A heatmap tool allows you to unlock the secrets behind your website users’ behavior. You’ve heard your friends and associates talking about using a heatmap tool to improve their website conversions and sales. Maybe you’ve even done a little research on the subject. But why exactly do you need a heatmap tool? And what does it do? You have questions. I have answers. Here’s the thing: User behavior reports like heatmaps give you information about your target audience that you can’t get anywhere else. Therein lies the value. Without heatmaps, you’re in the dark. So how do you see the…
Just because landing page videos have been seen to increase conversions doesn’t mean you can throw up any shoddy video and expect results. There are a few landing page video best practices that you’ll want to review first, such as whether to use live-action style or animation. The answer to this question depends on your industry, competition and several other factors to be discussed in this piece. As a general rule, taking the road less traveled to differentiate yourself from your competition is a good start. But I don’t want you making important decisions without knowing the pros and cons…
Monthly Web Development Update 6/2018: Complexity, DNS Over HTTPS, And Push Notifications
We see complexity in every corner of a web project these days. We’ve read quite a bunch of articles about how complex a specific technology has become, and we discuss this over and over again. Coming from a time where we uploaded websites via FTP and had no git or anything comparable, now living in a time where we have a build system, transpilers, frameworks, tests, and a CI even for the smallest projects, this is easy to understand. But on the other hand, web development has grown up so much in the past 15 years that we can’t really compare today to the past anymore. And while it might seem that some things were easier in the past, we neglect the advantages and countless possibilities we have today. When we didn’t write tests back then, well, we simply had no test — meaning no reliable way to test for success. When we had no deployment process, it was easy to upload a new version but just as easy to break something — and it happened a lot more than today when a Continuous Integration system is in place.
Jeffrey Zeldman wrote an interesting article on the matter: “The Cult of Complex” outlines how we lose ourselves in unnecessary details and often try to overthink problems. I like the challenge of building systems that are not too complex but show a decent amount of responsibility (when it comes to ethics, privacy, security, a great user experience, and performance) and are working reliably (tests, deployments, availability, and performance again). I guess the problem of finding the right balance won’t go away anytime soon. Complexity is everywhere — we just need to decide if it’s useful complexity or if it was added simply because it was easier or because we were over-engineering the original problem.
The upcoming Safari version 12 was unveiled at Apple’s WWDC. Here’s what’s new: icons in tabs, strong passwords, as well as a password generator control via HTML attributes including two-factor authentication control, a 3D and AR model viewer, the Fullscreen API on iPads, font-display, and, very important, Intelligent Tracking Prevention 2.0 which is more restrictive than ever and might have a significant impact on the functionality of existing websites.
The headless Chrome automation library Puppeteer is now out in version 1.5. It brings along Browser contexts to isolate cookies and other data usually shared between pages, and Workers can now be used to interact with Web Workers, too.
Google released Lighthouse 3.0, the third major version of their performance analyzation tool which features a new report interface, some scoring changes, a CSV export, and First Contentful Paint measurement.
Chrome 67 is here, bringing Progressive Web Apps to the Desktop, as well as support for the Generic Sensor API, and extending the Credential Management API to support U2F authenticators via USB.
We’ve seen quite some changes in the browsers’ security interfaces over the past months. First, they emphasized sites that offer a secured connection (HTTPS). Then they decided to indicate insecure sites, and now Chrome announced new changes coming in fall that will make HTTPS the default by marking HTTP pages as “not secure”.
In “The Cult of the Complex”, Jeffrey Zeldman writes about how we often seem to forget that simplicity is the key and goal of everything we do, the overall goal for projects and life. He explains why it’s so hard to achieve and why it’s so much easier — and tempting — to cultivate complex systems. A very good read and definitely a piece I’ll add to my ‘evergreen’ list.
Windows Edge is now previewing support for same-site cookies. The attribute to lock down cookies even more is already available in Firefox and Chrome, so Safari is the only major browser that still needs to implement it, but I guess it’ll land in their Tech Preview builds very soon as well.
KeyCDN asked 15 people who know a lot about web performance to share their best advice with readers. Now they shared this article containing a lot of useful performance tips for 2018, including a few words by myself.
The folks at Microsoft created a nice interactive demo page to show what Web Push Notifications can and should look like. If you haven’t gotten to grips with the technology yet, it’s a great primer to how it all works and how to build an interface that doesn’t disturb users.
React 16.4 is out and brings quite a feature to the library: Pointer Events. They’ll make it easier to deal with user interactions and have been requested for a long time already.
Anton Sten wrote about the moral implications for our apps. A meaningful explanation why the times of “move fast and break things” are definitely over as we’re dealing with Artificial Intelligence, social networks that affect peoples’ lives, and privacy matters enforced by GDPR.
Basecamp now has a new chart type to display a project’s status: the so-called “hill chart” adds a better context than a simple progress bar could ever do it.
You’ve heard the marketing mantra a bazillion times: people do business with people they know, like, and trust. Nowhere is this truer than on your About Page. When people click on your About Page, they want to get to know you. It’s a golden chance, and possibly your only chance, to impress them. You must strive to woo them so they fall in love with you and your brand. And, once they do, like and trust you enough to do business with you. But that’s easier said than done. The plain truth is most About Pages suck. They’re so bland and…
Redesigning A Digital Interior Design Shop (A Case Study)
Good products are the result of a continual effort in research and design. And, as it usually turns out, our designs don’t solve the problems they were meant to right away. It’s always about constant improvement and iteration.
I have a client called Design Cafe (let’s call it DC). It’s an innovative interior design shop founded by a couple of very talented architects. They produce bespoke designs for the Indian market and sell them online.
DC approached me two years ago to design a few visual mockups for their website. My scope then was limited to visuals, but I didn’t have the proper foundation upon which to base those visuals, and since I didn’t have an ongoing collaboration with the development team, the final website design did not accurately capture the original design intent and did not meet all of the key user needs.
A year and a half passed and DC decided to come back to me. Their website wasn’t providing the anticipated stream of leads. They came back because my process was good, but they wanted to expand the scope to give it space to scale. This time, I was hired to do the research, planning, visual design and prototyping. This would be a makeover of the old design based on user input and data, and prototyping would allow for easy communication with the development team. I assembled a small team of two: me and a fellow designer, Miroslav Kirov, to help run proper research. In less than two weeks, we were ready to start.
Useful tip: I always kick off a project by talking to the stakeholders. For smaller projects with one or two stakeholders, you can blend the kick-off and the interview into one. Just make sure it’s no longer than an hour.
Our two stakeholders are both domain experts. They have a brick-and-mortar store in the center of Bangalore that attracts a lot of people. Once in there, people are delighted by the way the designs look and feel. Our clients wanted to have a website that conveys the same feeling online and that would make its visitors want to go to the store.
There wasn’t a clear distinction between new, returning and potential clients.
DC’s selling points weren’t clearly communicated.
They had future plans for transforming the website into a hub for interior design ideas. And, last but not least, DC wanted to attract fresh design talent.
Defining the Goals
We shortlisted all of our goals for the project. Our main goal was to explain in a clear and appealing manner what DC does for existing and potential clients in a way that engages them to contact DC and go to the store. Some secondary goals were:
lower the drop-off rate,
capture some customer data,
clarify the brand’s message,
make the website responsive,
explain budgets better,
provide decision-making assistance and become an information influencer.
Our number-one key metric was to convert users to leads who visit the store, which measures the main goal. We needed to improve that by at least 5% initially — a realistic number we decided on with our stakeholders. In order to do that, we needed to:
shorten the conversion time (time needed for a user to get in touch with DC),
increase the form application rate,
increase the overall satisfaction users get from the website.
We would track these metrics by setting up Google Analytics Events once the website is online and by talking with leads who come into the store through the website.
Useful tip: Don’t focus on too many metrics. A handful of your most important ones are enough. Measuring too many things will dilute the results.
In order for us to gain the best possible insights, our user interviews had to target both previous and potential clients, but we had to go minimal, so we picked two potential and three existing clients. They were mostly from the IT sector — DC’s main target group. Given our pretty tight schedule, we started with desk research while we waited for all five user interviews to be scheduled.
Useful tip: You need to know who you are designing for and what research has been done before. Stakeholders tell you their story, but you need to compare it to data and to users’ opinions, expectations and needs.
We could reference some Google Analytics data from the website:
Most users went to the kitchen, then to the bedroom, then to the living room.
The high bounce rate of 80%+ was probably due to a misunderstanding of the brand message and unclear flows and calls to action (CTAs).
Traffic was mostly mobile.
Most users landed on the home page, 70% of them from ads and 16% directly (mostly returning customers), and the rest were equally divided between Facebook and Google Search.
90% of social media traffic came from Facebook. Expanding brand awareness to Instagram and Twitter could be beneficial.
There’s a lot of local competition in the sector. Here were some repeating patterns:
video spots and elaborate galleries showing the completed designs with clients discussing their services;
attractive design presentations with high-quality photos;
targeting of group’s appropriate messages;
quizzes for picking styles;
big bold typography, less text and more visuals.
DC’s customers are mostly aged between 28 and 40, with a secondary set in the higher bracket of 38 and 55 who come for their second home. They are IT or business professionals with a mid to high budget. They value good customer experience but are price-conscious and very practical. Because they are mostly families, very often the wives are the hidden dominant decision-maker.
We talked with five users (three existing and two potential customers) and sent out a survey to 20 more (mixing existing and potential customers; see Design Cafe Questionnaire).
Useful tip: Be sure to schedule all of your interviews ahead of time, and plan for more people than you need. Include extreme users along with the mainstreams. Chances are that if something works for an extreme user, it will work for the rest as well. Extremes will also give you insight about edge cases that mainstreams just don’t care about.
All users were confused about the main goal of the website. Some of their opinions:
“It lacks a proper flow.”
“I need more clarity in the process, especially in terms of timelines.”
“I need more educational information about interior design.”
Everyone was pretty well informed about the competition. They had tried other companies before DC. All found out about DC by either a reference, Google, ads or by physically passing by the store. And, boy, did they love the store! They treated it like an Apple Store for interior design. Turns out that DC really did a great job with that.
Useful tip: Negative feedback helps us find opportunities for improvement. But positive feedback is also pretty useful because it helps you identify which parts of the product are worth retaining and building upon.
Personal touch, customer service, prices and quality of materials were their main motivations for choosing DC. People insisted on being able to see the price of every element on a page at any time (the previous design didn’t have prices on the accessories).
We made an interesting but somehow expected discovery about device usage. Mobile devices were used mostly for consumption and browsing, but when it came to ordering, most people opened their laptops.
The survey results mostly overlapped with the interviews:
Users found DC through different channels, but mainly through referrals.
They didn’t quite understand the current state of the website. Most of them had searched for or used other services before DC.
All of the surveyed users ordered kitchen designs. Almost all had difficulty choosing the right design style.
Most users found the process of designing their own interior hard and were interested in features that could make their choice easier.
Useful tip: Writing good survey questions takes time. Work with a researcher to write them, and schedule double the time you think you’ll need.
User Journeys Overview
Talking with customers helped us gain useful insight about which scenarios would be most important to them. We made an affinity diagram with everything we collected and started prioritizing and combining items in chunks.
The result was seven point-of-view problem statements that we decided to design for:
A new customer needs more information about DC because they need proof of credibility.
A returning customer needs quick access to the designs because they don’t want to waste time.
All customers need to be able to browse the designs at any time.
All customers want to browse designs relevant to their tastes, because that will shorten their search time.
Potential leads need a way to get in touch with DC in order to purchase a design.
All customers, once they’ve ordered, need to stay up to date with their order status, because they need to know what they are paying for and when they will be getting it.
All customers want to read case studies about successful projects, because that will reassure them that DC knows its stuff.
Using this list, we came up with design solutions for every journey.
The previous home page of Design Cafe was confusing. It needed to present more information about the business. The lack of information caused confusion and people were unsure what DC is about. We divided the home page into several sections and designed it so that every section could satisfy the needs of one of our target groups:
For new visitors (the purple flow), we included a short trip through the main unique selling points (USPs) of the service, the way it works, some success stories and an option to start the style quiz.
For returning visitors (the blue flow), who will most likely skip the home page or use it as a waypoint, the hero section and the navigation pointed a way out to browsing designs.
We left a small part at the end of the page (the orange flow) for potential employees, describing what there is to love about DC and a CTA that goes to the careers page.
The whole point of the onboarding process was to capture the customer’s attention so that they could continue forward, either directly to the design catalog or through a feature we called the style quiz.
We made the style quiz to help users narrow down their results.
DC previously had a feature called a 3D builder that we decided to remove. It allowed you to set your room size and then drag-and-drop furniture, windows and doors into the mix. In theory, this sounds good, but in reality people treated it much like a game and expected it to function like a minified version of The Sims’ Build Mode.
Everything made with the 3D builder was ending up completely modified by the designers. The tool was giving people a lot of design power and too many choices. On top of that, supporting it was a huge technical endeavor because it was a whole product on its own.
Compared to it, the style quiz was a relatively simple feature:
It starts out by asking about colors, textures and designs you like.
It continues to ask about room type.
Eventually, it displays a curated list of designs based on your answers.
The whole quiz wizard extends to only four steps and takes less than a minute to complete. But it makes people invest a tad bit of their time, thus creating engagement. The result: We’re improving conversion time and overall satisfaction.
Alternatively, users can skip the style quiz and go directly to the design catalog, then use the filters to fine-tune the results. The page automatically shows kitchen designs, what most people are looking for. And for the price-conscious, we made a small feature that allows them to input their room’s size, and all prices are recalculated.
If people don’t like anything from the catalog, chances are they are not DC’s target customer and there’s not much we can do to keep them on the website. But if they do like a design, they could decide to go forward and get in touch with DC, which brings us to the next step in the process.
Getting in Touch
Contacting DC needed to be as simple as possible. We implemented three ways to do that:
through the chat, shown on every page — the quickest way;
by opening the contact page and filling out the form or by just calling DC on the phone;
by clicking “Book a consultation” in the header, which asks for basic information and requests an appointment (upon submission, the next steps are shown to let users know what exactly is going to happen).
The rest of this journey continues offline: Potential customers meet a DC designer and, after some discussions and planning, place an order. DC notifies them of any progress via email and sends them a link to the progress tracker.
The progress tracker is in a user menu in the top-right corner of the design. Its goal is to show a timeline of the order. Upon an update, an “unread” notification pops out. Most users, however, will usually find out about order updates through email, so the entry point for the whole flow will be external.
Once the interior design order is installed and ready, users will have the completed order on the website for future reference. Their project could be featured on the home page and become part of the case studies.
One of DC’s long-term goals is for its website to become an influencer hub for interior design, filled with case studies, advice and tips. It’s part of a commitment to providing quality content. But DC doesn’t have that content yet. So, we decided to start that section with minimal effort and introduce it as a blog. The client would gradually fill it up with content and detailed process walkthroughs. These would be later expanded and featured on the home page. Case studies are a feature that could significantly increase brand awareness, though they would take time.
Preparing for Visual Design
With the critical user journeys all figured out and wireframed, we were ready to delve into visual design.
Data showed that most people open the website on their phones, but interviews proved that most of them were more willing to buy through a computer, rather than a mobile device. Also, desktop and laptop users were more engaged and loyal. So, we decided to design for desktop-first and work down to the smaller (mobile) resolutions from it in code.
We started collecting visual ideas, words and images. Initially, we had a simple word sequence based on our conversations with the client and a mood board with relevant designs and ideas. The main visual features we were after were simplicity, bold typography, nice photos and clean icons.
Useful tip: Don’t follow a certain trend just because everybody else is doing it. Create a thorough mood board of relevant reference designs that approximate the look and feel you’re going after. This look should be in line with your goals and target audience.
Our client had already started working on a photo shoot, and the results were great. Stock photography would have ruined everything personal about this website. The resulting photos blended with the big type pretty well and helped with that simple language we were after.
Initially, we went with a combination of Raleway and Roboto for the typography. Raleway is a great font but a bit overused. The second iteration was Abril Fatface and Raleway for the copy. Abril Fatface resembles the splendor of Didot and made the whole page a lot more heavy and pretentious. It was an interesting direction to explore, but it didn’t resonate with the modern techy feel of DC. The last iteration was Nexa for the titles, which turned out to be the best choice due to its modern and edgy feel, with Lato — both a great fit.
Useful tip: Play around with type variations. List them side by side to see how they compare. Go to Typewolf, MyFonts or a similar website to get inspired. Look for typefaces that make sense for your product. Consider readability and accessibility. Don’t go overboard with your type scale; keep it as minimal as possible. Check out Butterick’s summary of key rules if in doubt.
DC already had a color scheme, but they gave us the freedom to experiment. The main colors were tints of cyan, golden and plum (or, rather, a strange kind of bordeaux), but the original hues were too faded and didn’t blend with each other well enough.
Useful tip: If the brand already has colors, test slight variations to see how they fit the overall design. Or remove some of the colors and use only one or two. Try designing your layout in monochrome and then test different color combinations on an already mocked-up design. Check out some other great tips by Wojciech Zieliński in his article “How to Use Colors in UI Design: Practical Tips and Tools”.
Here’s what we decided on in the end:
The way we presented all of those type variants and colors was through iterations on the home page.
We focused the first visual iteration on getting the main information clearly visible and squeezing the most out of the testimonials and style quiz sections. After some discussion, we figured it was too plain and needed improvement. We made changes to the fonts and icons and modified some sections, shown in iterations 2 and 3 in the image below.
We didn’t have the time to design custom icons, but the NounProject came to the rescue. With the SVG file format, it’s very simple to change whatever you need and mix it with something else. This sped up our work immensely, and with visual iteration number 4, we signed off on the design of the home page. This allowed us to focus on components and use them as LEGO blocks to build the templates.
I listed most components (see PDF) in a Sketch artboard to keep them accessible. Whenever the design needed a new pattern, we’d come back to this page and look for ways to reuse elements. Having a visual system in place, even for a small project like this, kept things consistent and simple.
Useful tip: Components, atoms, blocks — no matter what you call them, they are all part of systematic thinking about your design. Design systems help you gain a deeper understanding of your product by urging you to focus on patterns, design principles and design language. If you’re new to this approach, check out Brad Frost’s Atomic Design or Alla Kholmatova’s Design Systems.
Prototyping With Code
For our prototype, we decided to use code and set up a simple build process to speed up our work.
Picking tools and processes
Gulp automated everything. If you haven’t heard of it, check out Callum Macrae’s awesome guide. Gulp enabled us to handle all of the styles, scripts and templates, and it outputs a ready-to-use minified production version of the code.
Some of the more important Gulp plugins we used were:
This allows you to use PostCSS. You can bundle it with plugins like cssnext to get a pretty robust and versatile setup.
This sets up a server and automatically updates the view on every change. You can set it to fire up upon starting “gulp watch”, and everything will be synced up on hitting “Save”.
This is a Handlebars implementation for Gulp. It’s a quick way to create templates and reuse them. Imagine you have a button that stays the same throughout the whole design. It would be a symbol in Sketch. It’s basically the same concept but wrapped in HTML. Whenever you want to use that button, you just include the button template. If you change something in the master template, it propagates the changes to every other button in the design. You do that for everything in the design system, and thus you’re using the same paradigm for both visual design and code. No more static page mockups!
Components and templates
We had to mix atomic CSS with module-based CSS to get the most of both worlds. Atomic CSS handled all of the general styles, while the CSS modules handled edge cases.
In atomic CSS, atoms are immutable CSS classes that do just one thing. We used Tachyons, an atomic toolkit. In Tachyons, every class you apply is a single CSS property. For instance, .b stands for font-weight: bold, and .ttu stands for text-transform: uppercase. A paragraph with bold uppercase text would look like this:
<p class="b ttu">Paragraph</p>
Useful tip: Once you get familiar with atomic CSS, it becomes a blazingly fast way to prototype stuff — and a very systematic one, because it urges you to constantly think about reusability and optimization.
A major benefit of prototyping with code is that you can demo complex interactions. We coded most of our critical journeys this way.
Useful tip: With HTML prototypes, you will have to decide the level of fidelity you want to achieve. That might get pretty time-consuming if you go too deep. But you can’t really go wrong with that either because as you go deeper and deeper into the code and fine-tune every possible detail, at some point you’ll start delivering the actual product.
Clients, especially small B2C companies, love when you deliver a design solution that they can use immediately. We shipped just that.
Unfortunately, you can’t always predict a project’s pace, and it took several months for our code to be integrated in DC’s workflow. In its current state, this code is ready for testing, and what’s better is that it’s pretty easy to modify. So, if DC decides to conduct some user tests in the future, any changes will be easy to make.
Collaborate with other designers whenever possible. When two people are thinking about the same problem, they will deliver better ideas. Take turns in taking notes during interviews, and brainstorm goals, ideas and visuals together.
We shipped a working version of the website, and the client was able to use it right away. If you aren’t able to sign off on the code, try to get as close to the final product as possible, and communicate that visually to your client’s team. Document your design — it’s a deliverable that will be used and abused by everyone, from developers to marketers to in-house designers. Set aside some time to make sure all of your ideas are properly understood by everyone.
Scheduling interviews and writing good surveys can be time-consuming. You have to plan ahead and recruit more people than you think you will need. Hire an experienced researcher to work with you on these tasks, and spend some time with your team to identify your goals. Be careful when sourcing participants. Your client can help you find the right people, but you’ll need to stick to participants who meet the right demographics.
Schedule enough time for planning. Project goals, processes, and responsibilities should be clear to everyone on your team. You need time to allow for multiple iterations on prototypes, because prototypes improve products quickly. If you don’t want to mess with code, there are various ways to prototype. But even if you do, you don’t need to write flawless code — just write designer’s code. Or, as Alan Cooper once said, “Sometimes the best way for a designer to communicate their vision is to code something up so that their colleagues can interact with the proposed behavior, rather than just see still images. The goal of such code is not the same as the goal of the code that coders write. The code isn’t for deployment, but for design [and] its purpose is different.”
Don’t focus on a unique design per se, unless that’s the main feature of your product. Better to spend time on things that matter more. Use frameworks, icons and visual assets where possible, or outsource them to another designer and focus on your core product goals and metrics.
An increasingly common question — now that people are using CSS Grid Layout in production — seems to be “What are the best practices?” The short answer to this question is to use the layout method as defined in the specification. The particular parts of the spec you choose to use, and indeed how you combine Grid with other layout methods such as Flexbox, is down to what works for the patterns you are trying to build and how you and your team want to work.
Looking deeper, I think perhaps this request for “best practices” perhaps indicates a lack of confidence in using a layout method that is very different from what came before. Perhaps a concern that we are using Grid for things it wasn’t designed for, or not using Grid when we should be. Maybe it comes down to worries about supporting older browsers, or in how Grid fits into our development workflow.
In this article, I’m going to try and cover some of the things that either could be described as best practices, and some things that you probably don’t need to worry about.
To help inform this article, I wanted to find out how other people were using Grid Layout in production, what were the challenges they faced, what did they really enjoy about it? Were there common questions, problems or methods being used. To find out, I put together a quick survey, asking questions about how people were using Grid Layout, and in particular, what they most liked and what they found challenging.
In the article that follows, I’ll be referencing and directly quoting some of those responses. I’ll also be linking to lots of other resources, where you can find out more about the techniques described. As it turned out, there was far more than one article worth of interesting things to unpack in the survey responses. I’ll address some of the other things that came up in a future post.
If there is any part of the Grid specification that you need to take care when using, it is when using anything that could cause content re-ordering:
“Authors must use order and the grid-placement properties only for visual, not logical, reordering of content. Style sheets that use these features to perform logical reordering are non-conforming.”
This is not unique to Grid, however, the ability to rearrange content so easily in two dimensions makes it a bigger problem for Grid. However, if using any method that allows content re-ordering — be that Grid, Flexbox or even absolute positioning — you need to take care not to disconnect the visual experience from how the content is structured in the document. Screen readers (and people navigating around the document using a keyboard only) are going to be following the order of items in the source.
The places where you need to be particularly careful are when using flex-direction to reverse the order in Flexbox; the order property in Flexbox or Grid; any placement of Grid items using any method, if it moves items out of the logical order in the document; and using the dense packing mode of grid-auto-flow.
For more information on this issue, see the following resources:
”With so much choice in Grid, it was a challenge to stick to a consistent way of writing it (e.g. naming grid lines or not, defining grid-template-areas, fallbacks, media queries) so that it would be maintainable by the whole team.”
When you first take a look at Grid, it might seem overwhelming with so many different ways of creating a layout. Ultimately, however, it all comes down to things being positioned from one line of the grid to another. You have choices based on the of layout you are trying to achieve, as well as what works well for your team and the site you are building.
There is no right or wrong way. Below, I will pick up on some of the common themes of confusion. I’ve also already covered many other potential areas of confusion in a previous article “Grid Gotchas and Stumbling Blocks.”
Should I Use An Implicit Or Explicit Grid?
The grid you define with grid-template-columns and grid-template-rows is known as the Explicit Grid. The Explicit Grid enables the naming of lines on the Grid and also gives you the ability to target the end line of the grid with -1. You’ll choose an Explicit Grid to do either of these things and in general when you have a layout all designed and know exactly where your grid lines should go and the size of the tracks.
I use the Implicit Grid most often for row tracks. I want to define the columns but then rows will just be auto-sized and grow to contain the content. You can control the Implicit Grid to some extent with grid-auto-columns and grid-auto-rows, however, you have less control than if you are defining everything.
You need to decide whether you know exactly how much content you have and therefore the number of rows and columns — in which case you can create an Explicit Grid. If you do not know how much content you have, but simply want rows or columns created to hold whatever there is, you will use the Implicit Grid.
Nevertheless, it’s possible to combine the two. In the below CSS, I have defined three columns in the Explicit Grid and three rows, so the first three rows of content will be the following:
A track of at least 200px in height, but expanding to take content taller,
A track fixed at 400px in height,
A track of at least 300px in height (but expands).
Any further content will go into a row created in the Implicit Grid, and I am using the grid-auto-rows property to make those tracks at least 300px tall, expanding to auto.
By using Repeat Notation, autofill, and minmax you can create a pattern of as many tracks as will fit into a container, thus removing the need for Media Queries to some extent. This technique can be found in this video tutorial, and also demonstrated along with similar ideas in my recent article “Using Media Queries For Responsive Design In 2018.”
Choose this technique when you are happy for content to drop below earlier content when there is less space, and are happy to allow a lot of flexibility in sizing. You have specifically asked for your columns to display with a minimum size, and to auto fill.
There were a few comments in the survey that made me wonder if people were choosing this method when they really wanted a grid with a fixed number of columns. If you are ending up with an unpredictable number of columns at certain breakpoints, you might be better to set the number of columns — and redefine it with media queries as needed — rather than using auto-fill or auto-fit.
If you simply use the fr unit as specced, then it differs from using a percentage because it distributes available space. If you place a larger item into a track then the way the fr until will work is to allow that track to take up more space and distribute what is left over.
So you can choose to use fr in either of these scenarios: ones where you do want space distribution from a basis of auto (the default behavior), and those where you want equal distribution. I would typically use the fr unit as it then works out the sizing for you, and enables the use of fixed width tracks or gaps. The only time I use a percentage instead is when I am adding grid components to an existing layout that uses other layout methods too. If I want my grid components to line up with a float- or flex-based layout which is using percentages, using them in my grid layout means everything uses the same sizing method.
Auto-Place Items Or Set Their Position?
You will often find that you only need to place one or two items in your layout, and the rest fall into place based on content order. In fact, this is a really good test that you haven’t disconnected the source and visual display. If things pretty much drop into position based on auto-placement, then they are probably in a good order.
Once I have decided where everything goes, however, I do tend to assign a position to everything. This means that I don’t end up with strange things happening if someone adds something to the document and grid auto-places it somewhere unexpected, thus throwing out the layout. If everything is placed, Grid will put that item into the next available empty grid cell. That might not be exactly where you want it, but sat down at the end of your layout is probably better than popping into the middle and pushing other things around.
Which Positioning Method To Use?
When working with Grid Layout, ultimately everything comes down to placing items from one line to another. Everything else is essentially a helper for that.
Decide with your team if you want to name lines, use Grid Template Areas, or if you are going to use a combination of different types of layout. I find that I like to use Grid Template Areas for small components in particular. However, there is no right or wrong. Work out what is best for you.
Grid In Combination With Other Layout Mechanisms
Remember that Grid Layout isn’t the one true layout method to rule them all, it’s designed for a certain type of layout — namely two-dimensional layout. Other layout methods still exist and you should consider each pattern and what suits it best.
I think this is actually quite hard for those of us used to hacking around with layout methods to make them do something they were not really designed for. It is a really good time to take a step back, look at the layout methods for the tasks they were designed for, and remember to use them for those tasks.
In particular, no matter how often I write about Grid versus Flexbox, I will be asked which one people should use. There are many patterns where either layout method makes perfect sense and it really is up to you. No-one is going to shout at you for selecting Flexbox over Grid, or Grid over Flexbox.
In my own work, I tend to use Flexbox for components where I want the natural size of items to strongly control their layout, essentially pushing the other items around. I also often use Flexbox because I want alignment, given that the Box Alignment properties are only available to use in Flexbox and Grid. I might have a Flex container with one child item, in order that I can align that child.
A sign that perhaps Flexbox isn’t the layout method I should choose is when I start adding percentage widths to flex items and setting flex-grow to 0. The reason to add percentage widths to flex items is often because I’m trying to line them up in two dimensions (lining things up in two dimensions is exactly what Grid is for). However, try both, and see which seems to suit the content or design pattern best. You are unlikely to be causing any problems by doing so.
Nesting Grid And Flex Items
This also comes up a lot, and there is absolutely no problem with making a Grid Item also a Grid Container, thus nesting one grid inside another. You can do the same with Flexbox, making a Flex Item and Flex Container. You can also make a Grid Item and Flex Container or a Flex Item a Grid Container — none of these things are a problem!
What we can’t currently do is nest one grid inside another and have the nested grid use the grid tracks defined on the overall parent. This would be very useful and is what the subgrid proposals in Level 2 of the Grid Specification hope to solve. A nested grid currently becomes a new grid so you would need to be careful with sizing to ensure it aligns with any parent tracks.
You Can Have Many Grids On One Page
A comment popped up a few times in the survey which surprised me, there seems to be an idea that a grid should be confined to the main layout, and that many grids on one page were perhaps not a good thing. You can have as many grids as you like! Use grid for big things and small things, if it makes sense laid out as a grid then use Grid.
Fallbacks And Supporting Older Browsers
“Grid used in conjunction with @supports has enabled us to better control the number of layout variations we can expect to see. It has also worked really well with our progressive enhancement approach meaning we can reward those with modern browsers without preventing access to content to those not using the latest technology.”
In the survey, many people mentioned older browsers, however, there was a reasonably equal split between those who felt that supporting older browsers was hard and those who felt it was easy due to Feature Queries and the fact that Grid overrides other layout methods. I’ve written at length about the mechanics of creating these fallbacks in “Using CSS Grid: Supporting Browsers Without Grid.”
In general, modern browsers are far more interoperable than their earlier counterparts. We tend to see far fewer actual “browser bugs” and if you use HTML and CSS correctly, then you will generally find that what you see in one browser is the same as in another.
We do, of course, have situations in which one browser has not yet shipped support for a certain specification, or some parts of a specification. With Grid, we have been very fortunate in that browsers shipped Grid Layout in a very complete and interoperable way within a short time of each other. Therefore, our considerations for testing tend to be to need to test browsers with Grid and without Grid. You may also have chosen to use the -ms prefixed version in IE10 and IE11, which would then require testing as a third type of browser.
Browsers which support modern Grid Layout (not the IE version) also support Feature Queries. This means that you can test for Grid support before using it.
Testing Browsers That Don’t Support Grid
When using fallbacks for browsers without support for Grid Layout (or using the -ms prefixed version for IE10 and 11), you will want to test how those browsers render Grid Layout. To do this, you need a way to view your site in an example browser.
I would not take the approach of breaking your Feature Query by checking for support of something nonsensical, or misspelling the value grid. This approach will only work if your stylesheet is incredibly simple, and you have put absolutely everything to do with your Grid Layout inside the Feature Queries. This is a very fragile and time-consuming way to work, especially if you are extensively using Grid. In addition, an older browser will not just lack support for Grid Layout, there will be other CSS properties unsupported too. If you are looking for “best practice” then setting yourself up so you are in a good position to test your work is high up there!
There are a couple of straightforward ways to set yourself up with a proper method of testing your fallbacks. The easiest method — if you have a reasonably fast internet connection and don’t mind paying a subscription fee — is to use a service such as BrowserStack. This is a service that enables viewing of websites (even those in development on your computer) on a whole host of real browsers. BrowserStack does offer free accounts for open-source projects.
You can then test your site in IE11 and in non-supporting Firefox on one VM (a far less fragile solution than misspelling values). Getting set up might take you an hour or so, but you’ll then be in a really good place to test your fallbacks.
Unlearning Old Habits
“It was my first time to use Grid Layout, so there were a lot of concepts to learn and properties understand. Conceptually, I found the most difficult thing to unlearn all the stuff I had done for years, like clearing floats and packing everything in container divs.”
Many of the people responding to the survey mentioned the need to unlearn old habits and how learning Layout would be easier for people completely new to CSS. I tend to agree. When teaching people in person complete beginners have little problem using Grid while experienced developers try hard to return grid to a one-dimensional layout method. I’ve seen attempts at “grid systems” using CSS Grid which add back in the row wrappers needed for a float or flex-based grid.
Don’t be afraid to try out new techniques. If you have the ability to test in a few browsers and remain mindful of potential issues of accessibility, you really can’t go too far wrong. And, if you find a great way to create a certain pattern, let everyone else know about it. We are all new to using Grid in production, so there is certainly plenty to discover and share.
“Grid Layout is the most exciting CSS development since media queries. It’s been so well thought through for real-world developer needs and is an absolute joy to use in production – for designers and developers alike.”
To wrap up, here is a very short list of current best practices! If you have discovered things that do or don’t work well in your own situation, add them to the comments.
Be very aware of the possibility of content re-ordering. Check that you have not disconnected the visual display from the document order.
Test using real target browsers with a local or remote Virtual Machine.
Don’t forget that older layout methods are still valid and useful. Try different ways to achieve patterns. Don’t be hung up on having to use Grid.
Know that as an experienced front-end developer you are likely to have a whole set of preconceptions about how layout works. Try to look at these new methods anew rather than forcing them back into old patterns.
Keep trying things out. We’re all new to this. Test your work and share what you discover.
Monthly Web Development Update 4/2018: On Effort, Bias, And Being Productive
These days, it is one of the biggest challenges to think long-term. In a world where we live with devices that last only a few months or a few years maybe, where we buy stuff to throw it away only days or weeks later, the term effort gains a new meaning.
Recently, I was reading an essay on ‘Yatnah’, ‘Effort’. I spent a lot of time outside in nature in the past weeks and created a small acre to grow some vegetables. I also attended a workshop to learn the craft of grafting fruit trees. When you cut a tree, you realize that our fast-living, short-term lifestyle is very different from how nature works. I grafted a tree that is supposed to grow for decades now, and if you cut a tree that has been there for forty years, it’ll take another forty to grow one that will be similarly tall.
I’d love that we all try to create more long-lasting work, software that works in a decade, and in order to do so, put effort into learning how we can make that happen. So long, I’ll leave you with this quote and a bunch of interesting articles.
“In our modern world it can be tempting to throw effort away and replace it with a few phrases of positive thinking. But there is just no substitute for practice”. — Kino Macgregor
The Safari Technology Preview 52 removes support for all NPAPI plug-ins other than Adobe Flash and adds support for preconnect link headers.
Chrome 66 Beta brings the CSS Typed Object Model, Async Clipboard API, AudioWorklets, and support to use calc(), min(), and max() in Media Queries. Additionally, select and textarea fields now support the autocomplete attribute, and the catch clause of a try statement can be used without a parameter from now on.
Morten Rand-Hendriksen wrote about using ethics in web design and what questions we should ask ourselves when suggesting a solution, creating a design, or a new feature. Especially when we think we’re making something ‘smart’, it’s important to put the question whether it actually helps people first.
Charlie Owen’s talk transcription of “Dear Developer, The Web Isn’t About You” is a good summary of why we as developers need to think beyond what’s good for us and consider what serves the users and how we can achieve that instead.
Trine Falbe introduces us to Ethical Design with a practical getting-started guide. It shows alternatives and things to think about when building a business or product. It doesn’t matter much if you’re the owner, a developer, a designer or a sales person, this is about serving users and setting the ground for real and sustainable trust.
Josh Lovejoy shares his learnings from working on inclusive tech solutions and why it takes more than good intention to create fair, inclusive technology. This article goes into depth of why human judgment is very difficult and often based on bias, and why it isn’t easy to design and develop algorithms that treat different people equally because of this.
The HSB (Hue, Saturation, Brightness) color system isn’t especially new, but a lot of people still don’t understand its advantages. Erik D. Kennedy explains its principles and advantages step-by-step.
While there’s more discussion about inclusive design these days, it’s often seen under the accessibility hat or as technical decisions. Robert del Prado now shares how important inclusive design thinking is and why it’s much more about the generic user than some specific people with specific disabilities. Inclusive design brings people together, regardless of who they are, where they live, and what they can afford. And isn’t it the goal of every product to be successful by acquiring as many people as possible? Maybe we need to discuss this with marketing people as well.
Brian Schrader found an unknown feature in Git which is very helpful to test ideas quickly: Git Notes lets us add, remove, or read notes attached to objects, without touching the objects themselves and without needing to commit the current state.
For many projects, I prefer to use npm scripts over calling gulp or direct webpack tasks. Michael Kühnel shares some useful tricks for npm scripts, including how to allow CLI option parameters or how to watch tasks and alert notices on error.
Anton Sten explains why new tools don’t always equal productivity. We all love new design tools, and new ones such as Sketch, Figma, Xd, or Invision Studio keep popping up. But despite these tools solving a lot of common problems and making some things easier, productivity is mostly about what works for your problem and not what is newest. If you need to create a static mockup and Photoshop is what you know best, why not use it?
There’s a new, fast DNS service available by Cloudflare. Finally, a better alternative to the much used Google DNS servers, it is available under 188.8.131.52. The new DNS is the fastest, and probably one of the most secure ones, too, out there. Cloudflare put a lot of effort into encrypting the service and partnering up with Mozilla to make DNS over HTTPS work to close a big privacy gap that until now leaked all your browsing data to the DNS provider.
I heard a lot about iOS machine learning already, but despite the interesting fact that they’re able to do this on the device without sending everything to a cloud, I haven’t found out how to make use of this for apps, yet. Luckily, Manu Rink put together a nice guide in which she explains machine learning in iOS for beginners.
There’s great news for the Git GUI fans: Tower now offers a new beta version that includes pull request support, interactive rebase workflows, quick actions, reflog, and search. An amazing update that makes working with the software much faster than before, and even for me as a command line lover it’s a nice option.
HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS), especially with preloading, has long been considered one of the best security features to ensure that a browser should connect only securely to a hostname. However, advertisers have found a way to track users with HSTS and using it as a persistent cross-site identifier (known as “super cookie”). The WebKit developers reacted now, and in order to protect the privacy of their users, they weakened the reliability of HSTS by limiting the hostname scope and ignoring an HSTS state for subresource requests to blocked domains.
While Argon2 is the current best practice algorithm to use for hashing (passwords, for example), there are a couple of things developers need to prepare for. For example, it’s easy to DOS yourself using Argon2, so you need to rate limit queries.
Tim Oxley shares why he prefers to return early and avoid else wherever possible. This is something I’ve been doing at the beginning of my career, then lost at some point, but returned to it again recently. Especially the reduced complexity and simpler logic in functions is a key advantage for me here.
Amber Wilson shares some insights into what it feels like to be thrown into a complex project in order to do the styling there. She rightly says that “nobody said CSS is easy” and expresses how important it is that we as developers face inconvenient situations in order to grow our knowledge.
Ana Tudor is known for her special CSS skills. Now she explores and describes how we can achieve scooped corners in CSS with some clever tricks.
If you work with key value stores that live only in the frontend, IDB-Keyval is a great lightweight library that simplifies working with IndexedDB and localStorage.
Ever wanted to create graphics from your data with a hand-drawn, sketchy look on a website? Rough.js lets you do just that. It’s usually Canvas-based (for better performance and less data) but can also draw SVG paths.
If you need a drag-and-drop reorder module, there’s a smooth and accessible solution available now: dragon-drop.
To raise awareness for how common such situations are for all of us, James Bennett shares an embarrassing situation where he made a simple mistake that took him a long time to find out. It’s not just me making mistakes, it’s not just you, and not just James — all of us make mistakes, and as embarrassing as they seem to be in that particular situation, there’s nothing to feel bad about.
Adam Blanchard says “People are machines. We need maintenance, too.” and creates a comparison for engineers to understand why we need to take care of ourselves and also why we need people who take care of us. This is an insight into what People Engineers do, and why it’s so important for companies to hire such people to ensure a team is healthy.
You might have read the news about the first fatal crash with a self-driving car. A sad milestone that shows how unreliable this technology can be and how far away we still are from being able to rely on such systems.
For UX designers and design teams, research with stakeholders and users is critical. However, accessing research participants isn’t as easy as it sounds. For both professional and amateur researchers finding people to participate in studies can be an elusive task. We often hear about studies and their findings, but we don’t hear as often how researchers recruit study participants.
Researchers can choose from a variety ways to find participants. Many factors determine the best method to use. This includes resources such as time and money, the research method you’re using, the type or characteristics of participants you want to recruit, and the accessibility of these types of participants. In this post, I’ll remove some of the mystery and provide guidance to those interested in recruiting participants for qualitative UX studies.
You can use incentives to increase the likelihood of participation in any of these methods of recruitment. Use of incentives is usually a personal choice. Do you feel incentivized participants provide skewed or biased data? I don’t have any issues with providing incentives. An incentive can be a small token of appreciation ($5 gift card) or something more substantial ($200 or more depending on time needed and type of participant.
I’ve provided guidance for each method based on my experience with incentives.
Identifying And Interviewing Key Internal Stakeholders
You gain insight when you interview key colleagues, clients, and other relevant stakeholders of a project. Particularly at the beginning of a project. This is a great opportunity to understand everyone’s role, what their vision and hopes are for a project or product, and how you might incorporate their experience into the rest of the project. You can increase buy-in and make people feel like part of the process by including stakeholder interviews in any project. I use the term internal stakeholder broadly to describe individuals who have a vested interest in a product or project who are connected to your organization or the product in some way. Many of these internal stakeholders might also be users of the product you are interviewing them about.
When To Use It
You can always look for opportunities to interview stakeholders and colleagues to learn more. This is especially useful at the beginning of a project. You can learn expectations for a product, background information on what led to the current status of the project, and goals and hopes for the future. Checking in with stakeholders throughout a project will keep them aware of how things are progressing and allow you to get their feedback. I’ve found this is helpful for building trust with stakeholders and making them feel included in the process.
How You Might Do It
You can often arrange interviews with key stakeholders yourself if they are internal to your company. You’ll identify who is relevant to your project, including project team members, and invite them to an interview. You can contact them to schedule a time, or look to schedule using your company’s shared calendar platform (e.g., Outlook or G Suite). You should know ahead of time how long you need to schedule and how you will interview the participant (in-person or remote) so you can share this information with them at scheduling.
Identifying and interviewing stakeholders becomes more complicated when you don’t have direct access to scheduling yourself. If your project team is part of a larger organization, you might need to ask colleagues in other departments to help identify and schedule stakeholders. If you are on a project team with outside partners or have external stakeholders, you will often need someone to facilitate identification and scheduling of interviews. I’ll cover some additional challenges for recruiting stakeholders and others through your clients in the identifying participants through a client section.
Gain insight into roles, backgrounds, and history of stakeholders’ involvement with a product or issue, potentially quick to schedule, low to no cost outside of time, can be done remote or in-person, talking to customer/user-facing stakeholders might provide some insight into what users think of a product.
Difficult to identify everyone you want to participate, might include people at high-levels who are hard to reach, scheduling if not doing it yourself, scaling down if resources are limited, does not replace research with users, many stakeholders are too close to their product to be objective.
I typically don’t provide an incentive if internal stakeholders are participating during work hours.
I worked on a project with a bank that wanted to design an online onboarding experience for new customers. We needed to understand what the current (non-digital) onboarding experience was. We wanted to document available resources to pull into the onboarding experience. Lastly, we needed to build trust with partners who we were going to rely on to champion the experience we created.
We relied on word of mouth to learn who we needed to speak with. First, we interviewed the people we were closest to and asked them who else they considered necessary for us to speak with. We spoke with people in numerous US states, both remotely and in-person. We were able to speak with 30 people in three weeks (this was not a project we were dedicating full time). Occasionally, we spoke to people who were not relevant to our specific purpose. There were two key reasons we were given names of some folks who weren’t relevant:
They were higher up executives with little knowledge of what we were exploring
The people referring them didn’t understand/effectively convey what we were trying to accomplish, so they volunteered to participate in something not aligned with their role
We found our most common difficulties were in scheduling and getting people to reply to our initial emails. We were trying to schedule an hour to speak with people who spend most of their days traveling and in meetings. Many of them had personal assistants managing their calendars. Some didn’t have an opening to speak with us for weeks after our initial request. Most people did want to make the time to speak with us. They viewed our project as one with high strategic importance in the long-term health of their company. We also had many people reschedule due to unforeseen conflicts involving client needs arising.
We were able to paint a clearer picture of the bank’s onboarding experience and what resources were available. We were able to understand what (some) of the leadership viewed as the potential future for an onboarding experience with new customers and what their perceptions of shortcomings were for the current onboarding experience. We were able to identify gaps in knowledge that required additional future research and education. We made connections with critical internal advocates who walked away with a better understanding and appreciation of the experience we were creating. We would not have been able to achieve these outcomes through a survey or through other means of recruiting participants. Later, we were able to approach these same stakeholders to have them provide feedback on the designs for the onboarding experience we created.
Identifying Participants Through A Client
Many potential research participants are unavailable to the general public. You will find situations where you don’t have direct access to recruiting relevant participants. This is particularly true if you work for a design consultancy/studio, or as part of a shared services team within a large organization. For example, if your client is a widget manufacturer and their product is a widget warehouse product supply application, you will need to access their staff in order to understand their current pain points and needs. You won’t have an easy time finding relevant participants using the population you have access to. You want to conduct research and usability testing with participants who will become the end user of the application, which again means you’d need to access this population through your client.
When To Use It
In addition to the reasons given in the previous section for recruiting stakeholders, when you have to reach specific populations, need opinions from specific people, and want to make your client-stakeholders feel like part of the process. When you don’t have direct insight or access to critical research participants when you are looking to build relationships beyond the project team you are working with, when you want to include a diverse set of individuals covering relevant areas of the product you’re working on.
How To Do It
Work closely with your client or person you are collaborating with to identify the right people for the project you are on. Your project will dictate the exact specifications of roles you need. This includes Product Owners, VPs, Business Analysts, and Users. I often provide a script or email language for my clients to use for recruiting participants. I explain the purpose of the research, how you were made aware of the participant (e.g., Jane from accounting gave me your information) how long the conversation is expected to take, potential dates of availability, incentive (if any), prep work required (if any).
You should provide your client with a screener clearly stating:
How many of each type of participant you want to participate
Details you want to know ahead of time (e.g., years using the product, industry)
Factors leading to disqualification from the study (e.g., less than one year of experience with the product)
Bonus: Many organizations keep data on their users. Your client might be able to screen their database and provide you research participants. However, when I’ve used this in the past, there are often many permissions required and processes to gain access to customers. This can add a significant amount of time to your project.
I am always clear to my clients that scheduling participants is one of the largest hurdles to a project’s timeline. Working with others’ schedules is complicated. You should make it clear to your clients how to recruit, and the need to start recruiting as soon as possible.
You get specific people close to a project or product, you learn about long-term and short-term goals directly from the people you work with, you are able to ask to follow up questions that might inform projects well beyond your current relationship, you learn the history of the product or organization, you can reach relevant people you don’t have direct access to, you gain insight into roles, backgrounds, and history of stakeholders’ and users’ involvement with an issue, you will find talking directly to the users of the product provides context and texture you wouldn’t find from someone without similar knowledge.
This can be time-consuming, requires a clear communication of purpose, you might end up talking to people less relevant if your client doesn’t screen effectively, less control over scheduling, lack of control over how information is shared with participants.
Incentives – I typically don’t provide an incentive if they are from the client and participating during work hours. I’d provide an incentive if they have recruited users who are coming in on an off day or outside of work hours. You might also have a larger incentive but only give it to a couple randomly selected participants.
I worked for a team looking at redesigning a digital report for a large mortgage lender. Many other banks and loan providers do business under the umbrella of this company. We needed to identify a specific type of user, one who: worked for a bank under the parent company and used the report as part of their daily tasks.
The client wanted us to interview 30 individuals with roles interacting with the report. They identified a handful of these individuals upfront, and then put out a call for participation to identify the remaining individuals. There were numerous layers of communication through relationship managers as well as permissions and disclosures the client needed to handle with each participant.
We were able to complete over 30 remote (over the phone) interviews in the month we were allotted to collect data. Our client arranged and scheduled each interview. Our most common difficulties were similar to those I gave in the previous case study, scheduling and relevancy of participants. We were interviewing people who spend their entire workday running the report and using the data to inform their decisions; busy people with limited flexibility of daytime work hours. We made ourselves available at any time a participant had availability in order to solve this. This created drawbacks in scheduling other meetings unrelated to working on the project.
Some of our participants forwarded the invitation to others they thought should be on the interview as well. We would find this out when more than one person would join the call. We were initially caught off guard when we had a call intended for one person take place with four participants at once. We created a separate multi-participant protocol to account for this occurring on future calls, which it did. I recommend expecting this to happen regardless of who is recruiting your participants. It’s difficult to control what happens, once you send out an invitation to the wild.
We used data from our interviews to understand the current behaviors, frustrations, and needs of users. We also presented later participants with sample designs in order to get feedback on report layout and feature changes. We delivered a redesigned report that exceeded client expectations and became a reference piece in their quest to get further funding for research and design projects.
Paying A Recruitment Firm (When You Have An Accessible Population)
Recruitment firms offer services ranging from participant screening and recruitment, facilities to conduct research, recording your sessions, and much more. You can use a recruitment firm when you are conducting research with populations you believe you can reach through contact with the general public. For example, if you are conducting usability testing on an online banking application. You can expect most people familiar with banking transactions (e.g., making a deposit or bill pay) should successfully use your application. Even if they don’t currently use your bank.
I’ve used a number of firms over the past few years. Most of them offer similar services.
When To Use It
When you don’t have direct access to potential participants when you want to have a third party screen your participants, when your sample is available through the general public, when you want to have someone handle recruitment, scheduling, and day-of-research preparation.
How To Do It
You will need to create the screener the recruiter will use. You decide in advance how many of each type of participant you will want. You’ll want to include a number of “floaters” in your recruitment as well. Floaters are people who meet the requirements of the study and are willing to show up for participation in case some of the other participants don’t show up. Floaters are typically compensated at higher levels because they are committing to spend two or three hours sitting around in case they are needed.
You’ll also need to provide the screener with enough advance notice as the recruiter requires. I’ve found this is two weeks in advance for most studies, and three weeks in advance for more complex studies. All recruitment firms offer participants an incentive, usually cash, to participate in a study. You will have to be ok with the fact your participants are receiving money to participate. I haven’t found this to be problematic, but you should be prepared to defend why you don’t think this will add any additional bias to your data.
Very detailed screening, don’t have to find people, often have a facility you can use, will record audio and video as needed, will recruit additional participants in case some don’t show up.
Cost, the time needed in advance if you have a difficult to reach population, participants trying to game the system.
Incentives – Recruitment firms almost always compensate the people they recruit. You will pay the recruitment firm a set fee they pay to participants.
I worked for a team wanting to define the digital needs and behaviors of specific types of Financial Advisors. The client did not want to expose their brand during any of the research, so they did not want to facilitate the recruitment. The client wanted the interviews to pull participants from more than one major city in the US. We worked with a recruitment firm to identify and recruit participants, as well as to conduct the interview sessions.
We worked with the client to create a detailed screener with items meant to refine the population to the specific participants we wanted for the study. The recruitment firm asked for three weeks to find 15 participants for the first city in our study. The usual turn around when working with the firm was two weeks with less specialized participants. We were also advised to provide a higher incentive, over double what we typically offered, due to the probability we were asking participants to step away from work and the perceived value of their time.
We were able to interview 15 participants over the course of two days. We found a few of the participants didn’t actually meet the qualifications we’d screened for. They had manipulated their responses to qualify. Our client was unhappy with this. We were able to use the floaters to replace the participants who didn’t truly qualify. We were also able to get a refund on what we’d paid to recruit the unqualified participants.
Ultimately, we reached our goal of interviewing the right number of participants in the right amount of time, and produced a report on needs and behaviors for our client.
We would not have been able to access this population without the use of the recruitment firm. The client was unwilling to expose their brand and therefore unwilling to identify participants from their contact list. We would have spent more time and money than the project allowed if we were left to recruit participants. We don’t have contact lists or the ability to easily identify specialized populations through our own resources. We still experienced frustration with the lack of initial quality participants the recruitment firm provided. In general, we’ve had positive experiences with recruitment firms, but the more specialized the population, the more likely you will find some duds.
Guerilla Recruiting (When You Want To Find People In The Wild)
You can utilize public spaces to recruit potential study participants. Guerilla research is a term for quick and dirty research conducted with people as they go about their daily tasks (in the wild so to speak). The term is meant to reflect a context in which you are pressed for resources. However, you can benefit from using this method of recruiting even when you have resources for other methods. Sometimes collecting data from people when they are in specific settings is the most appropriate method.
You should determine a space you want to recruit participants for a logical reason. Let’s say you’re designing a smartphone application meant to help people track their workouts at the gym. You would want to recruit participants from that setting, entering or exiting the gym. If you wanted to test out a new form of electronic payment, you’d want to be present in a setting where transactions take place.
When To Use It
When you have little time or budget, when you have access to relevant populations, when you only want to get quick feedback from a few people, when you can spend 20 minutes or less per participant, when you have a product related to a specific physical space (e.g., an art museum tour application).
How To Do It
Find a location, get permission if needed, create a script. I’ve previously written a detailed article on the specifics of recruiting participants in public.
Quick execution, the potential for multiple locations if you have the resources, small or large sample sizes, accessing relevant populations, compatible with multiple research methods.
Little ability for screening, approaching people takes practice and skill, potentially inclement weather if outside, a lot of standing around.
I’d base the incentive on the amount of time and type of activity. For example, I might give a product discount code for something taking a minute or less. A $5 gift card if you are taking a few minutes of their time.
I worked on a project examining the use of technology in library settings. Specifically, we wanted to understand the usability of a system for finding and locating materials within the library. We wanted to work with people who use a library. We needed to test inside of the library because the last part of testing involved physically locating the material.
We sent two researchers to spend multiple days at the library while it was open for patrons. We stood with clipboards at the entrance of the library. We asked patrons if they would spend a few minutes with us participating in our study. We then observed them using the system to search for an item and asked them to locate the material based on where the system told them it should be located.
Our biggest challenge was long periods of time where there were no new patrons coming into the library. We wanted to complete 30 to 40 sessions using three different scenarios. We had budgeted to spend one week onsite to get this many responses. We had to extend our timeline for the following week to reach our goal.
We were able to suggest improvements in the interface, terminology, and an explanation of where materials were located. We would not have had similar findings if we hadn’t been on location at a library and we might not have had as valuable insights if we used people who were not library patrons.
Friends And Family (Low On Time And Budget)
Sometimes, you might have very little opportunity to engage in research. There are many reasons for this, time, budget, or your working for a client who refuses to allow research as part of the project plan. The designers I’ve worked with still want to have some type of feedback to shape their thinking. You can still look to gather some meaningful data from those you have closest access to. Perhaps you are on a project where you are working on a product that is relevant to your coworkers or friends you have easy access to. You might ask a few of them to participate in interviews about the product.
Friends and family are the definition of a convenience sample, and should only be used when no other options exist. This is the most biased and least rigorous way of collecting data. However, you can still benefit from insights into experiences you might otherwise not get. You can use friends and family to participate in interviews or usability testing as a means of accessing informing your design. I strongly recommend conducting additional research, using one of the other methods of finding participants, as your design progresses.
When To Use It
As a last resort, when you have no budget, little time, yet you want to know something about the context or users you are designing for when you have access to relevant people to participate in the study. Background information of your participants.
How To Do It
Reach out to others you and your team know; you can include social media to distribute the call to participate, schedule a time to speak or send an email explaining what you’re asking participants to do (you can also distribute survey links this way)
Positive – you will get some feedback, almost instant, low budget
Most limited pool of participants, possibly less reach, you’re are relying on favors, less ability to screen for specific characteristics, introducing a larger bias due to familiarity with participants.
I would incentivize based on time and budget. A $25 gift card is much less expensive than what you’d pay for a participant from a recruitment firm, but friends and family might find this amount acceptable for up to an hour of time.
I was part of a project team responding to a (paid) request for proposals (RFP) from a major vacation industry company. We had two weeks to turn around our response, including design concepts to show our thinking. Most of our team had no experience in using the services from this specific industry. We needed to find out more information to help inform our response. We didn’t have the resources to undertake our typical research process of finding and interviewing stakeholders or representative end users. Instead, we reached out to friends and family members who stated they’d had experience in this vacation activity within the past three years.
We emailed our staff and asked if anyone had friends or family members with this qualification who’d be willing to engage in brief phone conversations about their experience. We conducted interviews with seven people over the course of the next two days. Our designers were able to use the insights we gained to better understand the types of needs users might have while vacationing. Our concepts attempted to address some of the issues our participants stated existed when they had experienced while vacationing.
Although we didn’t win the long-term work, our team was able to place among the top candidates. We credited the participation of friends and family in our research as part of what helped our design stand out in a positive way. We were later awarded separate work from the team we presented to for the initial RFP.
The table below provides a summary of key characteristics for each participant recruitment method I’ve covered in this article.
Ability to pre-screen participants
Ability to access participants
Varies – harder to reach specific populations
Friends & Family
Easy depending on topic
Table 1: Characteristics of common research participant recruitment methods
We need to access users and potential users in order to effectively conduct research. I’ve covered a number of common ways you can find research participants. Each has certain strengths and weaknesses. You’ll want to become familiar with each of these and adapt your approach based on your product, budget, and timeline.
Is the color scheme you’ve chosen for your website triggering a desired response? Everyone has favorite colors they tend to gravitate towards when it comes to their work or otherwise. But a skilled designer understands the importance of evaluating a color scheme based on the brand, the meanings of the colors, and the products or services being promoted. Good color choices take careful planning. It can influence how a visitor interprets what they see as much as a site’s layout and typography — and when done well, it can have a positive impact on each visitor’s evaluation of the brand…
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.
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;
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.
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.