, a solution or an idea the way we see it (literally) changes. Every time we express a thought in a different medium, we are forced to shape it in a specific way, which allows us to observe and analyze it from different angles.

Visualising forces us to make decisions about a problem that words alone don’t. We have to decide where to place each element, decide on its shape, size, its boldness, and color. We have to decide what we sketch and what we write. All these decisions require a deeper understanding of the problem and make important questions surface fairly quickly.

All in all, supporting your collaboration by making it more visual works like a catalyst for faster and better understanding.

Working in this way is obviously easier if your team is working in the same room. For distributed teams and freelancers, there are alternatives to communicate in ways other than words, e.g. by making a quick Screencast to demonstrate an issue, or even sketching and photographing a diagram can be incredibly helpful. There are collaborative tools such as Milanote, Mural, and Niice; such tools can help with the process Eva-Lotta described even if people can’t be in the same room.


Screenshot of the Niice website


Niice helps you to collect and discuss ideas

I’m very non-visual and have had to learn how useful these other methods of communication are to the people I work with. I have been guilty on many occasions of forgetting that just because I don’t personally find something useful, it is still helpful to other people. It is certainly a good idea to change how you are trying to communicate an idea if it becomes obvious that you are talking at cross-purposes.

Over To You

As with most things, there are many ways to work together. Even for remote teams, there is a range of tools which can help break down barriers to collaborating in a more visual way. However, no tool is able to fix problems caused by a lack of respect for the work of the rest of the team. A good relationship starts with the ability for all of us to take a step back from our strongly held opinions, listen to our colleagues, and learn to compromise. We can then choose tools and workflows which help to support that understanding that we are all on the same team, all trying to do a great job, and all have important viewpoints and experience to bring to the project.

I would love to hear your own experiences working together in the same room or remotely. What has worked well — or not worked at all! Tools, techniques, and lessons learned are all welcome in the comments. If you would be keen to see tutorials about specific tools or workflows mentioned here, perhaps add a suggestion to our User Suggestions board, too.

Smashing Editorial
(il)


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Working Together: How Designers And Developers Can Communicate To Create Better Projects

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On Failures And Successes: Meet SmashingConf Freiburg 2018




On Failures And Successes: Meet SmashingConf Freiburg 2018

Vitaly Friedman



Everybody loves speaking about successes, but nobody can succeed without failing big time along the way. It’s through mistakes that we grow and get smarter. So for the upcoming SmashingConf Freiburg 2018 (Sept. 10–11), we want to put these stories into focus for a change and explore practical techniques and strategies learned in real projects — the hard way. Aarron Walter, Josh Clark, Tammy Everts, Morten Rand-Hendriksen & many others. Sept 10–11. Early-Birds are available now →

SmashingConf Freiburg 2018
One track, two days, honest talks, live sessions, and a handful of practical workshops. That’s SmashingConf Freiburg 2018! Excited yet?

The night before the conference we’ll be hosting a FailNight — a warm-up party with a twist. Every session will be highlighting how we all failed on a small or big scale, and what we all can learn from it. With talks from the community, for the community. Sounds like fun? Well, it will be!

Speakers

As usual, one track, two conference days (Sept. 10–11), 12 speakers, and just 260 available seats. The conference will cover everything from efficient design workflow to design systems and copywriting, multi-cultural designs, designing for mobile and other fields that may come up in your day-to-day work.

First confirmed speakers include:

First confirmed speakers
Aarron Walter and Tammy Everts are two of the first confirmed speakers.

Conference Tickets

€499Get Your Ticket

Two days of great speakers and networking
Check all speakers →

Conf + Workshop Tickets

Save €100 Conf + Workshop

Three days full of learning and networking
Check all workshops →

Workshops At SmashingConf Freiburg

Our workshops give you the opportunity to spend a full day on the topic of your choice. Tickets for the full-day workshops cost €399. If you buy a workshop ticket in combination with a conference ticket, you’ll save €100 on the regular workshop ticket price. Seats are limited

Workshops on Wednesday, September 12th

Josh Clark on Design For What’s Next
Josh ClarkSpend a day exploring the web’s emerging interactions and how you can put them to work today. Your guide is designer Josh Clark, author of Designing for Touch and ambassador of the near future. As you move into newer design tools — speech, bots, physical interfaces, artificial intelligence, and more — you’ll learn the tools and techniques for prototyping and launching these new interfaces and get answers to foundational questions for all your projects. Read more…

Seb Lee-Delisle on JavaScript Graphics And Animation
Seb Lee-DelisleIn this workshop, Seb will demonstrate a variety of beautiful visual effects using JavaScript and HTML5 canvas. You will learn animation and graphics techniques that you can use to add a sense of dynamism to your projects. Seb demystifies programming and explores its artistic possibilities. His presentations and workshops enable artists to overcome their fear of code and encourage programmers of all backgrounds to be more creative and imaginative. Read more…

Vitaly Friedman on Dirty Little Tricks From The Dark Corners Of eCommerce
Vitaly FriedmanIn this workshop, Vitaly will use real-life examples as a case study and examine refinements of the interface on spot. You’ll set up a very clear roadmap on how you can do the right things in the right order to improve conversion and customer experience. That means removing distractions, minimizing friction and avoiding disruptions and dead ends caused by the interface. Read more…

Location

As always, the Historical Merchants’ Hall located right in the heart of our hometown Freiburg will be the home of SmashingConf Freiburg. First mentioned in 1378 and having retained its present-day form since 1520, the “Kaufhaus” is a symbol of the importance of trade in medieval Freiburg, and, well, its beautiful architecture still blows our audience away each year anew.

Historical Merchants’ Hall
The “Kaufhaus” (Historical Merchants’ Hall) will be our Freiburg venue also this time around. (Image credit: John Davey)

Why This Conference Could Be For You

Each SmashingConf is a friendly and intimate experience. A cozy get-together of likeminded people who share their stories, their ideas, their hard-learned lessons. At SmashingConf Freiburg you will learn how to:

  1. Use production-ready CSS Grid layouts,
  2. Performance audits,
  3. Recognize, revise, and resolve dark patterns and misleading copy in your own products,
  4. Design and build a product with a global audience in mind,
  5. Extract action-oriented insights from real user data,
  6. Create better e-commerce experiences,
  7. Create responsible machine-learning applications,
  8. Get leading design right,
  9. … and a lot more.

Download “Convince Your Boss” PDF

You need to convince your boss to send you to Freiburg? No worries, we’ve prepared a neat Convince Your Boss PDF that you can use to tip the scales in your favor. Fingers crossed.

Diversity And Inclusivity

SmashingConfs are a safe, friendly place. We care about diversity and inclusivity at our events and don’t tolerate any disrespect. We also provide student and diversity tickets.

See You In Freiburg!

We’d love you to join us for two memorable days, lots of learning, sharing, and inspiring conversations with friendly people, of course. See you there!

Smashing Editorial
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On Failures And Successes: Meet SmashingConf Freiburg 2018

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Redesigning A Digital Interior Design Shop (A Case Study)




Redesigning A Digital Interior Design Shop (A Case Study)

Boyan Kostov



Good products are the result of a continual effort in research and design. And, as it usually turns out, our designs don’t solve the problems they were meant to right away. It’s always about constant improvement and iteration.

I have a client called Design Cafe (let’s call it DC). It’s an innovative interior design shop founded by a couple of very talented architects. They produce bespoke designs for the Indian market and sell them online.

DC approached me two years ago to design a few visual mockups for their website. My scope then was limited to visuals, but I didn’t have the proper foundation upon which to base those visuals, and since I didn’t have an ongoing collaboration with the development team, the final website design did not accurately capture the original design intent and did not meet all of the key user needs.

A year and a half passed and DC decided to come back to me. Their website wasn’t providing the anticipated stream of leads. They came back because my process was good, but they wanted to expand the scope to give it space to scale. This time, I was hired to do the research, planning, visual design and prototyping. This would be a makeover of the old design based on user input and data, and prototyping would allow for easy communication with the development team. I assembled a small team of two: me and a fellow designer, Miroslav Kirov, to help run proper research. In less than two weeks, we were ready to start.

Kick-Off

Useful tip: I always kick off a project by talking to the stakeholders. For smaller projects with one or two stakeholders, you can blend the kick-off and the interview into one. Just make sure it’s no longer than an hour.

Stakeholder Interviews

Our two stakeholders are both domain experts. They have a brick-and-mortar store in the center of Bangalore that attracts a lot of people. Once in there, people are delighted by the way the designs look and feel. Our clients wanted to have a website that conveys the same feeling online and that would make its visitors want to go to the store.

Their main pain points:

  • The website wasn’t responsive.

  • There wasn’t a clear distinction between new, returning and potential clients.

  • DC’s selling points weren’t clearly communicated.

They had future plans for transforming the website into a hub for interior design ideas. And, last but not least, DC wanted to attract fresh design talent.

Defining the Goals

We shortlisted all of our goals for the project. Our main goal was to explain in a clear and appealing manner what DC does for existing and potential clients in a way that engages them to contact DC and go to the store. Some secondary goals were:

  • lower the drop-off rate,

  • capture some customer data,

  • clarify the brand’s message,

  • make the website responsive,

  • explain budgets better,

  • provide decision-making assistance and become an information influencer.

Key Metrics

Our number-one key metric was to convert users to leads who visit the store, which measures the main goal. We needed to improve that by at least 5% initially — a realistic number we decided on with our stakeholders. In order to do that, we needed to:

  • shorten the conversion time (time needed for a user to get in touch with DC),

  • increase the form application rate,

  • increase the overall satisfaction users get from the website.

We would track these metrics by setting up Google Analytics Events once the website is online and by talking with leads who come into the store through the website.

Useful tip: Don’t focus on too many metrics. A handful of your most important ones are enough. Measuring too many things will dilute the results.

Discovery

In order for us to gain the best possible insights, our user interviews had to target both previous and potential clients, but we had to go minimal, so we picked two potential and three existing clients. They were mostly from the IT sector — DC’s main target group. Given our pretty tight schedule, we started with desk research while we waited for all five user interviews to be scheduled.

Useful tip: You need to know who you are designing for and what research has been done before. Stakeholders tell you their story, but you need to compare it to data and to users’ opinions, expectations and needs.

Data

We could reference some Google Analytics data from the website:

  • Most users went to the kitchen, then to the bedroom, then to the living room.

  • The high bounce rate of 80%+ was probably due to a misunderstanding of the brand message and unclear flows and calls to action (CTAs).

  • Traffic was mostly mobile.

  • Most users landed on the home page, 70% of them from ads and 16% directly (mostly returning customers), and the rest were equally divided between Facebook and Google Search.

  • 90% of social media traffic came from Facebook. Expanding brand awareness to Instagram and Twitter could be beneficial.

Competitors

There’s a lot of local competition in the sector. Here were some repeating patterns:

  • video spots and elaborate galleries showing the completed designs with clients discussing their services;

  • attractive design presentations with high-quality photos;

  • targeting of group’s appropriate messages;

  • quizzes for picking styles;

  • big bold typography, less text and more visuals.


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Users

DC’s customers are mostly aged between 28 and 40, with a secondary set in the higher bracket of 38 and 55 who come for their second home. They are IT or business professionals with a mid to high budget. They value good customer experience but are price-conscious and very practical. Because they are mostly families, very often the wives are the hidden dominant decision-maker.

We talked with five users (three existing and two potential customers) and sent out a survey to 20 more (mixing existing and potential customers; see Design Cafe Questionnaire).

User Interviews

Useful tip: Be sure to schedule all of your interviews ahead of time, and plan for more people than you need. Include extreme users along with the mainstreams. Chances are that if something works for an extreme user, it will work for the rest as well. Extremes will also give you insight about edge cases that mainstreams just don’t care about.

All users were confused about the main goal of the website. Some of their opinions:

  • “It lacks a proper flow.”

  • “I need more clarity in the process, especially in terms of timelines.”

  • “I need more educational information about interior design.”

Everyone was pretty well informed about the competition. They had tried other companies before DC. All found out about DC by either a reference, Google, ads or by physically passing by the store. And, boy, did they love the store! They treated it like an Apple Store for interior design. Turns out that DC really did a great job with that.

Useful tip: Negative feedback helps us find opportunities for improvement. But positive feedback is also pretty useful because it helps you identify which parts of the product are worth retaining and building upon.

Personal touch, customer service, prices and quality of materials were their main motivations for choosing DC. People insisted on being able to see the price of every element on a page at any time (the previous design didn’t have prices on the accessories).

We made an interesting but somehow expected discovery about device usage. Mobile devices were used mostly for consumption and browsing, but when it came to ordering, most people opened their laptops.

Surveys

The survey results mostly overlapped with the interviews:

  • Users found DC through different channels, but mainly through referrals.

  • They didn’t quite understand the current state of the website. Most of them had searched for or used other services before DC.

  • All of the surveyed users ordered kitchen designs. Almost all had difficulty choosing the right design style.

  • Most users found the process of designing their own interior hard and were interested in features that could make their choice easier.

Useful tip: Writing good survey questions takes time. Work with a researcher to write them, and schedule double the time you think you’ll need.


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Planning

User Journeys Overview

Talking with customers helped us gain useful insight about which scenarios would be most important to them. We made an affinity diagram with everything we collected and started prioritizing and combining items in chunks.

Useful tip: Use a white board to download all of your team’s knowledge, and saturate the board with it. Group everything until you spot patterns. These patterns will help you establish themes and find out the most important pain points.

The result was seven point-of-view problem statements that we decided to design for:

  1. A new customer needs more information about DC because they need proof of credibility.
  2. A returning customer needs quick access to the designs because they don’t want to waste time.
  3. All customers need to be able to browse the designs at any time.
  4. All customers want to browse designs relevant to their tastes, because that will shorten their search time.
  5. Potential leads need a way to get in touch with DC in order to purchase a design.
  6. All customers, once they’ve ordered, need to stay up to date with their order status, because they need to know what they are paying for and when they will be getting it.
  7. All customers want to read case studies about successful projects, because that will reassure them that DC knows its stuff.

Using this list, we came up with design solutions for every journey.


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Onboarding

The previous home page of Design Cafe was confusing. It needed to present more information about the business. The lack of information caused confusion and people were unsure what DC is about. We divided the home page into several sections and designed it so that every section could satisfy the needs of one of our target groups:

  1. For new visitors (the purple flow), we included a short trip through the main unique selling points (USPs) of the service, the way it works, some success stories and an option to start the style quiz.

  2. For returning visitors (the blue flow), who will most likely skip the home page or use it as a waypoint, the hero section and the navigation pointed a way out to browsing designs.

  3. We left a small part at the end of the page (the orange flow) for potential employees, describing what there is to love about DC and a CTA that goes to the careers page.


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The whole point of the onboarding process was to capture the customer’s attention so that they could continue forward, either directly to the design catalog or through a feature we called the style quiz.

Browsing designs

We made the style quiz to help users narrow down their results.

DC previously had a feature called a 3D builder that we decided to remove. It allowed you to set your room size and then drag-and-drop furniture, windows and doors into the mix. In theory, this sounds good, but in reality people treated it much like a game and expected it to function like a minified version of The Sims’ Build Mode.


The Sims’ Build Mode, by Electronic Arts. (Large preview)

Everything made with the 3D builder was ending up completely modified by the designers. The tool was giving people a lot of design power and too many choices. On top of that, supporting it was a huge technical endeavor because it was a whole product on its own.

Compared to it, the style quiz was a relatively simple feature:

  1. It starts out by asking about colors, textures and designs you like.

  2. It continues to ask about room type.

  3. Eventually, it displays a curated list of designs based on your answers.


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The whole quiz wizard extends to only four steps and takes less than a minute to complete. But it makes people invest a tad bit of their time, thus creating engagement. The result: We’re improving conversion time and overall satisfaction.

Alternatively, users can skip the style quiz and go directly to the design catalog, then use the filters to fine-tune the results. The page automatically shows kitchen designs, what most people are looking for. And for the price-conscious, we made a small feature that allows them to input their room’s size, and all prices are recalculated.


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If people don’t like anything from the catalog, chances are they are not DC’s target customer and there’s not much we can do to keep them on the website. But if they do like a design, they could decide to go forward and get in touch with DC, which brings us to the next step in the process.

Getting in Touch

Contacting DC needed to be as simple as possible. We implemented three ways to do that:

  • through the chat, shown on every page — the quickest way;

  • by opening the contact page and filling out the form or by just calling DC on the phone;

  • by clicking “Book a consultation” in the header, which asks for basic information and requests an appointment (upon submission, the next steps are shown to let users know what exactly is going to happen).


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The rest of this journey continues offline: Potential customers meet a DC designer and, after some discussions and planning, place an order. DC notifies them of any progress via email and sends them a link to the progress tracker.

Order Status

The progress tracker is in a user menu in the top-right corner of the design. Its goal is to show a timeline of the order. Upon an update, an “unread” notification pops out. Most users, however, will usually find out about order updates through email, so the entry point for the whole flow will be external.


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Once the interior design order is installed and ready, users will have the completed order on the website for future reference. Their project could be featured on the home page and become part of the case studies.

Case Studies

One of DC’s long-term goals is for its website to become an influencer hub for interior design, filled with case studies, advice and tips. It’s part of a commitment to providing quality content. But DC doesn’t have that content yet. So, we decided to start that section with minimal effort and introduce it as a blog. The client would gradually fill it up with content and detailed process walkthroughs. These would be later expanded and featured on the home page. Case studies are a feature that could significantly increase brand awareness, though they would take time.


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Preparing for Visual Design

With the critical user journeys all figured out and wireframed, we were ready to delve into visual design.

Data showed that most people open the website on their phones, but interviews proved that most of them were more willing to buy through a computer, rather than a mobile device. Also, desktop and laptop users were more engaged and loyal. So, we decided to design for desktop-first and work down to the smaller (mobile) resolutions from it in code.

Visual Design

We started collecting visual ideas, words and images. Initially, we had a simple word sequence based on our conversations with the client and a mood board with relevant designs and ideas. The main visual features we were after were simplicity, bold typography, nice photos and clean icons.

Useful tip: Don’t follow a certain trend just because everybody else is doing it. Create a thorough mood board of relevant reference designs that approximate the look and feel you’re going after. This look should be in line with your goals and target audience.

Simple, elegant, easy, modern, hip, edgy, brave, quality, understanding, fresh, experience, classy.


Mood board. (Large preview)

Our client had already started working on a photo shoot, and the results were great. Stock photography would have ruined everything personal about this website. The resulting photos blended with the big type pretty well and helped with that simple language we were after.

Typography

Initially, we went with a combination of Raleway and Roboto for the typography. Raleway is a great font but a bit overused. The second iteration was Abril Fatface and Raleway for the copy. Abril Fatface resembles the splendor of Didot and made the whole page a lot more heavy and pretentious. It was an interesting direction to explore, but it didn’t resonate with the modern techy feel of DC. The last iteration was Nexa for the titles, which turned out to be the best choice due to its modern and edgy feel, with Lato — both a great fit.

Useful tip: Play around with type variations. List them side by side to see how they compare. Go to Typewolf, MyFonts or a similar website to get inspired. Look for typefaces that make sense for your product. Consider readability and accessibility. Don’t go overboard with your type scale; keep it as minimal as possible. Check out Butterick’s summary of key rules if in doubt.


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Colors

DC already had a color scheme, but they gave us the freedom to experiment. The main colors were tints of cyan, golden and plum (or, rather, a strange kind of bordeaux), but the original hues were too faded and didn’t blend with each other well enough.

Useful tip: If the brand already has colors, test slight variations to see how they fit the overall design. Or remove some of the colors and use only one or two. Try designing your layout in monochrome and then test different color combinations on an already mocked-up design. Check out some other great tips by Wojciech Zieliński in his article “How to Use Colors in UI Design: Practical Tips and Tools”.

Here’s what we decided on in the end:


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The way we presented all of those type variants and colors was through iterations on the home page.

Initial Mockups

We focused the first visual iteration on getting the main information clearly visible and squeezing the most out of the testimonials and style quiz sections. After some discussion, we figured it was too plain and needed improvement. We made changes to the fonts and icons and modified some sections, shown in iterations 2 and 3 in the image below.

We didn’t have the time to design custom icons, but the NounProject came to the rescue. With the SVG file format, it’s very simple to change whatever you need and mix it with something else. This sped up our work immensely, and with visual iteration number 4, we signed off on the design of the home page. This allowed us to focus on components and use them as LEGO blocks to build the templates.


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Components System

I listed most components (see PDF) in a Sketch artboard to keep them accessible. Whenever the design needed a new pattern, we’d come back to this page and look for ways to reuse elements. Having a visual system in place, even for a small project like this, kept things consistent and simple.

Useful tip: Components, atoms, blocks — no matter what you call them, they are all part of systematic thinking about your design. Design systems help you gain a deeper understanding of your product by urging you to focus on patterns, design principles and design language. If you’re new to this approach, check out Brad Frost’s Atomic Design or Alla Kholmatova’s Design Systems.


Part of the pattern library. (Large preview)

Prototyping With Code

Useful tip: Work on a prototype first. You can make a prototype using basic HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Or you can use InVision, Marvel, Adobe XD or even the Sketch app, or your favorite prototyping tool. It doesn’t really matter. The important thing is to realize that only when you prototype will you see how your design will function.

For our prototype, we decided to use code and set up a simple build process to speed up our work.

Picking tools and processes

Gulp automated everything. If you haven’t heard of it, check out Callum Macrae’s awesome guide. Gulp enabled us to handle all of the styles, scripts and templates, and it outputs a ready-to-use minified production version of the code.

Some of the more important Gulp plugins we used were:

  • gulp-postcss
    This allows you to use PostCSS. You can bundle it with plugins like cssnext to get a pretty robust and versatile setup.
  • browser-sync
    This sets up a server and automatically updates the view on every change. You can set it to fire up upon starting “gulp watch”, and everything will be synced up on hitting “Save”.
  • gulp-compile-handlebars
    This is a Handlebars implementation for Gulp. It’s a quick way to create templates and reuse them. Imagine you have a button that stays the same throughout the whole design. It would be a symbol in Sketch. It’s basically the same concept but wrapped in HTML. Whenever you want to use that button, you just include the button template. If you change something in the master template, it propagates the changes to every other button in the design. You do that for everything in the design system, and thus you’re using the same paradigm for both visual design and code. No more static page mockups!
Components and templates

We had to mix atomic CSS with module-based CSS to get the most of both worlds. Atomic CSS handled all of the general styles, while the CSS modules handled edge cases.

In atomic CSS, atoms are immutable CSS classes that do just one thing. We used Tachyons, an atomic toolkit. In Tachyons, every class you apply is a single CSS property. For instance, .b stands for font-weight: bold, and .ttu stands for text-transform: uppercase. A paragraph with bold uppercase text would look like this:

<p class="b ttu">Paragraph</p>

Useful tip: Once you get familiar with atomic CSS, it becomes a blazingly fast way to prototype stuff — and a very systematic one, because it urges you to constantly think about reusability and optimization.

A major benefit of prototyping with code is that you can demo complex interactions. We coded most of our critical journeys this way.

Designing micro-interactions in the browser

Our prototype was so high-fidelity that it became the front-end basis for the actual product — DC used our code and integrated it in their workflow. You can check out the prototype on http://beta.boyankostov.com/2017/designcafe/html (or live on http://designcafe.com).

Useful tip: With HTML prototypes, you will have to decide the level of fidelity you want to achieve. That might get pretty time-consuming if you go too deep. But you can’t really go wrong with that either because as you go deeper and deeper into the code and fine-tune every possible detail, at some point you’ll start delivering the actual product.

Sign-off

Clients, especially small B2C companies, love when you deliver a design solution that they can use immediately. We shipped just that.

Unfortunately, you can’t always predict a project’s pace, and it took several months for our code to be integrated in DC’s workflow. In its current state, this code is ready for testing, and what’s better is that it’s pretty easy to modify. So, if DC decides to conduct some user tests in the future, any changes will be easy to make.

Takeaways

  • Collaborate with other designers whenever possible. When two people are thinking about the same problem, they will deliver better ideas. Take turns in taking notes during interviews, and brainstorm goals, ideas and visuals together.

  • Having a developer on the team is beneficial because everyone gets to do what they are best at. A good developer will spend as little as a few minutes on a JavaScript issue that I would probably need hours to resolve.

  • We shipped a working version of the website, and the client was able to use it right away. If you aren’t able to sign off on the code, try to get as close to the final product as possible, and communicate that visually to your client’s team. Document your design — it’s a deliverable that will be used and abused by everyone, from developers to marketers to in-house designers. Set aside some time to make sure all of your ideas are properly understood by everyone.

  • Scheduling interviews and writing good surveys can be time-consuming. You have to plan ahead and recruit more people than you think you will need. Hire an experienced researcher to work with you on these tasks, and spend some time with your team to identify your goals. Be careful when sourcing participants. Your client can help you find the right people, but you’ll need to stick to participants who meet the right demographics.

  • Schedule enough time for planning. Project goals, processes, and responsibilities should be clear to everyone on your team. You need time to allow for multiple iterations on prototypes, because prototypes improve products quickly. If you don’t want to mess with code, there are various ways to prototype. But even if you do, you don’t need to write flawless code — just write designer’s code. Or, as Alan Cooper once said, “Sometimes the best way for a designer to communicate their vision is to code something up so that their colleagues can interact with the proposed behavior, rather than just see still images. The goal of such code is not the same as the goal of the code that coders write. The code isn’t for deployment, but for design [and] its purpose is different.”

  • Don’t focus on a unique design per se, unless that’s the main feature of your product. Better to spend time on things that matter more. Use frameworks, icons and visual assets where possible, or outsource them to another designer and focus on your core product goals and metrics.

Smashing Editorial
(mb, ra, al,yk, il)


Link:  

Redesigning A Digital Interior Design Shop (A Case Study)

What You Need To Know To Increase Mobile Checkout Conversions




What You Need To Know To Increase Mobile Checkout Conversions

Suzanna Scacca



Google’s mobile-first indexing is here. Well, for some websites anyway. For the rest of us, it will be here soon enough, and our websites need to be in tip-top shape if we don’t want search rankings to be adversely affected by the change.

That said, responsive web design is nothing new. We’ve been creating custom mobile user experiences for years now, so most of our websites should be well poised to take this on… right?

Here’s the problem: Research shows that the dominant device through which users access the web, on average, is the smartphone. Granted, this might not be the case for every website, but the data indicates that this is the direction we’re headed in, and so every web designer should be prepared for it.

However, mobile checkout conversions are, to put it bluntly, not good. There are a number of reasons for this, but that doesn’t mean that m-commerce designers should take this lying down.

As more mobile users rely on their smart devices to access the web, websites need to be more adeptly designed to give them the simplified, convenient and secure checkout experience they want. In the following roundup, I’m going to explore some of the impediments to conversion in the mobile checkout and focus on what web designers can do to improve the experience.

Why Are Mobile Checkout Conversions Lagging?

According to the data, prioritizing the mobile experience in our web design strategies is a smart move for everyone involved. With people spending roughly 51% of their time with digital media through mobile devices (as opposed to only 42% on desktop), search engines and websites really do need to align with user trends.

Now, while that statistic paints a positive picture in support of designing websites with a mobile-first approach, other statistics are floating around that might make you wary of it. Here’s why I say that: Monetate’s e-commerce quarterly report issued for Q1 2017 had some really interesting data to show.

In this first table, they break down the percentage of visitors to e-commerce websites using different devices between Q1 2016 and Q1 2017. As you can see, smartphone Internet access has indeed surpassed desktop:

Website Visits by Device Q1 2016 Q2 2016 Q3 2016 Q4 2016 Q1 2017
Traditional 49.30% 47.50% 44.28% 42.83% 42.83%
Smartphone 36.46% 39.00% 43.07% 44.89% 44.89%
Other 0.62% 0.39% 0.46% 0.36% 0.36%
Tablet 13.62% 13.11% 12.19% 11.91% 11.91%

Monetate’s findings on which devices are used to access in the Internet. (Source)

In this next data set, we can see that the average conversion rate for e-commerce websites isn’t great. In fact, the number has gone down significantly since the first quarter of 2016.

Conversion Rates Q1 2016 Q2 2016 Q3 2016 Q4 2016 Q1 2017
Global 3.10% 2.81% 2.52% 2.94% 2.48%

Monetate’s findings on overall e-commerce global conversion rates (for all devices). (Source)

Even more shocking is the split between device conversion rates:

Conversion Rates by Device Q1 2016 Q2 2016 Q3 2016 Q4 2016 Q1 2017
Traditional 4.23% 3.88% 3.66% 4.25% 3.63%
Tablet 1.42% 1.31% 1.17% 1.49% 1.25%
Other 0.69% 0.35% 0.50% 0.35% 0.27%
Smartphone 3.59% 3.44% 3.21% 3.79% 3.14%

Monetate’s findings on the average conversion rates, broken down by device. (Source)

Smartphones consistently receive fewer conversions than desktop, despite being the predominant device through which users access the web.

What’s the problem here? Why are we able to get people to mobile websites, but we lose them at checkout?

In its report from 2017 named “Mobile’s Hierarchy of Needs,” comScore breaks down the top five reasons why mobile checkout conversion rates are so low:

Reasons why m-commerce doesn’t convert


The most common reasons why m-commerce shoppers don’t convert. (Image: comScore) (View large version)

Here is the breakdown for why mobile users don’t convert:

  • 20.2% — security concerns
  • 19.6% — unclear product details
  • 19.6% — inability to open multiple browser tabs to compare
  • 19.3% — difficulty navigating
  • 18.6% — difficulty inputting information.

Those are plausible reasons to move from the smartphone to the desktop to complete a purchase (if they haven’t been completely turned off by the experience by that point, that is).

In sum, we know that consumers want to access the web through their mobile devices. We also know that barriers to conversion are keeping them from staying put. So, how do we deal with this?

10 Ways to Increase Mobile Checkout Conversions In 2018

For most of the websites you’ve designed, you’re not likely to see much of a change in search ranking when Google’s mobile-first indexing becomes official.

Your mobile-friendly designs might be “good enough” to keep your websites at the top of search (to start, anyway), but what happens if visitors don’t stick around to convert? Will Google start penalizing you because your website can’t seal the deal with the majority of visitors? In all honesty, that scenario will only occur in extreme cases, where the mobile checkout is so poorly constructed that bounce rates skyrocket and people stop wanting to visit the website at all.

Let’s say that the drop-off in traffic at checkout doesn’t incur penalties from Google. That’s great… for SEO purposes. But what about for business? Your goal is to get visitors to convert without distraction and without friction. Yet, that seems to be what mobile visitors get.

Going forward, your goal needs to be two-fold:

  • to design websites with Google’s mobile-first mission and guidelines in mind,
  • to keep mobile users on the website until they complete a purchase.

Essentially, this means decreasing the amount of work users have to do and improving the visibility of your security measures. Here is what you can do to more effectively design mobile checkouts for conversions.

1. Keep the Essentials in the Thumb Zone

Research on how users hold their mobile phones is old hat by now. We know that, whether they use the single- or double-handed approach, certain parts of the mobile screen are just inconvenient for mobile users to reach. And when expediency is expected during checkout, this is something you don’t want to mess around with.

For single-handed users, the middle of the screen is the prime playing field:

The thumb zone for single-handed mobile


The good, OK and bad areas for single-handed mobile users. (Image: UX Matters) (View large version)

Although users who cradle their phones for greater stability have a couple options for which fingers to use to interact with the screen, only 28% use their index finger. So, let’s focus on the capabilities of thumb users, which, again, means giving the central part of the screen the most prominence:

The thumb and index finger zone for mobile cradling


The good, OK and bad areas for mobile users that cradle their phones. (Image: UX Matters) (View large version)

Some users hold their phones with two hands. Because the horizontal orientation is more likely to be used for video, this won’t be relevant for mobile checkout. So, pay attention to how much space of that screen is feasibly within reach of the user’s thumb:

The thumb zone for vertical and horizontal


The good, OK and bad areas for two-handed mobile users. (Image: UX Matters) (View large version)

In sum, we can use Smashing Magazine’s breakdown of where to focus content, regardless of left-hand, right-hand or two-handed holding of a smartphone:

Where the ideal thumb zone is on mobile


A summary of where the good, OK and bad zones are on mobile devices. (Image: Smashing Magazine) (View large version)

JCPenney’s website is a good example of how to do this:

JCPenney’s form is in the thumb zone


JCPenney’s contact form starts midway down the page. (Image: JCPenney) (View large version)

While information is included at the top of the checkout page, the input fields don’t start until just below the middle of it — directly in the ideal thumb zone for users of any type. This ensures that visitors holding their phones in any manner and using different fingers to engage with it will have no issue reaching the form fields.

2. Minimize Content to Maximize Speed

We’ve been taught over and over again that minimal design is best for websites. This is especially true in mobile checkout, where an already slow or frustrating experience could easily push a customer over the edge, when all they want to do is be done with the purchase.

To maximize speed during the mobile checkout process, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Only add the essentials to checkout. This is not the time to try to upsell or cross-sell, promote social media or otherwise distract from the action at hand.
  • Keep the checkout free of all images. The only eye-catching visuals that are really acceptable are trustmarks and calls to action (more on these below).
  • Any text included on the page should be instructional or descriptive in nature.
  • Avoid any special stylization of fonts. The less “wow” your checkout page has, the easier it will be for users to get through the process.

Look to Staples’ website as an example of what a highly simple single-page checkout should look like:

The single-page checkout for Staples


Staples has a single-page checkout with a minimal number of fields to fill out. (Image: Staples) (View large version)

As you can see, Staples doesn’t bog down the checkout process with product images, branding, navigation, internal links or anything else that might (1) distract from the task at hand, or (2) suck resources from the server while it attempts to process your customers’ requests.

Not only will this checkout page be easy to get through, but it will load quickly and without issue every time — something customers will remember the next time they need to make a purchase. By keeping your checkout pages light in design, you ensure a speedy experience in all aspects.

3. Put Them at Ease With Trustmarks

A trustmark is any indicator on a website that lets customers know, “Hey, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about here. We’re keeping your information safe!”

The one trustmark that every m-commerce website should have? An SSL certificate. Without one, the address bar will not display the lock sign or the green https domain name — both of which let customers know that the website has extra encryption.

You can use other trustmarks at checkout as well.

Big Chill uses a RapidSSL trust seal


Big Chill includes a RapidSSL trust seal to let customers know its data is encrypted. (Image: Big Chill) (View large version)

While you can use logos from Norton Security, PCI compliance and other security software to let customers know your website is protected, users might also be swayed by recognizable and well-trusted names. When you think about it, this isn’t much different than displaying corporate logos beside customer testimonials or in callouts that boast of your big-name connections. If you can leverage a partnership like the ones mentioned below, you can use the inherent trust there to your benefit.

Take 6pm, which uses a “Login with Amazon” option at checkout:

6pm uses an Amazon trustmark


6pm leverages the Amazon name as a trustmark. (Image: 6pm) (View large version)

This is a smart move for a brand that most definitely does not have the brand-name recognition that a company like Amazon has. By giving customers a convenient option to log in with a brand that’s synonymous with speed, reliability and trust, the company might now become known for those same checkout qualities that Amazon is celebrated for.

Then, there are mobile checkout pages like the one on Sephora:

Sephora’s PayPal trustmark


Sephora uses a trusted payment gateway provider as a trustmark. (Image: Sephora) (View large version)

Sephora also uses this technique of leveraging another brand’s good name in order to build trust at checkout time. In this case, however, it presents customers with two clear options: Check out with us right now, or hop over to PayPal, which will take care of you securely. With security being a major concern that keeps mobile customers from converting, this kind of trustmark and payment method is a good move on Sephora’s part.

4. Provide Easier Editing

In general, never take a visitor (on any device) away from whatever they’re doing on your website. There are already enough distractions online; the last thing they need is for you to point them in a direction that keeps them from converting.

At checkout, however, your customers might feel compelled to do this very thing if they decide they want a different color, size or quantity of an item in their shopping cart. Rather than let them backtrack through the website, give them an in-checkout editing option to keep them in place.

Victoria’s Secret does this well:

Victoria’s Secret edit lightbox in checkout


Victoria’s Secret doesn’t force users away from checkout to edit items. (Image: Victoria’s Secret) (View large version)

When they first get to the checkout screen, customers will see a list of items they’re about to purchase. When the large “Edit” button beside each item is clicked, a lightbox (shown above) opens with the product’s variations. It’s basically the original product page, just superimposed on top of the checkout. Users can adjust their options and save their changes without ever having to leave the checkout page.

If you find, in reviewing your website’s analytics, that users occasionally backtrack after hitting the checkout (you can see this in the sales funnel), add this built-in editing feature. By preventing this unnecessary movement backwards, you could save yourself lost conversions from confused or distracted customers.

5. Enable Express Checkout Options

When consumers check out on an e-commerce website through a desktop device, it probably isn’t a big deal if they have to input their user name, email address or payment information each time. Sure, if it can be avoided, they’ll find ways around it (like allowing the website to save their information or using a password manager such as LastPass).

But on mobile, re-entering that information is a pain, especially if contact forms aren’t optimized well (more on that below). So, to ease the log-in and checkout process for mobile users, consider ways in which you can simplify the process:

  • Allow for guest checkout.
  • Allow for one-click expedited checkout.
  • Enable one-click sign-in from a trusted source, like Facebook.
  • Enable payment on a trusted payment provider’s website, like PayPal, Google Wallet or Stripe.

One of the nice things about Sephora‘s already convenient checkout process is that customers can automate the sign-in process going forward with a simple toggle:

Sephora lets customers save sign-in information


Sephora enables return customers to stay signed in, to avoid this during checkout again. (Image: Sephora) (View large version)

When mobile customers are feeling the rush and want to get to the next stage of checkout, Sephora’s auto-sign-in feature would definitely come in handy and encourage customers to buy more frequently from the mobile website.

Many mobile websites wait until the bottom of the login page to tell customers what kinds of options they have for checking out. But rather than surprise them late, Victoria’s Secret displays this information in big bold buttons right at the very top:

Victoria’s Secret express checkout options


Victoria’s Secret simplifies and speeds up checkout by giving three attractive options. (Image: Victoria’s Secret) (View large version)

Customers have a choice of signing in with their account, checking out as a guest or going directly to PayPal. They are not surprised to discover later on that their preferred checkout or payment method isn’t offered.

I also really love how Victoria’s Secret has chosen to do this. There’s something nice about the brightly colored “Sign In” button sitting beside the more muted “Check Out as a Guest” button. For one, it adds a hint of Victoria’s Secret brand colors to the checkout, which is always a nice touch. But the way it’s colored the buttons also makes clear what it wants the primary action to be (i.e. to create an account and sign in).

6. Add Breadcrumbs

When you send mobile customers to checkout, the last thing you want is to give them unnecessary distractions. That’s why the website’s standard navigation bar (or hamburger menu) is typically removed from this page.

Nonetheless, the checkout process can be intimidating if customers don’t know what’s ahead. How many forms will they need to fill out? What sort of information is needed? Will they have a chance to review their order before submitting payment details?

If you’ve designed a multi-page checkout, allay your customers’ fears by defining each step with clearly labeled breadcrumb navigation at the top of the page. In addition, this will give your checkout a cleaner design, reducing the number of clicks and scrolling per page.

Hayneedle has a beautiful example of breadcrumb navigation in action:

Hayneedle checkout breadcrumb navigation


Hayneedle’s breadcrumbs are cleanly designed and easy to find. (Image: Hayneedle) (View large version)

You can see that three steps are broken out and clearly labeled. There’s absolutely no question here about what users will encounter in those steps either, which will help put their minds at ease. Three steps seems reasonable enough, and users will have a chance to review the order once more before completing the purchase.

Sephora has an alternative style of “breadcrumbs” in its checkout:

Sephora’s numbered breadcrumbs navigation


Sephora’s numbered breadcrumbs appear as you complete each section. (Image: Sephora) (View large version)

Instead of placing each “breadcrumb” at the top of the checkout page, Sephora’s customers can see what the next step is, as well as how many more are to come as they work their way through the form.

This is a good option to take if you’d rather not make the top navigation or the breadcrumbs sticky. Instead, you can prioritize the call to action (CTA), which you might find better motivates the customer to move down the page and complete their purchase.

I think both of these breadcrumbs designs are valid, though. So, it might be worth A/B testing them if you’re unsure of which would lead to more conversions for your visitors.

7. Format the Checkout Form Wisely

Good mobile checkout form design follows a pretty strict formula, which isn’t surprising. While there are ways to bend the rules on desktop in terms of structuring the form, the number of steps per page, the inclusion of images and so on, you really don’t have that kind of flexibility on mobile.

Instead, you will need to be meticulous when building the form:

  • Design each field of the checkout form so that it stretches the full width of the website.
  • Limit the fields to only what’s essential.
  • Clearly label each field outside of and above it.
  • Use at least a 16-point-pixel font.
  • Format each field so that it’s large enough to tap into without zooming.
  • Use a recognizable mark to indicate when something is required (like an asterisk).
  • Always let users know when an error has been made immediately after the information has been inputted in a field.
  • Place the call to action at the very bottom of the form.

Because the checkout form is the most important element that moves customers through the checkout process, you can’t afford to mess around with a tried and true formula. If users can’t seamlessly get from top to bottom, if the fields are too difficult to engage with, or if the functionality of the form itself is riddled with errors, then you might as well kiss your mobile purchases (and maybe your purchases in general) goodbye.

Crutchfield shows how to create form fields that are very user-friendly on mobile:

Large-sized form fields on the Crutchfield checkout


Form fields on the Crutchfield checkout page are large and difficult to miss. (Image: Crutchfield) (View large version)

As you can see, each field is large enough to click on (even with fat fingers). The bold outline around the currently selected field is also a nice touch. For a customer who is multitasking and or distracted by something around them, returning to the checkout form would be much easier with this type of format.

Sephora, again, handles mobile checkout the right way. In this case, I want to draw your attention to the grayed-out “Place Order” button:

Smart use of the Sephora call to action in checkout


Sephora uses the call to action as a guide for customers who haven’t finished the form. (Image: Sephora) (View large version)

The button serves as an indicator to customers that they’re not quite ready to submit their purchase information yet, which is great. Even though the form is beautifully designed — everything is well labeled, the fields are large, and the form is logically organized — mobile users could accidentally scroll too far past a field and wouldn’t know it until clicking the call-to-action button.

If you can keep users from receiving that dreaded “missing information” error, you’ll do a better job of holding onto their purchases.

8. Simplify Form Input

Digging a bit deeper into these contact forms, let’s look at how you can simplify the input of data on mobile:

  • Allow customers to user their browser’s autocomplete functionality to fill in forms.
  • Include a tabindex HTML directive to enable customers to tap an arrow up and down through the form. This keeps their thumbs within a comfortable range on the smartphone at all times, instead of constantly reaching up to tap into a new field.
  • Add a checkbox that automatically copies the billing address information over to the shipping fields.
  • Change the keyboard according to what kind of field is being typed in.

One example of this is Bass Pro Shops’ mobile website:

Bass Pro checkout form uses a smart keyboard


Each field in the Bass Pro checkout form provides users with the right keyboard type. (Image: Bass Pro Shops) (View large version)

For starters, the keyboard uses tab functionality (see the up and down arrows just above the keyboard). For customers with short fingers or who are impatient and just want to type away on the keyboard, the tabs help keep their hands in one place, thus speeding up checkout.

Also, when customers tab into a numbers-only field (like for their phone number), the keyboard automatically changes, so they don’t have to switch manually. Again, this is another way to up the convenience of making a purchase on mobile.

Amazon’s mobile checkout includes a quick checkbox that streamlines customers’ submission of billing information:

Amazon streamlines form input with address duplication


Amazon gives customers an easy way to duplicate their shipping address to billing. (Image: Amazon) (View large version)

As we’ve seen with mobile checkout form design, simpler is always better. Obviously, you will always need to collect certain details from customers each time (unless their account has saved that information). Nonetheless, if you can provide a quick toggle or checkbox that enables them to copy data over from one form to another, then do it.

9. Don’t Skimp on the CTA

When designing a desktop checkout, your main concerns with the CTA are things like strategic placement of the button and choosing an eye-catching color to draw attention to it.

On mobile, however, you have to think about size, too — and not just how much space it takes up on the screen. Remember the thumb zone and the various ways in which users hold their phone. Ensure that the button is wide enough so that any user can easily click on it without having to change their hand position.

So, your goal should be to design buttons that (1) sit at the bottom of the mobile checkout page and (2) stretch all the way from left to right, as is the case on Staples’ mobile website:

Staple’s big blue CTA button


Staple’s bright blue CTA sticks out in an otherwise plain checkout. (Image: Staples) (View large version)

No matter who is making the purchase — a left-handed, a right-handed or a two-handed cradler — that button will be easy reach.

Of all the mobile checkout enhancements we’ve covered today, the CTA is the easiest one to address. Make it big, give it a distinctive color, place it at the very bottom of the mobile screen, and make it span the full width. In other words, don’t make customers work hard to take the final step in a purchase.

10. Offer an Alternate Way Out

Finally, give customers an alternate way out.

Let’s say they’re shopping on a mobile website, adding items to their cart, but something isn’t sitting right with them, and they don’t want to make the purchase. You’ve done everything you can to assure them along the way with a clean, easy and secure checkout experience, but they just aren’t confident in making a payment on their phone.

Rather than merely hoping you don’t lose the purchase entirely, give them a chance to save it for later. That way, if they really are interested in buying your product, they can revisit on desktop and pull the trigger. It’s not ideal, because you do want to keep them in place on mobile, but the option is good for customers who just can’t be saved.

As you can see on L.L. Bean’s mobile website, there is an option at checkout to “Move to Wish List”:

L.L. Bean wish list option


L.L. Bean gives customers another chance to move items to their wish list during checkout. (Image: L.L. Bean) (View large version)

What’s nice about this is that L.L. Bean clearly doesn’t want browsing of the wish list or the removal of an item to be a primary action. If “Move to Wish List” were shown as a big bold CTA button, more customers might decide to take this seemingly safer alternative. As it’s designed now, it’s more of a, “Hey, we don’t want you to do anything you’re not comfortable with. This is here just in case.”

While fewer options are generally better in web design, this might be something to explore if your checkout has a high cart abandonment rate on mobile.

Wrapping Up

As more mobile visitors flock to your website, every step leading to conversion — including the checkout phase — needs to be optimized for convenience, speed and security. If your checkout is not adeptly designed to mobile users’ specific needs and expectations, you’re going to find that those conversion rates drop or shift back to desktop — and that’s not the direction you want things to go in, especially if Google is pushing us all towards a mobile-first world.

Smashing Editorial
(da, ra, yk, al, il)


See the original post:  

What You Need To Know To Increase Mobile Checkout Conversions

Are People Watching Your Landing Page Videos? Here’s How to use Google Tag Manager to Check


In 2018, video marketing has become ubiquitous in news feeds and it’s one of the best tools for persuasion you have available to you. In fact, 72% of businesses say video has improved their conversion rates. Naturally, because your landing pages are designed to persuade and convert, it makes total sense you’d want to use videos to boost the power of your offer.

But how do you know if visitors are actually interacting with your landing page videos? If you’re spending money on producing video content (especially if it’s offer-specific), you’ll want to know if your target audience is engaging.

While some of you may have access to a video marketing platform and resulting analytics, this post is going to share how you can get view information for YouTube video players using the free tool Google Tag Manager.

Once you follow the steps below for your Unbounce pages, you’ll be able to see:

  • If visitors are actually watching the videos on your landing pages
  • The duration of how long visitors are watching for, and
  • Where visitors are dropping off (this can help you understand what content to modify to keep visitors engaged).

First up: Add Google Tag Manager to Track Your Landing Page Videos

This is really easy to do in Unbounce. First:

  1. Head to the Script Manager under your Settings tab.
  2. Then, click the green “Add a Script” button.
  3. Next, select the Google Tag Manager option.
  4. Assuming you’ve already signed up for Google Tag Manager, you can add your Container ID.

Set up of Google Tag Manager

Lastly, attach your domain to the script, and you’re all set!

Once you have the script saved, use Google Tag Assistant to confirm the tag is working. After setting up this Tag Manager, next we’ll want to define how we want to track user interactions with our YouTube embeds, which brings us to…

Create Tags to Track Video Engagement

On September 12, 2017, Google Tag Manager released the YouTube Video Trigger which finally gave marketers the opportunity to track engagement from embedded YouTube videos within Google Analytics. Tag Manager added built-in video variables, and we want to confirm they are selected before creating any tags or triggers.

When you get to the Variables page in Google Tag Manager:

  • click on the red Configure button, and simply check the boxes for all the video variables, as seen in the image below:

Configuring Built in Variables

Next, we can create our trigger. Triggers control how the tag will be fired. The only option we need is the YouTube Video trigger type.

From here you can select the specific information you want to capture. These actions include when a user starts a video, completes a video, pause/seeking/buffering, and the duration of how much of the content they actually watch.

See how people are engaging (or not) with landing page videos

In the image above, we see just one option of a trigger you can create. If you choose to select ‘Progress’, you have to choose either Percentages or Time Thresholds. It has to be one or the other. You can’t do both. Using Percentages, you can add any number you like (i.e. it doesn’t have to be the numbers I used in the example above). Tag Manager will automatically add 100 for a completion.

On the other hand, if you choose ‘Time thresholds’, you will add the numbers (in seconds) you’d like to have recorded in Google Analytics. If your campaign focus is on views, I’d stick with Percentages. But, if you want to see where users are dropping off to help you improve the content of your videos, Time Thresholds is a good choice.

Lastly, choose when the trigger will fire. By default Tag Manager will fire the trigger on all videos, but you can choose to fire on only some videos.

You can also make your video triggers a lot more specific. The image below shows several options you have to fire the tag on a variety of custom variables for your YouTube videos. If you only want to track videos on certain landing pages, you can do that, but if you only want to track certain videos no matter what the landing page is, you have that option too. Create the trigger which will give you the data you need to make better decisions about the videos on your landing pages.

Now let’s set up the tag!

The image below is just one example of a completed tag set up. Here, you can change the Category, Action, and Label to capture the appropriate video data you want to collect. You can also research and find some cool custom versions of these tags like Simo Ahava’s YouTube Video Trigger. There are many options out there, so find the tag which works best for you.

Now that we can track the YouTube video interactions, let’s view the data.

View the Events Report in Google Analytics

In Google Analytics, head over to Behavior > Events. In the Overview or Top Events sections, you can see the Event Category lists of whatever you are tracking. While Event Category is the default view, you can switch to Event Action or Event Label to get deeper data depending on how you set up your tag.

So, how do you relate YouTube video tracking with our landing pages? Easy. Click on Secondary dimension, search for “landing pages” and select it. From here you’ll be able to see the page URL path alongside the current view you have pulled up.

We now have the data in Google Analytics to view which videos users interact with the most, how long are users watching the embedded YouTube videos, and which landing pages are actually seeing video engagement.

Now You Have Data to Improve the Videos on Your Landing Pages

If you find visitors barely watch your videos (think viewing less than 30% of the content), you now have data to push your team to modify the length of the videos, for example, or get to your key message differently (perhaps you have a really long intro?).

If the data shows users aren’t watching your videos at all, you may want to replace the video on your landing page with other, more customized options, or even text that sums up the value props presented. Finally, if you identify really popular videos, it could be a great opportunity to determine if there are opportunities for reuse on other relevant pages, too.

Overall, you won’t know whether page visitors resonate with the videos on your landing pages unless you track this. Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions on the setup above – happy to jump in with answers.

Taken from: 

Are People Watching Your Landing Page Videos? Here’s How to use Google Tag Manager to Check

How To Create An Audio/Video Recording App With React Native: An In-Depth Tutorial




How To Create An Audio/Video Recording App With React Native: An In-Depth Tutorial

Oleh Mryhlod



React Native is a young technology, already gaining popularity among developers. It is a great option for smooth, fast, and efficient mobile app development. High-performance rates for mobile environments, code reuse, and a strong community: These are just some of the benefits React Native provides.

In this guide, I will share some insights about the high-level capabilities of React Native and the products you can develop with it in a short period of time.

We will delve into the step-by-step process of creating a video/audio recording app with React Native and Expo. Expo is an open-source toolchain built around React Native for developing iOS and Android projects with React and JavaScript. It provides a bunch of native APIs maintained by native developers and the open-source community.

After reading this article, you should have all the necessary knowledge to create video/audio recording functionality with React Native.

Let’s get right to it.

Brief Description Of The Application

The application you will learn to develop is called a multimedia notebook. I have implemented part of this functionality in an online job board application for the film industry. The main goal of this mobile app is to connect people who work in the film industry with employers. They can create a profile, add a video or audio introduction, and apply for jobs.

The application consists of three main screens that you can switch between with the help of a tab navigator:

  • the audio recording screen,
  • the video recording screen,
  • a screen with a list of all recorded media and functionality to play back or delete them.

Check out how this app works by opening this link with Expo.

First, download Expo to your mobile phone. There are two options to open the project :

  1. Open the link in the browser, scan the QR code with your mobile phone, and wait for the project to load.
  2. Open the link with your mobile phone and click on “Open project using Expo”.

You can also open the app in the browser. Click on “Open project in the browser”. If you have a paid account on Appetize.io, visit it and enter the code in the field to open the project. If you don’t have an account, click on “Open project” and wait in an account-level queue to open the project.

However, I recommend that you download the Expo app and open this project on your mobile phone to check out all of the features of the video and audio recording app.

You can find the full code for the media recording app in the repository on GitHub.

Dependencies Used For App Development

As mentioned, the media recording app is developed with React Native and Expo.

You can see the full list of dependencies in the repository’s package.json file.

These are the main libraries used:

  • React-navigation, for navigating the application,
  • Redux, for saving the application’s state,
  • React-redux, which are React bindings for Redux,
  • Recompose, for writing the components’ logic,
  • Reselect, for extracting the state fragments from Redux.

Let’s look at the project’s structure:


Large preview

  • src/index.js: root app component imported in the app.js file;
  • src/components: reusable components;
  • src/constants: global constants;
  • src/styles: global styles, colors, fonts sizes and dimensions.
  • src/utils: useful utilities and recompose enhancers;
  • src/screens: screens components;
  • src/store: Redux store;
  • src/navigation: application’s navigator;
  • src/modules: Redux modules divided by entities as modules/audio, modules/video, modules/navigation.

Let’s proceed to the practical part.

Create Audio Recording Functionality With React Native

First, it’s important to сheck the documentation for the Expo Audio API, related to audio recording and playback. You can see all of the code in the repository. I recommend opening the code as you read this article to better understand the process.

When launching the application for the first time, you’ll need the user’s permission for audio recording, which entails access to the microphone. Let’s use Expo.AppLoading and ask permission for recording by using Expo.Permissions (see the src/index.js) during startAsync.

Await Permissions.askAsync(Permissions.AUDIO_RECORDING);

Audio recordings are displayed on a seperate screen whose UI changes depending on the state.

First, you can see the button “Start recording”. After it is clicked, the audio recording begins, and you will find the current audio duration on the screen. After stopping the recording, you will have to type the recording’s name and save the audio to the Redux store.

My audio recording UI looks like this:


Large preview

I can save the audio in the Redux store in the following format:

audioItemsIds: [‘id1’, ‘id2’],
audioItems: 
 ‘id1’: 
    id: string,
    title: string,
    recordDate: date string,
    duration: number,
    audioUrl: string,
 
},

Let’s write the audio logic by using Recompose in the screen’s container src/screens/RecordAudioScreenContainer.

Before you start recording, customize the audio mode with the help of Expo.Audio.set.AudioModeAsync (mode), where mode is the dictionary with the following key-value pairs:

  • playsInSilentModeIOS: A boolean selecting whether your experience’s audio should play in silent mode on iOS. This value defaults to false.
  • allowsRecordingIOS: A boolean selecting whether recording is enabled on iOS. This value defaults to false. Note: When this flag is set to true, playback may be routed to the phone receiver, instead of to the speaker.
  • interruptionModeIOS: An enum selecting how your experience’s audio should interact with the audio from other apps on iOS.
  • shouldDuckAndroid: A boolean selecting whether your experience’s audio should automatically be lowered in volume (“duck”) if audio from another app interrupts your experience. This value defaults to true. If false, audio from other apps will pause your audio.
  • interruptionModeAndroid: An enum selecting how your experience’s audio should interact with the audio from other apps on Android.

Note: You can learn more about the customization of AudioMode in the documentation.

I have used the following values in this app:

interruptionModeIOS: Audio.INTERRUPTION_MODE_IOS_DO_NOT_MIX, — Our record interrupts audio from other apps on IOS.

playsInSilentModeIOS: true,

shouldDuckAndroid: true,

interruptionModeAndroid: Audio.INTERRUPTION_MODE_ANDROID_DO_NOT_MIX — Our record interrupts audio from other apps on Android.

allowsRecordingIOS Will change to true before the audio recording and to false after its completion.

To implement this, let’s write the handler setAudioMode with Recompose.

withHandlers(
 setAudioMode: () => async ( allowsRecordingIOS ) => 
   try 
     await Audio.setAudioModeAsync(
       allowsRecordingIOS,
       interruptionModeIOS: Audio.INTERRUPTION_MODE_IOS_DO_NOT_MIX,
       playsInSilentModeIOS: true,
       shouldDuckAndroid: true,
       interruptionModeAndroid: Audio.INTERRUPTION_MODE_ANDROID_DO_NOT_MIX,
     );
   } catch (error) 
     console.log(error) // eslint-disable-line
   
 },
}),

To record the audio, you’ll need to create an instance of the Expo.Audio.Recording class.

const recording = new Audio.Recording();

After creating the recording instance, you will be able to receive the status of the Recording with the help of recordingInstance.getStatusAsync().

The status of the recording is a dictionary with the following key-value pairs:

  • canRecord: a boolean.
  • isRecording: a boolean describing whether the recording is currently recording.
  • isDoneRecording: a boolean.
  • durationMillis: current duration of the recorded audio.

You can also set a function to be called at regular intervals with recordingInstance.setOnRecordingStatusUpdate(onRecordingStatusUpdate).

To update the UI, you will need to call setOnRecordingStatusUpdate and set your own callback.

Let’s add some props and a recording callback to the container.

withStateHandlers(
    recording: null,
    isRecording: false,
    durationMillis: 0,
    isDoneRecording: false,
    fileUrl: null,
    audioName: '',
  , 
    setState: () => obj => obj,
    setAudioName: () => audioName => ( audioName ),
   recordingCallback: () => ( durationMillis, isRecording, isDoneRecording ) =>
      ( durationMillis, isRecording, isDoneRecording ),
  }),

The callback setting for setOnRecordingStatusUpdate is:

recording.setOnRecordingStatusUpdate(props.recordingCallback);

onRecordingStatusUpdate is called every 500 milliseconds by default. To make the UI update valid, set the 200 milliseconds interval with the help of setProgressUpdateInterval:

recording.setProgressUpdateInterval(200);

After creating an instance of this class, call prepareToRecordAsync to record the audio.

recordingInstance.prepareToRecordAsync(options) loads the recorder into memory and prepares it for recording. It must be called before calling startAsync(). This method can be used if the recording instance has never been prepared.

The parameters of this method include such options for the recording as sample rate, bitrate, channels, format, encoder and extension. You can find a list of all recording options in this document.

In this case, let’s use Audio.RECORDING_OPTIONS_PRESET_HIGH_QUALITY.

After the recording has been prepared, you can start recording by calling the method recordingInstance.startAsync().

Before creating a new recording instance, check whether it has been created before. The handler for beginning the recording looks like this:

onStartRecording: props => async () => 
      try 
        if (props.recording) 
          props.recording.setOnRecordingStatusUpdate(null);
          props.setState( recording: null );
        }

        await props.setAudioMode( allowsRecordingIOS: true );

        const recording = new Audio.Recording();
        recording.setOnRecordingStatusUpdate(props.recordingCallback);
        recording.setProgressUpdateInterval(200);

        props.setState( fileUrl: null );

await recording.prepareToRecordAsync(Audio.RECORDING_OPTIONS_PRESET_HIGH_QUALITY);
        await recording.startAsync();

        props.setState( recording );
      } catch (error) 
        console.log(error) // eslint-disable-line
      
    },

Now you need to write a handler for the audio recording completion. After clicking the stop button, you have to stop the recording, disable it on iOS, receive and save the local URL of the recording, and set OnRecordingStatusUpdate and the recording instance to null:

onEndRecording: props => async () => 
      try 
        await props.recording.stopAndUnloadAsync();
        await props.setAudioMode( allowsRecordingIOS: false );
      } catch (error) 
        console.log(error); // eslint-disable-line
      

      if (props.recording) 
        const fileUrl = props.recording.getURI();
        props.recording.setOnRecordingStatusUpdate(null);
        props.setState( recording: null, fileUrl );
      }
    },

After this, type the audio name, click the “continue” button, and the audio note will be saved in the Redux store.

onSubmit: props => () => 
      if (props.audioName && props.fileUrl) 
        const audioItem = 
          id: uuid(),
          recordDate: moment().format(),
          title: props.audioName,
          audioUrl: props.fileUrl,
          duration: props.durationMillis,
        ;

        props.addAudio(audioItem);
        props.setState(
          audioName: '',
          isDoneRecording: false,
        );

        props.navigation.navigate(screens.LibraryTab);
      }
    },
(Large preview)

Audio Playback With React Native

You can play the audio on the screen with the saved audio notes. To start the audio playback, click one of the items on the list. Below, you can see the audio player that allows you to track the current position of playback, to set the playback starting point and to toggle the playing audio.

Here’s what my audio playback UI looks like:


Large preview

The Expo.Audio.Sound objects and Expo.Video components share a unified imperative API for media playback.

Let’s write the logic of the audio playback by using Recompose in the screen container src/screens/LibraryScreen/LibraryScreenContainer, as the audio player is available only on this screen.

If you want to display the player at any point of the application, I recommend writing the logic of the player and audio playback in Redux operations using redux-thunk.

Let’s customize the audio mode in the same way we did for the audio recording. First, set allowsRecordingIOS to false.

lifecycle(
    async componentDidMount() 
      await Audio.setAudioModeAsync(
        allowsRecordingIOS: false,
        interruptionModeIOS: Audio.INTERRUPTION_MODE_IOS_DO_NOT_MIX,
        playsInSilentModeIOS: true,
        shouldDuckAndroid: true,
        interruptionModeAndroid: Audio.INTERRUPTION_MODE_ANDROID_DO_NOT_MIX,
      );
    },
  }),

We have created the recording instance for audio recording. As for audio playback, we need to create the sound instance. We can do it in two different ways:

  1. const playbackObject = new Expo.Audio.Sound();
  2. Expo.Audio.Sound.create(source, initialStatus = {}, onPlaybackStatusUpdate = null, downloadFirst = true)

If you use the first method, you will need to call playbackObject.loadAsync(), which loads the media from source into memory and prepares it for playing, after creation of the instance.

The second method is a static convenience method to construct and load a sound. It сreates and loads a sound from source with the optional initialStatus, onPlaybackStatusUpdate and downloadFirst parameters.

The source parameter is the source of the sound. It supports the following forms:

  • a dictionary of the form uri: 'http://path/to/file' with a network URL pointing to an audio file on the web;
  • require('path/to/file') for an audio file asset in the source code directory;
  • an Expo.Asset object for an audio file asset.

The initialStatus parameter is the initial playback status. PlaybackStatus is the structure returned from all playback API calls describing the state of the playbackObject at that point of time. It is a dictionary with the key-value pairs. You can check all of the keys of the PlaybackStatus in the documentation.

onPlaybackStatusUpdate is a function taking a single parameter, PlaybackStatus. It is called at regular intervals while the media is in the loaded state. The interval is 500 milliseconds by default. In my application, I set it to 50 milliseconds interval for a proper UI update.

Before creating the sound instance, you will need to implement the onPlaybackStatusUpdate callback. First, add some props to the screen container:

withClassVariableHandlers(
    playbackInstance: null,
    isSeeking: false,
    shouldPlayAtEndOfSeek: false,
    playingAudio: null,
  , 'setClassVariable'),
  withStateHandlers(
    position: null,
    duration: null,
    shouldPlay: false,
    isLoading: true,
    isPlaying: false,
    isBuffering: false,
    showPlayer: false,
  , 
    setState: () => obj => obj,
  ),

Now, implement onPlaybackStatusUpdate. You will need to make several validations based on PlaybackStatus for a proper UI display:

withHandlers(
    soundCallback: props => (status) => 
      if (status.didJustFinish) 
        props.playbackInstance().stopAsync();
       else if (status.isLoaded) 
        const position = props.isSeeking()
          ? props.position
          : status.positionMillis;
        const isPlaying = (props.isSeeking() );
      }
    },
  }),

After this, you have to implement a handler for the audio playback. If a sound instance is already created, you need to unload the media from memory by calling playbackInstance.unloadAsync() and clear OnPlaybackStatusUpdate:

loadPlaybackInstance: props => async (shouldPlay) => 
      props.setState( isLoading: true );

      if (props.playbackInstance() !== null) 
        await props.playbackInstance().unloadAsync();
        props.playbackInstance().setOnPlaybackStatusUpdate(null);
        props.setClassVariable( playbackInstance: null );
      }
      const  sound  = await Audio.Sound.create(
         uri: props.playingAudio().audioUrl ,
         shouldPlay, position: 0, duration: 1, progressUpdateIntervalMillis: 50 ,
        props.soundCallback,
      );

      props.setClassVariable( playbackInstance: sound );

      props.setState( isLoading: false );
    },

Call the handler loadPlaybackInstance(true) by clicking the item in the list. It will automatically load and play the audio.

Let’s add the pause and play functionality (toggle playing) to the audio player. If audio is already playing, you can pause it with the help of playbackInstance.pauseAsync(). If audio is paused, you can resume playback from the paused point with the help of the playbackInstance.playAsync() method:

onTogglePlaying: props => () => 
      if (props.playbackInstance() !== null) 
        if (props.isPlaying) 
          props.playbackInstance().pauseAsync();
         else 
          props.playbackInstance().playAsync();
        
      }
    },

When you click on the playing item, it should stop. If you want to stop audio playback and put it into the 0 playing position, you can use the method playbackInstance.stopAsync():

onStop: props => () => 
      if (props.playbackInstance() !== null) 
        props.playbackInstance().stopAsync();

        props.setShowPlayer(false);
        props.setClassVariable( playingAudio: null );
      }
    },

The audio player also allows you to rewind the audio with the help of the slider. When you start sliding, the audio playback should be paused with playbackInstance.pauseAsync().

After the sliding is complete, you can set the audio playing position with the help of playbackInstance.setPositionAsync(value), or play back the audio from the set position with playbackInstance.playFromPositionAsync(value):

onCompleteSliding: props => async (value) => 
      if (props.playbackInstance() !== null) 
        if (props.shouldPlayAtEndOfSeek) 
          await props.playbackInstance().playFromPositionAsync(value);
         else 
          await props.playbackInstance().setPositionAsync(value);
        
        props.setClassVariable( isSeeking: false );
      }
    },

After this, you can pass the props to the components MediaList and AudioPlayer (see the file src/screens/LibraryScreen/LibraryScreenView).

Video Recording Functionality With React Native

Let’s proceed to video recording.

We’ll use Expo.Camera for this purpose. Expo.Camera is a React component that renders a preview of the device’s front or back camera. Expo.Camera can also take photos and record videos that are saved to the app’s cache.

To record video, you need permission for access to the camera and microphone. Let’s add the request for camera access as we did with the audio recording (in the file src/index.js):

await Permissions.askAsync(Permissions.CAMERA);

Video recording is available on the “Video Recording” screen. After switching to this screen, the camera will turn on.

You can change the camera type (front or back) and start video recording. During recording, you can see its general duration and can cancel or stop it. When recording is finished, you will have to type the name of the video, after which it will be saved in the Redux store.

Here is what my video recording UI looks like:


Large preview

Let’s write the video recording logic by using Recompose on the container screen

src/screens/RecordVideoScreen/RecordVideoScreenContainer.

You can see the full list of all props in the Expo.Camera component in the document.

In this application, we will use the following props for Expo.Camera.

  • type: The camera type is set (front or back).
  • onCameraReady: This callback is invoked when the camera preview is set. You won’t be able to start recording if the camera is not ready.
  • style: This sets the styles for the camera container. In this case, the size is 4:3.
  • ref: This is used for direct access to the camera component.

Let’s add the variable for saving the type and handler for its changing.

cameraType: Camera.Constants.Type.back,
toggleCameraType: state => () => (
      cameraType: state.cameraType === Camera.Constants.Type.front
        ? Camera.Constants.Type.back
        : Camera.Constants.Type.front,
    ),

Let’s add the variable for saving the camera ready state and callback for onCameraReady.

isCameraReady: false,

setCameraReady: () => () => ( isCameraReady: true ),

Let’s add the variable for saving the camera component reference and setter.

cameraRef: null,

setCameraRef: () => cameraRef => ( cameraRef ),

Let’s pass these variables and handlers to the camera component.

<Camera
          type=cameraType
          onCameraReady=setCameraReady
          style=s.camera
          ref=setCameraRef
        />

Now, when calling toggleCameraType after clicking the button, the camera will switch from the front to the back.

Currently, we have access to the camera component via the reference, and we can start video recording with the help of cameraRef.recordAsync().

The method recordAsync starts recording a video to be saved to the cache directory.

Arguments:

Options (object) — a map of options:

  • quality (VideoQuality): Specify the quality of recorded video. Usage: Camera.Constants.VideoQuality[‘‘], possible values: for 16:9 resolution 2160p, 1080p, 720p, 480p (Android only) and for 4:3 (the size is 640×480). If the chosen quality is not available for the device, choose the highest one.
  • maxDuration (number): Maximum video duration in seconds.
  • maxFileSize (number): Maximum video file size in bytes.
  • mute (boolean): If present, video will be recorded with no sound.

recordAsync returns a promise that resolves to an object containing the video file’s URI property. You will need to save the file’s URI in order to play back the video hereafter. The promise is returned if stopRecording was invoked, one of maxDuration and maxFileSize is reached or the camera preview is stopped.

Because the ratio set for the camera component sides is 4:3, let’s set the same format for the video quality.

Here is what the handler for starting video recording looks like (see the full code of the container in the repository):

onStartRecording: props => async () => 
      if (props.isCameraReady) 
        props.setState( isRecording: true, fileUrl: null );
        props.setVideoDuration();
        props.cameraRef.recordAsync( quality: '4:3' )
          .then((file) => 
            props.setState( fileUrl: file.uri );
          });
      }
    },

During the video recording, we can’t receive the recording status as we have done for audio. That’s why I have created a function to set video duration.

To stop the video recording, we have to call the following function:

stopRecording: props => () => 
      if (props.isRecording) 
        props.cameraRef.stopRecording();
        props.setState( isRecording: false );
        clearInterval(props.interval);
      }
    },

Check out the entire process of video recording.

Video Playback Functionality With React Native

You can play back the video on the “Library” screen. Video notes are located in the “Video” tab.

To start the video playback, click the selected item in the list. Then, switch to the playback screen, where you can watch or delete the video.

The UI for video playback looks like this:


Large preview

To play back the video, use Expo.Video, a component that displays a video inline with the other React Native UI elements in your app.

The video will be displayed on the separate screen, PlayVideo.

You can check out all of the props for Expo.Video here.

In our application, the Expo.Video component uses native playback controls and looks like this:

<Video
        source= uri: videoUrl }
        style=s.video
        shouldPlay=isPlaying
        resizeMode="contain"
        useNativeControls=isPlaying
        onLoad=onLoad
        onError=onError
      />
  • source

    This is the source of the video data to display. The same forms as for Expo.Audio.Sound are supported.

  • resizeMode

    This is a string describing how the video should be scaled for display in the component view’s bounds. It can be “stretch”, “contain” or “cover”.

  • shouldPlay

    This boolean describes whether the media is supposed to play.

  • useNativeControls

    This boolean, if set to true, displays native playback controls (such as play and pause) within the video component.

  • onLoad

    This function is called once the video has been loaded.

  • onError

    This function is called if loading or playback has encountered a fatal error. The function passes a single error message string as a parameter.

When the video is uploaded, the play button should be rendered on top of it.

When you click the play button, the video turns on and the native playback controls are displayed.

Let’s write the logic of the video using Recompose in the screen container src/screens/PlayVideoScreen/PlayVideoScreenContainer:

const defaultState = 
  isError: false,
  isLoading: false,
  isPlaying: false,
;

const enhance = compose(
  paramsToProps('videoUrl'),
  withStateHandlers(
    ...defaultState,
    isLoading: true,
  , 
    onError: () => () => ( ...defaultState, isError: true ),
    onLoad: () => () => defaultState,
   onTogglePlaying: ( isPlaying ) => () => ( ...defaultState, isPlaying: !isPlaying ),
  }),
);

As previously mentioned, the Expo.Audio.Sound objects and Expo.Video components share a unified imperative API for media playback. That’s why you can create custom controls and use more advanced functionality with the Playback API.

Check out the video playback process:

See the full code for the application in the repository.

You can also install the app on your phone by using Expo and check out how it works in practice.

Wrapping Up

I hope you have enjoyed this article and have enriched your knowledge of React Native. You can use this audio and video recording tutorial to create your own custom-designed media player. You can also scale the functionality and add the ability to save media in the phone’s memory or on a server, synchronize media data between different devices, and share media with others.

As you can see, there is a wide scope for imagination. If you have any questions about the process of developing an audio or video recording app with React Native, feel free to drop a comment below.

Smashing Editorial
(da, lf, ra, yk, al, il)


Original article: 

How To Create An Audio/Video Recording App With React Native: An In-Depth Tutorial

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