I may also feel the need to spout-off about my other interests, including chess, acoustics, and music. So, feel free to drop me a line to tell me how much you think this site sucks!
Some Lite Reading...
- Firefox 31 Released
An anonymous reader writes Mozilla has released version 31 of its Firefox web browser for desktops and Android devices. According to the release notes, major new features include malware blocking for file downloads, automatic handling of PDF and OGG files if no other software is available to do so, and a new certificate verification library. Smaller features include a search field on the new tab page, better support for parental controls, and partial implementation of the OpenType MATH table. Firefox 31 is also loaded with new features for developers. Mozilla also took the opportunity to note the launch of a new game, Dungeon Defenders Eternity, which will run at near-native speeds on the web using asm.js, WebGL, and Web Audio. "We're pleased to see more developers using asm.js to distribute and now monetize their plug-in free games on the Web as it strengthens support for Mozilla's vision of a high performance, plugin-free Web."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Buying New Commercial IT Hardware Isn't Always Worthwhile (Video)
Ben Blair is CTO of MarkITx, a company that brokers used commercial IT gear. This gives him an excellent overview of the marketplace -- not just what companies are willing to buy used, but also what they want to sell as they buy new (or newer) equipment. Ben's main talking point in this interview is that hardware has become so commoditized that in a world where most enterprise software can be virtualized to run across multiple servers, it no longer matters if you have the latest hardware technology; that two older servers can often do the job of one new one -- and for less money, too. So, he says, you should make sure you buy new hardware only when necessary, not just because of the "Ooh... shiny!" factor" (Alternate Video Link)
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Why Are the World's Scientists Continuing To Take Chances With Smallpox?
Lasrick writes: MIT's Jeanne Guillemin looks at the recent blunders with smallpox and H5N1 at the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health to chronicle the fascinating history of smallpox eradication efforts and the attempts (thwarted by Western scientists) to destroy lab collections of the virus in order to make it truly extinct. "In 1986, with no new smallpox cases reported, the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO, resolved to destroy the strain collections and make the virus extinct. But there was resistance to this; American scientists in particular wanted to continue their research." Within a few years, secret biological warfare programs were discovered in Moscow and in Iraq, and a new flurry of defensive research was funded. Nevertheless, Guillemin and others believe that changes in research methods, which no longer require the use of live viruses, mean that stocks of the live smallpox virus can and should finally be destroyed.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Researchers Test Developer Biometrics To Predict Buggy Code
rjmarvin writes: Microsoft Research is testing a new method for predicting errors and bugs while developers write code: biometrics. By measuring a developer's eye movements, physical and mental characteristics as they code, the researchers tracked alertness and stress levels to predict the difficulty of a given task with respect to the coder's abilities. In a paper entitled "Using Psycho-Physiological Measures to Assess Task Difficulty in Software Development," the researchers summarized how they strapped an eye tracker, an electrodermal sensor and an EEG sensor to 15 developers as they programmed for various tasks. Biometrics predicted task difficulty for a new developer 64.99% of the time. For a subsequent tasks with the same developer, the researchers found biometrics to be 84.38% accurate. They suggest using the information to mark places in code that developers find particularly difficult, and then reviewing or refactoring those sections later.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- UK Users Overwhelmingly Spurn Broadband Filters
nk497 (1345219) writes "Broadband customers are overwhelmingly choosing not to use parental-control systems foisted on ISPs by the government — with takeup in the single-digits for three of the four major broadband providers. Last year, the government pushed ISPs to roll out network-level filters, forcing new customers to make an "active" decision about whether they want to use them or not. Only 5% of new BT customers signed up, 8% opted in for Sky and 4% for Virgin Media. TalkTalk rolled out a parental-control system two years before the government required it and has a much better takeup, with 36% of customers signing up for it. The report, from regulator Ofcom, didn't bother to judge if the filters actually work, however."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Ask Slashdot: Linux Login and Resource Management In a Computer Lab?
New submitter rongten (756490) writes I am managing a computer lab composed of various kinds of Linux workstations, from small desktops to powerful workstations with plenty of RAM and cores. The users' $HOME is NFS mounted, and they either access via console (no user switch allowed), ssh or x2go. In the past, the powerful workstations were reserved to certain power users, but now even "regular" students may need to have access to high memory machines for some tasks. Is there a sort of resource management that would allow the following tasks? To forbid a same user to log graphically more than once (like UserLock); to limit the amount of ssh sessions (i.e. no user using distcc and spamming the rest of the machines, or even worse, running in parallel); to give priority to the console user (i.e. automatically renicing remote users jobs and restricting their memory usage); and to avoid swapping and waiting (i.e. all the users trying to log into the latest and greatest machine, so have a limited amount of logins proportional to the capacity of the machine). The system being put in place uses Fedora 20, and LDAP PAM authentication; it is Puppet-managed, and NFS based. In the past I tried to achieve similar functionality via cron jobs, login scripts, ssh and nx management, and queuing system — but it is not an elegant solution, and it is hacked a lot. Since I think these requirements should be pretty standard for a computer lab, I am surprised to see that I cannot find something already written for it. Do you know of a similar system, preferably open source? A commercial solution could be acceptable as well.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Exodus Intelligence Details Zero-Day Vulnerabilities In Tails OS
New submitter I Ate A Candle (3762149) writes Tails OS, the Tor-reliant privacy-focused operating system made famous by Edward Snowden, contains a number of zero-day vulnerabilities that could be used to take control of the OS and execute code remotely. At least that's according to zero-day exploit seller Exodus Intelligence, which counts DARPA amongst its customer base. The company plans to tell the Tails team about the issues "in due time", said Aaron Portnoy, co-founder and vice president of Exodus, but it isn't giving any information on a disclosure timeline. This means users of Tails are in danger of being de-anonymised. Even version 1.1, which hit public release today (22 July 2014), is affected. Snowden famously used Tails to manage the NSA files. The OS can be held on a USB stick and leaves no trace once removed from the drive. It uses the Tor network to avoid identification of the user, but such protections may be undone by the zero-day exploits Exodus holds.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Netflix Reduces Physical-Disc Processing, Keeps Prices the Same
Nom du Keyboard writes: After seeing a drop in my DVD service from Netflix I got a customer service representative tonight to confirm that Netflix has ceased processing DVD returns on Saturdays nationwide. And that they did this without notifying their customers, or reducing prices to compensate for the reduced service. Given that the DVD selection still far outstrips their streaming selection, this may be news to others like myself who don't find streaming an adequate replacement for plastic discs. My experience up until recently, unlike Netflix's promise of a 1-3 day turnaround at their end which gives them lots of wiggle room to degrade service even further, had been of mailing in a DVD on day one, having them receive it and mail out my next selection on day two, and receiving it on day three. Now with them only working 5 days and many U.S. Post Office holidays, they're still getting the same money for significantly less. The Netflix shipping FAQ confirms the change, and a spokesperson said, "Saturdays have been low volume ship days for us."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- NVIDIA Launches Tegra K1-Based SHIELD Tablet, Wireless Controller
MojoKid (1002251) writes NVIDIA just officially announced the SHIELD Tablet (powered by their Tegra K1 SoC) and SHIELD wireless controller. As the SHIELD branding implies, the new SHIELD tablet and wireless controller builds upon the previously-released, Android-based SHIELD portable to bring a gaming-oriented tablet to consumers. The SHIELD Tablet and wireless controller are somewhat of mashup of the SHIELD portable and the Tegra Note 7, but featuring updated technology and better build materials. You could think of the SHIELD Tablet and wireless controller as an upgraded SHIELD portable gaming device, with the screen de-coupled from the controller. The device features NVIDIA's Tegra K1 SoC, paired to 2GB of RAM and an 8", full-HD IPS display, with a native resolution of 1920x1200. There are also a pair of 5MP cameras on the SHIELD Tablet (front and rear), 802.11a/b/g/n 2x2 MIMO WiFi configuration, GPS, a 9-axis motion sensor, and Bluetooth 4.0 LE. In addition to the WiFi-only version (which features 16GB of internal storage), NVIDIA has a 32GB version coming with LTE connectivity as well. NVIDIA will begin taking pre-orders for the SHIELD Tablet and wireless controller immediately.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- AirMagnet Wi-Fi Security Tool Takes Aim At Drones
alphadogg (971356) writes "In its quest to help enterprises seek out and neutralize all threats to their Wi-Fi networks, AirMagnet is now looking to the skies. In a free software update to its AirMagnet Enterprise product last week, the Wi-Fi security division of Fluke Networks added code specifically crafted to detect the Parrot AR Drone, a popular unmanned aerial vehicle that costs a few hundred dollars and can be controlled using a smartphone or tablet. Drones themselves don't pose any special threat to Wi-Fi networks, and AirMagnet isn't issuing air pistols to its customers to shoot them down. The reason the craft are dangerous is that they can be modified to act as rogue access points and sent into range of a victim's wireless network, potentially breaking into a network to steal data."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- MIT' Combines Carbon Foam and Graphite Flakes For Efficient Solar Steam Generati
rtoz (2530056) writes Researchers at MIT have developed a new spongelike material structure which can use 85% of incoming solar energy for converting water into steam. This spongelike structure has a layer of graphite flakes and an underlying carbon foam. This structure has many small pores. It can float on the water, and it will act as an insulator for preventing heat from escaping to the underlying liquid. As sunlight hits the structure, it creates a hotspot in the graphite layer, generating a pressure gradient that draws water up through the carbon foam. As water seeps into the graphite layer, the heat concentrated in the graphite turns the water into steam. This structure works much like a sponge. It is a significant improvement over recent approaches to solar-powered steam generation. And, this setup loses very little heat in the process, and can produce steam at relatively low solar intensity. If scaled up, this setup will not require complex, costly systems to highly concentrate sunlight.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- MIT' Combines Carbon Foam and Graphite Flakes For Efficient Solar Steam Generation
rtoz (2530056) writes Researchers at MIT have developed a new spongelike material structure which can use 85% of incoming solar energy for converting water into steam. This spongelike structure has a layer of graphite flakes and an underlying carbon foam. This structure has many small pores. It can float on the water, and it will act as an insulator for preventing heat from escaping to the underlying liquid. As sunlight hits the structure, it creates a hotspot in the graphite layer, generating a pressure gradient that draws water up through the carbon foam. As water seeps into the graphite layer, the heat concentrated in the graphite turns the water into steam. This structure works much like a sponge. This new material is able to use 85 percent of incoming solar energy for converting water into steam. It is a significant improvement over recent approaches to solar-powered steam generation. And, this setup loses very little heat in the process, and can produce steam at relatively low solar intensity. i-e if scaled up, this setup will not require complex, costly systems to highly concentrate sunlight.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- For Now, UK Online Pirates Will Get 4 Warnings -- And That's It
New submitter Tmackiller writes with an excerpt from VG247.com: The British government has decriminalised online video game, music and movie piracy, scrapping fuller punishment plans after branding them unworkable. Starting in 2015, persistent file-sharers will be sent four warning letters explaining their actions are illegal, but if the notes are ignored no further action will be taken. The scheme, named the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP), is the result of years of talks between ISPs, British politicians and the movie and music industries. The UK's biggest providers – BT, TalkTalk, Virgin and Sky – have all signed up to VCAP, and smaller ISPs are expected to follow suit. VCAP replaces planned anti-piracy measures that included cutting users' internet connections and creating a database of file-sharers. Geoff Taylor, chief executive of music trade body the BPI, said VCAP was about "persuading the persuadable, such as parents who do not know what is going on with their net connection." He added: "VCAP is not about denying access to the internet. It's about changing attitudes and raising awareness so people can make the right choice." Officials will still work to close and stem funding to file-sharing sites, but the news appears to mean that the British authorities have abandoned legal enforcement of online media piracy. Figures recently published by Ofcom said that nearly a quarter of all UK downloads were of pirated content." Tmackiller wants to know "Will this result in more private lawsuits against file sharers by the companies involved?"
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- A New Form of Online Tracking: Canvas Fingerprinting
New submitter bnortman (922608) was the first to write in with word of "a new research paper discussing a new form of user fingerprinting and tracking for the web using the HTML 5 <canvas> ." globaljustin adds more from an article at Pro Publica: Canvas fingerprinting works by instructing the visitor's Web browser to draw a hidden image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, the images can be used to assign each user's device a number that uniquely identifies it. ... The researchers found canvas fingerprinting computer code ... on 5 percent of the top 100,000 websites. Most of the code was on websites that use the AddThis social media sharing tools. Other fingerprinters include the German digital marketer Ligatus and the Canadian dating site Plentyoffish. ... Rich Harris, chief executive of AddThis, said that the company began testing canvas fingerprinting earlier this year as a possible way to replace cookies ...
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Print Isn't Dead: How Linux Voice Crowdfunded a New Magazine
M-Saunders (706738) writes The death of print has been predicted for years, and many magazines and publishers have taken a big hit with the rise of eBooks and tablets. But not everyone has given up. Four geeks quit their job at an old Linux magazine to start Linux Voice, an independent GNU/Linux print and digital mag with a different publishing model: giving profits and content back to the community. Six months after a successful crowdfunding campaign, the magazine is going well, so here is the full story.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Experiment Shows People Exposed To East German Socialism Cheat More
An anonymous reader writes The Economist reports, "'UNDER capitalism', ran the old Soviet-era joke, 'man exploits man. Under communism it is just the opposite.' In fact new research suggests that the Soviet system inspired not just sarcasm but cheating too: in East Germany, at least, communism appears to have inculcated moral laxity. Lars Hornuf of the University of Munich and Dan Ariely, Ximena García-Rada and Heather Mann of Duke University ran an experiment last year to test Germans' willingness to lie for personal gain. Some 250 Berliners were randomly selected to take part in a game where they could win up to €6 ($8). ... The authors found that, on average, those who had East German roots cheated twice as much as those who had grown up in West Germany under capitalism. They also looked at how much time people had spent in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The longer the participants had been exposed to socialism, the greater the likelihood that they would claim improbable numbers ... when it comes to ethics, a capitalist upbringing appears to trump a socialist one."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- MIT's Ted Postol Presents More Evidence On Iron Dome Failures
Lasrick (2629253) writes In a controversial article last week, MIT physicist Ted Postol again questioned whether Israel's vaunted Iron Dome rocket defense system actually works. This week, he comes back with evidence in the form of diagrams, photos of Iron Dome intercepts and contrails, and evidence on the ground to show that Iron Dome in fact is effective only about 5% of the time. Postol believes the real reason there are so few Israeli casualties is that Hamas rockets have very small warheads (only 10 to 20 pounds), and also Israel's outstanding civil defense system, which includes a vast system of shelters and an incredibly sophisticated rocket attack warning system (delivered through smart phones, among other ways).
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- No RIF'd Employees Need Apply For Microsoft External Staff Jobs For 6 Months
theodp (442580) writes So, what does Microsoft do for an encore after laying off 18,000 employees with a hilariously bad memo? Issue another bad memo — Changes to Microsoft Network and Building Access for External Staff — "to introduce a new policy [retroactive to July 1] that will better protect our Microsoft IP and confidential information." How so? "The policy change affects [only] US-based external staff (including Agency Temporaries, Vendors and Business Guests)," Microsoft adds, "and limits their access to Microsoft buildings and the Microsoft corporate network to a period of 18 months, with a required six-month break before access may be granted again." Suppose Microsoft feels that's where the NSA went wrong with Edward Snowden? And if any soon-to-be-terminated Microsoft employees hope to latch on to a job with a Microsoft external vendor to keep their income flowing, they best think again. "Any Microsoft employee who separated from Microsoft on or after July 1, 2014," the kick-em-while-they're-down memo explains, "will be required to take a minimum 6-month break from access between the day the employee separates from Microsoft and the date when the former employee may begin an assignment as an External Staff performing services for Microsoft." Likely not just to prevent leaks, but also to prevent any contractors from being reclassified as employees.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Rupert Murdoch's Quest To Buy Time Warner: Not Done Yet
Presto Vivace (882157) writes It seems that Murdoch's desire to acquire Time Warner predates his acquisition of Fox, and continues in spite of Time Warner's recent refusal. The possible deal is important in and of itself, but it also affects the future leadership of Fox. From the article: "Murdoch's skill is not just hiring the right people; he has been able to maintain control over them. They have his support as long as they produce results. His executives are the hired help. There is never any threat to his control. When a Murdoch favourite begins to get more headlines than the chairman, the clock begins ticking for their departure. But with the Time Warner bid, that balance may change. Chase Carey has put together a deal that, because of Murdoch's history, is almost irresistible to him. But it's a deal only Carey can put together. If he succeeds, the $US160 billion company that will emerge will be an ungainly beast that will depend on Carey making the merger work. He's indispensable." Clearly we have not heard the last of this.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Mimicking Vesicle Fusion To Make Gold Nanoparticles Easily Penetrate Cells
rtoz (2530056) writes A special class of tiny gold particles can easily slip through cell membranes, making them good candidates to deliver drugs directly to target cells. A new study from MIT materials scientists reveals that these nanoparticles enter cells by taking advantage of a route normally used in vesicle-vesicle fusion, a crucial process that allows signal transmission between neurons. MIT engineers created simulations of how a gold nanoparticle coated with special molecules can penetrate a membrane. Paper (abstract; full text paywalled).
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- The Loophole Obscuring Facebook and Google's Transparency Reports
Jason Koebler writes The number of law enforcement requests coming from Canada for information from companies like Facebook and Google are often inaccurate thanks to a little-known loophole that lumps them in with U.S. numbers. For example, law enforcement and government agencies in Canada made 366 requests for Facebook user data in 2013, according to the social network's transparency reports. But that's not the total number. An additional 16 requests are missing, counted instead with U.S. requests thanks to a law that lets Canadian agencies make requests with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- NASA Names Building For Neil Armstrong
An anonymous reader writes A building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where Apollo astronauts once trained, was named in honor of astronaut Neil Armstrong. Armstrong, who died in 2012, was remembered at a ceremony as not only an astronaut, but also as an aerospace engineer, test pilot, and university professor. NASA renamed the Operations and Checkout building, also known as the O&C, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been the last stop for astronauts before their flights since 1965. It was also used to test and process Apollo spacecraft. Currently, it's where the Orion spacecraft is being assembled to send astronauts to an asteroid and later to Mars.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- The "Rickmote Controller" Can Hijack Any Google Chromecast
redletterdave writes Dan Petro, a security analyst for the Bishop Fox IT consulting firm, built a proof of concept device that's able to hack into any Google Chromecasts nearby to project Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," or any other video a prankster might choose. The "Rickmote," which is built on top of the $35 Raspberry Pi single board computer, finds a local Chromecast device, boots it off the network, and then takes over the screen with multimedia of one's choosing. But it gets worse for the victims: If the hacker leaves the range of the device, there's no way to regain control of the Chromecast. Unfortunately for Google, this is a rather serious issue with the Chromecast device that's not too easy to fix, as the configuration process is an essential part of the Chromecast experience.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Activist Group Sues US Border Agency Over New, Vast Intelligence System
An anonymous reader writes with news about one of the latest unanswered FOIA requests made to the Department of Homeland Security and the associated lawsuit the department's silence has brought. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has sued the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in an attempt to compel the government agency to hand over documents relating to a relatively new comprehensive intelligence database of people and cargo crossing the US border. EPIC's lawsuit, which was filed last Friday, seeks a trove of documents concerning the 'Analytical Framework for Intelligence' (AFI) as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. EPIC's April 2014 FOIA request went unanswered after the 20 days that the law requires, and the group waited an additional 49 days before filing suit. The AFI, which was formally announced in June 2012 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), consists of "a single platform for research, analysis, and visualization of large amounts of data from disparate sources and maintaining the final analysis or products in a single, searchable location for later use as well as appropriate dissemination."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- How One School District Handled Rolling Out 20,000 iPads
First time accepted submitter Gamoid writes This past school year, the Coachella Valley Unified School District gave out iPads to every single student. The good news is that kids love them, and only 6 of them got stolen or went missing. The bad news is, these iPads are sucking so much bandwidth that it's keeping neighboring school districts from getting online. Here's why the CVUSD is considering becoming its own ISP.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- This week's sponsor: Bigstock
- Laura Kalbag on Freelance Design: I Don’t Like It
“I don’t like it”—The most dreaded of all design feedback from your client/boss/co-worker. This isn’t so much a matter of your ego being damaged, it’s just not useful or constructive criticism.
In order to do better we need feedback grounded in understanding of user needs. And we need to be sure it’s not coming from solely the client’s aesthetic preferences, which may be impeccable but may not be effective for the product.
Aesthetics are a matter of taste. Design is not just aesthetics. I’m always saying it, but it’s worth repeating: there are aesthetic decisions in design, but they are meant to contribute to the design as a whole. The design as a whole is created for an audience, and with goals in mind, so objectivity is required and should be encouraged.
Is the client offering an opinion based on her own taste, trying to reflect the taste of the intended audience, or trying to solve a perceived problem for the user? Don’t take “I don’t like it” at face value and try to respond to it without more communication.
How do we elicit better feedback?
To elicit the type of feedback we want from clients, we should encourage open-ended critiques that explain the reasons behind the negative feedback, critiques that make good use of conjunctions like “because.” “I don’t like it because…” is already becoming more valuable feedback.
Whether that audience can achieve their goals with our product is the primary factor in its success. We need clients to understand that they may not be the target audience. Sometimes this can be hard for anyone close to a product to understand. We may be one of the users of the products we’re designing, but the product is probably not being designed solely for users like us. The product has a specific audience, with specific goals. Once we’ve re-established the importance of the end user, we can then reframe the feedback by asking the question, “how might the users respond?”
Throughout the design process, we need to check our hidden assumptions about our users. We should also ensure any feedback we get isn’t based upon an unfounded assumption. If the client says the users won’t like it, ask why. Uncover the assumption—maybe it’s worth testing with real users?
How do we best separate out assumptions from actual knowledge? Any sweeping generalizations about users, particularly those that assume users all share common traits, are likely to need testing. A thorough base of user research, with evidence to fall back on, will give you a much better chance at spotting these assumptions.
The design conversation
As designers, we can’t expect other people to know the right language to describe exactly why they think something doesn’t work. We need to know the right questions that prompt a client to give constructive criticism and valuable feedback. I’ve written before on how we can pre-empt problems by explaining our design decisions when we share our work, but it’s impossible to cover every minute detail and the relationships between them. If a client can’t articulate why they don’t like the design as a whole, break the design into components and try to narrow down which part isn’t working for them.
When you’ve zeroed in on a component, elicit some possible reasons that it might not be effective.
Reining it in
Aesthetics are very much subject to taste. You know what colors you like to wear, and the people you find attractive, and you don’t expect everyone else to share those same tastes. Nishant wrote a fantastic column about how Good Taste Doesn’t Matter and summarized it best when he said:
If you’re making suggestions, don’t let a client say yes to your first one. These suggestions aren’t meant as an easy-out, allowing them to quickly get something changed to fit their taste. This is an opportunity to brainstorm potential alternatives on the spot. Working collaboratively is the important part here, so don’t just go away to work out the first alternative by yourself.
If you can work out between you which solution is most likely to be successful, the client will be more committed to the iteration. You’ll both have ownership, and you’ll both understand why you’ve decided to make it that way.
- Kids 4–6: “The Muddy Middle”
I call kids between ages 4 and 6 the “muddy middle,” because they’re stuck right in between the cute, cuddly preschool children and the savvy, sophisticated elementary-schoolers. They’re too old for games designed for toddlers, but they can’t quite read yet, so they struggle with sites and apps geared toward older kids. Unfortunately, you rarely see a digital product designed specifically for this age group, because they’re hard to pin down, but these little guys are full of ideas, knowledge, creativity, and charisma.
Like the 2–4s, these children are still in the preoperational stage, but they present their own set of design challenges based on where they are cognitively, physically, and emotionally.
Who are they?
Table 5.1 shows some key characteristics that shape the behavior and attitudes of 4–6-year-olds and how these might impact your design decisions.
You’ll find that 4–6-year-olds have learned “the rules” for how to behave, how to communicate, and how to play. Now they’re looking for ways to bend and break these rules. They understand limitations—angry parents, broken toys, and sad friends have taught them well—but they still take every opportunity to test these limitations. Digital environments provide a perfect place for these active kids to challenge the status quo and learn more about the world around them.
4–6 year-olds… This means that… You’ll want to… Are empathetic. They’re beginning to see things from other perspectives. Make interactions feel more “social,” even if the kids aren’t actually communicating with others. Have an intense curiosity about the world. They’re very interested in learning new ideas, activities, and skills, but may become frustrated when that learning takes longer than they would like. Set attainable goals for the tasks and activities you create. Provide context-based help and support so kids have an easier time processing information. Are easily sidetracked. They sometimes have trouble following through on a task or activity. Keep activities simple, short, and rewarding. Provide feedback and encouragement after milestones. Have wild imaginations. They prefer to create on their own rather than following strict instructions or step-by- step directions. Make “rules” for play/engagement as basic as possible and allow for a lot of invention, self-expression, and storytelling. Are developing increased memory function. Can recall complex sequences of events just by watching someone perform them. Include multi-step activities and games, with more than one main goal (for example, touch the red stars and green apples to get points of different values). Table 5.1: Considerations for 4–6-year-olds
Make it social
When you think of social design for adults, you may think of experiences that let users communicate and interact with others. The same is true of social design for kids, but in this case, “others” doesn’t have to mean other kids or even other humans. It means that kids need to feel like part of the experience, and they need to be able to observe and understand the interactions of characters in the experience, as players and contributors. Kids at this age understand that individual differences, feelings, and ideas are important and exciting. Showcasing these differences within the experience and directly communicating with users allows this social aspect to come through and provide additional depth and context to interactions.
Sometimes, making something feel social is as easy as presenting it in the first person. When characters, elements, and instructions speak directly to kids, it makes it easier for them to empathize and immerse themselves in the experience.
Let’s take a look at an example from Seussville. The designers of this highly engaging site keep the uniqueness of Dr. Seuss’s characters vibrantly alive in their lovely character chooser. Every character (and I do mean every) from every Dr. Seuss book glides by on whimsical conveyor belts, letting the user pick one to play with (see Figure 5.1).
This character chooser provides a strong social experience for kids, because it allows them to “meet” and build relationships with the individual characters. Kids can control the viewer, from a first-person perspective, to see the visual differences among the characters, as well as personality details that make the characters unique, much like how they’d go about meeting people in real life (without the conveyor belt, of course).
When users choose a character, they are shown a quote, a book list, and details about the character on the pull-down screen to the right. On the left side of the screen, a list of games and activities featuring the character magically appears.
This social experience is carried through across most of the games on the site. For example, when users pick the “Horton Hears a Tune” game from Horton the elephant’s list of activities, they can compose their own melody on the groovy organ-like instrument under the supportive eyes of Horton himself. Then, in true social fashion, they can save their tune and share it with family and friends.
Make learning part of the game
As a designer, you know that providing help when and where your users need it works better than forcing them to leave the task they’re trying to complete to get help. This is especially true for 4–6-year-olds, who have a strong curiosity for why things are the way they are and want to know everything right away. Unlike the “school stinks” mentality of earlier generations, today’s kids are fascinated with learning and want to soak up as much information as possible.
This new attitude could be because learning is more dynamic, more hands-on, and more inventive than it’s been in the past, or because computers, tablets, and other digital teaching tools make learning fun. However, younger kids still lack patience when learning takes longer than they’d like. You’ll want to provide short, manageable instructions to make learning fast, easy, and pleasurable, and to incorporate learning into the experience itself.
The Dinosaur Chess app does a great job with structured teaching, as well as on-the-spot assistance to help kids learn how to play chess (see Figure 5.4). Upon launching the app, children get to choose what they want to do. The great thing about Dinosaur Chess is that it’s not just all about chess—kids can take lessons, check their overall progress, and even participate in a “dino fight!”
One perk is how the app links the activities via a treasure-hunt-style map on the menu screen. It gently recommends a progression through the activities (which older kids will follow), but is subtle enough to allow exploration. This feature is great for kids who like to break the rules, because it establishes a flow, yet invites users to deviate from it in a subtle yet effective way.
When users select the “learn” option, they are taken to a screen where an avuncular dinosaur (who, for some reason, is Scottish) talks kids through the mechanics of chess in a non-intimidating way. Since these kids are still learning to read, the designers used voice-overs instead of text, which works really well here.
The lessons are broken up into short, manageable chunks—essential for learning via listening—which let the 4–6s learn a little at a time and progress when they are ready. The children can also try out various moves after learning them, which is particularly effective with younger users who learn by seeing and doing (see Figure 5.5).
If this app were designed for an adult audience, the lessons would be a little longer and would probably include text explanations in addition to the audio, since a combination of listening and reading works best for grown-ups. However, the brief audio segments coupled with animated examples are perfect for younger users’ short attention spans and desire to learn as much as quickly as possible.
My favorite aspect of Dinosaur Chess is its guided playing. At any point during the game, kids can press the “?” button for help. Instead of popping a layer, which many sites and apps do (even those designed for a younger audience), Dinosaur Chess uses subtle animation and voice-overs to show the users what their next moves should be, as shown in Figure 5.6.
Give feedback and reinforcement
As anyone knows who has dealt with this age group, 4–6-year-olds have short attention spans. This is particularly true of the younger ones, because kids ages 6 and up are able to pay attention for longer periods of time and absorb more information in a single session. What’s interesting (and challenging) about these younger ones is that they get frustrated at themselves for not being able to focus, and then they channel that frustration onto the experience.
A common response to this from designers is: “Well, I’ll make my app/game/site super fun and interesting so that kids will want to play longer.” That’s not going to happen. A better approach is to identify opportunities within the experience to provide feedback, in order to encourage kids to continue.
Here are some ways to keep children focused on a particular activity:
- Limit distractions. With a child audience, designers tend to want to make everything on the screen do something, but if you want your 4–6s to complete a task (for example, finish a puzzle or play a game), then remove extra functionality.
- Break it up. As when you’re designing for 2–4s, it’s best to break activities for 4–6s into manageable components. The components can be a bit bigger than ones you might design for a younger audience, but many clear, simple steps are better than fewer, longer ones. While adult users prefer to complete as few steps as possible, and scroll down to finish a task on a screen, 4–6s like finishing a step and moving to a new screen.
- Make it rewarding. Provide feedback after each piece of an activity is completed, which will help your users stay motivated to continue. If you have the time and budget, use a combination of feedback mechanisms, to keep an element of surprise and discovery in the task-completion process.
Keep it free-form
The 4–6-age bracket gravitates toward activities that are open and free-form, with simple, basic rules (and lots of opportunities to deviate from the rules). This changes pretty dramatically when kids hit age 7 or so. At that point, they become quite focused on staying within boundaries and need a certain level of structure in order to feel comfortable. However, these younger kids like to break the rules and test limits, and digital environments are the perfect places to do this.
Zoopz.com has a great mosaic-maker tool, which lets kids enhance existing mosaic designs or create their own from scratch (see Figures 5.7 and 5.8).
The nice thing about Zoopz is that it requires little to no explanation in order to make mosaics—kids can jump right in and start playing. This feature is important, as younger ones will get frustrated if they need to listen to detailed instructions before getting started and will likely move on to something else before the instructions are complete. Typically, 4- and 5-year-olds will leave websites and close apps that they can’t immediately figure out. Older kids will hang around and pay attention to directions if the perceived reward is high enough, but young ones abandon the site right away. So if your game allows for free exploration, make sure that it’s really free and doesn’t require lots of information in order to play.
An important thing to note about open exploration/creation: If you’re designing something with a “takeaway,” as Zoopz is, make sure that kids can either print or save their creations. The only thing kids like better than playing by their own rules is showing their work to others. Zoopz misses an opportunity here, because it doesn’t offer the ability for kids to share their work, or print it out to show to friends and family. This feature becomes even more important as kids get older. We’ll talk at length about sharing, saving, and storing in Chapter 6, “Kids 6–8: The Big Kids.”
Keep it challenging
The worst insult from a child between the ages of 4 and 5 is to call something “babyish.” They’re part of the big-kid crowd now, and the last thing they want is to feel like they’re using a site or playing a game that’s meant for younger kids. Unfortunately, it’s hard to pin down exactly what “babyish” means, because the definition changes from kid to kid, but in my experience, children call something “babyish” when it’s not difficult or challenging enough for them. Since kids show increased memory function (and more sophisticated motor skills) starting at around age 4, adding multiple steps to games and activities helps keep them on their toes.
As designers, we instinctively want to make stuff that users can master immediately. If you’re designing for elementary-school kids, you’ll want to move away from that mindset. While it’s true that children need to be able to easily figure out the objectives of a game or app right away, they don’t necessarily have to do it perfectly the first time. Instead, build in easier layers early on so that kids can complete them quickly, but throw in some extras that might be a little harder for them. For example, if you’re designing a game where kids have to shoot at flying objects, send in a super-fast projectile they have to catch to win extra points or add a harder “bonus round.” Kids will be less likely to call something “babyish” if it takes them several tries to master. And they’ll appreciate the vote of confidence you’re giving to their memory and agility.
Parents are users, too
When adding complexity to your game or app, you’ll still need to make the basic premise simple and clear. A little parental intervention is sometimes necessary, in order to explain rules and demonstrate interactions, but when parents or siblings have to become very involved in game mechanics, it’s frustrating for all parties.
Try not to place too much emphasis on “winning” and keep the perceived “rewards” small and unexciting, if you have them at all. Kids tend to ask parents to step in and help with the trickier parts if the reward for winning is really high. While I believe that a parent should be in the room when kids are online and should check on kids frequently when they’re using a device, too much involvement takes away some autonomy from the kids and prevents them from learning as much as they could and should.
Here’s a checklist for designing for 4–6-year-olds.
Does your design cover the following areas?
- Feel “social”?
- Break up instructions and progression into manageable chunks?
- Provide immediate positive feedback after each small milestone?
- Allow for invention and self-expression?
- Include multi-step activities to leverage improved memory function?
- This week's sponsor: Applause
Applause ensures your web and mobile apps work every time, everywhere, for every user! Learn how we can help.
Applause has a free ebook for our readers that covers:
Overcoming Common QA Challenges: Avoid the frequent hang-ups of functionality, design and more
Mobile Web vs. Native Apps: Both mobile, but very different testing challenges
Expanded Testing Coverage: The testing matrix covers OS, device, carrier and more
- Longform Content with Craft Matrix
Jason Santa Maria recently shared some thoughts about pacing content, and my developer brain couldn’t help but think about how I’d go about building the examples he talked about.
The one fool-proof way to achieve heavily art-directed layouts like those is to write the HTML by hand. The problem is that content managers are not always developers, and the code can get complex pretty quickly. That’s why we use content management systems—to give content managers easier and more powerful control over content.
There’s a constant tension between that type of longform, art-directed content and content management systems, though. It’s tough to wrangle such unique layouts and styles into a standardized CMS that scales over time.
For a while, the best we could do was a series of custom fields and a big WYSIWYG editor for the body copy. While great for content entry, WYSIWYG editors lack the control developers need to output the semantic and clean HTML that make the great experiences and beautiful layouts we’re tasked with building.
This tension leaves developers like myself looking for different ways to manage content. My attention recently has been focused on Craft, a new CMS that is just over a year old.
Craft’s solution for longform content is the Matrix field. With Matrix, developers have the flexibility to provide custom fields to be used for content entry, and can write custom templates (using Twig, in Craft’s case) to be used to render that content.
A Matrix field is made up of blocks, and each block type is made up of fields—anything from text inputs, to rich text, dropdowns, images, tables, and more. Here’s what a typical Matrix setup looks like:
Instead of fighting with a WYSIWYG editor, content managers choose block types to add to the longform content area, fill out the provided fields, and the content is rendered beautifully using the handcrafted HTML written by developers. I use the Matrix field to drive longform content on my own site, and you can see how much flexibility it gives me to create interesting layouts filled with images with captions, quotes with citations, and more.
To pull back the curtain a bit, here’s how my blog post Unsung Success is entered into the Matrix field:
Three block types are used in the post seen above—an image block, a quote block, and a text block. Notice that the text block is using a WYSIWYG editor for text formatting—they’re still good for some things!
The Matrix field is endlessly customizable, and provides the level of flexibility, control, and power that is needed to achieve well-paced, art-directed longform content like the examples Jason shared. This is a huge first step beyond WYSIWYG editors and custom fields, and as we see more beautifully designed longform pieces, our tools will only get better.
- Nishant Kothary on the Human Web: In Pursuit of Facebook Happiness
The outrage being directed at Facebook right now centers on its experiment in manipulating the emotions of 689,003 users in 2012.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, there’s no denying the phantasmagorical irony that we’re upset (and sad) about how Facebook affects our emotions thanks to learning about a study where Facebook affected our emotions through someone on Facebook. Maybe that, too, was to be expected.
One of the motivations for Facebook’s controversial study was to debunk the notion that seeing our friends’ happy posts in our news feeds actually makes us sadder. And according to a post by Adam Kramer, the primary author of the study, it did exactly that, “We found the exact opposite to what was then the conventional wisdom: Seeing a certain kind of emotion (positive) encourages it rather than suppresses it.”
But, how profound is this effect on users’ overall enjoyment while they’re using Facebook? That remains unknown, and in my experience, it’s not much at all.
We already know that social media has a profound effect on our emotions. I’ve personally struggled with the emotional rollercoaster for years now. My Achilles’ heel used to be Twitter because I used to be a heavy user. I even quit the service for a whole year to regain my bearings. And while the hiatus turned out to be very positive, I didn’t quite get to the bottom of what inevitably turns me off about Twitter. And then, of course, there was Facebook.
Facebook affected my mood so dramatically that I’d stopped using it entirely for years until a few months ago. I used to refer to Facebook as, “The place my Instagram pictures go to die.” This was partly in jest, partly serious. My Instagram account is dedicated to my dog, and it’s hard to not notice that a picture or video that can get a few hundred likes, spur over a hundred comments, and bring so much joy to both me and my followers is often met with dead silence or, worse, scorn on Facebook (and honestly, on Twitter as well). There are many reasons for this, several that I covered in one of my prior columns, The REAL Real Problem with Facebook. But there is one above all: Not everyone is interested in pictures of my dog.
OK, so this isn’t really news, and it’s hardly blasphemous. It’s understandable that people wouldn’t want to see images of someone else’s dog every day. But then why the disparity between how enthusiastically my content is received on Instagram as opposed to Facebook (or even Twitter)? Therein lies the key to the puzzle.
It’s really quite simple: people follow me on Instagram specifically for pictures of my Weimaraner (yes, it’s a notoriously difficult to pronounce dog breed).
I never intended on turning my Instagram account into a dog account. It just happened. And in the process I met loads of Weimaraner (and dog) people from around the world (some whom, true story, I’ve subsequently met in real life). I now honor an informal contract to only post pictures of my dog. And what happens when I break that contract and post the occasional picture of something else? I’m rewarded with crickets in terms of engagement.
What escaped me back when I quit Twitter or when I silently shunned Facebook was that the negativity or the positivity of the posts wasn’t even relevant to the compounding effect of the social network on my emotional well being. What was more to blame was the lack of engagement; the lack of feeling a connection. As much as we do in all life, online we want to meet, engage, and be engaged by others who share our passions and interests. And when that doesn’t happen, well, it can be a bummer.
Over the past few months I’ve joined numerous groups related to my interests on Facebook (yes, including a Weimaraner group). The result is that my Facebook news feed is now flooded with content I enjoy far more. I’ve essentially hacked my Facebook world to feel a lot more like my Instagram world—more focused on my interests and pastimes. Sharing and talking with folks who care about the same things has made Facebooking infinitely more enjoyable. In an unexpected way, I think it has also helped me understand the mid-conversation exclamations I receive from some people about how much they love Pinterest.
One would think that Pinterest would be the ideal social network for most of us, especially me. After all, on Pinterest you can follow someone’s Weimaraner board, and dodge all their gardening, baby, culinary, and political content. What’s not to like? Well, clearly something, because like loads of people, I’ve never quite gotten into Pinterest. I have some theories why that’s the case, but my disinterest is beside the point. What seems clear to me is that Pinterest is really onto something. We need a social network that acknowledges that we all have facets, and that it’s OK for us to pick and choose each other based on our interests. In my experience, the amount of happiness you feel on a social network seems to relate more closely to how much the content caters to your interests.
So, if you’re looking to maximize your happiness on social networks, here’s the short-term solution: fill your account with content that’s interesting to you. Like or follow your favorite sports teams, TV shows, clubs, non-profits, news organizations, web design magazines, and anything else you’re into. In other words, make your feeds about things you genuinely like, happy or sad, instead of about your real-world social obligations.
And that may also mean muting or unfollowing the people filling your feed with posts about their gardens, babies, food, or politics.
Or, god forbid, their dogs.
- Structuring a New Collaborative Culture
When I was a junior designer, my creative director asked me to design a mascot with the rather uninspiring instruction to reorder the shapes of the famous 2012 Olympics logo. Having little choice but to accept my task, I threw myself into it with all the boundless, panicked energy that comes from needing to impress the powers above, trusting my superior to steer me in the right direction.
Three weeks later I was distraught, the entire weight of our complete and utter failure to win the pitch resting on my shoulders.
It would be easy to put that loss down to inexperience—after all, I totally missed the brief, and every other pitch was better. But when I think about it a little more thoroughly, I can see that the real problem was one of access. I longed to understand the full project details, but was instead privy to mere bits and pieces of projects, attempting to cobble together an unknown whole. It was like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle whilst looking at it through a keyhole.
Many organizations—faced with the challenge of bringing together multiple projects, departments, and skillsets—fall back on the traditional combination of hierarchy, method, and structure. This can breed a culture of complacency, leading to outcomes that are narrow in their vision, team members who feel restricted and undervalued, and a workforce that operates under ceaseless pressure to either get it right, or get out.
When I look back on my ill-fated Olympic experience, I can see that I didn’t have the full picture. I was unable to bring my own ideas to the table, powerless to create change. I was subordinate; my relationship with my superiors was distant, and the most integral aspects of the design process—research, exploration, and discussion—were entirely absent. It wasn’t collaboration of any kind. No wonder that I lost both the pitch and the plot!
It doesn’t have to be that way. When I co-founded the creative studio Gravita, I learned what collaboration really looks like: multiple minds working together to solve problems. By doing this, our complementary skillsets are free to blend together in surprising ways—unconstrained, we’re better equipped to deliver inventive solutions.
This kind of collaborative culture is possible, whether you’re freelancing, in an agency environment, or in-house. You only need to do three things:
- Remove assumptions
- Emphasize project roles over job titles
- Create a supportive environment for new ideas
Here’s how we’ve accomplished each one at Gravita.
Assumption: the cyanide of collaboration
When I first established Gravita with two other designers, we found that there was real synergy between us. The feedback was exceptional. We had stumbled across a dynamic that worked, even in our earliest projects.
However, the path to uninhibited working was far from smooth, because I started making assumptions about my value to the team. I weighed my own skills against theirs and—deciding that I came up short—assumed my ideas weren’t as good. Agency life had drilled into me that my contributions weren’t worthwhile.
My insecurities created walls. I became terrified of showing my work, afraid of failure. I found any excuse not to contribute. This created frustration and tension in our working space, and hindered progress on my first project.
The only way out of this debilitating dead-end was to lay out my insecurities and discuss them. Once I was brave enough to open up to my colleagues about how I was feeling, and accept a gradual process of support and positive feedback, we were able to move forward.
On our next project, we began by talking openly about how we all felt. I was amazed to discover that I was not alone in feeling apprehensive; having everyone’s cards on the table was cathartic. We sat together as a team and worked out what we could each bring to the task, what we were afraid of, and how we could work together to get around potential problems.
Collaboration offers a vehicle through which assumptions of the self can be overridden. Don’t bottle up what you’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to ask questions you assume others will find stupid. Voicing the concerns you have about yourself opens up an ongoing dialogue—one that can identify your strengths, encourage praise, and allow your confidence to blossom.
Prioritizing roles over jobs
Job titles can be useful, but they’re also confining. They can stifle entire projects and hold back personal development. They’re labels, and just like on a can of soup, they create a clear expectation of what is inside—if anything else emerges, it comes as a nasty surprise.
I had the first inkling it didn’t have to be this way when I was working for a large charity, stuck with the title “web master.” The management noticed how confining this was for me; they gave me the green light to take on new responsibilities that allowed me to branch out. I realized it was perfectly feasible for organizations to adopt this kind of open, flexible thinking.
I’ve found this way of thinking works at Gravita too. We recognize that it’s the role, not the label, which should be the focus of the work. We don’t have job titles at all, opting instead to rotate roles. We sit down over a cup of coffee and see who fancies doing what on a new project, whether that be project manager, information architect, iconographer, or anything else.
Removing permanent titles is liberating. Suddenly, like a long-distance runner, you’re only ever really competing with yourself. It becomes more about self-improvement, less about climbing the ladder. You’re free to bring whatever you want to the table, and to grow as a designer.
Chance favors the connected mind
Ideas should always be heard, regardless of what form they’re in or how complete they are. Instincts and hunches—proto-ideas, neurons sparking with other neurons—need a free environment where they can mingle, collide, and flourish, ultimately producing something greater than the sum of their parts. After all, as Steven Johnson explains in his talk, “Where Good Ideas Come From,” “chance favors the connected mind”—connectivity and flow between people create stronger ideas.
It can be challenging to achieve flow, but it’s very worthwhile. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as “the internal state of energised focus which characterises the mind at its most productive.” We look past the separate spaces that we inhabit as individual bodies and come together as minds. It’s a form of intense, unified working where people relax from their inhibitions and see themselves as being fundamentally interconnected on a project.
Recently we were evaluating concept designs for a healthcare project. It just wasn’t quite working, and individually none of us had figured out what was wrong with it. Together, we began passing ideas back and forth, until someone uttered the words “less cold.” Suddenly we could see what we needed: a new and more gentle typeface, a softer and more comfortable palette. It took all of us, working together in a connected way, to hit on the solution.
Flowing mind-to-mind in this way allows us to fuel an idea in a shared headspace. Collaborative thinking enhances the brain’s natural capacity to make new links, which in turn strengthen the initial idea. There’s no place for ego—it’s important to be open and welcome this flow of others’ thoughts.
A new way of thinking
Collaboration means bringing different minds and skillsets together in a way that doesn’t make assumptions about what someone is or isn’t good at. It means dispensing with limiting roles, and introducing a fluidity of thought and activity into the design team. Above all, it means putting interconnectedness at the heart of every action.
So is collaborative working the elusive Holy Grail? Certainly a lot of people aim for it, and like to think that they do it even if there is a wide variance in form. What I do know is that by changing the way I think, I’ve helped bring about a safe, assumption-free space with an even distribution of authority that allows ideas to flow freely.
Collaborative culture helps us discover unique solutions—and continuously redefine ourselves. Designing for the online community means operating in an ever-changing environment, where adaptability is key for keeping up with new technology and scenarios.
A collaborative culture can push us into spaces more conventional practices fear to tread. Everything is open to question. Ideas are heard. People feel empowered to make real change.
Finally, I feel like I’m seeing the full picture.
- Persuasion: Applying the Elaboration Likelihood Model to Design
Persuasion is part of every aspect of our lives. Politicians want our vote, businesses want us to buy their products, and people want us to like them. Even altruistic nonprofits want us to change our behaviors around environmental issues and public safety, or give them our money to help fight hunger and disease (the nerve!).
This reality is no different for websites and other digital properties. Persuasion is a necessary component of good design, ensuring that users will engage with your product in the way you intended, leading to the outcome you intended.
Understanding persuasion will highlight the importance of developing strong messages, help you better incorporate and refine effective persuasive techniques into your design, and allow you to explain to others (potential clients, peers) how and why your design is effective at persuading users.
The really nice elephant in the room
Persuasion has a bad reputation—the word itself often evokes thoughts of being swindled or pressured to do something we really don’t want to do. But persuasion isn’t inherently negative—it’s just a process of influence, for better or worse. With some help from Richard Perloff’s The Dynamics of Persuasion, here are five ways of understanding persuasion:
- Persuasion is communication. At its core, persuasion needs a strong, clear message sent from one party to another.
- Persuasion is an attempt to influence. Understanding your audience and what makes them tick makes your attempt more likely to succeed—though the outcome is never guaranteed.
- Persuasion involves more than words. Aesthetics, interactions, ease of use, and other factors can make a website or application more persuasive to potential users.
- Persuasion is not coercion. It is up to individuals to form or change their own attitudes. Utilizing dark patterns or purposely tricking a user into doing something they wouldn’t otherwise do is not persuasion. It’s being an asshole.
- Persuasion can reinforce attitudes. Your audience has opinions that need to be strengthened from time to time. If you don’t preach to the choir, someone else will, and eventually your faithful followers will be led astray.
Academics have attempted to explain how persuasion works on individuals for decades. The Elaboration Likelihood Model (Petty and Cacioppo, 1986), one of the most frequently cited models of persuasion, explains how shaping attitudes also shapes behaviors. Incorporating the principles of the Elaboration Likelihood Model into your messages and design will maximize your influence on user attitudes and, therefore, behaviors. That, my friend, is what persuasion is all about.
The Elaboration Likelihood Model
The Elaboration Likelihood Model attempts to explain how attitudes are shaped, formed, and reinforced by persuasive arguments. The basic idea is that when someone is presented with information, some level of “elaboration” occurs. Elaboration, in this context, means the effort someone makes to evaluate, remember, and accept (or reject) a message.
The model suggests that people express either high or low elaboration (that is, their level of effort) when they encounter a persuasive message. The level of elaboration then determines which processing route the message takes: central or peripheral.
Central route processing Peripheral route processing Elaboration High Low Information processing Contents of message are closely examined by the receiver Receiver is influenced by factors other than the contents of the message Attitude Will change or be reinforced based on message characteristics such as strength of argument and relevancy Might change or be reinforced based on the effectiveness of factors other than the message Strength of attitude formed/reinforced More enduring and less subject to counterarguments Less enduring and subject to change through future persuasive messages Table 1: Comparison of central route processing and peripheral route processing.
Central route processing means your audience cares more about the message. They’ll pay more attention and scrutinize the quality and strength of the argument. Any attitudes formed or reinforced this way are thought to be more enduring and resistant to counter-arguments.
Peripheral route processing happens on a more superficial level. Your audience will pay less attention to the message itself while being influenced by secondary factors, such as source credibility, visual appeal, presentation, and enticements like food, sex, and humor. Attitudes formed or reinforced this way are thought to be less enduring, subject to change through counter-arguments, and in need of continual reinforcement.
To illustrate the difference between central and peripheral route processing—and how messaging and design can be used to simultaneously address each route—let’s look at the behemoth that is online retailer Amazon.com.
A tale of two paths
Imagine two potential customers, both in need of a new television. Suzanne is a technophile and regular Amazon user, while Kevin rarely makes purchases online, and is mostly interested in finding a quality television at a good price. Amazon wants to persuade both users to purchase a television (any television) through its website.
Central route processing
While both users will have some level of central route processing (especially for pricing), it is more likely that Suzanne, with her interest in technology, will be attentive to the messages and design. Assuming she agrees with what she sees, she’ll be more inclined to purchase through Amazon versus a less persuasive competitor.
For Amazon, this is critical; its competitors include stores where potential customers can interact face to face with knowledgeable sales reps. So it has to make product information easy for users to access by including multiple options for searching and sorting, offering detailed product descriptions, and providing in-depth product reviews written by fellow shoppers.
Suzanne searches for high-end TVs, filters them from high to low ratings, and reads the reviews. After making her decision, she uses the “Buy now with 1-Click” option, since all of her information is already up to date in Amazon’s system; Amazon’s reliability and service over the years has earned her trust.
Suzanne was not a hard sell for Amazon; this is due in part to years of persuasive factors that have shaped her buying habits. If central route processing has occurred in a positive direction, Suzanne is also likely to purchase from Amazon again in the future, while Amazon’s competitors will have a harder time persuading her to purchase from them.
Peripheral route processing
Amazon does not leave the casual user hanging when it comes to persuasive design. Many elements of its design are meant to appeal to peripheral route processing.
First, look at its use of visual hierarchy. The product page’s focal point, a nice large photo of the product itself, is perfect for holding attention—no reading necessary to see that gem. It also offer options to view the product from multiple angles. The numerous filtering options allow potential customers to choose from a broad range of categories that can serve as a shortcut to selecting a product they have little interest in researching in-depth (e.g. price, rating, age of product).
Let’s say that Kevin, our less motivated potential customer, is curious to see how much TV he can get for his money. After searching for televisions in the impossible-to-miss search bar on the homepage, he immediately sorts the results by price from low to high. Next, using the filters offered on the left of the screen, he selects to view only TVs with four stars or more. (Why spend time reading a review when you can see four shiny stars at a glance?)
Kevin notices the percentage saved and the low-price guarantee that comes with his purchase. Additionally, free shipping is offered in bold type directly next to the price. Appealing to a user’s pocketbook is an excellent form of peripheral route persuasion. This penny-pincher won’t even have to pay for the convenience of having the product shipped to his front door.
Utilizing visual hierarchy at its finest, the second most eye-catching element of this page is the blatantly obvious “Add to Cart” button. You can guess how the scenario unfolds from here.
Notice that both routes lead to the same outcome—and that design elements are not exclusive to one route or the other. People often process information using some level of both routes—the routes can complement each other. For example, Suzanne would be more likely to process the information in the product description through the central route, but utilize the star-rating filter as a peripheral route shortcut to viewing TVs highly rated by likeminded shoppers. She was persuaded by elements from both routes. High-five to Amazon!
Suzanne is more likely to maintain her positive attitude towards making purchases on Amazon.com, thanks to central route processing, whereas Kevin will need some convincing in the future not to go check out the big box store down the street (the free shipping should help!).
Persuasion goes hand-in-hand with messaging and design, but there are also ways to do it wrong: distractions can undermine your persuasive techniques just as quickly as you can develop them. If your potential user encounters nine pop-ups, long loading time, or three pages of disclaimers to get to the meat of your message, they are never going to choose to taste it. Distractions, whether physical, visual, or intangible, can temporarily halt the whole elaboration process.
Could you please elaborate on that?
What promotes central route processing and high elaboration? Researchers have explored two main factors: motivation and ability.
Motivation is often influenced by the relevance of a topic to an individual. A user who feels directly impacted by a topic is more likely to process a message through the central route. This explains why Facebook asks why a user blocked an ad; not everyone finds a free trial of Viagra compelling, but eventually Facebook intends to crack the code on what each user finds relevant. You can account for this in your own work with a strong message that shows your users why your product is relevant to their lives.
Ability is exactly what you think it is. For central route processing to occur, your message must be in line with the thinking abilities of your audience. If an individual does not have the mental ability to process your message, they will not be able to critically evaluate it, and are guaranteed to process it through the peripheral route. Yes, if you want to effectively persuade someone, your message actually has to be conveyed in a way they understand. Shocking.
In other words: if you want users to actually pay attention to your message, make it directly relevant and easy to understand.
What does this mean for working on the web?
How can you put the Elaboration Likelihood Model and other tenets of persuasion into practice? First, you need to account for the following elements to effectively persuade your users:
- Message: what’s being said, marketing efforts, content, and copy
- Design: visual hierarchy, navigation, and layout
- Delivery: load time, user experience, rewards, and bells and whistles
This all seems simple enough—provided you know a lot about your target audience and what motivates them. This is where it is best to sit down with a professional user researcher and develop a list of questions about what your audience values; what their fears, hopes, and dreams are; and what existing challenges you face in persuading them. A researcher can also conduct a brief review of past research on persuasion in your field, which will help back your current efforts.
Then, take a closer look at your work. A lot of what we have discussed can be boiled down to clarity and simplicity:
- Is your message clear?
- Are you telling people exactly why your product/website is relevant to their lives (or could be) in an easily understood way?
- Are you guiding people to the actions you want them to take? Does your design facilitate this?
- Does your design incorporate elements of persuasion that will help potential users become users?
Asking these questions of your work will help you be laser-sharp when it comes to persuading your users.
Have I been persuasive?
For some of your users, you may only need to provide a convincing message—that is, one that shows the relevancy of your work to their life and helps shape or reinforce a positive attitude. However, many will probably process your message through low levels of elaboration. They will need clear content, good design, and efficient delivery to bolster their receptiveness to your message or product.
Being persuasive requires a conscious effort. Conducting user research, incorporating the tenets of good design, and understanding how persuasion works will help you appeal to more users through both central and peripheral processing routes.
Designing for both paths of the Elaboration Likelihood Model isn’t just good in theory; it’s good in practice. This purposeful incorporation of persuasion will bring a new level of effectiveness to your craft, eventually enabling you to move your audience to process your messages through the central route—the sign of a truly persuasive design.
- Ten Years Ago in ALA: Dynamic Text Replacement
Ten years ago this month, A List Apart published Stewart Rosenberger’s “Dynamic Text Replacement.” Stewart lamented text styling as a “dull headache of web design” with “only a handful of fonts that are universally available, and sophisticated graphical effects are next to impossible using only standard CSS and HTML.” To help ease these pains, Stewart presented a technique for styling typography by dynamically replacing text with an image.
I began working on the web five years after Stewart’s article was published, right around the time when web fonts were gaining popularity. It was an exciting time, with a slew of new typefaces, foundries, and new techniques for styling text with CSS3 cropping up frequently. It seemed—for a moment—that we could finally “control” typography in a way that we never could before.
I was recently looking at the state of default system fonts and realized that we’re never going to have as much control over typography as we want. But that’s ok.
Instead, I’ve been seeing more nuanced discussions about typography, focused on striking a balance between having beautiful typography without taking a huge performance hit. I appreciate that as an industry we’re dedicated to creating the best experiences possible, regardless of device or connection speed.
It’s easy to get carried away with web fonts, and slow our sites down significantly as a result. While we may no longer need to use dynamic image replacement, the deliberate approach Stewart advocated is worth revisiting:
In another five years, we’ll have completely different techniques and a host of other considerations. If we are thoughtful and deliberate with our (type) decisions, we’ll be able to evolve much more easily.
- Ask Dr. Web with Jeffrey Zeldman: The Doctor Is In
A note from the editors: Way back in the early days of web design—back before, even, A List Apart—there was Zeldman.com, where thousands of us spent hour after hour soaking up every bit of web design knowledge we could. Between 1995 and 1999, Jeffrey Zeldman himself even answered your questions—or at least, his alter ego Dr. Web did.
The days where one column can cover “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About HTML, CSS, Graphics, & Multimedia” are long gone (except on the Internet Archive), but Dr. Web is back. This time, our fearless leader is here to help you find your place and build a satisfying career in this big, weird, changing industry we call the web.
Read on for Dr. Web’s advice, and don’t forget to submit a question of your own.
Funny you should ask. Four score and 13 years ago, I wrote a book for designers transitioning to the web. That book is now available free of charge, and while some of the sites it references are no longer with us, and more than a few of its browser references and front-end techniques are amusingly dated, the basic premises are as true today as they were in 2001. Enjoy Taking Your Talent To The Web, Dale Cruse’s HTML rendition of the book, or download the PDF version, containing the original layout, typography, and artwork. (Thanks to New Riders, my original publishers, for believing in the book, and for allowing me to give it away online after its best-used-by date expired.)
If you are willing to learn HTML and CSS—and, at least until Macaw is in its 5.0 version, every web designer should learn those things, at least well enough to understand the principles behind them—read Designing With Web Standards followed by Bulletproof Web Design and HTML5 for Web Designers.
Then dive into Aaron Gustafson’s modern classic, Adaptive Web Design: Crafting Rich Experiences with Progressive Enhancement. Though compact and approachable, it is jam-packed with the collective wisdom of literally thousands of modern web designers, developers, and consultants, all filtered through Aaron’s expertise, practicality, and friendly style. Nobody has ever done a better job of explaining progressive enhancement and why it is the basis of universal web design.
Of course, web designers do not live by code alone. So next, or simultaneously, I recommend getting your mitts on Steve Krug’s classic, Don’t Make Me Think, which is the quickest and friendliest way I know for a print designer to grasp all those things about usability and interaction design that you’d never, ever pick up in a traditional graphic design curriculum or career. In print for 13 years, it’s been translated into 20 languages and sold over 400,000 copies—and now it’s available in a fully revised edition.
As a print designer, you’re familiar with type—and on the web, interfaces consisting almost entirely of type are used to present content consisting almost entirely of type. Bone up on what type means for the screen with Ellen Lupton’s newly released Type on Screen, and Jason Santa Maria’s upcoming On Web Typography.
While you’re reading these books, you should also be visiting websites, viewing source, selecting all, and copying into a text editor. The more you study other people’s HTML markup and CSS, the better you will begin to understand how to structure web content so people and search engines can find it, and browsers and devices can display it. Short of working as part of a front-end development team with experienced colleagues, viewing source is the best front-end web development education you can have. (“Front-end” is what we call it to distinguish from the heavier kinds of coding that go into the “back-end” of most sites today.)
Of course, it helps if the sites whose source code you’re viewing are well-made. Besides viewing source on A List Apart (cough), you’ll find fine source code on Chris Coyier’s CSS Tricks. (You’ll also learn a lot about CSS, the visual language of web design.) You’ll learn loads more about CSS, and get more great source code to boot, in the articles section of Sara Soueidan’s website.
Other great resources—for education, inspiration, great source code, and just plain good reading—include:
- Jason Santa Maria: design inspiration and strategy; dual-focused on print and web
- LukeW: Writings on Digital Product Strategy: keep up with mobile web design stats and strategy
- Anna Debenham: freelance front-end developer and ALA tech editor
- The Pastry Box Project: writings by your web design peers
- Cognition: more writings by your web design peers
- Frank Chimero: design inspiration
- Faruk Ateş: for a more inclusive web
- Airbag Industries: the personal site of Greg Storey
- Meyerweb: the personal site of CSS expert Eric Meyer
- Jake Archibald: tech-savvy writings on web performance
This is barely a distracted start; readers, please list your favorite sites in the comments section.
Don’t study or work in isolation. If you’re freelancing or working remotely, Twitter can be your best friend (or can help you find your new best friends). After a week of working at home, make time for a meetup in your hometown, and if your city offers free or inexpensive design, development, or user experience (UX) events, take advantage of those offerings and get out there. This is a warm community full of passionate practitioners who love to share tips and make connections.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, take the time to become deeply familiar with a few websites that you love and use all the time. Analyze what design decisions and special touches (whether of interactivity, or visual hierarchy, or copy, or whatever) make the experience of using the site so special. Likewise, when you encounter an unpleasant-to-use site (online banking, anyone?), instead of fleeing in frustration, force yourself to spend extra time on that site, to discover which particular interaction design decisions are responsible for your bad experience. And then never, ever make decisions like that on the sites you design.
Design on the web is a combination of aesthetics and usability, control and surrender, constraint and endless creativity. Designing books is wonderful, but designing for the web is a whole ’nother thing. Welcome, friend!
Have a question about professional development, industry culture, or the state of the web? This is your chance to pick Jeffrey Zeldman’s brain. Send your question to Dr. Web via Twitter (#askdrweb), Facebook, or email.
- Rachel Andrew on the Business of Web Dev: Lessons Learned by Being the Client
I ran a web development consultancy from mid-2001 through to early 2013. By 2006, the company I had started alone was busy enough for my husband, Drew McLellan, to join the business full time. The vast majority of our work was as an outsourced team, developing projects for design agencies. But now, in 2014, we find ourselves on the other side of the client/developer relationship.
We launched our first product, Perch, as a side project of that business. It’s now the whole of what we do, yet we have managed to remain a team of two by making use of freelancers and other agencies. At first we only outsourced design, but increasingly we are also using outside help for development.
Here are some of the things I have learned by being the client.
Give regular progress updates
I always felt we were good at communicating with our clients. We asked questions and updated the staging version of the project regularly. And so, when clients would ask for an update, I would feel irritated and pestered. We felt as if we were constantly communicating with them and we were rarely late delivering something, so I assumed that the client would understand that if we didn’t mention there was a problem, everything was running on time.
As the client, I now know that even if I can see code being committed and the developer is talking to us, I don’t always get a sense of whether they are on track or not. I’ve seen how other business milestones may depend on the completion of an outsourced project. For example, you might buy advertising to go live at the same time that a planned feature launches. If the ad buy has to be booked in advance, but the project runs late, that advertising spend will have been wasted. Due to the stress of the unknown and fear of losing out financially, it is easy to end up being that client who seems to be constantly asking if the work is completed.
Of course when you are providing a service it is important that you do what you say you will do, in the time you said it could be done in. However, in addition to that basic requirement, building in regular status updates helps your client to plan things that rely on the work you are doing to be completed. It stops the constant is-it-done-yet? type emails and phone calls.
Explain what to review
We often used to grumble that clients never looked over or tested any of the work we had done, although we deployed work to staging servers and made it available for review as often as possible. Looking back, I think we made an assumption that not only would the client have the time to immediately look at everything we had deployed, but would understand for themselves the progress.
We’re working with a developer currently who uses Trello not just to organize tasks but as a way for us, his client, to see what he is working on and where he is at. I can take a look at Trello at any point and see that a certain feature is being worked on, or has been moved to done. I can then go take a look on the staging version and I know what I’m looking for.
Even if your client is able to see your commits or updates to a system, give them a way to know which bits they should be looking at at any one time. This will save your client wasting their time pointing out things that you haven’t addressed yet, and also help them feel part of your progress.
In addition to gaining a new insight into what really makes for great client and developer communication, I’ve discovered other ways in which freelancers can really contribute to the businesses they do work for.
Make costs foreseeable
As a business owner with a product, there are many things that I would love to find help with. But hiring a consultant at an hourly rate when I don’t fully understand the scope of the task at hand is a bit scary. What if it costs far more than I imagined, or what if what I really need is ongoing support?
If you can make your consultancy services more product-like in terms of how you market them, you can make life a lot simpler for business owners who aren’t sure what work needs doing and whether it is in their budget. This approach has been termed “productized consulting” and involves packaging up services that typically would be completed on an hourly rate into fixed-price—one-off or monthly—purchases.
For examples of how some companies have turned their freelance services into products, see Brennan Dunn’s post 3 Great Examples of Productized Consulting Services.
Put business aims before perfection
Possibly the biggest thing I have learned from being the client is that often “good enough” is enough. As a developer, I wanted the time to do a really amazing job, yet often felt that we were being asked to cut corners and to not develop the perfect solution we knew we could come up with. As the client, though, I know I have to make the decision to ship. I need to be the person who says, this will do for now.
I’d still love everything to be perfect. Sometimes, however, it is more important to get something out there, even if that means accepting slightly rough edges. As an example, we recently rebuilt the internal system that allows people to pay for our product and be issued with a license. We moved away from a legacy PSP to Stripe and made other changes that are going to enable things we have planned for the future. We shipped this with the most rudimentary reporting dashboard, and with a number of tasks that could be automated via various APIs not yet finished. For the business and our customers, the important thing was the parts they interact with; the rough edges were only a problem to us, and we can tidy up as we go along.
To be able to work in this way with freelancers requires a change in mindset and in approach to defining and quoting for jobs. One of the reasons we hated feeling that we were shipping things with rough edges was because we were often contracted just to build a particular product. Our job ended when the project launched; we knew that whatever state the project launched in would often be the state in which it stayed. Now that we hire developers, we try to find people who are interested in an ongoing relationship. We hope this relationship helps them feel confident that when we say we need to ship something they have worked on, it’s not the end of their work on it.
If I were writing code for other people now, I think I would foster these types of relationships far more than we did then. Instead of railing against the client who wanted to ship something I felt was not ready, I would try to help them to get to a shipping point that didn’t also mean we hand over the work.
Invoicing: the relationship killer
Many of the issues outlined above were exacerbated by the agency model of building, shipping, and invoicing for projects. Since our final invoice couldn’t be sent in until the work was complete, clients often saw that invoice as a way to hold us over a barrel until some element (that perhaps wasn’t initially quoted for) was done. It’s a pretty toxic way to work if you want to create great ongoing relationships.
Many of our freelancers now bill weekly or every two weeks when they are working on things for us. I really like that as a model. If the scope creeps and the work takes longer, we simply pay for more days of work—potentially with a delay if our contractor has booked some other work in—but the entire job doesn’t need renegotiating. There are no awkward discussions about whether they are allowed to submit an invoice.
There is a huge imbalance in many client/developer relationships. The client often wields power in the shape of owing the developer money that won’t be paid until hoops have been jumped through. The developer may be privy to, and often may be the only person who fully understands, a large part of the client’s business. The developer can feel as if their work is not being valued, while the client feels that the developer is spending far too much time on unimportant things.
Of course there are people who will treat developers badly no matter how hard they work and how well they communicate. However, I think that many relationships become strained because of the lack of balance created by the agency billing model.
Ultimately the best client/developer relationships should be mutually beneficial; two businesses working together for the benefit of both, understanding each others’ communication needs and business aims. It sounds like perfect sense, and it is—but it’s only by being the client that I have really come to appreciate that.
- Apple and Responsive Design
Apple has always had a funny relationship with responsive design. They’ve only sparingly used media queries to make minor visual tweaks on important pages, like their current homepage.
Though a “handcrafted for all devices” approach seems like the “Apple way,” it’s almost as if they’ve avoided it because of the iPhone’s original pitch—giving users the ability to pinch and zoom their way through the “full” web, as opposed to being shuttled off to the mobile web.
Apple could afford that stubbornness when the only thing running iOS was the 3.5-inch iPhone. Over the past few years, though, they’ve introduced the 10-inch iPad, the 4-inch iPhone, the 7-inch iPad mini, and reports point to an even larger iPhone coming this fall.
The approach that Apple and their community of developers have taken to build apps for these new device sizes closely resembles the way we did it for the web over the last decade or so: adaptive first, then slowly building to responsive.
When the iPad was first announced, developers built separate View Controllers for iPhones and iPads—on the web, that’d be like building separate pages for each. Layouts, styles, and interactions were built to target each device specifically. This was an adaptive way of thinking, and it worked because of the limited number of targets.
With iOS 6, and the subsequent release of the taller iPhone 5, Apple introduced something called Auto Layout—a relationship-based layout engine. Unlike the iPad, which required a separate build, apps for the taller iPhone were the same build with layout adjustments applied. Auto Layout was Apple’s first true foray into responsive design within native applications since, much like the web, different layout rules were applied to the same base code.
Last week, Apple introduced iOS 8, and with it, something they’re calling Adaptive UI. The main feature of Adaptive UI is the ability to specify layout rules based on Size Classes, which are really just breakpoints set by Apple.
Developers can now use a single View Controller (or page, in our world) with various layout rules applied across Size Classes (or breakpoints) to accommodate devices of all sizes. While there are only two Size Classes right now, compact and regular, Apple has left a lot of room to add more, or to even let developers set breakpoints themselves in the future.
It may be adaptive in name, and hard-coded breakpoints may seem like adaptive thinking, but the groundwork has been laid for responsive design within native iOS applications. It’s been interesting to watch Apple’s path from static, to adaptive, to responsive, and it’ll be even more interesting to watch third-party developers take advantage of the workflow benefits of responsive design that we’ve become accustomed to.
Apple has finally come around on responsive design, and to top all that off, there was even a session about it last week at WWDC. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the next year, we finally see the responsive redesign of apple.com that we’ve been waiting for all these years.
- Testing Responsive Images
At long last, the native
pictureelement isn’t just coming: it’s here. The
pictureelement has landed in Canary—Google’s “beta” channel for upcoming Chrome releases—and we can try it out for ourselves right now. Firefox isn’t far behind, and WebKit work is officially underway.
We got the
pictureelement this far, and now that we’re in the final stages we have another opportunity to help things along: testing and filing bugs. Yoav Weiss is hard at work, testing and patching as much as possible before this ships in Chrome stable—but the more eyes we have on this, the better.
Ready to get started?
- Download Chrome Canary
- Copy and paste the following into Canary’s address bar:
- Click “enable”
The page at
chrome://flagsallows you to tinker with the browser’s internals a bit, enabling and disabling features that might not quite be ready for prime time: the
pictureelement is, for now, behind the “experimental web platform features” option—including
srcset. Don’t worry: changing this option in Canary won’t have any effect on your regular Chrome app.
Kicking the tires
And now—finally—we can try out the native
pictureelement for ourselves. The Picturefill demos are a great place to get started, since Picturefill only takes over in the event that the element isn’t natively supported. One thing to note is that this early version of
picturedoesn’t re-evaluate when the viewport resizes—at least until the next major patch lands—so you’ll need to reload the page to see things change, for now.
Experiment with the new markup for yourself, either by forking the Picturefill repo and making changes to the existing demos, or by writing your own from scratch. If something seems wrong, file an issue on Yoav’s fork of the Google Blink code, or join us in the RICG IRC channel to discuss what you’re seeing—or just to share your test cases with us, so we can test the Firefox and Safari implementations against them when the time comes.
We couldn’t have made it this far without the hard work of the design and development community—and the more testing we do now, the better responsive images will be for it.
- Living up to Your (Business) Ideals
I believe that most people are good. Most people really want to live up to their ideals. So why do companies fall short on living up to their missions, credos, mantras, or ideals?
For example, why does a company that says it supports local businesses jump at the chance to work with Walmart just to get a “big name” client on its roster? I have started to believe it is because they haven’t taken the time to clearly articulate company values and, more importantly, establish routines and practices that intentionally frame their decisions to factor in their values.
At our design firm, P’unk Ave, we decided to change that by developing a model for evaluating potential clients, giving us a practical, standardized way to make decisions that stay truer to our values. While it may seem like being picky about who we work with is bad for business, we’ve found the opposite to be true: the more we’ve stuck to our ideals, the stronger our business has become. In this article, I’ll show you how it worked for us—with the hope you can learn from it and do the same for your business.
Establishing your values
You can’t live up to your ideals until you have a clear grasp of them. If you have been in business for some time, you might be surprised to realize that they already exist and are just waiting for you to be more intentional about identifying and writing them down.
Set a timer
My partner and I began our process with some borrowed time on a layover heading back from a conference. We took out our journals, set a timer for 10 minutes, and began writing down our core values. The ideas took form quickly because they had already been part of our DNA. This allowed us to make a rough list of values that resonated with decisions we had made in the past—values like “innovation,” “trust,” and “responsibility.” We’ve since refined these somewhat general ideas using an exploratory process that includes all members of the team, but setting a timer during this early phase forced us not to overthink things, and helped us to get started with ideas that came more from the gut than from the brain.
Then we did a whiteboard audit of our current and past clients to look for trends and to test how our values applied (or not). We paid particular attention to those clients we were most excited about. Through this process we identified a pattern of partnerships with people who work to strengthen our cities (urban planning, local food, bicycle advocacy, waterfront improvement), create knowledge (universities, education initiatives), improve people’s health (advocacy, research), and enhance our quality of life through arts and culture (museums, photography collectives, arts organizations).
Get outside perspective
We followed this up with a workshop led by a friend, which allowed us to further explore our values, strengths, and goals. This led us to create a series of active phrases about our work, including we are part of a community and we dream. These phrases now form the basis of the P’unk Guide, which includes our shared values and principles to run the business we all want to work in. As part of our ongoing reflection, we have also evolved the guide to include “guiding metaphors.” One of those metaphors is based on the notion of sailing upwind: “The shortest distance is not always the quickest.”
Building a framework
Becoming more aware of our values helped us make more intentional choices with prospective projects, but it didn’t necessarily provide us with a framework for quickly evaluating potential projects and relationships. That came when we read the book Drive, by Daniel Pink.
In Drive, Pink talks about the principles of autonomy, mastery, and purpose as powerful motivational elements for modern workers. For Pink, jobs that require deep thinking and applied analytical skills are not easily simplified to an assembly line process, and measuring productivity within a certain time limit isn’t an effective way to track their success. Rather, people who have the freedom to work in the way they see fit (autonomy), who are constantly honing their skills (mastery), and who understand the intention of their work (purpose) perform best in these positions.
There was no turning back. We used Pink’s principles as a starting point to create our own framework for evaluating potential relationships with partners and clients: the AMP scoring system. Evaluating projects through our new lens of autonomy, mastery, and purpose helped us ask whether or not that relationship would motivate us to do good work and help us live up to our ideals of trust, innovation, and impact.
The AMP score
In considering a new project, we take the time to get to know the client, with the goal of determining whether we will we be truly pumped (or “AMPed”) if the project is a success—not because the project is done, but because of the impact it has on something we care about. Then we score it, using a series of questions in each of the three categories. Each category then gets a score from 1 to 5, and we total up the results at the end.
- Will this client respect us?
- Will they seek our counsel?
- Will they give us the space to bring our experience and knowledge to impact the project positively?
- Do they trust us?
- Basically, will they let us do what we do best in service to their project?
It is always a good sign when a potential client is genuinely interested in understanding how you work. If they take the time to ask you about how and why you make decisions, they’re telling you that they respect your experience, and are seeking a partnership that is productive and valuable. It is an especially good sign—usually a 4 or 5 on the AMP scale—if they listen carefully and ask thoughtful follow-up questions, since it indicates that they are genuinely interested in working towards a relationship built on understanding and trust.
- Is there space to practice our skills and grow as craftspeople?
- Is there time to do the project well?
- Does the client value a job done well?
For example, if a client emphasizes how simple a project is by saying something like, “All we need is to code this page. It is simple. How long will that take? A week?” or “Do we have to do the research? Couldn’t we just copy the design of this website?” then they may not respect the work we do—especially if this perspective persists after we explain the value of a thoughtful and measured approach. In this scenario, we would rate the mastery score a 1 or 2, since they seem more interested in rushing than in allowing us the time to do thoughtful and considered work.
- Do we understand the purpose of their project?
- Equally important, do they understand the purpose of their project?
- What kind of impact will this project make?
- Do we feel aligned with that impact?
For example, sometimes a webmaster at a larger organization contacts us, but is only interested in technology. This is common when an organization puts the management of their website solely in the hands of their technical or IT team, instead of seeing it as a communication tool for the entire organization. When this happens, we try to bring leadership into the process and educate them before signing an agreement—but if that cannot be done, the project would score low on the purpose scale. It is particularly difficult to walk away from an organization that is doing work we find interesting and aligns well with our values, but we have learned that when leadership isn’t involved, the project is not likely to be a success.
What does all this actually look like? Practically speaking, we post a message with details about all potential projects in Basecamp, and each member of the team has the opportunity to respond with their thoughts and personal AMP score for the project. Once everyone has weighed in, we compare scores, looking for a total of 12 or higher. We will consider lower scores, but not below 10.
This system creates a paradigm where we are asking ourselves if there is a compelling reason we should work with a client, rather than just looking for a reason not to work with them. That distinction may seem subtle, but it has powerful implications, supporting a proactive versus reactive culture.
Intentional projects are successful projects
This may seem one-sided and only to our benefit, and maybe an unsustainable business practice. However, being thoughtful and intentional in this way has turned out to be a great thing for our clients as well. Once we commit to a project, we are truly committed. We even share how this benefits them in our project proposals:
They get that. It resonates with them because anyone that has some business experience knows that unanticipated problems will inevitably rear their head at some point. Because we took the time to evaluate the project using the AMP score, we’ve already decided that we are committed to the success of the project, and any bumps in the road will be tackled with gusto and passion. This knowledge gives our clients greater confidence in working with us.
What’s good for the goose…
As a consultancy, much of our “everyday” revolves around clients and projects. This is the lifeblood of our company and sets the tone for our interactions. If we are not in sync with our clients, our lives can turn miserable pretty quickly.
We always cared about our work and had good relationships with our clients before, but intentionally pursuing projects that align with our business values has brought a higher level of investment and internal motivation from all members of our team. We have become true partners in the success of our clients’ projects.
A lucrative project that doesn’t align well with your values is like the siren’s call to start your day with a sugary doughnut. Of course, getting sidetracked is easy. Using a framework to evaluate potential business has become a way to stay on course—a way to make healthier choices.
When we made compromises in the past, it never resulted in great work and often had other unintended consequences, like burning out our team. The attitudes you develop working on a project you don’t care about can carry over into all of your work. Our framework has helped us stick to our guns and not work on even a single project where we don’t see an alignment of values.
Ideals are good for business, too
The AMP system has had a positive ripple effect throughout our company. Everyone knows that we make decisions based on our shared and agreed upon values. We have chosen not to pursue work that does not garner a high AMP score, and we have even stopped working with clients when they turn out not to allow us to live up to our ideals. In the short term, we may have turned down some potential business, but in the long term we have increased our revenue while working with clients we respect. That growth comes from our participatory culture, where everyone is invested in and focused on their projects—leading to happier clients and a lot more word-of-mouth referrals and opportunities.
This is not something that can happen overnight. If you want to live up to your business ideals, you have to take the time to authentically identify your values, the things you care about. You also have to commit to the ongoing tending and cultivation of those values in your organization. It is not a “set it and forget it” scenario. At P’unk Ave, we think about this regularly, and especially during our quarterly “State of P’unk” and twice-yearly retreats. Building in those rituals, as well as creating tools like the AMP score, helps us stay on track in creating the kind of company we want for ourselves.
But the commitment is worth it. Once you have a framework for evaluating the kinds of people you want to work with, you have power: the power to say “no”—and the power to do the work you know matters.
- Prototyping Your Workflow
Last year the digital agency I work for, Bluecadet, started a website redesign project for The Franklin Institute—a renowned Philadelphia science museum undergoing the largest expansion in its history. My colleagues and I were excited because not only were we getting to work with an iconic local institution, but the project represented an opportunity to incorporate a number of techniques into our responsive web design practice: atomic design, HTML wireframes, style tiles, element collages, and front-end style guides. We envisioned a series of quick prototypes that lent momentum to a harmonious back-and-forth between design and development. We felt like this was an opportunity to overhaul the way we created for the web, from start to finish.
And then we got stuck.
We couldn’t figure out where we would fit all of these new techniques into our preferred way of working. I don’t think we’re alone in this. The way we create for the web is changing so rapidly that if you’ve attended enough conferences or read enough books and blogs these last couple of years, you may feel like we did: excited but a little overwhelmed, and worried that your organization is the only one that hasn’t yet adopted the expert-approved way to create for a device-agnostic web.
There’s a seductive danger present whenever you see someone else outline their way of working, however. It’s easy to take their process as a rigid, universal truth. The trouble is, you and your team aren’t like everyone else—you have different strengths and weaknesses. Borrowing someone else’s process wholesale ignores the fact that it probably took them lots of fumbling to get to that point, and it’s going to take plenty of experimentation on your team’s part to figure out what works for you.
So perhaps the solution isn’t to transplant someone else’s guidelines in an attempt to fix the entire thing all in one shot. Maybe there’s a way to take the same iterative spirit of these new techniques and apply it to the overall workflow itself. To prototype your workflow, in other words. In some ways, it’s a mental trick—a way of giving yourselves permission to try things, even if you’re unsure of the outcome. It also lowers the stakes to a comfortable level: if we mess this up, we’re still okay.
What follows, then, isn’t a tidy recipe or a formula. It’s a collection of observations I hope will help you re-cast workflow change as an ongoing process of small, imperfect steps.
Technique is easy, talking is hard
It’s easy to get fixated on the benefits of specific tools and techniques, and to assume that those benefits are self-evident to everyone. But over the course of the past year, it’s dawned on us that meeting the demands of our multi-device web is less a problem of technique, and more one of communication. Sometimes people just need to understand why you want them to change how they work.
Prior to the Franklin Institute project, my colleagues and I had been pooling all of these new techniques, but we instinctively focused on pieces that affected our part of the process. Designers and developers were talking and dreaming—but largely within the echo chamber of their respective disciplines. So when it came time to kick off the project, we had to have some hard conversations about how new techniques would work for us as an entire team, and sometimes we were downright skeptical of each other’s suggestions. On more than one occasion we asked each other: “That’s great, and it works for that agency, but how would that work here?”
You will probably need to make your case differently for each person on your team, then. If you’re a designer, it could mean explaining to your developer teammate that you would like to start breaking things into a design system so that you don’t have to do 20 different iterations of the same page layout. For developers, you might have to convince your boss that a style prototype will be the best way to present a site to your client.
Whatever the rationale, realize that change represents a very real cost (at least in the short term) to your teammates’ time and comfort, and their skepticism may be their reaction to that cost, rather than to the less-immediate benefits you say will follow. Focusing on the why instead of how can help balance those two competing forces.
Limit your focus
As of this writing, Bluecadet has 22 full-time staff members. That’s just big enough to make it hard to work on intricate, shifting process details at a company-wide level. So we’re starting small, at the project level, instead of trying to craft a monolithic process that gets handed down from above.
Look at the projects you have on the horizon. Think about the portions of your workflow that you want to improve, and pick just one of those things to introduce into your project. Why just one? It allows you enough space to experiment without endangering your project.
A mentor of mine once told me that programming (and especially programming for the web) boils down to reducing the number of “unknowns” on a project to a manageable number. One is fine, two is a stretch, and three is asking for trouble. If you think exploring HTML/CSS wireframes could have a positive impact on your work, introduce just that one thing. Most projects have enough built-in friction without adding or changing multiple processes at the same time.
For the Franklin Institute project, we ended up deciding that the added wrinkle would be a front-end style guide. It wasn’t the biggest thing, but it was one small step that we thought could have a big benefit without affecting our schedule.
We made this decision based on two factors—factors that might be helpful as your team thinks about what that “one thing” could be:
- A good idea that didn’t quite work in the past: we had created a static style guide for a previous project that had quickly become outdated and was ultimately discarded. But we still thought the idea had merit. So when you gather as a team, think about past good ideas that might have stalled, and whether they could work if you approached them differently.
- (A little) experience mixed with (a lot of) enthusiasm: a new front-end developer joined our team, and he had already been experimenting with different style-guide generators like Barebones and Pattern Lab. More importantly, he was excited about building one. Does someone have something they’ve been testing on a personal project, or that they’ve used successfully at a previous job? If so, you’re already halfway there—you might just need to figure out how to make space for it.
Align your tools and techniques with your team
One of the recurring discussions we have at our studio is: “Should our designers learn markup and start doing some of this design in the browser?” We’ve heard a lot of persuasive arguments for it, but in the end, we decided that the main focus should be how to get our designs into the browser earlier in the process, instead of who should be doing that work.
This led us to try pairing designers and developers early on in a project, and having the developer create markup that “waterskis” behind the designer’s sketches and Photoshop explorations. We’ve found that doing it this way takes advantage of our team’s individual strengths. It also means that our developers are providing feedback that makes it into design iterations while they are still malleable.
We’re currently in the middle of a redesign project for a literary magazine, and we’ve found that the rough HTML/CSS mockups created by our developer helped us pose the right questions to our team’s designer. Giving our designer a specific problem to solve (“These titles take up too much space at narrow widths”) allowed her to judge the problem in the context of the entire design. She could then explain what she was trying to accomplish visually, and even find solutions that extended beyond the immediate issue we were trying to solve. She’d look at the screen while we squished the browser back and forth, and then say something like, “If you move the titles below the photos this whole problem goes away.” Stepping away from dogmatic ideas of who should be doing what allowed her to focus on doing what she did best, which was solving visual problems.
Distinguish between internal and external needs
When you start moving things around, you may start producing deliverables that are important, but only for an internal audience. That might be because they’re of limited use to the client, or they simply may not be mature enough. Managing expectations is as important as trying a new technique, so if the client is going to see something new, you’ll have to invest time preparing them for what they will receive—especially if it’s not how they’re used to working.
For a current project we are producing HTML/CSS wireframes to get an idea of how long they actually take to make. Since we don’t know (yet), the first rounds of client deliverables are still going to be static wireframes done in Photoshop. If we feel like the HTML/CSS prototypes are mature enough, we will introduce them to the client in the final round.
As you work, then, give yourself enough room to adjust: what if it takes twice as long to produce that wireframe? What if the client is resistant to parallel wireframe and design conversations? What if the thing you’ve produced has value, but only if accompanied by other deliverables?
Focus on products, not presentations
One of the things we’ve had to do was clarify the ultimate goal. This seems obvious: “We’re making a website.” But if your process is anything like ours, you actually spend a lot of time making anything but a website. Mostly you make pictures of a website.
Recently, while working on a beta build of a website, we found out that the majority of our client’s team members were using older versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox. Those people were surprised to see something that differed from the comps they’d been presented earlier in the process.
That experience taught us a lot. Setting client expectations is one way to avoid those surprises, but we’re also slowly agreeing as a team: the browser is the final arbiter of what we do, so let’s stop shoving it to the end of the line. The components of our process need to support the final product at every step of the way.
Put your process prototype on the agenda
It’s easy to nod and agree on something: “We’re going to do this!” But when you get immersed in detail work, it’s just as easy to forget that one new thing you all agreed to put in the mix. So task someone with making sure that you revisit your process prototype repeatedly. This might mean you start meeting more frequently. We’ve found it helpful to have official meetings, but our hope is that eventually we start doing this in a less-structured way, choosing to meet informally when we feel the need to discuss something.
If you’re working on a project-based team, remember to share what you’re doing with other groups. For example, on a recent project, we implemented modular content blocks that could be reordered as needed, inspired by a post by Christopher Butler of Newfangled. We then showed what we were doing to a colleague, and she integrated some of what we learned into her next project. She also had some incisive questions for us that helped us improve the content-authoring experience for our client.
By sharing with others, everyone wins: your colleagues will pick up your new skills, and you’ll be forced to clarify your goals and assumptions.
Iterate your workflow (play the long game)
When you’re reworking your process, it’s good to keep a running log of the things (both good and bad) that you encounter with each new change you introduce:
- Did something take more (or less) time than you expected?
- Were there people who were negatively affected by the change?
- How did the client react? If you’ve worked with them before, were they receptive to change?
By breaking things into focused pieces, you’ll be able to evaluate how effective they were. You can keep the stuff that worked, and refine (or throw away) what didn’t. Having a forum to share those pieces is important, too—at Bluecadet, we’ve made sharing lessons from completed projects with one another a regular part of our monthly all-staff meeting.
Over the course of three separate projects, we’ve now field-tested:
- Atomic/modular content and layout
- Front-end style guides
- HTML/CSS wireframes
Here’s the thing: each of those things that we tried? We’ll probably do them just a little bit differently the second time around, because of all the data we gathered from the first go-round. If we had sat around until we were sure about The New Way of Doing Things, well, we’d still be sitting around today.
One of the things I’m most proud of is that by working piece-by-piece, we’ve pushed our workflow forward while being honest with our clients. One of our internal guidelines is that our clients shouldn’t be bankrolling our workflow remodeling project—our fine-tuning should result in tangible internal benefits for us, but, more importantly, a better product for our clients.
Try something new, now
As I finish writing this, we’re trying out yet another thing that we hope to add to that list: HTML/CSS prototypes as a design deliverable. Maybe they will replace static comps, or simply accompany them—we don’t know yet. But it’s okay that we don’t know. By the fall, we’ll probably be building things far differently than we are right now, informed by the experimentation we’re doing piece-by-piece along the way.
I hope that this encourages you and your team to take some small steps, too. Get together and talk about the parts of your workflow that can be improved, pick one thing to try together, and figure out where you can make space for it. Like us, you’ll probably never be able to draw a line on the calendar and say, “That’s when we started doing things the right way.” But you’ll find yourself much further along—one thing at a time.
- On Styled Form Elements
For almost 20 years, we’ve had the same input types and form elements we still use today: text fields and areas, password fields, select dropdowns, radio buttons, checkboxes, file fields, hidden fields, and the menagerie of button types including
image, and plain old
All of these input types brought with them some styles and functions from both the operating system and browser in use. Much to our own chagrin, we (mostly) figured out how to fight that to achieve custom styles for basic and advanced elements.
Custom styling usually meant background images, pseudo-classes, weird vendor prefixes, and selectively hiding certain elements. I’m not going to get into the accessibility concerns of styling inputs with those tactics (this post can only be so long), but the complexity of input types and their implementation amplified cross-browser and platform issues. Each possible combination of browser and operating system brings its own styles and functions, some of which are hard to control, and all of which are inconsistent.
Even with that amount of stylistic complexity, the interactions of these early input types were pretty simple—click this, type into that box, check the other thing. Simplistic interaction allowed us to get a little crazy with custom styles without hurting the experience. Only the select dropdown, with its list of options, had a more advanced interaction.
The changing environment led to changing interactions—our adorable little calendar-like date picker was an absolute nightmare to use on a 3.5-inch touchscreen, and even dropdowns needed to be rethought.
The iPhone’s native drop-down control was a full-screen wheel-type interface, which was a much more natural interaction at its size. It’s not the perfect interface, especially when the number of options exceeds ten or so (don’t get me started on a listing of countries), but it was a big improvement over fiddling with a tiny, in-page drop-down list.
Android’s drop-down interface was similar, but ever so slightly different—a modal listing of options which closes on selection.
There was a native date picker in iOS—a three-segment drop-down interface, which was much better to use than its calendar-based predecessor.
selectelements were well-supported on these new devices, but we didn’t have a way to leverage other built-in, native components, like the iOS date picker, on the web. Luckily, HTML5 came along and brought us some fantastic new input types. Types like
rangeset the stage for browsers and operating systems to begin handling more and more complex interactions. Apple quickly introduced support for
datein iOS 5, and gave us the ability to expose the native iOS date picker in the browser.
As support for these new input types grows, we can begin implementing them today with fallbacks when appropriate (or at least helpful hints, since unsupported input types become text fields). Dropdowns and date pickers are just a sampling of the things that are better handled by systems themselves—a device will always be able to make better decisions about its use than the device-agnostic web.
The simplistic interactions of early input types gave us room to experiment, but the more complex interactions of modern fields leave little room for that. There’s only so much we can control before the browser and operating system take over, and then we’re at their whim. The web isn’t stopping any time soon—we’re headed for more complex input types with even less control exposed.
That makes me wonder how much longer we’ll be fighting to style these elements. It’s time we stop breaking and faking input types and accept the ebb and flow of things.
- We Have Work to Do: #yesallwomen and the Web
Last week, I plucked an article from our submission inbox. It was about getting stuck in the “friendzone,” and likened women not wanting to date men to both the Holocaust and terrorism.
It was obviously ridiculous—a terrible article terribly suited to our magazine. I told the author it was sexist, made a joke about it on the ALA Slack channel, and moved on with my life.
We’re A List Apart, after all. We published “Responsive Web Design.” “The Discipline of Content Strategy.” “A Dao of Web Design.” We’re here to help you make better websites and digital products, not get bent out of shape about every stupid example of sexism we see.
And yet. Someone thought that was right for us.
I woke up Saturday morning to news of tragedy, and watched as that tragedy turned into #yesallwomen, a Twitter conversation about sexism and violence against women so large, so powerful, that most of the women I know contributed to it.
The women I know, by and large, work in tech. They’re your designer, your developer, your content strategist, your user researcher. They’re our authors. And more often than any of us wants to believe, they’re getting groped at tech meetups. They’re receiving death and rape threats for speaking at a conference. Their bodies are being made the targets of office jokes.
They’re being talked down to, fired, catcalled, harassed, abused, and raped—and blamed for it, too.
But of course, that’s not our subject matter. A List Apart is about publishing the Next Big Thing in design. It’s about shaping standards. It’s about the business of building websites.
And yet. When I look at those articles that most influenced my career (and probably many of yours), I see our mission, clear as day: to encourage a more thoughtful, curious, and engaged web industry—one that pushes past easy answers and encourages ongoing growth and learning.
We need as many brains and hearts as possible to solve these problems. And if we do not make this a welcoming place for people of all kinds of backgrounds—women, as #yesallwomen clearly shows, but also people of color and younger people and older people and people who don’t speak English as a first language and people with disabilities and even people who don’t think gifs are funny—then we, as an industry, will miss out. We’ll miss out on talent, on perspective, on ideas.
So we, the staff of A List Apart, are putting a stake in the ground: we will be part of this conversation, too. Sexism and discrimination and diversity are not fringe issues—not problems that should be relegated only to niche sites or individuals’ blogs. They’re mainstream issues that have found far too comfortable a home in our industry. An industry we’ve worked too damn hard to grow, guide, and collaborate with to watch it falter and flail now.
We’re not going to stop publishing articles about CSS Shapes or Sass mixins, not for a second. But as we do, we’re also going to be thinking about our responsibility to this community. And that means a few things:
- We expect the people we publish to be respectful to their community, and we will not publish those we see doing otherwise.
- We will be vigilant about the voices we choose to amplify, and those we do not.
- We will actively, purposefully seek out diverse contributors.
- We’ll be spending more time talking about sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination, even if it makes some readers uncomfortable.
Most of all, we’re here, and we’re on the record: the web industry has a diversity problem. It’s got a misogyny problem. It’s standing in the way of the web we want, and we are all—every one of us—responsible for changing that.
- Ten Years Ago in ALA: Art Direction and Drop Shadows
Writing for web designers is a tricky blend of trying to predict and shape the near-future while keeping your feet firmly grounded in the practical concerns of the here-and-now. Ten years ago this month in Issue 180, A List Apart published Stephen Hay’s Art Direction and the Web, a tidy piece that still resonates today.
For those who have grown weary of the Great Flatness Debates of the present, Stephen’s piece is refreshingly rooted in communication design. The article provides a solid outline of the principles of art direction by discussing the importance of creative themes and rhetorical devices in your work, and follows up with some practical tips on how to implement these concepts into your workflow. It’s a good read for today’s designer, as it is mainly focused on thoughtfulness and process, and unencumbered by jaggy screenshots of the pre-anti-aliased web.
On the other hand, Onion Skinned Drop Shadows, written by Brian Williams for Issue 182, is a direct example of a technique that is now utterly obsolete. Like Faux Columns and Sliding Doors, this technique demonstrates an incredible amount of ingenuity that seems ridiculously kludgey today, when drop shadows are so easily created with a single line of CSS that an entire movement has spawned to argue against them.
Also from May 2004: Print It Your Way by Derek Featherstone, a guide to creating custom user print stylesheets for Firefox, and Separation: The Web Designer’s Dilemma, a rumination from Michael Cohen on the ongoing concern over keeping content separate from layout.
Finally, a bonus flashback: zeldman.com from 10 years ago, with Issue 182 featured in the sidebar!
- Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Getting the Word Out
Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day. To mark the day and promote the goal of the day, groups of developers and designers interested in accessibility offer webinars, presentations, and networking events to interest and educate more people about why accessibility is important and how to address accessibility in web content, documents, and software. GAAD is a community-driven event, and engaging is a simple as visiting the GAAD web site, Facebook page, or Twitter feed and taking a few minutes to read an article that someone posts or joining a webinar to learn new techniques or get up to speed on current trends.
At A List Apart, we started this week by posting Andrew Hoffman’s new article, Accessibility, The Missing Ingredient. The article highlights techniques used to make an interactive shopping application and cart experience more accessible, and discusses how use of the W3C ARIA specification provides useful tools for a developer to use. Most articles about accessibility attract lots of passionate discussion, and this one is no different.
ARIA is a specification with support that is developing still, and there is often some measure of subjectivity in decisions related to accessibility and there is always variability in support offered by the mix of browser and assistive technology support for accessibility, so it’s helpful to see examples and talk about them.
Discussion about any accessibility topic is a good thing, and helps engage people who are new to the topic. While it can be intimidating to wade into discussions on accessibility and it’s true that the accessibility community can be quick to criticize, there’s so much value in these discussions—for participants and onlookers alike—that the signal makes a little noise worthwhile.
When I started on accessibility, my sometimes ignorant questions were met with welcoming advice and with dismissive remarks. I’m glad I focused on the former, and the many people interested in advancing accessibility who shared their knowledge, advice, and passion continue to help me develop my knowledge. Almost 15 years later, as a dyed-in-the-wool accessibility wonk myself, I need to continually remind myself that not everyone has worked on accessibility for as long as some of my colleagues but that there are a lot of people that are interested in helping make the web more accessible and as a community we need to pull them in, not push them away.
On Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I applaud the many efforts being made to expand the number of people who know about accessibility, as it’s a problem that can’t be solved without expanding our community. It’s a big web, and we need as many voices doing as much educating as they can. Whether you’re writing for yourself or submission page: let’s get the word out!
- “Dear FCC,”
» “Dear FCC,”
Every voice counts! Please share your thoughts with the FCC before they vote later today to destroy net neutrality. This is an issue of justice and access. Save our shared web and help ensure that others can access it.
- Global Accessibility Day
» Global Accessibility Day
Today, 15 May, is Global Accessibility Awareness day. Please see if there is a live accessibility event near you. And take an hour of your day to experience accessibility online.
- Design Tools for Today’s Web
Even though I learned about designing for the web in what most would consider the modern era, I still learned (what I would consider) the old way of doing things. No, I’ve never made a table-based site, but I learned how to build a site without all of today’s CSS techniques. I remember slicing gradient images into repeatable, 1-pixel-wide background images, I remember how annoying it was to make a scalable container with rounded corners, and I remember adding classes of
oddto list items and table rows.
I learned the ways of Photoshop, Illustrator, and other Creative Suite applications, but I had no set processes or preferences early on—I was bias-free, and nothing was sacred. There’s no arguing that the Creative Suite applications are powerful, feature-rich, and have the intangible value of being industry standards—the PSD format is almost as universal as PDF—but, they just didn’t feel like the right tool for the job, especially to someone who was new to it all.
As browsers became more advanced and rendering shifted from images to native CSS, the old, established applications fell out of step. A weird divide grew between how things were done in Photoshop and how they were implemented in code. The time was ripe for an application that was built, from the ground up, focused on the new era of interface design. And that’s when I found Sketch.
I was drawn to Sketch for its interface—it’s a truly native Mac application, not just an application packaged up to be compatible. It’s vector-based, yet pixel friendly, which makes a huge difference in a world filled with displays of varying pixel density.
The thing I love most about Sketch’s interface is that it’s consolidated and focused. All of an object’s properties can be tweaked directly in the inspector. No more traversing through menu after menu, or toolbar after toolbar, to get to important things.
Navigating around Sketch is a breeze, and it doesn’t stop at the interface. Documents are broken down into pages, and pages are broken down into artboards. With an unlimited number of each, there’s a lot of flexibility to be had. There’s no right or wrong way to use pages and artboards, so bend them to fit your process.
I’ve created Sketch pages to match each site page, with artboards to show responsive states. I’ve created pattern library pages, with artboards for things like type styles, control elements, and other general styles. I’ve made pages for icon sets, with an artboard for each individual icon. I find navigating through pages and artboards is a lot easier than opening multiple files and dealing with somewhat strange naming conventions.
Back in the days of slicing designs, one size and format of each image would do just fine. But today, it’s not uncommon to have multiple sizes and formats of each image asset to support different viewport sizes and display pixel densities. Though we’re using images for less, exporting has become much more complex, tedious, and important.
Sketch is built with a modern workflow in mind. Every single object and artboard in a document can be made exportable, and configured with multiple export rules. For each rule you can set a specific size, filename suffix, and image format.
Exporting assets is generally time-intensive, and future updates require a complete re-export. Once export rules have been set up in Sketch, all assets (or a chosen subset of assets) can be exported, formatted, and renamed with one click.
There are a ton of workflow improvements to be discovered in Sketch—things like global text and layer styles, reusable elements, square and layout grids, iOS mirroring, and a powerful third-party plugin system (my favorite of which is this content generator plugin).
Sketch isn’t without its flaws and pain points. Being focused on interface design, there aren’t many fine-tuned controls for image editing or manipulation, which often has me jumping between Photoshop and Sketch. Brush tool fans: you’ll still be using Creative Suite for the time being, because Sketch has nothing to offer on that front. It’s not the best tool for things outside of interface design, and I’ve heard many people who do photorealistic or heavily-detailed icon work say that they still prefer Adobe’s offerings.
While this can be seen as a positive or a negative, the Sketch team is just four people. Small teams like that obviously can’t move as fast as a team like Adobe, but their support is top notch and personal. It’s still a young tool, so there are some funny bugs that pop up every now and then, but Sketch is maturing really well, and version 3 has been an incredibly solid release.
The prospect of changing design applications is intimidating, especially in fast-moving environments. It slowed me down at first, but ultimately led to a better, smoother design-to-development workflow. If you’ve got a small or internal project coming up, maybe take advantage of their free trial and see if it works for you.
- Tuesday afternoon sportz journalizm chuckles
An Oral History of the 1989 Cleveland Indians. It was 1989, and no one knew that the usually predictable world of Major League Baseball was about to get as topsy turvy as it could. Here's the story of a plucky band of misfits, fighting against the entrenched baseball establishment, to obtain success in their efforts against their playing opponents, and an evil owner bent on relocation.
In this article, Scott Lewis, usual master of the animated GIF, tackles one of the most interesting, and mostly untold stories of baseball history.
Perhaps you're a fan of baseball, the Cleveland club, or just a casual follower of humour. Enjoy.
- The Judgment of Paris (and a neck that can bend 140 degrees)
Mallory Ortberg of The Toast continues the fine tradition of providing not-so-serious narration to very-serious art. This time, she tackles the Judgment of Paris, a theme "based on a legend where three supremely powerful goddesses asked a worthless male mortal to rank them in order of attractiveness in order to win a sculpture of a fruit."
Previously (I'm sure I missed more posts).
You can find the rest on pages 1 through 3 here. They are glorious.
- I Know Where Your Cat Lives
Only 15 million, riiiight. A data experiment out of Florida State University maps the location of 1 million of the 15 million publicly available online images tagged with the word "cat." Using a supercomputer and the map coordinates imbedded in their metadata, I Know Where Your Cat Lives shows where each image was taken, to within an estimated 7.8 meters accuracy.
[Insert cyberstalking pun here]
- Mexican DREAMers - Life after return
They grew up in America, were deported or returned to Mexico for other reasons and faced challenges and opportunities alike. A recently funded kickstarter for a book called "Los Otros Dreamers" tells the struggles and hopes of the other DREAMers. Nancy Landa, a deported honors graduate of California State University, who has lived in Tijuana and London since her deportation in 2009, is about to begin a research project collecting the experiences of voluntary and involuntary returns to Mexico after a long time in the U.S. To help in a country that is foreign to them the Mexican nonprofit Dream in Mexico supports young people who just arrived in Mexico. The German Der Spiegel interviewed three young deportees and how returning to Mexico after a lifetime in the U.S was both, a culture shock and an opportunity for a better life. [in German]
- considering & rethinking bathrooms
Why the modern bathroom is a wasteful, unhealthy design (The Guardian): "Piped water may be the greatest convenience ever known but our sewage systems and bathrooms are a disaster"
Nobody seriously paused to think about the different functions and their needs; they just took the position that if water comes in and water goes out, it is all pretty much the same and should be in the same room. Nobody thought about how the water from a shower or bathtub (greywater) is different from the water from a toilet (blackwater); it all just went down the same drain which connected to the same sewer pipe that gathered the rainwater from the streets, and carried it away to be dumped in the river or lake.more by the same author, Lloyd Alter, at Treehugger:
It is hard to find something that we actually got right in the modern bathroom. The toilet is too high (our bodies were designed to squat), the sink is too low and almost useless; the shower is a deathtrap (an American dies every day from bath or shower accidents). We fill this tiny, inadequately ventilated room with toxic chemicals ranging from nail polish to tile cleaners. We flush the toilet and send bacteria into the air, with our toothbrush in a cup a few feet away. We take millions of gallons of fresh water and contaminate it with toxic chemicals, human waste, antibiotics and birth control hormones in quantities large enough to change the gender of fish.
We mix up all our bodily functions in a machine designed by engineers on the basis of the plumbing system, not human needs. The result is a toxic output of contaminated water, questionable air quality and incredible waste. We just can't afford to do it this way any more.
The History of the Bathroom, revisited (an eight-part series)
The Atlantic - The Private Lives of Public Bathrooms
"How psychology, gender roles, and design explain the distinctive way we behave in the world's stalls"
(this piece featured previously on MeFi: behind the stall door)
FastCompany - The Bathroom of the Future is Gender-Neutral
This is, inherently, a design issue. With the occasional exception of how many urinals it features, a bathroom is a bathroom, whether the little figure on the door wears a dress or pants. Yet the need to pick and conform to a particular gender identity is embedded in the way we design buildings around segregated restroom facilities. It's a form of discrimination in the built environment... [...]Salon - Let's talk crap: Our frank interview about human waste may horrify you about how the world cleans itself down there
San Francisco code encourages businesses to offer at least one gender-neutral bathroom option, and Philadelphia requires it in city-owned buildings. For the most part, this means single stall, locking restrooms--which also benefit people with disabilities, parents assisting children, and more.
But couldn't we also rethink the design of multi-stall bathrooms? This could benefit everyone, not just those who feel pressured by the gender politics of picking the men's room or the women's room. Despite modern attitudes about the sharing of parental duties, men's rooms still frequently lack changing tables, so what about a bathroom equipped for everyone's needs, regardless of gender, age, or physical ability?
"Bathroom hygiene is just one of the foul and frankly fascinating aspects of what's euphemistically known as "sanitation," which British journalist Rose George explores in her new book, "The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters.""
Grist - Crap happens: A special report on how we dispose of our poop (a four-part series)
Straightforward explanations of sustainable sanitation systems (with visual charts) and sustainable sewage design.
*Scientific American - Philadephia Uses Tough Love to Overhaul Water and Sewer System: "A new "Green City, Clean Waters" plan aims to address water and climate issues, but it is not inspiring much brotherly love among some"
*Johnson Foundation - Urban water and sewage systems will need an overhaul to cope with climate change (link to PDF of study at bottom of piece)
RadioLab (audio, ~23 min.) - Learning all about NYC's "Poop Train"
The inquisitive minds at RadioLab... got to the bottom of New York City sewage treatment. We're talking 1.3 billion gallons (or seven billion pounds) of daily material that must be managed. Up until 1986, West Side sewage was simply dumped, untreated into the Hudson River. There were also boats that would cart out loads 103 miles into the ocean and throw it all overboard. Today, the treated sewage is destined for landfill, but per the report by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, there was also another interim solution spearheaded by NYC "sludge salesman" Mike Sharp:*Time - Humanure: Goodbye, Toilets. Hello, Extreme Composting (humanure previously on MeFi)
"And this is how the New York City poop train began. A couple of days before Earth Day 1992, several thousand tons of New York City sludge left the Big Apple, headed for Lamar, Colorado. Sixteen hundred miles away..."
Colorado farmers were initially wary of using the stuff, a POV compounded by a local TV ad for salsa that took similar knocks at anything of NYC provenance. But listen to the RadioLab report and you will hear a horse story, a cow story and many more great details about this fascinating bit of bathroom history, which ended just last year.*
*MAKE magazine - Humanure for the City Dweller: How to build a non-code human waste collection system
*Permaculture News - "So, after careful consideration, I chose to work with nature and install an approved worm farm to process all the humanure and grey water from my household." (Victoria, Australia)
*Vice - Vermont Farmers Are Spraying Their Crops with Piss
*National Geographic - Is "Peecycling" the Next Wave in Sustainable Living?: "Human waste can be converted into valuable fertilizer, if people can get past the "ick" factor."
Toilet Guru - Toilets of the World
The International Center for Bathroom Etiquette (ICBE previously on MeFi)
WorldNomads - 10 Travel Adventures in Restroom Etiquette: Not All Toilets are Created Equal
All Down Under - Australian Toilets and Bathrooms
Priceonomics - Why aren't we all using Japanese toilets?
Slate - You Probably Need This Incredible Japanese Wonder Toilet
Innovation on Earth - "Smart" Japanese Bathrooms
previously on MeFi:
all posts tagged with "bathroom" and here's some that weren't (since 2010) - AirPnP - what makes a good toilet? - battle for the bottom - how to properly use a squat toilet - Roman bathroom habits - the Gates Foundation's "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge" - international toilet paper rules - plumbing in the movies
- Abbreviated "Family Feud"
What do you get when you subtract all the extraneous banter from an episode of "Family Feud"? About three minutes of actual game show. (SLYT).
- You want a juicy industry to disrupt? How about your own?
It's astonishing how many of the people conducting interviews and passing judgement on the careers of candidates have had no training at all on how to do it well. Aside from their own interviews, they may not have ever seen one. I'm all for learning on your own but at least when you write a program wrong it breaks. Without a natural feedback loop, interviewing mostly runs on myth and survivor bias. "Empirically", people who wear suits don't do well; therefore anyone in a suit is judged before they open their mouths. On my interview I remember we did thus & so, therefore I will always do thus & so. I'm awesome and I know X; therefore anyone who doesn't know X is an idiot. Exceptions, also known as opportunities for learning, are not allowed to occur. This completes the circle.According to Carlos Bueno, Silicon Valley is not a meritocracy, it's a mirrortocracy where startups hire the people that resemble them the most.
In a second post Carlos lays out a method to refactor the hiring process one of the points of which is:
Single-blind as much as possible. Ask your friendly neighborhood recruiter to remove the names and other identifying info from résumés before you read them. I've seen interviewers thrown off their stride because they assumed the candidate's gender and were wrong. It's a terrible source of bias. It's hard to overstate how badly people are biased by names. And of course, don't ask how a candidate did on other interviews before writing down your own opinion.Something that Kristen V. Brown in the SFGate agrees with:
But by the mid-1990s, the number of women in the five leading orchestras had increased fivefold. By 2003, more than a third of players in the top 24 orchestras were women. Prominent women soloists emerged, as did female concertmasters.
The shift occurred as orchestras began conducting blind auditions. Throughout the '70s and '80s, applicants were concealed behind screens and drapes. When gender was hidden from judges, more women made the cut.
- Science science science science science science science
Musical proof that Scully Likes Science.
- Replaying the Tape
Carl Zimmer writes for Quanta: The New Science Of Evolutionary Forecasting
Can We Predict Evolution?
Diverse Introspectives: A conversation with Lauren Buckley
What do you think are the most important questions in ecology today?Langerhans, RB: Predicting evolution with generalized models of divergent selection: a case study with poeciliid fish. [PDF]
Predicting species responses to climate change is an overarching question, because we need to get so many of the underlying ecological and evolutionary details right to make accurate predictions. In particular, important and exciting work is emerging addressing how species interactions might modify responses to climate change.
The fact that such a simple model could yield accurate evolutionary predictions in distantly related fishes inhabiting different geographic regions and types of habitat, and experiencing different predator species, suggests that the model pinpointed a causal factor underlying major, shared patterns of diversification. The GMDS [generalized model of divergent selection] approach appears to represent a promising method of addressing the predictability of evolution and identifying environmental factors responsible for driving major patterns of replicated evolution.Is Evolution Predictable?: Predicting evolution from the shape of genealogical trees
Given a sample of genome sequences from an asexual population, can one predict its evolutionary future? Here we demonstrate that the branching pattern of reconstructed genealogical trees contains information about the relative fitness of the sampled sequences and that this information can be used to infer the closest extant relative of future populations. Our approach is based on the assumption that evolution proceeds predominantly by accumulation of small effect mutations and does not require any species specific input. Hence, the resulting inference algorithm can be applied to any asexual population under persistent selection pressure. We demonstrate its performance using historical data on seasonal influenza A/H3N2 virus. We predict the progenitor lineage of the upcoming influenza season with near optimal performance in 30% of cases and makes informative predictions in 16 out of 18 years. Beyond providing a practical tool for prediction, our results suggest that continuous adaptation by small effect mutations is a major component of influenza virus evolution."Evolutionary forecasting" is also being used to predict drug resistance and flu strains.
The evolutionary time machine: using dormant propagules to forecast how populations can adapt to changing environments
Real-Time Forecasting of Near-Future Evolution
Evolution myths: Evolution is not predictive
- No Skin Thick Enough
The Daily Harassment of Women in the Game Industry. "It's telling that men in the gaming industry, or simply commentators, refuse to listen to the reality of these situations and try to help. They'd rather talk over women and convince themselves of a fictional reality that's more comforting."
- Morph is Back
Morph is a plasticine man , star of many short animated films made for the BBC from the 1970s onwards by Aardman Animations, who would later use the similar techniques for Wallace & Gromit. A Kickstarter campaign last year has paid for 12 new one minute episodes.
So far two have been posted onto the YouTube channel - Twin Decks and Brand New Hole - with a new episode to come every second Friday for the summer. Please enjoy these short and very inventive (mostly) silent films.
- "U.S. citizens here?" - "U.S. citizens."
- You realize your body is bespoke.
There are many reasons people start sewing their own clothes: to break out of some of the cycle of fast fashion's humanitarian and ecological issues (MF link), to be creative, to make quality clothes, to support local fabric shops and independent pattern designers, and to express their own style. A sometimes-overlooked benefit, though, is that of examining body acceptance.
The sewing community examines:
It's normal to not be a single numerical size
If it doesn't fit your body, there are ways to alter the pattern
Spending time admiring average-size bloggers instead of models can help self-esteem
Further reading: Short note on body image and sewing, Sewing, body issues, and finding the perfect fit, Sewing and body image, Did you make that (title quote citation)
- Frankly, my dear, I do give a damn
Meet Scarlett, North America's Top ranked Starcraft player. A complex, real-time strategy game with exquisitely balanced opposing forces, Starcraft is so popular that men can and do make a career out of playing the game. All but one of the top 20 ranked players in the world live and play in Korea. And all of them are men. So maybe it is not surprising that Scarlett, a 20 year-old transgender woman from Canada , is making huge waves in the gaming community.
- Basement shows, kittens, pink hair, zines, flowers and pizza.
- Come for the Cap'n Jazz, stay for Desaparecidos
Thirty Essential Songs from the Golden Age of Emo Including, of course, and with all sincerity, a late-era Jawbreaker song that opens with a clip of Christopher Walken's monologue from Annie Hall.
- women-owned worker coops & the fight against the feminization of poverty
Sarah McKinley and Violeta Duncan for Community Wealth: Worker Cooperatives Address Low-Wage Work and the Feminization of Poverty.
Women of color working low-wage jobs must often navigate unregulated work conditions, as much of their work is domestic labor—caregiving, house cleaning, child care—an industry that, historically, is not only low-paid but also exploitative. The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), a 10,000 membership-based organization for nannies, housecleaners, and caregivers, describes, in its 2012 Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work [PDF] report, the substandard conditions of domestic work, including lack of employment benefits, meager wages, exposure to toxic chemicals, and physical abuse.
Such unhealthy work environments and insufficient pay have led a number of these low-wage women to take matters in to their own hands. Many have formed women-owned worker cooperatives that ensure good pay and healthy working conditions, help women overcome the isolation and vulnerability of domestic work, and empower women to build wealth for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Women-owned, women-run worker co-ops featured in the article include:
- Women's Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES) - Oakland, CA
- Natural Home Cleaning Professionals (NHCP) - Oakland, CA
- Emma's Eco-Clean - Redwood City, CA
- Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) - The Bronx, NY
- Si Se Puede! (We Can Do It!) Women's Cooperative - Brooklyn, NY
- Beyond Care Childcare Cooperative - Brooklyn, NY
- La Colectiva - San Francisco, CA
- Mujeres Unidas - Mora, NM
- Golden Steps Elder Care Co-op - Brooklyn, NY
- Freedom Quilting Bee - Gee's Bend, AL (history)
- Ginger Moon 'Food Doula' Co-op - Brooklyn, NY
- Spice & Rice Catering Co-op - Chicago, IL
- Native Women's Cooperative Project - Tahlequah, OK
- Apple Eco-Cleaning Co-op - New York, NY
- Capay Valley Meat Growers Cooperative - Yolo County, CA
- Artes del Valle Crafts Collective - La Garita, CO
- Émigré Gourmet Catering Co-op - Brooklyn, NY
- Caracol Interpreters Cooperative - Brooklyn, NY
- Vida Verde Housecleaning Co-op - Brighton, MA (see also: Vida Verde: The Story)
- UN Women: Economic empowerment - facts and figures
- Grassroots Economic Organizing: Black Co-ops Were A Method of Economic Survival
- Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity: Worker-Owned Cooperatives—A Resilient Model for Grassroots Economic Development
- International Labour Organization: Promising Practices: How cooperatives work for working women in Africa [PDF]
- stories.coop: Empowering Rural Women in Developing Countries Through Savings And Credit Cooperatives
- Gujarat State (India) Women's SEWA Co-operative Federation
- Wikipedia: Feminization of poverty
- Wikipedia: Women in cooperatives
- In order to win at life, you need some Kim K skills.
Are you playing Kim Kardashian: Hollywood yet? Pretty much everyone is, including the EPA Office of Water. Your mission is simple: become an A-list celebrity through networking, flirting, modeling, promoting vodka, avoiding landlords and poking birds for money, and dating assholes in fedoras. Oh, and plenty of in-app purchases. Or you could just cheat.
- OK: Now explain midichlorians.
With growing fascination for the large land vertebratomorphs that are so startlingly diverse on Tatooine, I secured Imperial funding for an expedition to Tatooine, to survey the exotic megafauna and search for fossils of Tyrannodraconis that might further illuminate their evolution. My ensuing report summarizes my trilogy of investigations and discoveries from this "holiday in the suns."
After years of seismic ultrasound and magnetic macroimaging, my team was able to decipher the gross anatomy of the Carkoon sarlacc, albeit from a safe distance. I present it for the first time here, accompanied with archival droid imagery obtained from the Rebel War archives.
The heat was forceful. We had docked the ship not long after sunsrise, and the temperature was already hovering near 40 degrees. By double noon, an additional 10 degrees could be counted on.
It was a dehydrating heat. The humidity of the air here is said to average 5.4%, with little variance about that value. In my homeland, humidity can reach 100%, as gentle showers nourish the land beneath.
Predators play an important role in structuring ecosystems, with predator population declines being linked to a variety of negative ecological effects. Here, we present evidence that the planet Tatooine, famous throughout the Galaxy for being a desert planet, experienced desertification as a result of unintended changes in herbivore populations caused by the intentional large-scale killing of apex predators by offworld colonists. Fossil evidence and interviews showing traditional ecological knowledge suggest that once-abundant Krayt dragons were hunted to near extinction by early human colonists. As a result of the decline in predation, populations of large herbivorous banthas populations grew out of control and overgrazed the plants once found throughout Tatooine.
The Working Group contribution to the TIPCC's First Assessment Report (AR1) considers cumulative evidence of climate change based on many independent scientific analyses from observations of the climate system, paleoclimate archives, theoretical studies of climate processes and simulations using climate models. It represents a first concerted attempt to address the possible long term effects on the Tatooine geological and biodiversity systems, particularly as it pertains to the current unregulated practice of water mining.
On Earth, we see Namibian desert beetles that harvest water from the fog that rolls in off the Atlantic Ocean, allowing droplets of water to condense on their forewings and flow into their mouths. Why couldn't the massive, rideable Tatooinian lizards known as "dewbacks" do something similar?
On Tatooine, there are krayt dragon, rancor, sarlaccs, dewbacks, banthas, among other animals. Our understanding of life requires water. On a planet with less than 10 inches of sporadic rainfall annually, how do such big animals get their water?
Science writing aims to convey ideas, engaging and educating readers on topics from biology to astronomy. Because science writing is focused on real efforts to understand the real universe, you might reasonably ask why a collection of science writers have chosen to spend time and creative energy writing about imaginary animals from a planet that does not exist... The short answer is that in science writing, as with all writing, it's easier to capture an audience's attention if you have a good story to tell.
- Iron Horses
- An illustrated guide to the worst computer viruses in history
Computer Virus Catalog (NSFW) shows artists' renditions of famous computer viruses.
- Rube Goldberg wept
A Republican panel of the D.C. Circuit has ruled [.pdf opinion] in the case of Halbig v. Burwell that a drafting error in the Affordable Care Act provides subsidies exclusively to state-based exchanges and not to federally-facilitated ones, even while subjectively intending to provide subsidies in both cases. The ruling threatens to take away federal subsidies for insurance sold on Obamacare exchanges in 36 states.
- The death of Eric Garner
Last week, a 43 year-old man named Eric Garner died during an arrest on Staten Island, New York, when he was put in what looked like a choke hold. The NYPD claims that Mr. Garner was selling illegally cigarettes outside a store. The entire encounter, which was videotaped and posted to YouTube, (graphic) has so far resulted in the removal of the badge and gun from the arresting officers, as well as the suspension of two EMTs and two paramedics who were seen on another video taking Garner's pulse but apparently doing little else for about two minutes.
An NYPD internal report prepared right after his death on Staten Island last Thursday plays down the incident, with supervising officers failing to note the chokehold and insisting Garner was not in "great distress."
The death of Eric Garner has brought more attention and protests against NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, the former Police Commissioner under Rudolph Giuliani, who then went on to serve for the LAPD before being hired by Mayor de Blasio last winter.
"I didn't do shit!" Garner can be seen telling cops in a video of the incident. "I was just minding my own business."
"Every time you see me, you want to mess with me," he added. "I'm tired of it ... Please just leave me alone!"
How Anonymous Cops Online Are Reacting to the Death of Eric Garner
- We use tortoise diplomacy ... like the Chinese use panda diplomacy
"...With China's growing economic weight, disposable income and willingness to engage internationally, its ability to radically transform the fortunes of small countries has seen many governments re-orientate their diplomatic endeavors away from traditional bases in the West.
"But with so few resources available to them, and so little political capital to bank on, these lonely diplomats face a struggle against limited budgets as they scrap for crumbs from the giant's table."
- Bloggers review the It-bag of the moment: the Michael Kors Selma handbag
Michael Kors has been causing a bit of a sensation in the fashion world recently, as the popularity of the designer's handbags, and in particular, one handbag—called "the Selma"—threatens to dethrone Coach as the luxury brand to buy (some say it already has). The Guardian notes that in the Kors line of handbags, "The details are right: the gold studs on the base, a practical touch so that you can rest the bag on the floor; a printed silk lining; a phone pocket. But the most important detail is very, very simple: the magic £300 price tag." Obsessions and the internet go hand in hand, so here are some of the best reviews of Selma handbags from bloggers who want to share their knowledge with other handbag enthusiasts.
"Fast Food + Fast Fashion", Review: MICHAEL by Michael Kors Selma Large East West Satchel:
At $358, it is priced strategically on the cusp of within-grasp and out-of-reach for the average consumer. With a 15%-25% off discount (the typical discount for friends & family sales or a first-time email subscriber bonus), the price of the bag falls below $300, making it a luxury good crafted for modest budgets."Fast Food + Fast Fashion" also compared three sizes of different-colored Selmas. Again, she notes she likes this bag for its "relative affordability and a pragmatic yet aesthetically pleasing design."
The Selma comes in four sizes/shapes at this time (small, medium, E/W large, and N/S large) and a dozen colors (classic tan,black, navy, gray, white, luggage, and red as well as brights like tangelo orange, red, neon yellow, and hot pink; two-tone neon/black, highlighter pink/black, and black/white; metallic colors like gold).
The bag is easy to love. The shape is "classic" in that it is timeless but unassuming. The functional details like a detachable adjustable long strap, trapezoidal body, handheld straps which fold down, metal feet, and a sturdy top zipper make this bag appropriate for different lifestyles.
"BlushCrush" in the United Kingdom loves the handbag but has some criticism:
The leather, is admittedly not incredible &endash don't get me wrong, it's rigid and stiff, which is necessary if the bag is to retain its shape and structure; but it does mean that over time the leather is more likely to scratch, rather than soften up and become almost buttery like Mulberry's offerings. Alas, it also does not have the distinct new leather smell that sends me weak at the knees – yes, yes, I know I have problems!"what jen made" documents how her Vanilla-colored Selma handbag held up under daily use:
Jokes aside, I appreciate that this bag needs to have a thicker, stiffer leather in order for it to work, so I really can't criticise it.
After only several months of everyday use, the d-ring attachment at the front of the bag started to tear. In a weak attempt to prevent it from getting worse, I tried to carry it by hand for a few days, ending up with the aforementioned shoulder pains. I should have listened to my gut instincts when I first saw how the shoulder straps were attached. The way the attachments were positioned at front left and back right, and how the leather loop was attached through a cutout with only stitching, are not able to provide balanced or sufficient weight distribution.Lastly, "Soshified Styling Review" gives the Selma points for quality, size, and design, but mentions a few snags:
When I went in store to ask about the one year warranty, I was told it did not cover wear and tear, and that I was carrying too heavy a load in my bag. Essentially, they were saying it was my fault. After laying out all my bag contents, I still feel that everything I carry are essential items in a modern woman's life. Shouldn't Michael Kors' designers have taken this weight load into account when designing this type of bag? I'm on the fence about future purchases from Michael Kors. On the one hand, I like the quality and affordable price point they offer, on the other hand, this experience.
Though I'd love it if this article is all good points about the bag but it won't be a review without a few setbacks, but trust me, they're not deal-breakers.Bonus link: "Fast Food + Fast Fashion", Review: Coach City Tote vs. MICHAEL by Michael Kors Saffiano Medium Travel Tote
A minor issue I have with the bag is the squeaking of the top handles when in use. I'm not sure if it's just my bag or the friction between the leathers but it's not something to worry about. Another is that the wings leave small openings on the sides since the zipper doesn't cover the whole top of the bag. Just saying, if you're paranoid with the security of your belongings; though the gap is small enough that people won't be able to reach into your bag.
My verdict: this bag is a must-have for both bag collectors and people who are in the market for a practical and trendy bag. Winged bags are still flying high and above and it won't go anywhere anytime soon. So if you're looking for a winged bag that could bring you to seventh heaven, consider buying the Selma satchel!