November 18, 2014 - No Comments!

A nice piece of design from Facebook

You may have noticed recently that the news feed in the desktop/web version of Facebook uses a special placeholder graphic whilst it waits for content to load.

fb-placeholder

This is a nice bit of UI because it fulfils several functions; making sure the page isn’t blank whilst loading content  and preparing the user for what will appear there.  If you’ve seen it before, you’d notice that the lines of “content” actually animate with a flash that moves left to right like a traditional loading bar.  They could have gone with just a standard blob that moves from left to right, but the speed of the flash and the colour treatment given help to imply something faster and higher-tech.  When the content actually loads (which is quite quick on an i7/Chrome) it just replaces the preloader.  I did think they could have used a fade here but fades in UIs tend to risk creating a perception of slowness and it seems what they were targeting here was “blink and you’ll miss it”.

Overall it’s a nice and subtle piece of functional design, and it certainly beats staring at the browser loading bar.

October 29, 2014 - No Comments!

Need free stock photos?

I’d suggest you look at Unsplash – https://unsplash.com/

The site has a huge archive of free-to-use-whatever photos with a large range of themes.  OK, so there are a few too many “Doesn’t my iMac look pretty” shots, but the rest are great and useful for everything from website backgrounds to desktop wallpapers.

Another great one is Little Visuals – http://littlevisuals.co/page/3

The background photo for this site came from there – I liked how the various colours complimented my branding colours, and the subject emphasised the “industries” part of my logo.

October 17, 2014 - No Comments!

Would Google please fix the Play Store navigation?

Striving to unify and modernise navigation across its suite of Android apps, Google has moved to the ‘hamburger’ nav solution to let users access additional content and settings.  This works pretty well on Gmail, where content doesn’t run deep.  Some options merely change the mode (e.g. switch email inbox) and others launch separate pages (e.g. Settings).

Screenshot_2014-10-13-21-09-12      Screenshot_2014-10-13-21-09-16

However, it does not work well on the Play Store, Android’s app marketplace.

Screenshot_2014-10-13-21-09-29

The hamburger icon opens a drawer menu like it does in Gmail…

Screenshot_2014-10-13-21-09-32

…as long as you haven’t searched on anything or tapped on an app icon.  If you’ve done that, the icon changes into a back button which returns you to your previous page.  This seems like a good idea until you remember that Android already has a native back button which is always used for the same thing.  You can see it bottom left of the screenshot.

Screenshot_2014-10-13-21-11-24

So if I’ve had a particularly deep dive in the Play Store, I’m reduced to hammering the back button if I want to access any of the functionality present in the hamburger drawer.  I’ll press back to exit an app page, to hit a search results page, to hit another app page and so on.  This is not very good.

Not only has Google changed the functionality of a key button, it has also duplicated the functionality of a button that already exists.  Was this change made to make things easier for novice users?  If so, it feels like robbing Peter to pay Paul.  The hamburger menu should remain accessible at all times.

October 14, 2014 - No Comments!

Irreverent skateboard ads

I came across these great World Industries ads from the late 80s.  They’re pretty crude by modern standards but they speak of a brand that doesn’t give a sausage about what people think, and that’s quite refreshing compared to what gets churned out by all advertising sectors these days.

world-industries-jeremy-klein-1988      world-industries-jesse-and-jef-1988      world-industries-kill-them-1989

You can see more here.

October 13, 2014 - No Comments!

Bad UX and what we can do about it

Designers love designing, and they especially love it when it’s easy and there are few constraints.  We’re all guilty of this sin – it allows us to sit back, relax and bask in the glory of typography, colour and space.

Unfortunately the real world isn’t like that.  Designers are hired to solve problems – not mess around with Photoshop filters.  Too often the latter happens and it damages our profession.  How can we be taken seriously if we can’t rationalise what we’re doing?

Of course, a balance has to be struck.  An entirely functional design isn’t always a good one.  It may lack a visual hierarchy and acceptable spacing between elements.  Just because it gets the job done, doesn’t mean it gets it done in the best way.  That’s where designers can step in and show their skills.  And that’s where we seem to be most needed.

During the past couple of years, I’ve been exposed to a fair bit of “enterprise-grade” commercial software.  It’s bad.  Sometimes very bad.  Certainly in the property industry, most applications look like something from the Windows 95 era.  They are poorly laid out, difficult to navigate and hard on the eye.   These applications not only fail from a usability standpoint, they also fail at being interesting or fun to use.  The first is bad enough, but the second shows that the developers are out of touch with the end users.  Good software design should inspire and delight us.  When it’s difficult to learn, frustrating to use and a chore, no-one wants to use it.

Why aren’t these companies hiring designers and UX experts?  And why don’t businesses vote with their feet and go with modern software?

It seems like it could be a question more deeply routed in the IT world.  Companies like buying software they’ve bought before.  Sysadmins like fixing software they’re familiar with.  If a piece of software is poorly designed, there often isn’t anyone to point it out, or those that could are afraid of upsetting the apple cart.

We need UX champions, people who’ll point out that a piece of software sucks and will do what they can to improve or fix it until it does the job properly.  Much of this “enterprise-grade” software costs thousands of pounds, yet the attention invested in design makes it appear worth nothing.  This will only change when designers and users come together to improve the overall standard by demanding better.  Maybe it’s time to name and shame?  At the very least, Dribbble needs to be filled with accountancy and estate agency software mockups instead of IMDB and Wikipedia redesigns.

August 28, 2014 - No Comments!

Some Dark Patterns now illegal in UK

Just came across this article via Sidebar and have to applaud the Government for finally doing something about the curse of Dark Patterns on the web.

For the uninitiated, Dark Patterns are website user interfaces that purposefully mislead a user into doing something that benefits the website’s owners.  A classic example is the “add to basket” con, where adding a product to your basket gives you something you probably don’t want as well.  These patterns are unfortunately pervasive across much of the web, and the site Darkpatterns.org has a great library of them.

As a more tech-literate denizen of the internet than average, I feel a great distrust to websites that make use of these techniques.  It shows such contempt for the user, that instead of trying to gently persuade them to buy your product through low prices or excellent customer service, you’d rather trick them into spending money.  Thus is my attitude towards Ryanair.  Everyone hoped that their new website would move away from the old tricks, but unfortunately it hasn’t and I really like to avoid spending money with them unless absolutely necessary.  Hopefully the Government will stamp out their devious ways, but until then – caveat emptor.

August 28, 2014 - No Comments!

What I’d say to myself on leaving university…

I graduated from Leeds Uni in 2009.  It had been four years of ups and downs, but I’d made it and bagged an MA.  But after more than 5 years in the professional world, I feel like I’ve grown immeasurably, and what I’ve learnt since I’d love to be able to tell my past self:

  • Read and immerse yourself in design.  Find what aspects interest you the most and stay up to date.  Not all design is interesting, but most isn’t boring.
  • Always chase that feeling – the feeling that comes when a piece of design starts to “sing”.  If you can’t find the feeling, the work isn’t good enough.
  • Understand and have faith in your work.  Just because someone doesn’t like it, doesn’t mean it isn’t good work.  Know when to fight for what you care about and when to let it go.
  • Have confidence in your work.  Every other designer isn’t a Neville Brody or Paul Rand, and that’s OK.
  • Use your sense of humour.  Don’t be afraid to show personality in your work.  Again, as above, some may not like it, but subjectivity is inherent in design.  Taking risks can provide worthwhile rewards.
  • Design is one part concept, and one part execution.  Too much of either can break a project.  If the concept is too indulgent, the execution might not live up to it.  But if the execution is too indulgent the concept can be left feeling shallow.