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A Reference Guide For Typography In Mobile Web Design




A Reference Guide For Typography In Mobile Web Design

Suzanna Scacca



With mobile taking a front seat in search, it’s important that websites are designed in a way that prioritize the best experience possible for their users. While Google has brought attention to elements like pop-ups that might disrupt the mobile experience, what about something as seemingly simple as choice of typography?

The answer to the typography question might seem simple enough: what works on desktop should work on mobile so long as it scales well. Right?

While that would definitely make it a lot easier on web designers, that’s not necessarily the case. The problem in making that statement a decisive one is that there haven’t been a lot of studies done on the subject of mobile typography in recent years. So, what I intend to do today is give a brief summary of what it is we know about typography in web design, and then see what UX experts and tests have been able to reveal about using typography for mobile.

Understanding The Basics Of Typography In Modern Web Design

Look, I know typography isn’t the most glamorous of subjects. And, being a web designer, it might not be something you spend too much time thinking about, especially if clients bring their own style guides to you prior to beginning a project.

That said, with mobile-first now here, typography requires additional consideration.

Typography Terminology

Let’s start with the basics: terminology you’ll need to know before digging into mobile typography best practices.

Typography: This term refers to the technique used in styling, formatting, and arranging “printed” (as opposed to handwritten) text.

Typeface: This is the classification system used to label a family of characters. So, this would be something like Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri, Comic Sans, etc.

Typefaces in Office 365


A typical offering of typefaces in word processing applications. (Source: Google Docs) (Large preview)

Font: This drills down further into a website’s typeface. The font details the typeface family, point size, and any special stylizations applied. For instance, 11-point Arial in bold.

3 essential elements to define a font


An example of the three elements that define a font. (Source: Google Docs) (Large preview)

Size: There are two ways in which to refer to the size (or height) of a font: the word processing size in points or the web design size in pixels. For the purposes of talking about mobile web design, we use pixels.

Here is a line-by-line comparison of various font sizes:

An example of font sizes


An example of how the same string of text appears at different sizes. (Source: Google Docs) (Large preview)

As you can see in WordPress, font sizes are important when it comes to establishing hierarchy in header text:

An example of font size choices in WordPress


Header size defaults available with a WordPress theme. (Source: WordPress) (Large preview)

Weight: This is the other part of defining a typeface as a font. Weight refers to any special styles applied to the face to make it appear heavier or lighter. In web design, weight comes into play in header fonts that complement the typically weightless body text.

Here is an example of options you could choose from in the WordPress theme customizer:

An example of font weight choices


Sample font weights available with a WordPress theme. (Source: WordPress) (Large preview)

Kerning: This pertains to the space between two letters. It can be adjusted in order to create a more aesthetically pleasing result while also enhancing readability. You will need a design software like Photoshop to make these types of adjustments.

Tracking: Tracking, or letter-spacing, is often confused with kerning as it too relates to adding space in between letters. However, whereas kerning adjusts spacing between two letters in order to improve appearances, tracking is used to adjust spacing across a line. This is used more for the purposes of fixing density issues while reading.

To give you a sense for how this differs, here’s an example from Mozilla on how to use tracking to change letter-spacing:

Normal tracking example


This is what normal tracking looks like. (Source: Mozilla) (Large preview)

-1px tracking example


This is what (tighter) -1px tracking looks like. (Source: Mozilla) (Large preview)

1px tracking example


This is what (looser) 1px tracking looks like. (Source: Mozilla) (Large preview)

Leading: Leading, or line spacing, is the amount of distance granted between the baselines of text (the bottom line upon which a font rests). Like tracking, this can be adjusted to fix density issues.

If you’ve been using word processing software for a while, you’re already familiar with leading. Single-spaced text. Double-spaced text. Even 1.5-spaced text. That’s leading.

The Role Of Typography In Modern Web Design

As for why we care about typography and each of the defining characteristics of it in modern web design, there’s a good reason for it. While it would be great if a well-written blog post or super convincing sales jargon on a landing page were enough to keep visitors happy, that’s not always the case. The choices you make in terms of typography can have major ramifications on whether or not people even give your site’s copy a read.

These are some of the ways in which typography affects your end users:

Reinforce Branding
Typography is another way in which you create a specific style for your web design. If images all contain clean lines and serious faces, you would want to use an equally buttoned-up typeface.

Set the Mood
It helps establish a mood or emotion. For instance, a more frivolous and light-bodied typeface would signal to users that the brand is fun, young and doesn’t take itself seriously.

Give It a Voice
It conveys a sense of personality and voice. While the actual message in the copy will be able to dictate this well, using a font that reinforces the tone would be a powerful choice.

Encourage Reading
As you can see, there are a number of ways in which you can adjust how type appears on a screen. If you can give it the right sense of speed and ease, you can encourage more users to read through it all.

Allow for Scanning
Scanning or glancing (which I’ll talk about shortly) is becoming more and more common as people engage with the web on their smart devices. Because of this, we need ways to format text to improve scannability and this usually involves lots of headers, pull quotes and in-line lists (bulleted, numbered, etc.).

Improve Accessibility
There is a lot to be done in order to design for accessibility. Your choice of font plays a big part in that, especially as the mobile experience has to rely less on big, bold designs and swatches of color and more on how quickly and well you can get visitors to your message.

Because typography has such a diverse role in the user experience, it’s a matter that needs to be taken seriously when strategizing new designs. So, let’s look at what the experts and tests have to say about handling it for mobile.

Typography For Mobile Web Design: What You Need To Know

Too small, too light, too fancy, too close together… You can run into a lot of problems if you don’t strike the perfect balance with your choice of typography in design. On mobile, however, it’s a bit of a different story.

I don’t want to say that playing it safe and using the system default from Google or Apple is the way to go. After all, you work so hard to develop unique, creative and eye-catching designs for your users. Why would you throw in the towel at this point and just slap Roboto all over your mobile website?

We know what the key elements are in defining and shaping a typeface and we also know how powerful fonts are within the context of a website. So, let’s drill down and see what exactly you need to do to make your typography play well with mobile.

1. Size

In general, the rule of thumb is that font size needs to be 16 pixels for mobile websites. Anything smaller than that could compromise readability for visually impaired readers. Anything too much larger could also make reading more difficult. You want to find that perfect Goldilocks formula and, time and time again, it comes back to 16 pixels.

In general, that rule is a safe one to play by when it comes to the main body text of your mobile website. However, what exactly are you allowed to do for header text? After all, you need to be able to distinguish your main headlines from the rest of the text. Not just for the sake of calling attention to bigger messages, but also for the purposes of increasing scannability of a mobile web page.

The Nielsen Norman Group reported on a study from MIT that covered this exact question. What can you do about text that users only have to glance at? In other words, what sort of sizing can you use for short strings of header text?

Here is what they found:

Short, glanceable strings of text lead to faster reading and greater comprehension when:

  • They are larger in size (specifically, 4mm as opposed to 3mm).
  • They are in all caps.
  • Lettering width is regular (and not condensed).

In sum:

Lowercase lettering required 26% more time for accurate reading than uppercase, and condensed text required 11.2% more time than regular. There were also significant interaction effects between case and size, suggesting that the negative effects of lowercase letters are exacerbated with small font sizes.

I’d be interested to see how the NerdWallet website does, in that case. While I do love the look of this, they have violated a number of these sizing and styling suggestions:

The NerdWallet home page


NerdWallet’s use of all-caps and smaller font sizes on mobile. (Source: NerdWallet) (Large preview)

Having looked at this a few times now, I do think the choice of a smaller-sized font for the all-caps header is an odd choice. My eyes are instantly drawn to the larger, bolder text beneath the main header. So, I think there is something to MIT’s research.

Flywheel Sports, on the other hand, does a great job of exemplifying this point.

The Flywheel Sports home page


Flywheel Sports’ smart font choices for mobile. (Source: Flywheel Sports) (Large preview)

There’s absolutely no doubt where the visitors’ attention needs to go: to the eye-catching header. It’s in all caps, it’s larger than all the other text on the page, and, although the font is incredibly basic, its infusion with a custom handwritten-style type looks really freaking cool here. I think the only thing I would fix here is the contrast between the white and yellow fonts and the blue background.

Just remember: this only applies to the sizing (and styling) of header text. If you want to keep large bodies of text readable, stick to the aforementioned sizing best practices.

2. Color and Contrast

Color, in general, is an important element in web design. There’s a lot you can convey to visitors by choosing the right color palette for designs, images and, yes, your text. But it’s not just the base color of the font that matters, it’s also the contrast between it and the background on which it sits (as evidenced by my note above about Flywheel Sports).

For some users, a white font on top of a busy photo or a lighter background may not pose too much of an issue. But “too much” isn’t really acceptable in web design. There should be no issues users encounter when they read text on a website, especially from an already compromised view of it on mobile.

Which is why color and contrast are top considerations you have to make when styling typography for mobile.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) has clear recommendations regarding how to address color contrast in section 1.4.3. At a minimum, the WCAG suggests that a contrast of 4.5 to 1 should be established between the text and background for optimal readability. There are a few exceptions to the rule:

  • Text sized using 18-point or a bold 14-point only needs a contrast of 3 to 1.
  • Text that doesn’t appear in an active part of the web page doesn’t need to abide by this rule.
  • The contrast of text within a logo can be set at the designer’s discretion.

If you’re unsure of how to establish that ratio between your font’s color and the background upon which it sits, use a color contrast checking tool like WebAIM.

WebAIM color contrast checker


An example of how to use the WebAIM color contrast checker tool. (Source: WebAIM) (Large preview)

The one thing I would ask you to be mindful of, however, is using opacity or other color settings that may compromise the color you’ve chosen. While the HEX color code will check out just fine in the tool, it may not be an accurate representation of how the color actually displays on a mobile device (or any screen, really).

To solve this problem and ensure you have a high enough contrast for your fonts, use a color eyedropper tool built into your browser like the ones for Firefox or Chrome. Simply hover the eyedropper over the color of the background (or font) on your web page, and let it tell you what the actual color code is now.

Here is an example of this in action: Dollar Shave Club.

This website has a rotation of images in the top banner of the home page. The font always remains white, but the background rotates.

Dollar Shave Club grey banner


Dollar Shave Club’s home page banner with a grey background. (Source: Dollar Shave Club) (Large preview)

Dollar Shave Club beige banner


Dollar Shave Club’s home page banner with a beige/taupe background. (Source: Dollar Shave Club) (Large preview)

Dollar Shave Club purple banner


Dollar Shave Club’s home page banner with a purple background. (Source: Dollar Shave Club) (Large preview)

Based on what we know now, the purple is probably the only one that will pass with flying colors. However, for the purposes of showing you how to work through this exercise, here is what the eyedropper tool says about the HEX color codes for each of the backgrounds:

  • Grey: #9a9a9a
  • Beige/taupe: #ffd0a8
  • Purple: #4c2c59.

Here is the contrast between these colors and the white font:

  • Grey: 2.81 to 1
  • Beige/taupe: 1.42 to 1
  • Purple: 11.59 to 1.

Clearly, the grey and beige backgrounds are going to lend themselves to a very poor experience for mobile visitors.

Also, if I had to guess, I’d say that “Try a risk-free Starter Set now.” is only a 10-point font (which is only about 13 pixels). So, the size of the font is also working against the readability factor, not to mention the poor choice of colors used with the lighter backgrounds.

The lesson here is that you should really make some time to think about how color and contrast of typography will work for the benefit of your readers. Without these additional steps, you may unintentionally be preventing visitors from moving forward on your site.

3. Tracking

Plain and simple: tracking in mobile web design needs to be used in order to control density. The standard recommendation is that there be no more than between 30 and 40 characters to a line. Anything more or less could affect readability adversely.

While it does appear that Dove is pushing the boundaries of that 40-character limit, I think this is nicely done.

The Dove home page


Dove’s use of even tracking and (mostly) staying within the 40-character limit. (Source: Dove) (Large preview)

The font is so simple and clean, and the tracking is evenly spaced. You can see that, by keeping the amount of words on a line relegated to the recommended limits, it gives this segment of the page the appearance that it will be easy to read. And that’s exactly what you want your typography choices to do: to welcome visitors to stop for a brief moment, read the non-threatening amount of text, and then go on their way (which, hopefully, is to conversion).

4. Leading

According to the NNG, content that appears above the fold on a 30-inch desktop monitor equates to five swipes on a 4-inch mobile device. Granted, this data is a bit old as most smartphones are now between five and six inches:

Average smartphone screen sizes


Average smartphone screen sizes from 2015 to 2021. (Source: TechCrunch) (Large preview)

Even so, let’s say that equates to three or four good swipes of the smartphone screen to get to the tip of the fold on desktop. That’s a lot of work your mobile visitors have to do to get to the good stuff. It also means that their patience will already be wearing thin by the time they get there. As the NNG pointed out, a mobile session, on average, usually lasts about only 72 seconds. Compare that to desktop at 150 seconds and you can see why this is a big deal.

This means two things for you:

  1. You absolutely need to cut out the excess on mobile. If this means creating a completely separate and shorter set of content for mobile, do it.
  2. Be very careful with leading.

You’ve already taken care to keep optimize your font size and width, which is good. However, too much leading and you could unintentionally be asking users to scroll even more than they might have to. And with every scroll comes the possibility of fatigue, boredom, frustration, or distraction getting in the way.

So, you need to strike a good balance here between using line spacing to enhance readability while also reigning in how much work they need to do to get to the bottom of the page.

The Hill Holliday website isn’t just awesome inspiration on how to get a little “crazy” with mobile typography, but it also has done a fantastic job in using leading to make larger bodies of text easier to read:

The Hill Holliday home page


Hill Holliday uses the perfect ratio of leading between lines and paragraphs. (Source: Hill Holliday) (Large preview)

Different resources will give you different guidelines on how to create spacing for mobile devices. I’ve seen suggestions for anywhere between 120% to 150% of the font’s point size. Since you also need to consider accessibility when designing for mobile, I’m going to suggest you follow WCAG’s guidelines:

  • Spacing between lines needs to be 1.5 (or 150%, whichever ratio works for you).
  • Spacing between paragraphs then needs to be 2.5 (or 250%).

At the end of the day, this is about making smart decisions with the space you’re given to work with. If you only have a minute to hook them, don’t waste it with too much vertical space. And don’t turn them off with too little.

5. Acceptable Fonts

Before I break down what makes for an acceptable font, I want to first look at what Android’s and Apple’s typeface defaults are. I think there’s a lot we can learn just by looking at these choices:

Android
Google uses two typefaces for its platforms (both desktop and mobile): Roboto and Noto. Roboto is the primary default. If a user visits a website in a language that doesn’t accept Roboto, then Noto is the secondary backup.

This is Roboto:

The Roboto character set


A snapshot of the Roboto character set. (Source: Roboto) (Large preview)

It’s also important to note that Roboto has a number of font families to choose from:

The Roboto families


Other options of Roboto fonts to choose from. (Source: Roboto) (Large preview)

As you can see, there are versions of Roboto with condensed kerning, a heavier and serifed face as well as a looser, serif-like option. Overall, though, this is just a really clean and simply stylized typeface. You’re not likely to stir up any real emotions when using this on a website, and it may not convey much of a personality, but it’s a safe, smart choice.

Apple
Apple has its own set of typography guidelines for iOS along with its own system typeface: San Francisco.

The San Francisco font


The San Francisco font for Apple devices. (Source: San Francisco) (Large preview)

For the most part, what you see is what you get with San Francisco. It’s just a basic sans serif font. If you look at Apple’s recommended suggestions on default settings for the font, you’ll also find it doesn’t even recommend using bold stylization or outlandish sizing, leading or tracking rules:

San Francisco default settings


Default settings and suggestions for the San Francisco typeface. (Source: San Francisco) (Large preview)

Like with pretty much everything else Apple does, the typography formula is very basic. And, you know what? It really works. Here it is in action on the Apple website:

The Apple home page


Apple makes use of its own typography best practices. (Source: Apple) (Large preview)

Much like Google’s system typeface, Apple has gone with a simple and classic typeface. While it may not help your site stand out from the competition, it will never do anything to impair the legibility or readability of your text. It also would be a good choice if you want your visuals to leave a greater impact.

My Recommendations

And, so, this now brings me to my own recommendations on what you should use in terms of type for mobile websites. Here’s the verdict:

  1. Don’t be afraid to start with a system default font. They’re going to be your safest choices until you get a handle on how far you can push the limits of mobile typography.
  2. Use only a sans serif or serif font. If your desktop website uses a decorative or handwritten font, ditch it for something more traditional on mobile.

    That said, you don’t have to ignore decorative typefaces altogether. In the examples from Hill Holliday or Flywheel Sports (as shown above), you can see how small touches of custom, non-traditional type can add a little flavor.

  3. Never use more than two typefaces on mobile. There just isn’t enough room for visitors to handle that many options visually.

    Make sure your two typefaces complement one another. Specifically, look for faces that utilize a similar character width. The design of each face may be unique and contrast well with the other, but there should still be some uniformity in what you present to mobile visitors’ eyes.

  4. Avoid typefaces that don’t have a distinct set of characters. For instance, compare how the uppercase “i”, lowercase “l” and the number “1” appear beside one another. Here’s an example of the Myriad Pro typeface from the Typekit website:

    Myriad Pro characters


    Myriad Pro’s typeface in action. (Source: Typekit) (Large preview)

    While the number “1” isn’t too problematic, the uppercase “i” (the first letter in this sequence) and the lowercase “l (the second) are just too similar. This can create some unwanted slowdowns in reading on mobile.

    Also, be sure to review how your font handles the conjunction of “r” and “n” beside one another. Can you differentiate each letter or do they smoosh together as one indistinguishable unit? Mobile visitors don’t have time to stop and figure out what those characters are, so make sure you use a typeface that gives each character its own space.

  5. Use fonts that are compatible across as many devices as possible. Your best bets will be: Arial, Courier New, Georgia, Tahoma, Times New Roman, Trebuchet MS and Verdana.

    Default typefaces on mobile


    A list of system default typefaces for various mobile devices. (Source: tinytype) (Large preview)

    Android-supported typefaces


    Another view of the table that includes some Android-supported typefaces. (Source: tinytype) (Large preview)

    I think the Typeform website is a good example of one that uses a “safe” typeface choice, but doesn’t prevent them from wowing visitors with their message or design.

    The Typeform home page


    Typeform’s striking typeface has nothing to do with the actual font. (Source: Typeform) (Large preview)

    It’s short, to the point, perfectly sized, well-positioned, and overall a solid choice if they’re trying to demonstrate stability and professionalism (which I think they are).

  6. When you’re feeling comfortable with mobile typography and want to branch out a little more, take a look at this list of the best web-safe typefaces from WebsiteSetup. You’ll find here that most of the choices are your basic serif and sans serif types. It’s definitely nothing exciting or earth-shattering, but it will give you some variation to play with if you want to add a little more flavor to your mobile type.

Wrapping Up

I know, I know. Mobile typography is no fun. But web design isn’t always about creating something exciting and cutting edge. Sometimes sticking to practical and safe choices is what will guarantee you the best user experience in the end. And that’s what we’re seeing when it comes to mobile typography.

The reduced amount of real estate and the shorter times-on-site just don’t lend themselves well to the experimental typography choices (or design choices, in general) you can use on desktop. So, moving forward, your approach will have to be more about learning how to reign it in while still creating a strong and consistent look for your website.

Smashing Editorial
(lf, ra, yk, il)


Link: 

A Reference Guide For Typography In Mobile Web Design

See How Dynamic Text on a Landing Page Helped Increase Conversions by 31.4% [A/B Test Reveal]

a/b testing with ConversionLab

Pictured above: Rolf Inge Holden (Finge), founder of ConversionLab.

Whether your best ideas come to you in the shower, at the gym, or have you bolting awake in the middle of the night, sometimes you want to quickly A/B test to see if a given idea will help you hit your marketing targets.

This want to split test is real for many Unbounce customers, including Norway-based digital agency ConversionLab, who works with client Campaign Monitor.

Typically this agency’s founder, Rolf Inge Holden (Finge), delivers awesome results with high-performing landing pages and popups for major brands. But recently his agency tried an experiment we wanted to share because of the potential it could have for your paid search campaigns, too.

The Test Hypothesis

If you haven’t already heard of San-Francisco based Campaign Monitor, they make it easy to create, send, and optimize email marketing campaigns. Tasked with running especially effective PPC landing pages for the brand, Finge had a hypothesis:

If we match copy on a landing page dynamically with the exact verb used as a keyword in someone’s original search query, we imagine we’ll achieve higher perceived relevance for a visitor and (thereby) a greater chance of conversion.

In other words, the agency wondered whether the precise verb someone uses in their Google search has an effect on how they perceive doing something with a product, and—if they were to see this exact same verb on the landing page— whether this would increase conversions.

In the case of email marketing, for example, if a prospect typed: “design on-brand emails” into Google, ‘design’ is the exact verb they’d see in the headline and CTAs on the resulting landing page (vs. ‘build’ or ‘create’, or another alternative). The agency wanted to carry through the exact verb no matter what the prospect typed into the search bar for relevance, but outside the verb the rest of the headline would stay the same.

The question is, would a dynamic copy swap actually increase conversions?

Setting up a valid test

To run this test properly, ConversionLab had to consider a few table-stakes factors. Namely, the required sample size and duration (to understand if the results they’d achieve were significant).

In terms of sample size, the agency confirmed the brand could get the traffic needed to the landing page variations to ensure a meaningful test. Combined traffic to variant A and B was 1,274 visitors total and—in terms of duration—they would run the variants for a full 77 days for the data to properly cook.

To determine the amount of traffic and duration you need for your own tests to be statistically significant, check out this A/B test duration calculator.

Next, it was time to determine how the experiment would play out on the landing page. To accomplish the dynamic aspect of the idea, the agency used Unbounce’s Dynamic Text Replacement feature on Campaign Monitor’s landing page. DTR helps you swap out the text on your landing page with whatever keyword a prospect actually used in their search.

Below you can see a few samples of what the variants could have looked like once the keywords from search were pulled in (“create” was the default verb if a parameter wasn’t able to be pulled in):

A/B test variation 1
A/B test sample variation

What were the results?

When the test concluded at 77 days (Oct 31, 2017 —Jan 16, 2018), Campaign Monitor saw a 31.4% lift in conversions using the variant in which the verb changed dynamically. In this case, a conversion was a signup for a trial of their software, and the test achieved 100% statistical significance with more than 100 conversions per variant.

The variant that made use of DTR to send prospects through to signup helped lift conversions to trial by 31.4%

What these A/B test results mean

In the case of this campaign, the landing page variations (samples shown above) prompt visitors to click through to a second page where someone starts their trial of Campaign Monitor. The tracked conversion goal in this case (measured outside of Unbounce reporting) was increases to signups on this page after clicking through from the landing page prior.

This experiment ultimately helped Campaign Monitor understand the verb someone uses in search can indeed help increase signups.

The result of this test tell us that when a brand mirrors an initial search query as precisely as possible from ad to landing page, we can infer the visitor understands the page is relevant to their needs and are thereby more primed to click through onto the next phase of the journey and ultimately, convert.

Message match for the win!

Here’s Finge on the impact the test had on the future of their agency’s approach:

“Our hypothesis was that a verb defines HOW you solve a challenge; i.e. do you design an email campaign or do you create it? And if we could meet the visitor’s definition of solving their problem we would have a greater chance of converting a visit to a signup. The uplift was higher than we had anticipated! When you consider that this relevance also improves Quality Score in AdWords due to closer message match, it’s fair to say that we will be using DTR in every possible way forwards.”

Interested in A/B testing your own campaigns?

Whether you work in a SaaS company like Campaign Monitor, or have a product for which there are multiple verbs someone could use to make queries about your business, swapping out copy in your headlines could be an A/B test you want to try for yourself.

Using the same type of hypothesis format we shared above, and the help of the A/B testing calculator (for determining your duration and sample size), you can set up some variants of your landing pages to pair with your ads to see whether you can convert more.

ConversionLab’s test isn’t a catch all or best practice to be applied blindly to your campaigns across the board, but it could inspire you to try out Dynamic Text Replacement on your landing pages to see if carrying through search terms and intent could make a difference for you.

View this article: 

See How Dynamic Text on a Landing Page Helped Increase Conversions by 31.4% [A/B Test Reveal]

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Copyright Law Basics For UK Software Developers

Software developers all over the world can benefit from an increased understanding of intellectual property (IP) laws and how those laws may affect their work. Software programs are often complex works that include both functional and artistic elements and may be covered by a variety of different types of IP laws. This can be very confusing for those who haven’t been taught about IP and can cause them to miss out on opportunities to protect their own work or to accidentally infringe on the work of another.

The purpose of this article is to provide information about one type of IP law, copyright law, for software developers who live or work in the United Kingdom. Below we will discuss the definition of copyright law, the source of UK copyright law, and how it applies to technological works. I’ll also elaborate on what is not covered by copyright law, as well as the UK concepts of fair dealing and moral rights as they are related to copyright law.

Copyright Law Essentials

You can learn more about copyright law in general and about how it applies to software in my previous article. Go to article →

What Is Copyright Law?

Copyright law is a type of intellectual property law that protects creative works, which can include things like plays, movies, drawings, songs, and many other things. Around the world, copyright laws give the authors or creators of literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works the right to control the ways in which their material may be used. With regard to software, copyright law generally covers the artistic elements of a software program as opposed to the functional elements.

What Is The Source Of Copyright Law In The UK?

Copyright law originated in the United Kingdom from a concept of common law; the Statute of Anne 1709. It became statutory with the passing of the Copyright Act 1911. The current act is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988. Those interested can read the full text here.

The relevant government office for copyright inquiries is the UK Intellectual Property Office. The UK is also a signatory to the Berne Convention, an international agreement concerning copyright law that has been adopted by 172 countries worldwide.

How Does UK Copyright Law Apply Specifically To Technological Works?

Copyright law can apply to all kinds of technological works that are used with computers, tablets, smartphones, or video game systems. This includes apps, computer programs, databases, spreadsheets, screen displays, and even virtual reality environments. Copyright also applies to works that are used or distributed on the internet like websites, blogs, and other online content. In the UK, computer programs are specifically protected as literary works.

Throughout the European Union, the Computer Programs Directive provides guidance regarding the legal protection of computer programs. The Copyright (Computer Programs) Regulations of 1992 extended the rules covering literary works to include computer programs in other European countries as well.

What Is Not Covered By UK Copyright Law?

Copyright law in the UK, as elsewhere, does not protect ideas, procedures, methods of operations, or mathematical concepts (though other types of IP may protect them under certain circumstances). In other words, copyright law is about protecting a particular expression of an idea, not the idea itself, and not functional elements of a work. Additionally, names, titles, short phrases, and colors are not generally considered unique or substantial enough to be covered by copyright law. However, a work that combines some of the elements, such as a logo or design, could possibly be eligible for copyright (and perhaps trademark) protection.

How Long Does Copyright Protection In The UK Last?

Because the UK is a signatory to the Berne Convention which covered this issue, a copyright in the UK will typically be protected for either the life of the author plus 70 years from the death of the author or, for published works, for 70 years from the date of first publication. However, there are many exceptions to this rule, and each work should be treated on a case-by-case basis if there are any doubts.

One notable UK-specific exception has to do with the boy who never grew up, Peter Pan. Author J.M. Barrie gifted all of the rights to his creation to a children’s hospital in London. When the original copyright expired in 1987, an extension was added to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988 mentioned above so that the hospital could continue to collect royalties based on uses of the work (though the hospital has no creative control over how the work is used). Ultimately, this is only an unusual — and perhaps endearingly British — exception to the normal copyright term.


Photo by Christian Battaglia on Unsplash. (Large preview)

What Is Fair Dealing?

The copyright laws of almost all countries allow exceptions for certain permitted uses of copyrighted works such as news reporting, educational uses, or where the use of the work is de minimus. In the United States, one can assert a “fair use” defense if accused of infringing a copyright if the use was due to one of these permitted activities. In the UK, these permitted activities fall under the legal concept known as “fair dealing.” According to the University of Nottingham, eligible activities which can be conducted without infringing a copyrighted work include:

  • Private and research study purposes;
  • Performance, copies or lending for educational purposes;
  • Criticism and news reporting;
  • Incidental inclusion;
  • Copies and lending by librarians;
  • Format shifting or back up of a work you own for personal use;
  • Caricature, parody or pastiche;
  • Acts for the purposes of royal commissions, statutory enquiries, judicial proceedings and parliamentary purposes;
  • Recording of broadcasts for the purposes of listening to or viewing at a more convenient time;
  • Producing a back-up copy for personal use of a computer program.

How Does “Fair Dealing” Affect Technology Copyrights In The UK?

The “fair dealing” exceptions mentioned above may specifically impact copyrights for technology-related works such as software programs or databases. For example, producing a backup copy of a software program for personal use only would not be considered copyright infringement under a fair dealing exception. Though fair dealing explicitly excludes decompilation or copying a software program during decompilation, the European Software Directive allows software licensees to use their copy of the software “to observe study or test the functioning of the program” in order to “determine the ideas and principles which underlie any element of the program.”

Therefore, users may freely observe a program as it operates to determine their functions and its underlying ideas, even if the goal is to create a competing program (see the UK case SAS Institute v. World Programming for more information on this concept). However, actual copying, for example in the case of source code copying, is not tolerated since this is explicitly protected by copyright.

For practical reasons, database copyrights would not be infringed if a person with the legal right to use part or all of a database performs steps necessary to use or access the contents of the database. Also, accessing a database for the purposes of private study or non-commercial research does not infringe copyright in a database.


Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash. (Large preview)

Moral Rights In The UK

Another difference between the UK and other parts of the world with regard to copyright law is the UK’s emphasis on the importance of moral rights. Though this issue may not often arise in technology-related copyright disputes, moral rights are additional rights over and above the economic rights typically protected by copyright law.

In the UK, moral rights are: the right to attribution, or the right to be known or recognized as the author of a work; the right to object to derogatory treatment of a work, which includes any addition, deletion, or adaptation of a work that would distort or “mutilate” the work or injure the honor or reputation of the author; the right to object to false attribution, which basically means that you would not be named as the author of something you didn’t create; and the right to privacy of certain photographs and recordings, such as those commissioned for a private occasion.

One reason moral rights might be important for developers is that the moral right to attribution gives the developer the right to be named as the author of the software program, even though it is not common industry practice to do so. By the same token, if a developer doesn’t get their name associated with projects they didn’t work on, the right to object to false attribution protects them also. Find more information about moral rights here.

It is our hope that this information has been helpful for UK software designers and developers. Though this is only introductory information, and should not be substituted for legal counsel in the event of specific questions or disputes, education about copyright law issues and other IP issues helps to empower software designers and developers to make sure their works are fully protected.

Smashing Editorial
(da, ra, yk, il)

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Copyright Law Basics For UK Software Developers

Live Stream From Awwwards Berlin 2018: Showcasing Trends In UX Design

Designing the best experience is a challenge, and every designer and developer has their own way of tackling it. But, well, no matter how different our approaches are, one thing is for sure: We can learn a lot from each other.
To give you your dose of UX inspiration, we are happy to announce that our dear friends at Adobe, are streaming live from the Awwwards Conference which will take place in Berlin on February 8th and 9th.

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Live Stream From Awwwards Berlin 2018: Showcasing Trends In UX Design

The Smashing Mystery Riddle #8, An Emoji Edition

Oh yes, the infamous mystery riddles are back! To celebrate the relaunch of this little website, we’ve prepared something special yet again — a Smashing Emoji Mystery Riddle. And this time, instead of scouting an answer in a physical place or on Twitter, it’s well hidden somewhere on this website.
So, What Can You Win? Among the first readers who tweet @smashingmag all the hidden emoji, we’ll raffle a quite extraordinary, smashing prize (and a couple of other Smashing extras):

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The Smashing Mystery Riddle #8, An Emoji Edition

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How New Font Technologies Will Improve The Web

Words are the primary component of content for the web. However, until a short while ago, all we had at our disposal were but a few system fonts. Adding to that, those system typefaces weren’t necessarily coherent from operating system to operating system (OS).

How New Font Technologies Will Improve The Web

Fortunately, Windows, macOS and Linux made up font-wise, and since then, all modern fonts have been compatible across those OS’. There’s no question, the future of web typography looks promising.

The post How New Font Technologies Will Improve The Web appeared first on Smashing Magazine.

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How New Font Technologies Will Improve The Web

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Learn From What You See: It All Starts With Inspiration

The world around us is full of little things and experiences that shape us, our way of thinking, but also how we tackle our work. Influenced by these encounters, every designer develops their unique style and workflow, and studying their artwork — the compositions, geometry of lines and shapes, light and shadows, the colors and patterns — can all inspire us to look beyond our own horizon and try something new.

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Learn From What You See: It All Starts With Inspiration

Learn from the Best: an Interview with Digital Marketing Legend Larry Kim

larry kim

My first real introduction to Larry Kim was when I helped coordinate the webinar: The 10 Weirdest A/B Tests Guaranteed to Double Your Business Growth. Larry came up with that genius headline and naturally we had a full house that day. I’ve been hooked on Larry ever since. We wanted to catch up with Mr. Kim and ask him a few questions around conversion rate optimization, testing, and digital marketing. Here’s what he had to say.. 1. With A/B testing, most variations of the control underperform and fail. Correct? And if so, why is that? Yes. This is true and…

The post Learn from the Best: an Interview with Digital Marketing Legend Larry Kim appeared first on The Daily Egg.

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Learn from the Best: an Interview with Digital Marketing Legend Larry Kim

As Far As The Eye Can See: Colorful Sceneries, Posters And Covers

With the lovely weather we’ve been having here in Belgium, all of my senses actively engage when I’m riding my bike. I find myself picking up colorful sceneries while the smell of fragrant flowers and the birds’ singing somehow doesn’t manage to escape me. Oh yes, it’s Summer alright!
Not sure about you, but this is the period when I usually feel most inspired, probably, because I’m spending way more time outside.

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As Far As The Eye Can See: Colorful Sceneries, Posters And Covers

How To Set Up An Automated Testing System Using Android Phones (A Case Study)

Regression testing is one of the most time-consuming tasks when developing a mobile Android app. Using myMail as a case study, I’d like to share my experience and advice on how to build a flexible and extensible automated testing system for Android smartphones — from scratch.

How To Set Up An Automated Testing System Using Android Phones (A Case Study)

The team at myMail currently uses about 60 devices for regression testing. On average, we test roughly 20 builds daily. Approximately 600 UI tests and more than 3,500 unit tests are run on each build.

The post How To Set Up An Automated Testing System Using Android Phones (A Case Study) appeared first on Smashing Magazine.

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How To Set Up An Automated Testing System Using Android Phones (A Case Study)