Design

Introducing the U.S. Web Design Standards

“The U.S. Web Design Standards are the U.S. government’s very own set of common UI components and visual styles for websites. It’s a resource designed to make things easier for government designers and developers, while raising the bar on what the American people can expect from their digital experiences.”

Source: 18F — Introducing the U.S. Web Design Standards

Interesting move by our government, and definitely something that needed to be done. The four goals they worked towards are fairly close to the ones I lay out with clients when we’re working on a new site design or build as well:

  1. Make the best thing, the easiest thing. We believe that making tools that align with the values and needs of digital workers in the federal government will drive adoption.
  2. Be accessible out of the box. We created tools that seamlessly meet the standards of 508 accessibility, from colors to code.
  3. Design for flexibility. We aim to give the American people a sense of familiarity when using government services, while allowing agencies to customize these tools to fit their unique needs.
  4. Reuse, reuse, reuse. We reviewed, tested, evaluated, and repurposed existing patterns, code, and designs from dozens of government and private sector style guides to make use of tried-and-true best practices.

Add “Your tastes are not everyone’s tastes (i.e. the client is not always right)” and that’s pretty much my approach.

Sapphire Apple Watch Screens Can Crack

Ouch…

Apple Watch sapphire screen cracked: Accidental drops can break screen | BGR: “My friend was actually more worried than I was that something might have happened, but I reassured him that everything would be fine, as this Watch model has a sapphire display that’s shockingly difficult to crack. Then I picked it up from the ground to show him that the sapphire screen has survived the drop unharmed.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.”

Google Starts Ranking Your Site Based on Mobile Friendliness

We’ve known for a few months that Google was going to start ranking websites based on their ability to be displayed on mobile devices such as phones and tablets as well as traditional laptops and desktops. Looks like April 21 is the big day to have made the switch to a mobile-friendly site:

Big news from Google today: beginning April 21, the company will increase the ranking of sites that are mobile-friendly.

via Google Will Rank Your Site Higher If It’s Mobile Friendly.

Why is this important for non-profits, churches, religious groups, and community orgs in addition to startups and small businesses (most of our clients)?

Because even though search has had to share the limelight with social networks in terms of being “found” and “discovered” on the web, it’s still incredibly important to rank as well as you can in Google as search is still dominant.

You simply can’t afford to have a website that doesn’t display properly on an iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone etc after April 2015.

Don’t Use Admin As Your WordPress Username

We create, host, and manage a number of sites for churches, non-profits, community groups, and businesses. As a part of that, we also spend a good deal of time “behind the scenes” keeping these websites safe and secure. Our clients often don’t realize how much work that entails in 2014 / 2015 with the ongoing proliferation of sophistication and the sheer numbers of bots and bad folks looking to exploit poorly constructed sites or social media accounts to use for other nefarious purposes (nor should they).

Setting up a WordPress site on your own is not hard to do. You have to find a host, click a few selections for your server, then run through the install. It’s gotten tremendously easier over the years. However, if you’re setting up a self-hosted WordPress site, you have to take security seriously.

For example, the screenshot above is just a small sampling of the attempts to “brute force” access to this site from this morning. There are hundreds of these everyday for this site and I see thousands daily for some of our larger clients. You’ll notice the attempts are all trying to gain access to the site with the username “admin.” Before WordPress 3.0, the default for new site installs was to use “admin” as the username. Combine that with the terrible passwords that most people online use, and it’s not hard to see that with enough permutations, the math is there. It’s fairly easy to buy a list of the most commonly used passwords on the web if you know the dark parts of the web to look, as well.

Here are my surface level and generic recommendations if you do decide to set up a WordPress site for your church, group, or business after about a decade of working in this area…

1) Don’t use admin as your login username for WordPress or for any other account whether it will just be you logging in or a team of people.

2) Don’t use a short or “dictionary” phrase password. Use something unique to you and combine numbers, letters, etc as much as you can. That’s not fool proof and there’s research showing that doing so isn’t as effective as it was previously, but it’s still a good practice. Even if you’re “bad at passwords” as most humans claim to be, figure out system for a stronger password. It’s worth your time and it’s important no matter how small or large your site or social media account will be.

3) Use a good plugin such as Sucuri to keep track of security audits, reviews, and monitoring. Again, it’s worth your time and easy to set up email alerts for certain events.

4) Keep track of installed plugins and make sure that no one has installed a plugin that is actually a piece of malware or using your WordPress install for nefarious purposes. This is important especially if you are working with a number of people on a WordPress site and sharing a common user account rather than setting up various users (which you should do for a number of reasons).

5) Update, update, update. Keep your WordPress version, plugins, and themes as updated as possible. That usually means at least a couple of times a month.

Of course, there are many other things to consider but I get this question frequently and wanted to make my initial thoughts easy for others to find. Setting up a WordPress site is a great idea and it’s not terribly difficult. However, do it the right way and make sure you are keeping your brand, visitors, and users free from any potential threats that you can avoid with a little time investment.

Airbnb’s New Logo

Airbnb Belo

Airbnb has released a revision of its site, which is very 2014 modern in its flatness and active card based structure. It’s interesting, but nothing revolutionary or forward looking inside the Silicon Valley bubble. The best aspect is that we’re finally seeing the transition of the cards interface from services to actual physical interactions / products.

The more exceptional part of Airbnb’s visual revision is how they are treating their otherwise lukewarm logo. Airbnb is a confederation of hosts and potential users. While it has to be centralized in terms of the service, listings, etc the very nature of the business is to be democratized. It’s interesting to see their logo embracing that and making the decentralized nature of the business part of its core identity:

“The most revolutionary thing about this brand evolution is we are giving it away to the community,” Mr Conley says. “We are moving from an era of mass production to more individualised production… This is an extension to that. A host with a singular listing in Notting Hill could create their own logo and now we’ve created a micro-entrepreneur with their own brand.”

via Airbnb says its new logo belongs to everyone | Tech blog.

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Meant to post earlier but here’s Ryan Newman’s car for 2014 from pit road before the Southern 500

This is the Saddest “We Sold for $8 Million” Post I’ve Ever Read

Readmill was a fantastic app for reading and discovering new things to read. I’ve enjoyed the small amount of time I spent in the app and am sad it’s going away. The “epilogue” post from their site after the Dropbox acquisition for 8 million is a hard read for fans but the stats below tell a good, but brief, story:

Readmill’s story ends here. Many challenges in the world of ebooks remain unsolved, and we failed to create a sustainable platform for reading. For this, we’re deeply sorry. We considered every option before making the difficult decision to end the product that brought us together.

via Readmill Epilogue – Readmill.

There’s a Reason Why Boring Interfaces Like Reddit Engage Crowds

People visit sites repeatedly because they can do things about things they care about. Here’s a great answer on the topic of why Reddit has such high engagement with people across a variety of backgrounds, age groups, interests, and ideologies despite its rather “ugly” interface:

Read Quote of Oliver Emberton’s answer to reddit (website): Why is reddit so famous despite such a boring interface? on Quorahttp://www.quora.com/widgets/content

In other words Function > Form in most cases (if you’re looking for visitors interested in more than the pretty shingles on your shop).

Simple Websites and Expected Formulas

I’ve built hundreds of WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal sites over the years for clients (and a few for my own endeavors). One of the most frequent conversations I have towards the end of these builds when we get to the aesthetics and flow of a site is how design decisions impact not just “branding” but also user experience.

Websites are not only meant to be representations of a brand or a company. Sites are meant to be the front door of whatever experience a company is trying to express. Or more succinctly, sites are for marketing, not intranets.

Communicating this with clients is something I really enjoy doing, because it involves a bit of give and take. It’s not a one sided conversation by any means and every company or person has their own preconceived notion of what a website in a given category should look like.

Turns out there’s some science behind that and visitor experience to the site…

In a study by Google in August of 2012, researchers found that not only will users judge websites as beautiful or not within 1/50th — 1/20th of a second, but also that “visually complex” websites are consistently rated as less beautiful than their simpler counterparts

Moreover, “highly prototypical” sites — those with layouts commonly associated with sites of its category — with simple visual design were rated as the most beautiful across the board

via Why “Simple” Websites Are Scientifically Superior | SoshiTech – Social Media Technology – Soshitech.com.

The two part conclusion here is important for marketing agencies and companies looking to have a “better” website to consider.

First, overly complicated websites are junk. If Henry Ford had asked people what they had wanted to see in his car, they would have wanted a faster horse. If Steve Jobs had relied on “user expectations” for the iPhone or even iPad, we’d have a physical keyboards and lasers with giant stylus’ attached to our devices.

Building a website isn’t the same as building an iPhone, but you have to manage what you expect users to want with the simplicity of choice (I talk about this more deeply in a ThinkingDaily episode here). It’s easy to think that in 2014, a visitor to your brand spanking new spiffy site would want to be able to click dozens of “sharing” buttons or to see “what’s related” on the web because you see a competitor (or worse, Buzzfeed) doing those things on their site. It’s not true. Keep your site simple and keep your powder dry. Make the visitor convert to whatever you’re preaching with the power of your message and not with overly complicated designs and tons of drop down menus.

Second, users have an expectation of what a banking site, a garden site, a medical site, a social sharing site, a tech site, a lawyer site, a church site etc should look like. If you’ve hired a good developer or designer or agency to help you with your site, they should know this.

What that doesn’t mean is that you know what visitors actually want. There’s lots of research on this, and many of us spend considerable time staying on top of that research. Hiring a website developer, designer or agency should mean more than asking “which young person do I know can build me a website?” for this reason alone.

Sites are important. They are your front door and your exit. They are your first line of marketing and turning a potential visitor into a conversion or they are your worst enemy.

Tread lightly and do your homework.

TC;DR

Andy Beaumont on the plague of Pop-Ups 2.0 and the reason why publishers of all sizes are rushing to put them on their sites (hint.. doing analytics wrong):

I have tested this design pattern with real people, and a significant portion of them believe that they must do what the box is begging them for in order to close the overlay. These people remember, they’re people, not “conversions”, are signing up to a newsletter they don’t want. They’re then going to be irritated by it for several months until they work out how to unsubscribe from it. The analytics guru you brought in is walking away with a chunk of your money, in exchange for having pissed off a whole bunch of existing and potential customers.

via The Value of Content — I. M. H. O. — Medium.

Using Photoshop on my Chromebook

Screenshot_102913_045835_PM

Got to love the Chrome Remote Desktop app that Google has for any Chrome user. I’m at home but easily running Photoshop on my little Chromebook (very fast and non-laggy) while my work PC is downtown.

Chromebook is not just a browser.

Will iOS 7 Be Popular?

When I write popular, I don’t mean in the techmeme indy-app eco-bubble, but in terms of the hoi poloi. I think about my “non-techy” friends and family who are all now on iOS (5 and 6 with lots of 4’s and 4s’ still in my circles) and who still have their 1st page of apps set with the default app that shipped with the phone.

I’m not so sure that sentiments like this will be true in the general market:

Aside from a technological standpoint, I think the most important factor to consider is that users cant wait to get their hands on iOS 7. The new version is a major change, and – at least based on my survey of non-geeky friends – I suspect that more people will upgrade more quickly than last year the launch of iOS 6 surely wasnt helped by doubts surrounding Maps.

via iOS 7 Apps and Aggressive Adoption.

While people like to claim that Google is the new Microsoft and Android is the new Windows, I think a little of the reverse is true.

iOS as it has pretty much looked for the last five years is a staid classic. It is the Windows XP of mobile operating systems while Android has gone on ahead slowly-but-surely building on the back of Linux in much the same way OSX built on the Unix desktop.

While Microsoft released Longhorn Vista and the excellent Windows 7 and the disaster of Windows 8, it almost took an act of Congress to get my family and friends away from Win XP and on to more current architecture.

Many of them eschewed Windows 8 because it was so radically different in the public chatterspace (even though it really isn’t) and I see more and more Macs or Chromebooks now.

iOS 7 has the very real possible future ahead of being “too different” from “what just worked.”

While I love Ive’s aesthetic and Apple’s “we know what’s best for you” design ethos, I’m not so sure that iOS 7’s radical color palate, icon design and gaussian blurs (having used iOS 7 for a few weeks for app development myself) will be a hit in the flyover states.

This is a critical time for Apple and iOS. The launch of iOS 7 and the iPhone 5s and/or 5c (and a retina iPad mini?) come at a time of a literal onslaught of excellent Android devices (Nexus 7, Samsung S4, HTC One, LG G2, possible Nexus 5) and Windows Phones (that Lumia one has a pretty nifty camera at least). Contracts are timing out with the release and people are going to be wondering if now’s the time to make a switch… to iOS 7 or something else.

Should be an interesting October.

Origami iPad

I love the Incase Origami case/stand

Review: The Origami Workstation for iPad — Shawn Blanc: “Well, why not just use the iPad’s smart cover, and carry around the keyboard by itself? I’m glad you asked. For one the Workstation allows me to use the iPad with keyboard on my lap (for times I’m sitting in a conference room or an airport terminal). Secondly, the Workstation offers a sturdier support for the iPad than the Smart Cover. Thus allowing me to press the Home button and navigate the touch screen without using two hands to keep the iPad from tipping over. And if you prefer to type with the iPad in portrait mode, you can do that no problem.”

I’ve been using an Origami case for my Apple keyboard exactly the same way as Shawn (here’s my setup that I take to the office and school, complete with the same Jawbone Jambox) since last May. It’s rugged, stylish and does what it says it does.

Not bad for $30.

Transat Font

I like…

NewImage

23 Beautiful Fonts Released Last Month: “A geometric sans serif typeface, with caps inspired by Art Deco signage found inside the ‘Gare Maritime’ ocean liner terminals in both Le Havre and Cherbourg, France, in the early 1930s.”

Back to Field Notes

I’m insanely excited to be using Field Notes again.

I switch back and forth between Moleskines and Field Notes notebooks, but I’ve definitely missed the feel and experience of a good ad useful notebook lately since being away from Field Notes.

Sure, there are digital ways to capture todos and tasks and thoughts and notes, but ever since my time in the basement of an art gallery, I’ve realized the need for a good notebook.

Feels like an old friend is back.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps Bass

Densely packed and wonderful song, but isolating the bass track really shows Paul’s creativity and ability to add such an ominous feel to what would otherwise be a syrupy song.

Sorta like how McCartney changes the feel of I’m a Loser with the bass (can’t find an original of just Paul’s bass).

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