• Strength in flexibility

    Living with 2 rowdy toddlers and 2 even rowdier pups, I’ve developed an unconscious habit of softening my knees anytime they are horsing around.

    I’ve only recently become self-aware of this. If I’m standing around chatting and a child goes flying by, my immediate instinct is to widen my stance and relax my knees without even pausing my conversation.

    In movies, before a crash, the pilot will often say, “brace for impact.” But parents, skiers, gymnasts, and anyone used to or expecting to take a hard hit to the legs know that tensing up and bracing the body before a blow can do more harm than good.

    Flexibility, combined with a strong foundation, makes us more resilient. The next time you’re facing a tough situation, feeling threatened, or standing your ground, pause. Consider whether flexibility may help you around the conflict.

    The ability to adjust to conflict instead of trying to fight it will only make you stronger.


  • Designing for Humans

    There is a growing trend throughout the web community to embrace an understanding of behavioral science, and to apply its tenets to our designs. This progress helps us walk the delicate balance between providing an emotional and pleasurable experience for our users and communicating content and information through clear, intuitive patterns.

    When the web was first developed, it functioned as a large database, a means of transmitting information from one server to another. Its design was, inherently, mechanic, and placed little emphasis on experience or enjoyment. However, its usefulness as a computing tool was quickly surpassed by its potential to connect. The act of browsing the web grew from a personal, targeted experience (one person looking for specific information) to a multi-user and multi-use phenomena (countless people across the globe exploring a myriad of information and interactions).
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  • A willingness to fail

    What is it about our culture that some people are so keen to fail while others aren’t? The ability to cast off from the shore with the full ability that you may sink is a trait many envy. I envy it.

    In Silicon Valley, failure has become somewhat of a badge of honor. A startup founder who was willing to move on his idea, though it didn’t gain traction, still holds value to venture capitalists and the industry at large.

    The reality is, it’s not the failure that’s impressive, but rather the willingness to take a risk, to expose your brainchild to the evaluation of your peers (and complete strangers) and put it all on the line. Those people who are confident enough in themselves and their skills are willing to risk having nothing in order to have it all, and more importantly, to make something that matters; something that lasts.

    I struggle every day with my fear of failure. I find myself afraid to speak my mind, share my thoughts, write a personal blog post, embark on my own. Working for a startup has eased that. I’m better at sharing ideas that may fail. In fact, many of my ideas do fail, but that makes the ones that stick much stronger.

    As designers, we have to see failure as an opportunity. We must be willing to expose ourselves to criticism and change. To know that version A-L may not be accepted, but version M will be phenomenal. By being willing to fail, we are constantly pushing ourselves forward.

  • The empathy paradox

    Empathy is so hot right now.

    Whether you’re a user experience professional, visual designer, marketer, developer, empathy is the new skill to have. Unfortunately, like most buzz words that become jargon, the value of the word is being lost in the noise.

    What really is empathy? The first definition that may likely come to mind is “the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” Much like its cousins, sympathy and mindfulness, its a skill that requires emotional intelligence and awareness.

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  • What do top UI designers do differently?

    Yesterday, I was asked to answer a question on Quora: What do the top 1% of user interface designers do differently than the other 99%? I think the original poster was assuming that the top eschelon of UI designers use different tools or techniques in their practice.

    However, I see expert UI design differently. Those designers who really meet their mark and set the bar are not the ones posting pixel perfect mocks to Dribbble that would create horrible usability issues in practice; rather, the best UI designers are the ones who create interfaces so intuitive, so simple and clear, that the design itself really fades from view.

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  • This excellent UX quote spoke to me

    I stumbled upon this great article,  Slaying 5 UX myths for the good of mankind, and was blown away by the reality (and humor) of this quote:

    Gone is the view of humans as rational beings who make decisions based on logical reasoning. Embrace instead humans as they are, turning to intuition when too tired to read, making poorer decisions when grumpy and who want to buy from you because you have a pretty smile and you like cats.

    Can I get an “amen”?!
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  • The pre-processor isn’t the problem with your CSS

    There has been a lot of bashing on pre-processors lately, and rightfully so. Sort of.

    Certainly, these tools, such as SCSS and LESS, can result in excessive bloat and specificity issues in their generated CSS. Lyza Gardner struck the nail on the head in A List Apart this month:

    Pre-processors have a way of keeping us at arm’s length from from the CSS we’re building. They put on us a cognitive burden to keep up on what’s evolving in CSS itself along with the tricks we can pull off specific to our pre-processor. Sure, if we’re intrepid, we can keep on top of what comes out the other end. But not everyone does this, and it shows.

    But when it comes to pointing the finger, we should be looking at the author, not the tool he uses.

    Pre-processors caught on largely because they made it easier to create scalable CSS that paralleled the structure of a pattern library. They made it easier to track variants off of a single element without duplicating any code or requiring additional class names on a single HTML element.

    When used correctly, they make coding CSS – and more importantly, maintaining a large CSS code base – so much easier.

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  • Designer: It’s what you do not what you’re called

    As designers, we spend far too much time analyzing how to refer to ourselves. “Product designer, UX/UI designer, visual designer, full-stack designer, lead designer of products”…do any of these really tell you about the person behind the title? If you saw a resume with one of these titles at the top, would it shape your expectations?

    My bet is, no.

    For example, I have reviewed countless resumes for people heralding themselves as a UI/UX designer because they have worked with wireframes. Often times, these individuals have never once spoken to an actual user or conducted any user research.

    But can you blame them? Read any job description for designers, and you’ll think you can only be hired if you can conduct research, generate content, formulate an app’s infrastructure and key interactions, test prototypes, design the whole thing using the latest trends, and then launch the product with CSS, HTML, and Javascript.

    It’s no wonder designers are forced to market themselves as the full package, even if it’s just to get a foot in the door. Plus, descriptions like these contribute to imposters syndrome. Your company may be missing out on the perfect candidate because he didn’t think he fit the full description of what you were seeking.

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  • User Types: The Tourists and The Explorers

    User research is paramount to a well-balanced design process. It helps us create and implement interfaces that adhere to the needs and expectations of our users. But how do we adjust for different behavioral patterns amongst that group?

    People tend to fall into one of two categories – thinkers and doers; cautious and impulsive; perceptive and decisive. Neither of the two is ‘better’ than the other, but they absolutely are distinct.

    In a past life, I was a multi-day raft guide on the Colorado River. Almost all of the people on my trips fell into one of these two groups. Some of my passengers wanted a controlled experience. They wanted to know where we were stopping every day, which rapids we were hitting, what we were serving for each meal, and detailed information about all aspects of the canyon itself. Other people wanted a more adventurous trip. They tended to be the ones who wanted to try and row my boat, who ran up the side hikes in front of the guide without waiting for interp, who came prepared with a swath of information that they had looked up, and who wanted to define their experience for themselves.

    These two types of visitors, both unique in their own right, also shared many things in common. Namely, they still required a guide to get them down the river. They still needed assistance, but they looked for it differently. The latter group would ask which way to go and then take off to explore independently, while the former stuck close to the guide for step-by-step instruction. But they were on the same journey.

    I refer to these two groups as the tourists and the explorers, respectively, and they did not leave those distinctions behind when they left the trip.

    Like my passengers, your users will generally separate into these two groups. One will look for detailed walkthroughs and guidelines while the other will jump right into the interface and start playing around. However, both require a clear and intuitive interface with useful navigation and action-oriented user flows. That’s the common denominator.

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  • Empathetic Design is Honest Design

    Content first. User experience design. These terms are tossed around daily by eager commentators.

    The new trend of “flat design” has been founded on the premise that realistic elements on a web page diminish the experience for the user by presenting a dishonest representation of what the page presents: digital content. Or, as opined by the good folks at Layer Vault who take distinction for naming the trend,

    designing honestly means recognizing that things you can do with screens and input devices can’t be done with physical objects — more importantly that we shouldn’t try copying them.

    This distinction is well-meant, but fallacious. In attempting to justify their decision to break away from the trends of unnecessary realism and skeuomorphism, the writer asserts that realistic design is dishonest. It is not. When done incorrectly, realistic design is bad design. When done correctly, it translates lines of code into a rich experience for the user, one where actions are intuitive, interfaces are beautiful and interactive, and content communicates on a level unobtainable by mere text. When done correctly, it is honest.

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  • This Designer’s Toolbox

    If you ask any web designer or front-end developer what tools they use regularly, the answers will most likely include Photoshop, Illustrator, or another program out of the Adobe Suite; a text editor (I prefer Coda); some sort of color picking tool; maybe a screenshot clipper…

    Outside of these regulars, however, you often don’t hear about the tiny apps that make our days tick. These are the icons that have a permanent place on my dock or menu bar, and are all set to start on login. If you haven’t heard of them, I highly recommend checking them out and seeing how they improve your workflow.

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