Landing The Concept: Movie High-Concept Theory And UX Design
Steven Spielberg once famously said, “If a person can tell me the idea in 25 words or less, it’s going to make a pretty good movie.” He was referring to the notion that the best mass-appeal ‘blockbuster’ movies are able to succinctly state their concept or premise in a single short sentence, such as Jaws (“It’s about a shark terrorizing a small town”) and Toy Story (“It’s about some toys that come to life when nobody’s looking”).
What if the same were true for websites? Do sites that explain their ‘concept’ in a simple way have a better shot at mass-appeal with users? If we look at the super simple layout of Google’s homepage, for example, it gives users a single clear message about its concept equally as well as the Jaws movie poster:
Being aware of the importance of ‘high-concept’ allows us — as designers — to really focus on user’s initial impressions. Taking the time to actually define what you want your simple ‘high-concept’ to be before you even begin designing can really help steer you towards the right user experience.
What Does High-Concept Theory Mean For UX Design?
So let’s take this seriously and look at it from a UX Design standpoint. It stands to reason that if you can explain the ‘concept’ or purpose of your site in a simple way you are lowering the cognitive load on new users when they try and understand it and in doing so, you’re drastically increasing your chances of them engaging.
The parallels between ‘High-Concept’ theory and UX Design best practice are clear. Blockbuster audiences prefer simple easy to relate concepts presented in an uncomplicated way. Web users often prefer simpler, easy to digest, UI (User Interface) design, clean layouts, and no clutter.
Regardless of what your message is, presenting it in a simple way is critical to the success of your site’s user experience. But, what about the message itself? Understanding if your message is ‘high-concept’ enough might also be critical to the site’s success.
What Is The Concept Of ‘High-Concept’ In The Online World?
What do we mean when we say ‘high-concept’? For movies it’s simple — it’s what the film is about, the basic storyline that can be easy to put into a single sentence, e.g. Jurassic Park is “about a theme park where dinosaurs are brought back to life.”
When we look at ‘high-concept’ on a website, however, it can really apply to anything: a mission statement, a service offering, or even a new product line. It’s simply the primary message you want to share through your site. If we apply the theory of ‘high-concept’, it tells us that we need to ensure that we convey that message in a simple and succinct style.
What Happens If You Get It Right?
Why is ‘high-concept’ so important? What are the benefits of presenting a ‘high-concept’ UX Design? One of the mistakes we often fall foul of in UX Design is focussing in on the specifics of user tasks and forgetting about the critical importance of initial opinions. In other words, we focus on how users will interact with a site once they’ve chosen to engage with it and miss the decision-making process that comes before everything. Considering ‘high-concept’ allows us to focus on this initial stage.
The basic premise to consider is that we engage better with things we understand and things we feel comfortable with. Ensuring your site presents its message in a simple ‘high-concept’ way will aid initial user engagement. That initial engagement is the critical precursor to all the good stuff that follows: sales, interaction, and a better conversion rate.
How Much Concept Is Too Much Concept?
The real trick is figuring out how much complexity your users can comfortably handle when it comes to positioning your message. You need to focus initially on presenting only high-level information rather than bombarding users with everything upfront. Give users only the level of understanding they need to engage initially with your site and drive them deeper into the journey disclosing more detail as you go.
Netflix does a great job at this. The initial view new users are presented with on the homepage screen is upfront with its super high-concept — ‘we do video content’ once users have engaged with this premise they are taken further into the proposition — more information is disclosed, prices, process, and so on.
When To Land Your High-Concept?
As you decide how to layout the site, another critical factor to consider is when you choose to introduce your initial ‘high-concept’ to your users. It’s key to remember how rare it is that users follow a nice simple linear journey through your site starting at the homepage. The reality is that organic user journeys sometimes start with search results. As a result, the actual interaction with your site begins on the page that’s most relevant to the user’s query. With this in mind, it’s critical to consider how the premise of your site appears to users on key entry pages for your site wherever they appear in the overall hierarchy.
Another key point to consider when introducing the message of your site is that in many scenarios users will be judging whether to engage with you way before they even reach your site. If the first time you present your concept to users is via a Facebook ad or an email campaign, then implementation is drastically different. However, the theory should be the same, i.e. to ensure you present your message in that single sentence ‘high-concept’ style way with potential users.
How To Communicate Your High-Concept
Thus far, we’ve talked about how aiming for ‘high-concept’ messages can increase engagement — but how do we do this? Firstly, let’s focus on the obvious methods such as the wording you use (or don’t use).
Before you even begin designing, sit down and focus in on what you want the premise of your site to be. From there, draw out your straplines or headings to reflect that premise. Make sure you rely on content hierarchy though, use your headings to land the concept, and don’t bury messages that are critical to understanding deep in your body copy.
Here’s a nice example from Spotify. They achieve a ‘high-concept’ way of positioning their service through a simple, uncluttered combination of imagery and wording:
Single Sentence Wording
It’s key to be as succinct as possible: the shorter your message is, the more readable it becomes. The true balancing act comes in deciding where to draw the line between too little to give enough understanding and too much to make it easily readable.
If we take the example of Google Drive — it’s a relatively complex service, but it’s presented in a very basic high-concept way — initially a single sentence that suggests security and simplicity:
Then the next level of site lands just a little more of the concept of the service but still keeping in a simple single sentence under 25 words (Spielberg would be pleased):
It doesn’t just stop with your wording as there is a myriad of other elements on the page that you can leverage to land your concept. The explainer video is used to great effect by Amazon to introduce users to the concept of Amazon Go. In reality, it’s a highly complex technical trial of machine learning, computer visual recognition, and AI (artificial intelligence) to reimagine the shopping experience. As it’s simply framed on the site, it can be explained in a ‘high-concept’ way.
Amazon gives users a single sentence and also, crucially, makes the whole header section a simple explainer video about the service.
The imagery you use can be used to quickly and simply convey powerful messages about your concept without the need to complicate your UI with other elements. Save the Children use imagery to great effect to quickly show the users the critical importance of their work arguably better than they ever could with wording.
Font And Color
It’s key to consider every element of your site as a potential mechanism for helping you communicate your purpose to your users, through the font or the color choices. For example, rather than having to explicitly tell users that your site is aimed at academics or children you can craft your UI to help show that.
Users have existing mental models that you can appeal to. For example, bright colors and childlike fonts suggest the site is aimed at children, serif fonts and limited color use often suggest a much more serious or academic subject matter. Therefore, when it comes to landing the concept of your site, consider these as important allies to communicate with your users without having to complicate your message.
So far, we’ve focused primarily on using messaging to communicate the concept to users. Still, what if the primary goal of your page is just to get users to interact with a specific element? For example, if you offer some kind of tool? If that’s the case, then showing the interface of this tool itself is often the best way to communicate its purpose to users.
This ties in with the concept of ‘Design Affordance’ — the idea that the form of a design should communicate its purpose. It stands to reason that sometimes the best way to tell users about your simple tool with an easy to use interface — is to show them that interface.
If we look at Airbnb, a large part of the Airbnb concept is the online tool that allows the searching and viewing of results; they use this to great effect on this landing page design by showing the data entry view for that search. Showing users how easy it is to search while also presenting them the with simple messaging about the Airbnb concept.
How To Test You’ve Landed It
Now that you’ve designed your site and you’re happy that it pitches its concept almost as well as an 80s blockbuster — but how can you validate that? It would be lovely to check things over with a few rounds of in-depth lab-based user research, but in reality, you’ll seldom have the opportunity, and you’ll find yourself relying on more ‘guerilla’ methods.
One of the simplest and most effective methodologies to check how ‘high-concept’ your site is is the ‘5 second’ or ‘glance’ test. The simple test involves showing someone the site for 5 seconds and then hiding it from view. Then, users can then be asked questions about what they can recall about the site. The idea being that in 5 seconds they only have the opportunity to view what is immediately obvious.
Here are some examples of questions to ask to get a sense of how well the concept of your site comes across:
Can you remember the name of the site you just saw?
What do you think is the purpose of the page you just saw?
Was it obvious what the site you just saw offers?
Do you think you would use the site you just saw?
Using this test with a decent number of people who match your target users should give some really valuable insight into how well your design conveys the purpose of your site and if indeed you’ve managed to achieve ‘high-concept’.
Putting It All Into Practice
Let’s try implementing all this knowledge in the real world? In terms of taking this and turning it into a practical approach, I try and follow these simple steps for every project:
Aim For High-Concept When you’re establishing the purpose of any new site (or page or ad) try and boil it down to a single, simple, overarching ‘High-Concept.’
Write It Down Document what you want that key concept to be in 25 words or less.
Refer Back Constantly refer back to that concept throughout the design process. From picking your fonts and colors to crafting your headline content — ensure that it all supports that High-Concept you wrote down.
Test It Once complete use the 5-second test on your design with a number of users and compare their initial thoughts to your initial High-Concept. If they correlate, then great, if not head back to step 3 and try again.
In this article, we have discussed the simple rule of making blockbuster movies, and we have applied that wisdom to web design. No ‘shock plot twist’ — just some common sense. The first time someone comes into contact with your website, it’s vital to think about what you want the initial message to be. If you want mass market appeal, then craft it into a ‘high-concept’ message that Spielberg himself would be proud of!
Every customer base is unique. Your ability to win your own marketing victories depends on understanding the users visiting your website each and every day. If you’ve spent any amount of time on The Daily Egg or similarly focused blogs, you know that thorough testing is paramount to your web business’ success. You might be intuitive (or lucky) enough to correctly read your customers on any given campaign, but over the long run, success WILL depend on data analysis. Despite the hundreds of voices claiming that marketing is an art, you’ve heard of Neil Patel, Avinash Kaushik, Danny Sullivan, and…
You might not wake up each morning thinking about data privacy and security but, like it or not, Facebook’s recent move makes it an issue you can’t dismiss. Long before Mark Zuckerberg sat before congress in the face of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, explaining how Facebook uses personal data, the European Union started getting especially serious about data protection and privacy.
And so, on May 25 2018, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect.
In a nutshell, the GDPR legislation gives everyone in the EU greater privacy rights, and introduces new rules for marketers and software providers to follow when it comes to collecting, tracking, or handling EU-based prospects’ and customers’ personal data.
Moreover, the GDPR applies to anyone who processes or stores data of those in the EU (i.e. you don’t need to be physically located in Europe for this to apply to your business and can incur fines up to 4% of your annual global turnover or €20 million [whichever is greater] for non-compliance).
But Beyond Potential Fines, Here’s Why You Need to Care
On Tuesday April 3rd, Zuckerberg said that Facebook had no plans to extend the GDPR regulations globally to all Facebook users. But, fast-forward a few weeks later and Facebook completely changed its tune, now planning to extend Europe’s GDPR standards worldwide.
This move sets a precedent, showing all of us that no matter where we are in the world, personal data and privacy laws aren’t optional. Compliance is table stakes.
If you’re located in Europe, process lead and customer data from Europe — or just happen to believe in high standards for data privacy and security, this post will help you navigate:
What Unbounce has done to become GDPR compliant, and
Some of what you need to do to make sure your landing pages, sticky bars, and popups adhere to the new rules.
Note: This post isn’t the be-all-and-end-all on EU data privacy, nor is it legal advice. It’s meant to provide background information and help you better understand how you can use Unbounce in a GDPR compliant way.
Data Protection by Default for You and Your Customers
For several months now, Unbounce has been investing heavily in the necessary changes to be GDPR compliant as a conversion platform. We believe that to build trust and confidence with your customers, you need to make their privacy your priority.
As of the day of GDPR enforcement, you can be sure we’ve got your back when it comes to processing and storing your data within Unbounce, and giving you the tools you need to run compliant campaigns.
To see exactly what Unbounce has been doing, why it matters and where we’re at in development, check out our GDPR FAQ page.
But while we’re a GDPR compliant platform with privacy and security safeguards built into our business practices and throughout our platform, this is only part of the equation. There are still a few things you are responsible for to use Unbounce in a compliant way, including:
Obtaining consent from your visitors (lawful basis of processing)
Deleting personal data if requested (right to erasure)
Encrypting lead data at transit and in rest (using SSL) and
Signing a data processing addendum (DPA) with Unbounce
Here’s what you’re gonna want to watch for as you build landing pages, popups, and sticky bars.
Obtaining Consent From Your Visitors
Before collecting someone’s data the GDPR states you must first have a legal basis to do so. There are six lawful bases of processing under the GDPR, but if you’re a digital marketer, your use case will most likely fall into one of the following three:
Consent (i.e. opt-in)
Performance of a contract (eg. sending an invoice to a customer)
“Legitimate interest” (eg. Someone is an existing customer and you want to send them information related to a product or service they already have.)
If you are using Unbounce for lead gen, then you must gather consent via opt-in to collect, use, or store someone’s data. When building your landing pages in Unbounce, you can easily add an opt-in field to your forms with the Unbounce form builder:
Keep in mind: Your visitors must actively check your opt-in box to give consent. Pre-checked checkboxes are not a valid form of consent.
Related But Different: Cookies And The ePrivacy Regulation
In many posts you’ll see Europe’s ePrivacy regulations tied in with GDPR, but they are, in fact, two separate things. While the GDPR regulates the general use and management of personal data, cookie use is core to the ePrivacy regulation (which is why you’ll sometimes see it called the “cookie law”). ePrivacy regulations are still in the works, but it’s certain they will be about visitor consent to cookies on your site.
Last year Unbounce launched sticky bars (a discreet, mobile-friendly way to get more conversions), but they do double duty as a cookie bar, notifying your visitors about cookies.
You can design and publish a cookie bar using Unbounce’s built-in template, as shown below, embed the code across all of your landing pages using script manager, then promptly publish to every landing page you build in Unbounce. You can even have it appear all across your website.
Informing Visitors of Your Data Protection Policies
It’s not enough to just obtain consent, the GDPR also requires you to inform your customers and prospects what they are consenting to. This means that you need to provide easy access to your privacy and data protection policies (something Google AdWords has required for ages).
Sharing your privacy and data protection policies easily and transparently can help you earn the trust and confidence of your web visitors. Every visitor may not read through it with a fine tooth comb, but in a web littered with sketchy marketing practices, sharing your policies shows that you’re legit and that you have nothing to hide.
This is a great example of how doing right by your customers can also help you achieve your business goals.
The Right To Be Forgotten
At any point in time a customer or lead whose data you have collected can request that you erase any of their personal data you have stored. There are several grounds under which someone can make this request and the GDPR requires that you do so without “undue delay”.
As an Unbounce customer, simply submit an email request to our support team who will ensure that all information for a specific lead or a group of leads are deleted from our database.
As part of our ongoing commitment to supporting data privacy and security, we are inspecting alternate solutions to deletion requests, but you can rest assured that even as of today, we will fulfill deletion requests within the time limit enforced by the GDPR.
Preventing Unauthorized Access to Data
Unbounce has supported SSL encryption on landing pages for years, and we’re proud that we made this a priority for our customers before Google started calling out non-https pages as not secure and giving preferential treatment to secure pages.
Presently Unbounce customers can already adhere to the GDPR requirement to process all data securely.
When you build and publish your landing pages with Unbounce, you can force your web visitors to the secure (https) version of your pages, even if they accidentally navigate to the unsecure (http) version.
In the upper right corner you can toggle to force visitors to the secure HTTPS version of your page.
This forced redirect will ensure proper encryption of your visitor lead data in transit and at rest. And as an added bonus, it’ll keep you in Google’s good books and prevent ‘not secure’ warnings in Google Chrome.
Signing a Data Protection Addendum (DPA) With Unbounce
According to the GDPR, when you collect lead information with Unbounce, you are the data controller while Unbounce serves as your data processor. To comply with GDPR regulation when using a tool like a landing page builder or conversion platform, you need a signed DPA between you (the data controller) and the service provider (your data processor).
Without getting too deep into the weeds on this one, let me just say that if you’re using Unbounce, we’ve got you covered and that you can complete a form on our GDPR overview page to get your DPA by email.
Privacy = Trust = Great Marketing
At Unbounce we view data privacy and security as two cornerstones of great marketing. At their core they are about a positive user experience and can help make the internet a better place.
The GDPR puts more control in the hands of users to determine how their information is used. No one wants their personal data falling into the wrong hands or being used in malicious or intrusive ways. Confidence and trust in your brand is at stake when it comes to privacy, so we aren’t taking any chances. Using Unbounce as your conversion platform, you can assure your customers that you take their privacy and data security seriously.
Increased regulation around data privacy may provide short term challenges for marketers as we establish new norms, but long term they can provide a more positive experience for users — something we should always strive for as marketers.
“Accessibility is solved at the design stage.” This is a phrase that Daniel Na and his team heard over and over again while attending a conference. To design for accessibility means to be inclusive to the needs of your users. This includes your target users, users outside of your target demographic, users with disabilities, and even users from different cultures and countries. Understanding those needs is the key to crafting better and more accessible experiences for them.
One of the most common problems when designing for accessibility is knowing what needs you should design for. It’s not that we intentionally design to exclude users, it’s just that “we don’t know what we don’t know.” So, when it comes to accessibility, there’s a lot to know.
How do we go about understanding the myriad of users and their needs? How can we ensure that their needs are met in our design? To answer these questions, I have found that it is helpful to apply a critical analysis technique of viewing a design through different lenses.
“Good [accessible] design happens when you view your [design] from many different perspectives, or lenses.”
A lens is “a narrowed filter through which a topic can be considered or examined.” Often used to examine works of art, literature, or film, lenses ask us to leave behind our worldview and instead view the world through a different context.
For example, viewing art through a lens of history asks us to understand the “social, political, economic, cultural, and/or intellectual climate of the time.” This allows us to better understand what world influences affected the artist and how that shaped the artwork and its message.
Accessibility lenses are a filter that we can use to understand how different aspects of the design affect the needs of the users. Each lens presents a set of questions to ask yourself throughout the design process. By using these lenses, you will become more inclusive to the needs of your users, allowing you to design a more accessible user experience for all.
You should know that not every lens will apply to every design. While some can apply to every design, others are more situational. What works best in one design may not work for another.
The questions provided by each lens are merely a tool to help you understand what problems may arise. As always, you should test your design with users to ensure it’s usable and accessible to them.
Lens Of Animation And Effects
Effective animations can help bring a page and brand to life, guide the users focus, and help orient a user. But animations are a double-edged sword. Not only can misusing animations cause confusion or be distracting, but they can also be potentially deadly for some users.
Fast flashing effects (defined as flashing more than three times a second) or high-intensity effects and patterns can cause seizures, known as ‘photosensitive epilepsy.’ Photosensitivity can also cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness. Users with photosensitive epilepsy have to be very careful when using the web as they never know when something might cause a seizure.
Other effects, such as parallax or motion effects, can cause some users to feel dizzy or experience vertigo due to vestibular sensitivity. The vestibular system controls a person’s balance and sense of motion. When this system doesn’t function as it should, it causes dizziness and nausea.
“Imagine a world where your internal gyroscope is not working properly. Very similar to being intoxicated, things seem to move of their own accord, your feet never quite seem to be stable underneath you, and your senses are moving faster or slower than your body.”
Constant animations or motion can also be distracting to users, especially to users who have difficulty concentrating. GIFs are notably problematic as our eyes are drawn towards movement, making it easy to be distracted by anything that updates or moves constantly.
This isn’t to say that animation is bad and you shouldn’t use it. Instead you should understand why you’re using the animation and how to design safer animations. Generally speaking, you should try to design animations that cover small distances, match direction and speed of other moving objects (including scroll), and are relatively small to the screen size.
To use the Lens of Animation and Effects, ask yourself these questions:
Are there any effects that could cause a seizure?
Are there any animations or effects that could cause dizziness or vertigo through use of motion?
Are there any animations that could be distracting by constantly moving, blinking, or auto-updating?
Is it possible to provide controls or options to stop, pause, hide, or change the frequency of any animations or effects?
Lens Of Audio And Video
Autoplaying videos and audio can be pretty annoying. Not only do they break a users concentration, but they also force the user to hunt down the offending media and mute or stop it. As a general rule, don’t autoplay media.
“Use autoplay sparingly. Autoplay can be a powerful engagement tool, but it can also annoy users if undesired sound is played or they perceive unnecessary resource usage (e.g. data, battery) as the result of unwanted video playback.”
You’re now probably asking, “But what if I autoplay the video in the background but keep it muted?” While using videos as backgrounds may be a growing trend in today’s web design, background videos suffer from the same problems as GIFs and constant moving animations: they can be distracting. As such, you should provide controls or options to pause or disable the video.
Along with controls, videos should have transcripts and/or subtitles so users can consume the content in a way that works best for them. Users who are visually impaired or who would rather read instead of watch the video need a transcript, while users who aren’t able to or don’t want to listen to the video need subtitles.
To use the Lens of Audio and Video, ask yourself these questions:
Are there any audio or video that could be annoying by autoplaying?
Is it possible to provide controls to stop, pause, or hide any audio or videos that autoplay?
Do videos have transcripts and/or subtitles?
Lens Of Color
Color plays an important part in a design. Colors evoke emotions, feelings, and ideas. Colors can also help strengthen a brand’s message and perception. Yet the power of colors is lost when a user can’t see them or perceives them differently.
Because colors and their meanings can be lost either through cultural differences or color blindness, you should always add a non-color identifier. Identifiers such as icons or text descriptions can help bridge cultural differences while patterns work well to distinguish between colors.
Oversaturated colors, high contrasting colors, and even just the color yellow can be uncomfortable and unsettling for some users, prominently those on the autism spectrum. It’s best to avoid high concentrations of these types of colors to help users remain comfortable.
Poor contrast between foreground and background colors make it harder to see for users with low vision, using a low-end monitor, or who are just in direct sunlight. All text, icons, and any focus indicators used for users using a keyboard should meet a minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1 to the background color.
You should also ensure your design and colors work well in different settings of Windows High Contrast mode. A common pitfall is that text becomes invisible on certain high contrast mode backgrounds.
To use the Lens of Color, ask yourself these questions:
If the color was removed from the design, what meaning would be lost?
How could I provide meaning without using color?
Are any colors oversaturated or have high contrast that could cause users to become overstimulated or uncomfortable?
Does the foreground and background color of all text, icons, and focus indicators meet contrast ratio guidelines of 4.5:1?
Lens Of Controls
Controls, also called ‘interactive content,’ are any UI elements that the user can interact with, be they buttons, links, inputs, or any HTML element with an event listener. Controls that are too small or too close together can cause lots of problems for users.
Small controls are hard to click on for users who are unable to be accurate with a pointer, such as those with tremors, or those who suffer from reduced dexterity due to age. The default size of checkboxes and radio buttons, for example, can pose problems for older users. Even when a label is provided that could be clicked on instead, not all users know they can do so.
Controls that are too close together can cause problems for touch screen users. Fingers are big and difficult to be precise with. Accidentally touching the wrong control can cause frustration, especially if that control navigates you away or makes you lose your context.
Controls that are nested inside another control can also contribute to touch errors. Not only is it not allowed in the HTML spec, it also makes it easy to accidentally select the parent control instead of the one you wanted.
It’s also recommended that controls be placed far enough apart to reduce touch errors. Microsoft recommends at least 8 pixels of spacing while Google recommends controls be spaced at least 32 pixels apart.
Technology today is very different than it was 20 years ago. Today, browsers can be used on any device of any size, from a small watch to a huge 4K screen. We can no longer use fixed font sizes to design our sites. Font sizes must be as responsive as the design itself.
The font itself should be easy to read. You may be wondering if one font is more readable than another. The truth of the matter is that the font doesn’t really make a difference to readability. Instead it’s the font style that plays an important role in a fonts readability.
Decorative or cursive font styles are harder to read for many users, but especially problematic for users with dyslexia. Small font sizes, italicized text, and all uppercase text are also difficult for users. Overall, larger text, shorter line lengths, taller line heights, and increased letter spacing can help all users have a better reading experience.
To use the Lens of Font, ask yourself these questions:
Is the design flexible enough that the font could be modified to a comfortable reading level by the user?
Is the font style easy to read?
Lens Of Images and Icons
They say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Still, a picture you can’t see is speechless, right?
Images can be used in a design to convey a specific meaning or feeling. Other times they can be used to simplify complex ideas. Whichever the case for the image, a user who uses a screen reader needs to be told what the meaning of the image is.
As the designer, you understand best the meaning or information the image conveys. As such, you should annotate the design with this information so it’s not left out or misinterpreted later. This will be used to create the alt text for the image.
Since knowing how to describe an image can be difficult, there’s a handy decision tree to help when deciding. Generally speaking, if the image is decorational or there’s surrounding text that already describes the image’s information, no further information is needed. Otherwise you should describe the information of the image. If the image contains text, repeat the text in the description as well.
Descriptions should be succinct. It’s recommended to use no more than two sentences, but aim for one concise sentence when possible. This allows users to quickly understand the image without having to listen to a lengthy description.
As an example, if you were to describe this image for a screen reader, what would you say?
Since we describe the information of the image and not the image itself, the description could be Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night since there is no other surrounding context that describes it. What you shouldn’t put is a description of the style of the painting or what the picture looks like.
This way, users can still get the most important information quickly but have the ability to dig in further if they wish. If the image is of a chart, you should repeat the data of the chart just like you would for text in the image.
If the platform you are designing for allows users to upload images, you should provide a way for the user to enter the alt text along with the image. For example, Twitter allows its users to write alt text when they upload an image to a tweet.
To use the Lens of Images and Icons, ask yourself these questions:
Does any image contain information that would be lost if it was not viewable?
How could I provide the information in a non-visual way?
If the image is controlled by the user, is it possible to provide a way for them to enter the alt text description?
Lens Of Keyboard
Keyboard accessibility is among the most important aspects of an accessible design, yet it is also among the most overlooked.
There are many reasons why a user would use a keyboard instead of a mouse. Users who use a screen reader use the keyboard to read the page. A user with tremors may use a keyboard because it provides better accuracy than a mouse. Even power users will use a keyboard because it’s faster and more efficient.
A user using a keyboard typically uses the tab key to navigate to each control in sequence. A logical order for the tab order greatly helps users know where the next key press will take them. In western cultures, this usually means from left to right, top to bottom. Unexpected tab orders results in users becoming lost and having to scan frantically for where the focus went.
Sequential tab order also means that they must tab through all controls that are before the one that they want. If that control is tens or hundreds of keystrokes away, it can be a real pain point for the user.
By making the most important user flows nearer to the top of the tab order, we can help enable our users to be more efficient and effective. However, this isn’t always possible nor practical to do. In these cases, providing a way to quickly jump to a particular flow or content can still allow them to be efficient. This is why “skip to content” links are helpful.
A good example of this is Facebook which provides a keyboard navigation menu that allows users to jump to specific sections of the site. This greatly speeds up the ability for a user to interact with the page and the content they want.
When tabbing through a design, focus styles should always be visible or a user can easily become lost. Just like an unexpected tab order, not having good focus indicators results in users not knowing what is currently focused and having to scan the page.
Changing the look of the default focus indicator can sometimes improve the experience for users. A good focus indicator doesn’t rely on color alone to indicate focus (Lens of Color), and should be distinct enough to easily allow the user to find it. For example, a blue focus ring around a similarly colored blue button may not be visually distinct to discern that it is focused.
Although this lens focuses on keyboard accessibility, it’s important to note that it applies to any way a user could interact with a website without a mouse. Devices such as mouth sticks, switch access buttons, sip and puff buttons, and eye tracking software all require the page to be keyboard accessible.
By improving keyboard accessibility, you allow a wide range of users better access to your site.
To use the Lens of Keyboard, ask yourself these questions:
What keyboard navigation order makes the most sense for the design?
How could a keyboard user get to what they want in the quickest way possible?
Is the focus indicator always visible and visually distinct?
Lens Of Layout
Layout contributes a great deal to the usability of a site. Having a layout that is easy to follow with easy to find content makes all the difference to your users. A layout should have a meaningful and logical sequence for the user.
With the advent of CSS Grid, being able to change the layout to be more meaningful based on the available space is easier than ever. However, changing the visual layout creates problems for users who rely on the structural layout of the page.
The structural layout is what is used by screen readers and users using a keyboard. When the visual layout changes but not the underlying structural layout, these users can become confused as their tab order is no longer logical. If you must change the visual layout, you should do so by changing the structural layout so users using a keyboard maintain a sequential and logical tab order.
The layout should be resizable and flexible to a minimum of 320 pixels with no horizontal scroll bars so that it can be viewed comfortably on a phone. The layout should also be flexible enough to be zoomed in to 400% (also with no horizontal scroll bars) for users who need to increase the font size for a better reading experience.
To use the Lens of Layout, ask yourself these questions:
Does the layout have a meaningful and logical sequence?
What should happen to the layout when it’s viewed on a small screen or zoomed in to 400%?
Is content that is related or changes due to user interaction in close proximity to one another?
Lens Of Material Honesty
Material honesty is an architectural design value that states that a material should be honest to itself and not be used as a substitute for another material. It means that concrete should look like concrete and not be painted or sculpted to look like bricks.
Material honesty values and celebrates the unique properties and characteristics of each material. An architect who follows material honesty knows when each material should be used and how to use it without tarnishing itself.
Material honesty is not a hard and fast rule though. It lies on a continuum. Like all values, you are allowed to break them when you understand them. As the saying goes, they are “more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.”
Links and buttons have different behaviors and affordances. A link is activated with the enter key, typically takes you to a different page, and has a special context menu on right click. Buttons are activated with the space key, used primarily to trigger interactions on the current page, and have no such context menu.
When a link is styled to look like a button or vise versa, a user could become confused as it does not behave and function as it looks. If the “button” navigates the user away unexpectedly, they might become frustrated if they lost data in the process.
“At first glance everything looks fine, but it won’t stand up to scrutiny. As soon as such a website is stress‐tested by actual usage across a range of browsers, the façade crumbles.”
Where this becomes the most problematic is when a link and button are styled the same and are placed next to one another. As there is nothing to differentiate between the two, a user can accidentally navigate when they thought they wouldn’t.
Autocomplete is used to suggest or predict the rest of a word a user is typing. An autocomplete menu allows a user to select from a large list of options when not all options can be shown.
An autocomplete menu is typically attached to an input field and is navigated with the up and down arrow keys, keeping the focus inside the input field. When a user selects an option from the list, that option will override the text in the input field. Autocomplete menus are meant to be lists of just text.
The problem arises when an autocomplete menu starts to gain more behaviors. Not only can you select an option from the list, but you can edit it, delete it, or even expand or collapse sections. The autocomplete menu is no longer just a simple list of selectable text.
The added behaviors no longer mean you can just use the up and down arrows to select an option. Each option now has more than one action, so a user needs to be able to traverse two dimensions instead of just one. This means that a user using a keyboard could become confused on how to operate the component.
Screen readers suffer the most from this change of behavior as there is no easy way to help them understand it. A lot of work will be required to ensure the menu is accessible to a screen reader by using non-standard means. As such, it will might result in a sub-par or inaccessible experience for them.
To avoid these issues, it’s best to be honest to the user and the design. Instead of combining two distinct behaviors (an autocomplete menu and edit and delete functionality), leave them as two separate behaviors. Use an autocomplete menu to just autocomplete the name of a user, and have a different component or page to edit and delete users.
To use the Lens of Material Honesty, ask yourself these questions:
Is the design being honest to the user?
Are there any elements that behave, look, or function as another element?
Are there any components that combine distinct behaviors into a single component? Does doing so make the component materially dishonest?
Lens Of Readability
Have you ever picked up a book only to get a few paragraphs or pages in and want to give up because the text was too hard to read? Hard to read content is mentally taxing and tiring.
Sentence length, paragraph length, and complexity of language all contribute to how readable the text is. Complex language can pose problems for users, especially those with cognitive disabilities or who aren’t fluent in the language.
Along with using plain and simple language, you should ensure each paragraph focuses on a single idea. A paragraph with a single idea is easier to remember and digest. The same is true of a sentence with fewer words.
Another contributor to the readability of content is the length of a line. The ideal line length is often quoted to be between 45 and 75 characters. A line that is too long causes users to lose focus and makes it harder to move to the next line correctly, while a line that is too short causes users to jump too often, causing fatigue on the eyes.
“The subconscious mind is energized when jumping to the next line. At the beginning of every new line the reader is focused, but this focus gradually wears off over the duration of the line”
— Typographie: A Manual of Design
You should also break up the content with headings, lists, or images to give mental breaks to the reader and support different learning styles. Use headings to logically group and summarize the information. Headings, links, controls, and labels should be clear and descriptive to enhance the users ability to comprehend.
To use the Lens of Readability, ask yourself these questions:
Is the language plain and simple?
Does each paragraph focus on a single idea?
Are there any long paragraphs or long blocks of unbroken text?
Are all headings, links, controls, and labels clear and descriptive?
Lens Of Structure
As mentioned in the Lens of Layout, the structural layout is what is used by screen readers and users using a keyboard. While the Lens of Layout focused on the visual layout, the Lens of Structure focuses on the structural layout, or the underlying HTML and semantics of the design.
As a designer, you may not write the structural layout of your designs. This shouldn’t stop you from thinking about how your design will ultimately be structured though. Otherwise, your design may result in an inaccessible experience for a screen reader.
Take for example a design for a single elimination tournament bracket.
How would you know if this design was accessible to a user using a screen reader? Without understanding structure and semantics, you may not. As it stands, the design would probably result in an inaccessible experience for a user using a screen reader.
To understand why that is, we first must understand that a screen reader reads a page and its content in sequential order. This means that every name in the first column of the tournament would be read, followed by all the names in the second column, then third, then the last.
If all you had was a list of seemingly random names, how would you interpret the results of the tournament? Could you say who won the tournament? Or who won game 6?
With nothing more to work with, a user using a screen reader would probably be a bit confused about the results. To be able to understand the visual design, we must provide the user with more information in the structural design.
This means that as a designer you need to know how a screen reader interacts with the HTML elements on a page so you know how to enhance their experience.
Landmark Elements (header, nav, main, and footer)
Allow a screen reader to jump to important sections in the design.
Headings (h1 → h6)
Allow a screen reader to scan the page and get a high level overview. Screen readers can also jump to any heading.
Lists (ul and ol)
Group related items together, and allow a screen reader to easily jump from one item to another.
Trigger interactions on the current page.
Navigate or retrieve information.
Tell screen readers what each form input is.
Knowing this, how might we provide more meaning to a user using a screen reader?
To start, we could group each column of the tournament into rounds and use headings to label each round. This way, a screen reader would understand when a new round takes place.
Next, we could help the user understand which players are playing against each other each game. We can again use headings to label each game, allowing them to find any game they might be interested in.
By just adding headings, the content would read as follows:
This is already a lot more understandable than before.
The information still doesn’t answer who won a game though. To know that, you’d have to understand which game a winner plays next to see who won the previous game. For example, you’d have to know that the winner of game four plays in game six to know who advanced from game four.
We can further enhance the experience by informing the user who won each game so they don’t have to go hunting for it. Putting the text “(winner)” after the person who won the round would suffice.
We should also further group the games and rounds together using lists. Lists provide the structural semantics of the design, essentially informing the user of the connected nodes from the visual design.
If we translate this back into a visual design, the result could look as follows:
“If the end result is visually the same as where we started, why did we go through all this?” You may ask.
The reason is that you should always annotate your design with all the necessary structural design requirements needed for a better screen reader experience. This way, the person who implements the design knows to add them. If you had just handed the first design to the implementer, it would more than likely end up inaccessible.
To use the Lens of Structure, ask yourself these questions:
Can I outline a rough HTML structure of my design?
How can I structure the design to better help a screen reader understand the content or find the content they want?
How can I help the person who will implement the design understand the intended structure?
Lens Of Time
Periodically in a design you may need to limit the amount of time a user can spend on a task. Sometimes it may be for security reasons, such as a session timeout. Other times it could be due to a non-functional requirement, such as a time constrained test.
Whatever the reason, you should understand that some users may need more time in order finish the task. Some users might need more time to understand the content, others might not be able to perform the task quickly, and a lot of the time they could just have been interrupted.
“The designer should assume that people will be interrupted during their activities”
— The Design of Everyday Things
Users who need more time to perform an action should be able to adjust or remove a time limit when possible. For example, with a session timeout you could alert the user when their session is about to expire and allow them to extend it.
To use the Lens of Time, ask yourself this question:
Is it possible to provide controls to adjust or remove time limits?
Bringing It All Together
So now that you’ve learned about the different lenses of accessibility through which you can view your design, what do you do with them?
The lenses can be used at any point in the design process, even after the design has been shipped to your users. Just start with a few of them at hand, and one at a time carefully analyze the design through a lens.
Ask yourself the questions and see if anything should be adjusted to better meet the needs of a user. As you slowly make changes, bring in other lenses and repeat the process.
By looking through your design one lens at a time, you’ll be able to refine the experience to better meet users’ needs. As you are more inclusive to the needs of your users, you will create a more accessible design for all your users.
Using lenses and insightful questions to examine principles of accessibility was heavily influenced by Jesse Schell and his book “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses.”
Marketing has changed a lot over the past few years. That’s especially true when it comes to the options available to digital marketers. It seems like every week there’s a new feature available in the platforms most of us are already using, and every month there’s a new platform altogether that blogs and other industry publications are calling the next big thing. But some aspects of marketing haven’t changed much over the years. One of those is the way we write calls to action or CTAs. If you’ve spent much time looking for ways to boost your conversion rates, you’ve probably…
Take a moment and think about a first meeting with a prospective customer. A good salesman will not try to sell right away. Instead, he will start by asking specific questions and subsequently use the answers provided to give valuable advice. Why does this work? Because in this way, trust is developed between both parties. This trust forms the necessary foundation for a sales transaction to take place further down the road. If a prospect visits your website, you’ll want to apply this principle of building trust in an online environment. Therefore, you typically provide useful content on your site such as articles, white…
Service Worker is probably one of the most misrepresented technologies we currently have. When I hear people talking about it, the topic almost always revolves around serving an app when a user is offline. However, Service Worker can do so much more than that, and every week I come across new articles that show how powerful the technology really is.
This month, for example, we can learn how to use Service Worker for cross-tab messaging and to load off requests into the background with the Background Sync API. I think the toolset we now have in our browsers already allows us to build great experiences regardless of the network state. Now it’s up to us to make the experiences so great that users truly love them. And that’s probably the hardest part.
Sketch 49 brings prototyping as native functionality.
Webpack 4 was released and brings along build performance improvements of up to 98% and easier configuration.
Ed Ellson examined Chrome’s Background Sync API and the retry strategy it uses to perform a request. By allowing synchronization in the background after a first attempt has failed, the API helps us improve the browsing experience for users who go offline or are on unstable connections.
With GraphQL you can query exactly what you want whenever you want. This is amazing for working with an API but also has complex security implications. Instead of asking for legitimate, useful data, a malicious actor could submit an expensive, nested query to overload your server, database, network, or all of these. To prevent this from happening, Max Stoiber shows us how we can secure the GraphQL API in our projects.
WebKit is introducing the Storage Access API. The new API targets one of the major issues with Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP): Identifying users who are logged in to a first-party service but view content of it embedded on a third party (YouTube videos on a blog, for example). The Storage Access API allows third-party embeds to request access to their first-party cookies when the user interacts with them. A good solution to protect user privacy by default and allow exceptions on request.
A year after Facebook’s announcement to broadly use Cache-Control: Immutable, Paul Calvano examined how widespread its usage is on the web — apart from the few big players. Interesting research and it’s still sad to see that this useful performance tool is used so little. At Colloq, we use it quite a lot, which saves us a lot of traffic and load on our servers and enables us to serve a lot of pages nearly instantly to recurring users.
Jad Joubran shares how to run fetch in a Web Worker to offload it from the main thread into its own. This could be a useful experiment for tasks where expensive requests are triggered, and maybe even at regular intervals.
Preethi Sam shares various tricks on how to create knockout text effects with pure CSS. Interesting to see how many different techniques we have nowadays to create such effects.
Heydon Pickering wrote about building inclusive notifications, not only from a technical perspective but the user experience point of view. This resource gives useful advice for designing notifications, what content to include, and how and when to present them to users.
Vox Media shared their accessibility guidelines. A great interactive checklist we can use to confirm that we did our job correctly.
Work & Life
This week I read an article by Alex Duloz, and his words still stick with me: “When we develop a new application, when we post content on the Internet, whatever we do that people will have access to, we should consider just for a minute if our contribution adds up to the level of dumbness kids/teenagers are exposed to. If it does, we should refrain from going live.” The truth is, most of us, including me, don’t consider this before posting on the Internet. We create funny things, share funny pictures and try to get fame with silly posts. But in reality, we shape society with this. Let’s try to provide more useful resources and make the consumption of this more enjoyable so young people can profit from our knowledge and not only view things we think are funny. “We should always consider how teenagers will use what we release.”
There’s an important article on how unhappiness has grown in America’s population since around the year 2000. It reveals that while income inequality might play a role, the more important aspect is that young people who use a lot of digital media are unhappier than those who use it only up to an hour a day. Interestingly, people who don’t use digital media at all, are unhappy, too, so the outcome of this could be that we should try to use digital media only moderately — at least in our private lives. I bet it’ll make a big difference.
With Facebook making some serious changes in 2018, marketers are beginning to look toward other channels for generating attention. I truly believe we’ll see a shift from Facebook to SEM in the coming months. People will begin investing in SEO, link-building and – of course – AdWords. But PPC has always been a challenge. Competition continues to increase as new startups enter existing spaces. Not to mention the industry Goliath’s expanding their reach into new markets. We recently analyzed 30,000 PPC accounts to see what the highest performers all had in common. While the use of machine learning helped control parameters…
Traffic and conversions. That’s what we want. And we usually start at the beginning, with traffic. I agree. Traffic is great. Have you ever logged into Google Analytics on a Monday morning and found a huge traffic spike waiting for you? That’s a fantastic feeling. But unless you’re a 16-year-old YouTuber with a fame complex, you’re not actually interested in traffic. You want conversions. You want to see increases on your income report, not just your Analytics display. But hold up. Doesn’t more traffic equal more conversions? Well technically, yes. I’m assuming your conversion funnel is good enough that a 30,000 increase in visitors…
As I learned at the start of February, if you’re a lucky enough to get one-on-one time with Purna Virji, Senior Manager of Global Engagement at Microsoft, you ask her about the future of search, AI, and pay per click (because she makes everything sound pretty exciting).
Purna—named the #1 most influential PPC expert in the world by PPC Hero in 2016—is on the forefront of what’s coming down the pipeline in our industry. She’s joining us February 21st as a speaker for Marketing Optimization Week to share her insight into AI, and today we’re sharing a sneak peek of what to expect in that session.
Watch our chat below, or read on for the condensed Q&A.
Jen: What do you imagine the day-to-day life of a marketer will be like with access to exciting AI? You grab your morning coffee, log on to your computer, then what?
Purna: [Then] you’ll be getting all kinds of wonderful notifications about performance, new insights, and ideas for engaging with your audience. AI solves some of our biggest problems—including [how to] engage with people in this world full of distractions.
AI is super helpful because it can analyze all of the different data and touchpoints to see what’s working (or not), and it can help us get really good at personalization and engaging with people in the way they’d like to be engaged with.
It also gives us new interfaces. Things like chatbots or digital assistants, as well as virtual reality. So if I interest somebody through a chatbot to look at the latest collection of shoes, I can just put on my HoloLens and take a look at a 3D hologram in front of me of all the latest styles.
It’s really about cool ways to engage with brands and people in a very seamless manner.
Jen: You’re speaking at Unbounce’s Marketing Optimization Week February 21st on how to prepare for AI’s emerging role in marketing. As a preview, can you share one of those things we can all prep for?
Purna: Yes! I think one of the things marketers can prepare for is to understand what AI can do for us and try to touch the waters a bit more with a chatbot. [In my talk] I’ll be giving people some tips for how to incorporate a chatbot within search. For example, Bing offers a conversational bot right in the SERPs, so I’ll give some tips on how you can set this up and a strategy you can use for your bot.
Jen: Chatbots are very hot right now.
Purna: It’s because they’re so easy and convenient. You’re already using a platform you’re familiar with—whether it’s Skype or Facebook Messenger or Kik—or whatever platform you use to talk to your friends. In that same platform, I can order a pizza or check on a status of my order, or do anything I need to do with a brand in that same place. There’s no multiple hops that have to happen.
Jen: It seems like, for customers, chat is very natural. It’s how we already go about our world.
Purna: yes—conversation is the first thing we learn. From babies to now arguing about who’s going to take the trash out. Conversation is [still] at the forefront of all of our lives.
Jen: Here at Unbounce we’re a Conversion Platform for marketers, and many of our customers pair landing pages with PPC in social or search. How do you see AI impacting pay per click the most in the next few years?
Purna: I think AI will have a couple of different roles…
For one —it’s going to make it easier to hone into the right person. We’re already seeing some signs of this with our much more advanced audience targeting, such as in-market audiences—which lets you slice and dice audiences based on people who are more likely to buy —so it’s going to [enhance] reaching the right person at the right time.
It’s also going to help us take a lot of the effort and pain out of the administrative side. We saw this with bit automations…it’ll make things like reporting a lot easier, keyword research a lot easier. Anything that’s really a repetitive task can get automated and can be improved by AI. Time savings and more effective ads – it’s a win win for all.
Jen: Y’know, we hear some marketers kind of demonize AI, or see it in a sort of detrimental way. But you don’t see it this way.
Purna: No, I don’t think so. I think the way AI has been designed and actually, the way companies like Microsoft, Google or IBM, who are at the forefront of creating AI…I think the responsibility is on people like us to infuse the technology to respect humans. And, I mean, that’s one of the pillars we’re building our AI on, that it is respectful to the human. It’s there to augment what we can do. It’s not there to replace us or destroy us or anything like that.
All AI is doing is taking what we’re good at and giving us a little super power. It’s like wearing a little jet pack so we can run faster or slide faster. When you think of it that way it’s giving us gifts we didn’t have access to before.
Jen: You’re no stranger to setting up an AdWords or Bing campaign. So, what’s a little known technique that anyone managing paid spend can do today for more impact with their PPC ads?
Purna: I’d say there are two things. The first is to make sure you’re implementing in-market audiences. If someone was to ask me, “what’s one tip for success for 2018?”, I’m a big believer of the power of in-market audiences, it’s still in pilot in open beta so anyone can sign up an be a part of it and test it.
Throughout the testing period we’ve seen such amazing results from many people. It allows you to reach an audience that’s in the market or looking to buy specific products or services you’re selling. We have over 120 different categories, so if you just layer them onto your existing ad groups or campaigns and just adjust the bids accordingly, you have a better chance of reaching people who are interested in what you sell but may not know who you are…you’re just reaching this very qualified audience.
If you can do [this] and combine it with the wonderful landing page learnings you get with Unbounce, I think that’s a really win win solution.
Jen: We know voice search is going to have a much bigger role to play. What should PPC’ers be thinking about to prepare for this?
I would say PPC marketers should think about the differences or what’s unique to voice. First, it tends to be much more local. If you’re running local campaigns, you’ll want to think about the queries relating to your business that people may ask if they’re in a hurry or on the go.
And second, all marketers (including SEOs too) should consider: are we providing the right information? I.e. do we have some sort of structured data or schema markup that can give the search engine much more insights into understanding what the page or information is about.
Lastly, [we can] look at the keywords. Voice is of course more conversational and with conversational queries, we tend to have longer phrases, [so] we’re much more clear on the intent. If you can, look at testing some of the most common, broader questions or phrases that get asked and actually test adding them in keywords. Ask yourself what could be the right way to answer [the query].
In the old days (ha, just last year!) we would look for shoes, like mens sandals. We’d go to the website, select colours, size and width. But now with voice, you self-select in the query itself. You say “show me blue strappy summer sandals in size 8”. If I then [have] to go to the website and do the selections again I’m quite annoyed, but if I got to a page that showed just what I was looking for? It’s about making it very seamless for the customer.
Jen: so prepare for more granularity… Purna: exactly, [it’s] on page as well, which is why it’s important to look at some of the landing page options you have, [and ask] —“are we answering the right questions” in the right way.
Jen: You’ve seen dozens of landing pages for PPC. What do you think is the biggest mistake people make when creating landing pages to pair with their search ads?
Purna: It’s not being specific enough. If [someone’s] looking for something and your ad promises something, does your page deliver on that promise?
For example, if I’m doing a search for waterproof digital cameras and see an ad that talks about waterproof digital cameras on sale, and I go on your landing page and its all of your digital cameras —again you’re giving the searcher more work to do.
You want to make life as easy as possible, answer the right questions, and don’t go too broad. Yes – there’s the temptation, especially with newbie PPC marketers— Let’s just send people to the homepage. As you know that’s just not going to work and they’ll realize that soon.
Also, as you say, the call to action—even sales people fail at this sometimes—you don’t or forget to ask exactly what you want [visitors] to do. So making sure you do that is a huge advantage.
Don’t miss Purna’s session February 21st as part of Marketing Optimization Week. She’ll be joining other experts from Drift, Hanapin, and Emma delivering the latest tactics you can use to see better results. See the agenda here.