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...
- NASA Chief Tells the Critics of Exploration Plan: "Get Over It"
mknewman (557587) writes "For years, critics have been taking shots at NASA's plans to corral a near-Earth asteroid before moving on to Mars — and now NASA's chief has a message for those critics: 'Get over it, to be blunt.' NASA Administrator Charles Bolden defended the space agency's 20-year timeline for sending astronauts to the Red Planet on Tuesday, during the opening session of this year's Humans 2 Mars Summit at George Washington University in the nation's capital."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- "Going Up" At 45 Mph: Hitachi To Deliver World's Fastest Elevator
Zothecula (1870348) writes "Hitachi has announced that it's installing the world's fastest ultra-high-speed elevators in the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre skyscraper in Guangzhou, China. Making up two out of a total of 95 elevators in the building, Hitachi says the new lifts use a range of technologies to produce record-breaking speeds of 1,200 m/min while still meeting the necessary standards of safety and comfort."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Band Releases Album As Linux Kernel Module
netbuzz (955038) writes "A band called netcat is generating buzz in software circles by releasing its debut album as a Linux kernel module (among other more typical formats.) 'Are you ever listening to an album, and thinking "man, this sounds good, but I wish it crossed from user-space to kernel-space more often!" We got you covered,' the band says on its Facebook page. 'Our album is now fully playable as a loadable Linux kernel module.'"
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- WhatsApp Is Well On Its Way To A Billion Users
redletterdave (2493036) writes "In just two months since Facebook dropped $19 billion to buy WhatsApp, the five-year-old mobile messaging app on Tuesday announced its its active user base has grown to more than half a billion people. This is not the first time that an app has seen a major pop in users after it was acquired by Facebook: When Facebook bought Instagram in April 2012, the service boasted some 30 million users. In one month after the deal, Instagram gained 20 million new users. By July, Instagram grew to 80 million active users. WhatsApp seems to be having a similar growth spurt, gaining roughly 25 million users each month since the Facebook deal was announced."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- NYPD's Twitter Campaign Backfires
An anonymous reader writes "A NYPD community outreach campaign designed to show images of citizens with cops turned ugly quickly when a deluge of images depicting police brutality came in. From the article: 'The responses soon turned ugly when Occupy Wall Street tweeted a photograph of cops battling protesters with the caption "changing hearts and minds one baton at a time." Other photos included an elderly man bloodied after being arrested for jaywalking.' Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says, 'I kind of welcome the attention,' of the #myNYPD project."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- F.C.C., In Net Neutrality Turnaround, Plans To Allow Fast Lane
Dega704 (1454673) writes in with news of the latest FCC plan which seems to put another dagger in the heart of net neutrality. "The Federal Communications Commission will propose new rules that allow Internet service providers to offer a faster lane through which to send video and other content to consumers, as long as a content company is willing to pay for it, according to people briefed on the proposals. The proposed rules are a complete turnaround for the F.C.C. on the subject of so-called net neutrality, the principle that Internet users should have equal ability to see any content they choose, and that no content providers should be discriminated against in providing their offerings to consumers."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Mobile Game Attempts To Diagnose Alzheimer's
the_newsbeagle writes "Currently, the best way to check if a person has a high likelihood of developing Alzheimer's is to perform a PET scan to measure the amount of amyloid plaque in his or her brain. That's an expensive procedure. But a startup called Akili Interactive says it has developed a mobile game that can identify likely Alzheimer's patients just by their gameplay and game results. The game is based on a neuroscience study which showed that multitasking is one of the first brain functions to take a hit in Alzheimer's patients. Therefore the game requires players to perform two tasks at the same time."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- OpenSSL: the New Face of Technology Monoculture
chicksdaddy writes: "In a now-famous 2003 essay, 'Cyberinsecurity: The Cost of Monopoly,' Dr. Dan Geer argued, persuasively, that Microsoft's operating system monopoly constituted a grave risk to the security of the United States and international security, as well. It was in the interest of the U.S. government and others to break Redmond's monopoly, or at least to lessen Microsoft's ability to 'lock in' customers and limit choice. The essay cost Geer his job at the security consulting firm AtStake, which then counted Microsoft as a major customer. These days Geer is the Chief Security Officer at In-Q-Tel, the CIA's venture capital arm. But he's no less vigilant of the dangers of software monocultures. In a post at the Lawfare blog, Geer is again warning about the dangers that come from an over-reliance on common platforms and code. His concern this time isn't proprietary software managed by Redmond, however, it's common, oft-reused hardware and software packages like the OpenSSL software at the heart (pun intended) of Heartbleed. 'The critical infrastructure's monoculture question was once centered on Microsoft Windows,' he writes. 'No more. The critical infrastructure's monoculture problem, and hence its exposure to common mode risk, is now small devices and the chips which run them.'"
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Implant Injects DNA Into Ear, Improves Hearing
sciencehabit writes "Many people with profound hearing loss have been helped by devices called cochlear implants, but their hearing is still far from perfect. They often have trouble distinguishing different musical pitches, for example, or hearing a conversation in a noisy room. Now, researchers have found a clever way of using cochlear implants to deliver new genes into the ear — a therapy that, in guinea pigs, dramatically improves hearing (abstract)."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- The Witcher 3 and Projekt Red's DRM-Free Stand
An anonymous reader writes "This article goes into the making of upcoming fantasy title The Witcher 3. The studio, CD Projekt Red, reveals that, unusually, it'll be releasing the game as a DRM-free download. 'We believe that DRM does more harm to legit gamers than good for the gaming industry, that's why the game will also be completely DRM-free,' says the game's level designer, Miles Tost. The game will build on the strengths of The Witcher 2 while attempting to broaden its scope. 'We want to combine the strong pull of closed-world RPGs story-wise, with a world where you can go anywhere and do anything you want.'"
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Michigan FIRST Robot Championship Bout for 2014 (Video)
For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, AKA FIRST, holds annual robot challenges, in which student teams build robots, then operate them to the cheers of an adoring crowd. Slashdot watched the Dexter Dreadbots build their 2014 contender. (The Dreadbots are Slashdot's home team.) And we've watched other FIRST competitions before, but this is the 2014 Michigan state championships. The next step after the state finals is an appearance at the National Championship Competition, which starts today, April 23, in St. Louis, although the first day is speeches and such, not actual competition. Keep an eye on usfirst.org to see who wins. And before that, you can watch the matches themselves, streamed live courtesy of NASA. (Alternate video link.)
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- The Hackers Who Recovered NASA's Lost Lunar Photos
An anonymous reader sends this story from Wired: "The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project has since 2007 brought some 2,000 pictures back from 1,500 analog data tapes. They contain the first high-resolution photographs ever taken from behind the lunar horizon, including the first photo of an earthrise. Thanks to the technical savvy and DIY engineering of the team at LOIRP, it's being seen at a higher resolution than was ever previously possible. ... The photos were stored with remarkably high fidelity on the tapes, but at the time had to be copied from projection screens onto paper, sometimes at sizes so large that warehouses and even old churches were rented out to hang them up. The results were pretty grainy, but clear enough to identify landing sites and potential hazards. After the low-fi printing, the tapes were shoved into boxes and forgotten. ... The drives had to be rebuilt and in some cases completely re-engineered using instruction manuals or the advice of people who used to service them. The data they recovered then had to be demodulated and digitized, which added more layers of technical difficulties."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Skilled Manual Labor Critical To US STEM Dominance
Doofus writes: "The Wall Street Journal has an eye-catching headline: Welders Make $150,000? Bring Back Shop Class. Quoting: 'According to the 2011 Skills Gap Survey by the Manufacturing Institute, about 600,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled nationally because employers can't find qualified workers. To help produce a new generation of welders, pipe-fitters, electricians, carpenters, machinists and other skilled tradesmen, high schools should introduce students to the pleasure and pride they can take in making and building things in shop class. American employers are so yearning to motivate young people to work in manufacturing and the skilled trades that many are willing to pay to train and recruit future laborers. CEO Karen Wright of Ariel Corp. in Mount Vernon, Ohio, recently announced that the manufacturer of gas compressors is donating $1 million to the Knox County Career Center to update the center's computer-integrated manufacturing equipment, so students can train on the same machines used in Ariel's operations.' How many of us liked shop? How many young people should be training for skilled manufacturing and service jobs rather than getting history or political science degrees?"
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- OnePlus One Revealed: a CyanogenMod Smartphone
An anonymous reader writes "Spec-wise, OnePlus One will go toe-to-toe with the latest flagship phones like the Galaxy S5, HTC One (M8), and Sony Xperia Z2. In some areas, it even surpasses them, and at a price point of $300. The One has the same 2.5 GHz Snapdragon 801 MSM8974AC SoC as the Samsung Galaxy S5, build quality similar to the HTC One (M8), and the large 3000+ mAh battery and Sony camera of the Xperia Z2. It also runs CyanogenMod 11S, which is based on Android 4.4."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- How Much Data Plan Bandwidth Is Wasted By DRM?
Bennett Haselton writes: "If you watch a movie or TV show (legally) on your mobile device while away from your home network, it's usually by streaming it on a data plan. This consumes an enormous amount of a scarce resource (data bundled with your cell phone provider's data plan), most of it unnecessarily, since many of those users could have downloaded the movie in advance on their home broadband connection — if it weren't for pointless DRM restrictions." Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Aereo To SCOTUS: Shut Us Down and You Shut Down Cloud Storage
jfruh (300774) writes "Aereo is currently fighting for its life before the Supreme Court, and has issued a warning: if you take us down, you could take the entire cloud storage industry down with us. The company argues that they only provide customers with access to shows picked up by an individual antenna that they've rented. If the constitutes a 'public performance,' then so does the act of downloading a copyrighted document stored in a cloud storage service — even if the customer has purchased the right to use that document." v3rgEz sent in a link to the transcript of the first day of arguments.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Google Opens Up Street View Archives From 2007 To Today
mpicpp (3454017) writes with news that Google is publishing all Street View imagery back to 2007. Quoting Ars: "The feature hasn't rolled out to many accounts yet, but it looks like a small, draggable window will be added to the Street View interface. Just move the time slider around and you'll be able to jump through past images. Granted, Street View has only been around for a few years, so the archives only go back to 2007. A few of the events Google suggests browsing through are the building of One World Trade Center and the destruction and rebuilding of Onagawa, Japan after the 2011 earthquake. Besides being really cool, the move will save Google from having to choose a canonical Street View image for every location. If the current image is blacked-out or wrong in some way, you can just click back to the previous one."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Asteroid Impacts Bigger Risk Than Thought
Rambo Tribble (1273454) writes "The B612 Foundation, a U.S.-based nuclear test monitoring group, has disclosed that their acoustic sensors show asteroid impacts to be much more common than previously thought. Between 2000 and 2013 their infrasound system detected 26 major explosions due to asteroid strikes. The impacts were gauged at energies of 1 to 600 kilotons, compared to 45 kilotons for 1945 Hiroshima bomb."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- AT&T Plans To Launch Internet Video Service
An anonymous reader writes "AT&T officially announced on Tuesday their intention to launch a Netflix-like service in collaboration with an investment group run by a former Fox president. AT&T is following in the footsteps of Verizon, which partnered with Redbox in 2012 to offer the same type of service, and like Verizon, is also still negotiating with Netflix on payments to not throttle Netflix traffic."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- ARIN Is Down To the Last /8 of IPv4 Addresses
An anonymous reader writes "On 3 February 2011, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) issued the remaining five /8 address blocks, each containing 16.7 million addresses, in the global free pool equally to the five RIRs, and as such ARIN is no longer able to receive additional IPv4 resources from the IANA. After yesterday's large allocation (188.8.131.52/10) to Akamai, the address pool remaining to be assigned by ARIN is now down to the last /8. This triggers stricter allocation rules and marks the end of general availability of new IPv4 addresses in North America. ARIN thus follows the RIRs of Asia, Europe and South America into the final phase of IPv4 depletion."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- You Can Now Run Beta Versions of OS X—For Free
redletterdave (2493036) writes "Apple on Tuesday announced the OS X Beta Seed Program, which allows anyone to download and install pre-release Mac software for the sake of testing and submitting feedback before the public launch. Until Tuesday, Apple charged users $99 a year to test out new OS X software—doing so required a paid-up developer account. (Testing new iPhone software still requires a separate developer account for another $99 a year.) Now, much the same way new OS X software is now totally free to download, it's also free to try out. All you need is an Apple ID to sign up."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Supreme Court OKs Stop and Search Based On Anonymous 911 Tips
An anonymous reader writes "On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police officers are legally allowed to stop and search vehicles based solely on anonymous 911 tips. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority opinion, reasoned that 'a 911 call has some features that allow for identifying and tracking callers' as well as for recording their calls, both of which he believed gave anonymous callers enough reliability for police officers to act on their tips with reasonable suspicion against the people being reported. The specific case before them involved an anonymous woman who called 911 to report a driver who forced her off the road. She gave the driver's license plate number and the make and model of his car as well as the location of the incident in question. Police officers later found him, pulled him over, smelled marijuana, and searched his car. They found 30 pounds of weed and subsequently arrested the driver. The driver later challenged the constitutionality of the arrest, claiming that a tip from an anonymous source was unreliable and therefore failed to meet the criteria of reasonable suspicion, which would have justified the stop and search. Five of the nine justices disagreed with him." The ruling itself (PDF).
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Face Recognition Algorithm Finally Outperforms Humans
KentuckyFC (1144503) writes "Face recognition has come a long way in recent years. In ideal lighting conditions, given the same pose, facial expression etc, it easily outperforms humans. But the real world isn't like that. People grow beards, wear make up and glasses, make strange faces and so on, which makes the task of facial recognition tricky even for humans. A well-known photo database called Labelled Faces in the Wild captures much of this variation. It consists of 13,000 face images of almost 6000 public figures collected off the web. When images of the same person are paired, humans can correctly spot matches and mismatches 97.53 per cent of the time. By comparison, face recognition algorithms have never come close to this. Now a group of computer scientists have developed a new algorithm called GaussianFace that outperforms humans in this task for the first time. The algorithm normalises each face into a 150 x 120 pixel image by transforming it based on five image landmarks: the position of both eyes, the nose and the two corners of the mouth. After being trained on a wide variety of images in advance, it can then compare faces looking for similarities. It does this with an accuracy of 98.52 per cent; the first time an algorithm has beaten human-level performance in such challenging real-world conditions. You can test yourself on some of the image pairs on the other side of the link."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Supreme Court Upholds Michigan's Ban On Affirmative Action In College Admissions
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: "The Supreme Court, by a vote of 6 — 2, has upheld a Michigan law banning the use of racial criteria in college admissions, finding that a lower court did not have the authority to set aside the measure approved in a 2006 referendum supported by 58% of voters. 'This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it,' wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy. 'Michigan voters used the initiative system to bypass public officials who were deemed not responsive to the concerns of a majority of the voters with respect to a policy of granting race-based preferences that raises difficult and delicate issues.' Kennedy's core opinion in the Michigan case seems to exalt referenda as a kind of direct democracy that the courts should be particularly reluctant to disturb. This might be a problem for same-sex marriage opponents if a future Supreme Court challenge involves a state law or constitutional amendment enacted by voters. Justice Sonia Sotomayor reacted sharply in disagreeing with the decision in a 58 page dissent. 'For members of historically marginalized groups, which rely on the federal courts to protect their constitutional rights, the decision can hardly bolster hope for a vision of democracy (PDF) that preserves for all the right to participate meaningfully and equally in self-government.' The decision was the latest step in a legal and political battle over whether state colleges can use race and gender as a factor in choosing what students to admit. Michigan has said minority enrollment at its flagship university, the University of Michigan, has not gone down since the measure was passed. Civil rights groups dispute those figures and say other states have seen fewer African-American and Hispanic students attending highly competitive schools, especially in graduate level fields like law, medicine, and science."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- 'The Door Problem' of Game Design
An anonymous reader writes "Game design is one of those jobs everybody thinks they can do. After all, they've played a few games, and they know what they liked and disliked, right? How hard could it be? Well, professional game designer Liz England has summed up the difficulty of the job and the breadth of knowledge needed to do it in what she calls 'the door problem.' Quoting: 'Premise: You are making a game. Are there doors in your game? Can the player open them? Can the player open every door in the game? What tells a player a door is locked and will open, as opposed to a door that they will never open? What happens if there are two players? Does it only lock after both players pass through the door? What if the level is REALLY BIG and can't all exist at the same time?' This is just a few of the questions that need answering. She then goes through how other employees in the company respond to the issue, often complicating it. 'Network Programmer: "Do all the players need to see the door open at the same time?" Release Engineer: "You need to get your doors in by 3pm if you want them on the disk." Producer: "Do we need to give everyone those doors or can we save them for a pre-order bonus?"'"
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
- Responsive Design: The Picture Element Comes of Age
- Syntax Highlighting Outside Your Editor
Whether you’re giving a talk, sharing work with your team, or presenting work to your clients, there comes a time when you’ll need to show code outside of a text editor. Copying and pasting code from a text editor to say, Keynote, is an easy process. The difficulties come in when you want to preserve syntax highlighting, which is crucial to bringing code to life.
I’m in the midst of building a few talks that contain a lot of code, so I’ve been exploring tools to improve my workflow from my editor of choice, Sublime Text, to Keynote. I was looking for the easiest way to copy code as rich text—with my preferred color scheme, font face, and font size applied—to be pasted directly into Keynote.
The first tool I tried was a Sublime Text package, installed with Package Control, called SublimeHighlight. With SublimeHighlight installed, you can select code and trigger a command to copy the code to your clipboard as rich text.
Built on top of Pygments, it’s a really nice package for Sublime Text that fits my workflow perfectly. However, the available format options didn’t feel extensive or powerful, and I seemed to be doing a lot of tweaking in Keynote. The speed of copying directly out of Sublime Text was outweighed by the time I spent in Keynote.
I began looking for a tool that would allow me to spend less time tweaking styles in Keynote, and found Highlight, a command line utility with a terrifying amount of documentation. Fear not; the learning curve is low, and the possibilities are endless. To install it, either follow the instructions, or if you’re running OS X and Homebrew, just run
brew install highlight.
To achieve my direct-to-Keynote nirvana, I played with the available command line options a bit until I was satisfied. What I came up with looked like this:
highlight -O rtf -t 2 -K 40 -k 'Source Code Pro' --style twilight _output.js | pbcopy
Though verbose, it’s not as complicated as it looks:
-O rtfsets the output format to rich text,
-t 2sets tabs to 2 spaces,
-K 40sets font size to 40, and
-k ‘Source Code Pro’sets the font face to Source Code Pro, my preferred font face. I created a theme to match my preferred color scheme, Twilight, and specify its use by including
—style twilight. To use this without the custom theme, just leave the
The final bit,
_output.js | pbcopy, tells Highlight to run _output.js, the file containing code to be processed, through its formatter and copy the results to the clipboard. All I have to do is run that line, paste into Keynote, and I have a perfectly formatted chunk of code.
It’s not the perfect workflow by any means, but I love the amount of flexibility and control Highlight provides. You can see how I’ve been making heavy use of this tool in talks that I’ve posted to Speaker Deck.
- The Death of the Web Design Agency?
In The Pastry Box Project today, Greg Hoy of Happy Cog talks honestly about why the first quarter of this year sucked for most web design agencies (including ours), assesses the new and growing long-term threats to the agency business model, and shares his thinking on what we in the client services design business can do to survive, and maybe even thrive.
- Cennydd Bowles on UX & Design: Letter to a Junior Designer
I admit it: you intimidate me. Your work is vivid and imaginative, far superior to my woeful scratchings at a similar age. The things I struggle to learn barely make you sweat. One day, you’ll be a better designer than me.
But for now, I can cling to my sole advantage, the one thing that makes me more valuable: I get results. I can put a dent in cast-iron CEO arguments. I can spot risks and complications months in advance. In the wager that is design, I usually bet on the right color. People trust me with their stake.
So, if you’ll humor me, maybe I can offer a few suggestions to speed you toward the inevitable.
You’re damn talented. But in your eagerness to prove it, you sometimes rush toward a solution. You pluck an idea from the branch and throw it onto the plate before it has time to ripen. Don’t mistake speed for precocity: the world doesn’t need wrong answers in record time.
Perhaps your teachers exalted The Idea as the gem of creative work; taught you The Idea is the hard part. I disagree. Ideas aren’t to be trusted. They need to be wrung dry, ripped apart. We have the rare luxury that our professional diligence often equates to playfulness: to do our job properly, we must disassemble our promising ideas and make them into something better.
The process feels mechanical and awkward initially. In time, the distinction between idea and iteration will blur. Eventually, the two become one.
So go deeper. Squander loose time on expanding your ideas, even if you’re sure they’re perfect or useless. Look closely at decisions you think are trivial. I guarantee you’ll find better solutions around the corner.
Think it through
We’d love to believe design speaks for itself, but a large part of the job is helping others hear its voice. Persuasive rationale—the why to your work—is what turns a great document into a great product.
If you haven’t already, sometime in your career you’ll meet an awkward sonofabitch who wants to know why every pixel is where you put it. You should be able to articulate an answer for that person—yes, for every pixel. What does this line do? Well, it defines. It distinguishes. But why here? Why that color? Why that thickness? “It looks better” won’t suffice. You’ll need a rationale that explains hierarchy, balance, gestalt—in other words, esoteric ways to say “it looks better,” but ways that reassure stakeholders that you understand the foundations of your craft. Similarly, be sure you can explain which alternatives you rejected, and why. (Working this through will also help you see if you have been diligent or if you’ve been clinging to a pet idea.) This might sound political. It is. Politics is just the complex art of navigating teams and people, and the more senior you get, the more time you’ll spend with people.
Temper your passion
Your words matter: be careful not to get carried away. Passion is useful, but you’ll be more effective when you demonstrate the evidence behind your beliefs, rather than the strength of those beliefs. Softer language earns fewer retweets but better results. If you have a hunch, call it a hunch; it shows honesty, and it leaves you headroom to be unequivocal about the things you’re sure of.
Similarly, your approach to your work will change. Right now design is an ache. You see all the brokenness in the world: stupid products, trivial mistakes, bad designs propped up with scribbled corrections. That stupidity never goes away, but in time you learn how to live with it. What matters is your ability to change things. Anyone can complain about the world, but only a good few can fix it.
That fury, that energy, fades with time, until the question becomes one of choosing which battles to arm yourself for, and which to surrender. Often this means gravitating toward the biggest problems. As you progress in the field, your attention may turn from tools and techniques to values and ethics. The history of the industry is instructive: give it proper attention. After all, all our futures shrink with time, until finally the past becomes all we have.
You’ll come to appreciate that it can be better to help others reach the right outcomes themselves than do it yourself. That, of course, is what we call leadership.
Finally, there may come a point when you realize you’re better served by thinking less about design. Work and life should always be partially separate, but there’s no doubt that the experiences you have in your life shape your work too. So please remember to be a broad, wise human being. Travel (thoughtfully) as much as you can. Read literature: a good novel will sometimes teach you more than another design book can. Remind yourself the sea exists. You’ll notice the empathy, sensitivity, cunning, and understanding you develop make your working life better too.
But you’re smart, and of course you realize this is really a letter to the younger me. And, alongside, it’s a lament at my nagging sense of obsolescence; the angst of a few grey hairs and the emerging trends I don’t quite understand. Which is mildly ridiculous at my age—but this is a mildly ridiculous industry. And you’ll inherit it all, in time. Good luck.
- This week's sponsor: Harvest
Have you ever billed hourly? A List Apart is brought to you this week by Harvest, a beautifully crafted time tracking tool for creative shops.
- Style Guides On Parade
» Style Guides On Parade
If you loved this week’s “Creating Style Guides” piece by Susan Robertson, you’ll thrill to Susan’s follow-up posting, on her personal site, of style guide links galore!
- Matt Griffin on How We Work: My Life with Email
I’d like to take a moment to address something decidedly unsexy. We all do it. And it’s never pretty. You guessed it: I’m talking about email.
No, I don’t mean responsive design approaches for email newsletter templates. Nope. Not even that much fun. I’m talking about reading and responding to that everyday, humdrum, never-ending stream of communication that flows through the inscrutable ether to your very own inbox.
Staying in control of your life with email is a challenge (look no further than your friends’ triumphant cries of “inbox zero!”). When you run your own business, as I do, there is every motivation to always stay on top of these messages. It is, after all, your thing. You own it. Shouldn’t you be addressing every issue as it crops up, and responding with lightning speed?
This lifestyle really caught up with me a year or so ago. It was affecting my sleep and productivity, and saddling me with all kinds of extra cognitive overhead. It was no fun at all. Over the course of several months, I worked at establishing rules and procedures for email that helped me regain my sanity and improve the quality of my workdays (not to mention my weekends). In no particular order, here they are:
We don’t need no stinking badges
One of the first and most obvious things I did was turn off notifications and badges for email. Turning on email notifications is like asking to be interrupted by anyone at any time, no matter what you’re doing. If you must have notifications, consider adding essential people to a VIP list, and hiding all other notifications. Ask yourself, “who would I need to drop everything for, no matter how important my task is at that moment?”
Filters, filters, filters
OMG, filters, guys! Filters that route the endless stream of notifications (for instance Basecamp updates, or emails from your ticketing system) are great. They keep things organized neatly so that you can address like emails all at once. Since these sorts of emails will often be project-specific—this also makes it easier to remember to track your time while you’re doing it (hint, hint).
On the weekend, I really don’t want to accidentally open a troublesome work email. To keep a clear distinction between my personal and work emails, I started using a separate app for personal email. Personally, I’m quite happy with Mailbox, but I also know some smart folks who like Boxer. I’m sure there are plenty of other great ones, too (reader comments, activate!).
Just like the ticket queue of tasks, you’re never really finished answering emails. To help me focus on my home life when I’m not at work, I use a timed “do not disturb” setting in iOS to make sure that I get no notifications of anything between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Save your brainpower
I find that my mind is sharpest and I do my best work in the morning, and yet I used to start each work day with email—a task that arguably requires the least of my creativity and mental acuity. So now I set aside the first hour of my day for something challenging. I often write these columns during that time slot. Or tackle a particularly gnarly IA or design problem. But email? Email can wait till 10 a.m.
It’s all in the timing
And when you’ve finished that batch of email responses and are ready to return to your work? Close that email client, friend! Don’t open it back up until you’re ready to dedicate your attention to it again. Otherwise, it’s just a distraction. I find it useful to set times for checking my email throughout the day, for instance 10 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 4 p.m.
Inaction leads to rumination
Ever check your email while you only have a few seconds or minutes to spare? You get some troublesome message, but don’t really have time to read through it carefully or respond. Then you spend the next few hours with that static buzzing around your brain, distracting from whatever it is you’re working on. I now have a simple rule: if I don’t have time to sit down and directly address whatever messages may be waiting for me, I don’t check my email. Making reading and responding to email a dedicated task keeps you out of that vague cognitive limbo, and can reduce the anxiety of opening the inbox.
Expectations for the medium
Remember: email is asynchronous communication. By its nature, it encourages a lag in response, and everyone expects that. If there’s a real emergency, someone will doubtless pick up a phone. Email can wait a few hours, even a day. The world won’t explode, and you won’t get fired. Give those messages their proper place in the hierarchy of your day.
And on and on
There are doubtless many other ways to keep the great beast email under control. These are the ones that have helped me hold on to my sanity and reduce email-induced anxiety. These little strategies make me happier and more productive every day.
How about you? What are your email troubles? What have you tried that’s worked? Get in those comments, people, and share what you’ve learned. Something tells me we could all use a little help in this department.
- Easy Color Contrast Testing
We have plenty of considerations to design for when crafting websites. Web accessibility is not a new design consideration, but is still very important, no matter the size or speed of device we’re testing on. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) tells us our content should be distinguishable and requires we “[m]ake it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.”
We know that our color contrast ratio should be 3:1 for non-decorative text, sized larger than 18 point or larger than 14 point if bold. Text smaller than that should meet a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.
Maybe you have amazing eyeballs that can help you recognize contrast levels. If, like me, you do not have magical corneal calculators, then you probably have utilized one of the tools out there to check contrast, such as: WebAIM’s color contrast checker, Snook’s contrast slider, Check my colors URL input check, or a WCAG checker add-on for Firefox.
I recently switched to using Chrome’s Accessibility Developer Tools built in contrast checker and I love it. Take a look at the audits being run by the tools and let’s look at how to begin using it once installed.
Load up the website you’d like to check and bring up the Developer Tools. I’ll pick on myself and use my own site for this example. Once open, click over to the “Audits” tab and make sure “Accessibility” is checked. Click “Run.”
Expand the “Text elements should have a reasonable contrast ratio” section. This will show you the HTML of the elements that don’t have sufficient contrast. Identify one to examine further.
Select the chosen offender in the browser and inspect it. If you can’t see the contrast values, use the menu to pull up the “Accessibility Properties.” You’ll see the current contrast ratio of your element. You’ll also see a suggested color value pair to match the WCAG AA or AAA recommendation. Select the swatch to the right of those values to see the preview of that change. In this case, we’ll see what grey we’d have to adjust our background to in order to keep the white text.
As you can see in this second example, I could make the date text darker to meet the guidelines, which is very helpful in making a fast change.
When it’s this quick and simple to check contrast, there’s no reason not to add this accessibility test into our workflow.
- The Heartbleed Bug (or: You Should Consider SSL Unsafe for a While)
If you run a server that uses SSL and the OpenSSL library, you need to update it. If you regularly visit a site that uses SSL (and I can’t imagine you don’t), you should try to limit your visits today. Once the dust has settled, we should all change our passwords. Pretty much everywhere.
In short, yesterday the OpenSSL Project released an update that addresses a vulnerability in the OpenSSL library. Officially named CVE-2014-0160, the Heartbleed bug has been around—and un-identified—for a long time. It’s not known if the vulnerability has been exploited, but it’s theoretically possible that someone has been snooping on transmissions we thought were secure. It’s very likely that bad guys are snooping on un-patched servers now, so be careful which services you log in to today.
Visit Heartbleed.com for a lot more information, and anyone running a server should consider these words from Cody Sorland:
Be careful out there.
- Creating Style Guides
Several years ago, I was working on a large, complex application. It was a bit of a legacy project: many different designers and front-end developers had come and gone, each appending a new portion to the sprawling application. By the time I arrived, the CSS was huge, the styles were varied, and it took a lot of effort to find out if anything was reusable.
During all this, I discovered style guides—a way to control markup and CSS so neither veered out of control or ballooned. In jobs since, I’ve seen firsthand how style guides save development time, make communication regarding your front end smoother, and keep both code and design consistent throughout the site. It has been a revelation, and in this article, I want to show you how to build and maintain them, too.
What is a style guide?
To me, a style guide is a living document of code, which details all the various elements and coded modules of your site or application. Beyond its use in consolidating the front-end code, it also documents the visual language, such as header styles and color palettes, used to create the site. This way, it’s a one-stop place for the entire team—from product owners and producers to designers and developers—to reference when discussing site changes and iterations. Several companies have even put their guides online; Starbucks is the most well known of the bunch, but others exist.
(I should also mention that what I call a style guide, some people call a pattern library. Many of the guides I reference use the term style guide, but pattern library is gaining in popularity.)
When I started working at Editorially, one of the first things I did was tackle the style guide. Creating the guide was probably the most useful thing I’ve ever done when settling into a new job: it forced me to go through every single line of CSS and read it, digest it, understand how it was used, and then document it for my own, and the team’s, future reference. In addition to catching inconsistencies and errors by poring through the CSS, if I didn’t understand how certain pieces of code were being used, I annotated the guide with questions (which my teammates graciously answered).
Why should I use a style guide?
As your team grows and changes over time, your style guide will help you in several ways. First, creating your guide will take some time up front, but I’ve found that this pays off with faster build times for new sections and pages, because anyone joining an ongoing project can refer to the guide for the exact styles to use.
Second, a guide allows us to standardize the CSS, keeping it small and quick to load. By using the guide as an inventory of modules and code, both designers and developers can quickly see if new designs deviate from established standards, and decide as a team if it’s worth expanding the codebase or if something already written is easily extended. When you have no guide, this is impossible, which in my experience usually means that new styles are written—resulting in bloated CSS.
Third, design consistency is easier to maintain, as the designer can look in one place to reference the site’s components and ensure a cohesive look and feel throughout. This is especially helpful on larger teams and at enterprise-level companies where you may have an entire team of designers working on the site. And when design consistency is maintained, the codebase is also kept smaller.
Fourth, communication becomes clearer as well. When I built out pages in a large-scale project and passed them off to the designer, she used the language of the various classes in the guide to ask for changes. This meant that we didn’t have any confusion on either of our parts as we sped through revisions. It also gave the entire team a shared vocabulary, like the names of modules, to use in talking about the designs once they were coded.
The final benefit I’ve found is that you can use your guide to do a quick QA pass. The guide may not be identical to the pages you eventually build out, but it can point out issues you may have in various browsers. By tackling these early on, you’ll avoid them in later testing.
Steps to build out your guide
Below, I’ll take you through starting your own guide, based on my first few weeks at Editorially. (Because when I work on a project without a guide, I’m soon jonesing to make one—just ask my colleagues).
Assemble your site’s basics
Start your guide with some of your site’s foundations. A foundational element may include the color palette, your grid layout system, or the basic type styles for headers and body text: whatever you feel are the very basic elements to create a page. For Editorially, the most foundational part of our site was the color guide, so I began with that and went from there. I created an HTML document with the markup, linking to the application CSS, so any CSS changes would be automatically reflected in the style guide.
When you look at the style guide created by Yelp, you can see how it starts with the basics: typography, grid, and colors, adding more patterns as it goes along.
Add in more patterns
A pattern is any self-contained set of markup and styles to make some of your site’s basic objects, like a call-out box used repeatedly, buttons, or the way you lay out a list of links horizontally. At Editorially I documented all the variations possible of button and link styles. So go ahead and add the exact markup you need for each element to your guide.
For example, for a button in the Editorially guide, I simply put
<label for="btn" class="btn" href="#">.btn <input type="submit" name="btn" value=".btn" /></label>. And because we link to the same CSS as the application does, the CSS shows correctly in the style guide. Should we change the
.btnstyle, the style guide would change as well.
Keep going through your site and add in patterns as you see them; you may use particular layouts over and over, or a media-object pattern, or a vertical list pattern. Below is an another example from South Tees Hospital, showing some of their patterns for what they call feature blocks. Look for similar things on your own site to document in your guide.
This is also a good time to ask your team what else would be helpful to have in the style guide. Share it, let them take a look, and hopefully they’ll help you fill out all the patterns and modules needed. Don’t forget to have the entire team help you round it out, as it’s a resource for everyone.
If possible, add the bits of interactivity that your site uses, such as dropdowns, modals, or tooltips, which are small hovers with helpful text that gives the user more information. This lets your team see not just the static versions of these things, but the animations as well. So when you’re looking at the guide and hover over or click on items, they’ll actually act as they would on your site.
Make maintenance easy
If you have to do extra work to update your style guide when making changes to your look and feel, the likelihood of it staying up to date is pretty slim. I’ve said it a few times now, but that’s why we linked the Editorially guide to the same CSS as the application—that way, we didn’t have to manually update the guide ourselves. It can be difficult to make updating the guide a priority, but maintenance is critical. Depending on how quickly you iterate on your site or application, you should check up on the guide as a regular task, whether it’s weekly or monthly. When you’re making changes to your site, update your style guide as part of the workflow.
Iterate your guide
If you’re interested in automation, there are other tools that can make creating the guide even smoother. Two of these include KSS and Hologram. Both tools use things like commenting or YAML inside your stylesheets in combination with something like Ruby to automatically generate your style guide. It would take some work to go back and retrofit your stylesheets with the appropriate comments or YAML for these approaches, but you’d save time in the long run, as these tools make maintenance much, much easier. In addition, A List Apart has put their pattern library on GitHub and featured a blog post on its creation, demonstrating yet another method of building a style guide. The possibilities of what you can do are far greater than what I’ve outlined here; you might poke around to see what may be most helpful for you and your team.
Using the guide
Phew. You’ve done all this work and you’ve created this guide, so now what? How do you get people to use it? The first step is to talk about it. If a new team member comes on board, introduce her to the guide as a way of orienting her with the site, since the guide encompasses so much of both the visual and code languages of your front end.
As long as you’re iterating on a site or application, your style guide will never truly be finished. But having something documented early on, and showing it to teammates and getting their feedback, is a huge help. Involving the whole team in building the guide also makes it feel more like the team’s guide—and gets everyone invested in maintaining and using it on a regular basis.
We’ve made the Editorially guide available as both a public repo on GitHub and online. This was very much a work in progress and an internal team document, so we’ve also got notes, patterns, and a lot of messiness. But the reason for showing it is to reinforce the fact that a style guide doesn’t have to look perfect to be useful. Despite the mess, all of this was incredibly helpful for me and other team members as we continued to work on the application.
So, are you convinced? Are you wishing you had a style guide for your site or application? It will be well worth the effort: make the time, get your team on board, start the build—and be rewarded with a document that speeds up the discussion and development of your site.
- The Z-Axis: Designing for the Future
For years we’ve thought about the web as a two-dimensional space filled with pages that sit side by side on a flat, infinite plane. But as the devices we design for take on an increasingly diverse array of shapes and sizes, we should embrace new ways of designing up and down. By building interfaces using a system of layers, we solve tricky design problems, flexibly adapt to a variety of screens, and create new patterns that will point the way to future interactions.
In geometric terms, the z-axis is the vertex that measures space above and below the x- and y-axes. Translation for those of us who napped through geometry: it’s how we describe panels and layers that sit above or below one another.
Designing on the z-axis simply means incorporating three-dimensional physics—as represented by the z-axis—into our interface designs. Not the faux-depth of skeuomorphic text shadows and button highlights, but an interface made of components that exist on distinct layers and move independently of one another.
As Andy Clarke has noted, the page is an outdated metaphor for what we’re designing today. Unlike the permanence of ink on paper, a website is a series of dynamic views that can occur in many combinations. Applications require us to consider numerous happy and unhappy paths, and even static marketing sites need reusable design components that can adapt to different content needs.
By using the z-axis to place interface elements above or below one another, we can create better design systems that are more flexible and intuitive to use.
Using the z-axis to solve design problems
While juggling the constraints of making an interface work across many different screens, I often encounter the same problems. Where do I put this? How do I make this effective for touchscreens? What can I show right away, and what can I hide?
The answers aren’t easy, but fortunately we can count on the z-axis to be there when extra pixels aren’t. Got an options panel that just won’t fit? Trying to add filters but the excess UI clutter doesn’t seem worth it? When you’re running out of space and searching for a clever solution, remembering that you have three dimensions to design in can save the day.
Creating an interface that seamlessly works across the z-axis requires two important elements: layers and transitions.
Incorporating layers is the key to designing on the z-axis, since layers are the way we differentiate levels above and below one another. A layer might contain a single UI element that sits above the rest of the view, or it might be a full screen that appears and disappears as necessary. However you incorporate layers, each should have a purpose—a reason it exists—and be used consistently throughout your site in a way that helps users better understand your design.
A panel that covers up the entire interface, for example, should be one of the most important functions on a site. On the other hand, an option in a secret panel that slides out from behind another object should relate to whatever sits above it, but be less important.
Generally speaking, the higher something sits on the z-axis, the more important it is. Primary navigation menus are usually placed on a higher level than other elements; they might pop over the rest of the view, they might stick to the top of the screen, or they might be accessed by zooming out to a larger menu presentation.
Teehan + Lax takes this to the extreme with the menu overlay on its website. It’s more than a popover; it’s like a page takeover. Look at our menu! it shouts. The sliding animation combined with a new screen layer grabs the user’s attention, while huge font sizes and a larger-than-usual menu of links deliver more content than a typical primary nav bar and (probably) justify the need for a separate layer.
Do I love this bold menu presentation? Yes. Do I think it’s a best practice we should incorporate into every site we build? No way. Not every site needs that much dramatic flair.
But I love how this inspires me to think about a menu as a piece of content in and of itself, and not just more interface cruft. Teehan + Lax highlights the act of presenting a menu to the user and how it can be more than popping up or sliding over from the left—it can be an opportunity for surprise and delight.
Primary action buttons, such as checking in or adding a new post, are often placed above other elements on the z-axis. It’s easy to tell what an app thinks is its most important feature when it’s sitting on top of everything else. Just take a look at Facebook’s chat heads.
Right now, Facebook clearly thinks that messaging is its most important feature. (If you’re unconvinced, Facebook also has a separate Messaging app, and recently paid $19 billion for What’s App.) Since layers allow elements to remain fixed in one place while everything else moves around them, floating action buttons are an easy way to make them more prominent without taking up a lot of valuable screen real estate.
The z-axis gives Facebook an easy way to keep messaging front and center, and even if I don’t like tapping on the disembodied faces of my friends and family, it seems to be working. For clients who want a button to “pop” a bit more, using the z-axis to give it its own layer is one of the more elegant possibilities.
Objects on different layers of the z-axis can move at asynchronous speeds during scrolling. This effect—usually called parallax—was pioneered in video games, but it’s become quite popular in interactive design. When objects move at different speeds, it creates the appearance of depth and simulates the passing of time, making parallax a powerful tool for online storytelling.
Superfluous use of parallax as a trendy eye-catcher has been rightfully criticized, but the ability to move layers independently of one another allows us to animate stories on the web in a way that hasn’t been as effective without the use of video. Sites like Let’s Free Congress and Inception Explained use asynchronous scrolling to turn what could have been flat infographics into visual narratives. By breaking elements apart using layers, each thread can unfold at its own speed while the user controls the pace of the action.
Web designers have always worked within the confines of flat, pixel-based screens, forcing complex interactions onto two visual axes. Layers on flat screens are a hack, but an important one; they’re the first step toward the true multidimensional interactions that are only a few years away. By creating layered patterns in our interfaces now, we help prepare users—and ourselves—for what’s ahead.
When you use layers in an interface design, it’s important to include animations that smooth the transitions between them. Animated transitions serve several important functions: they help soften what could otherwise be a jarring moment of change, they describe where you came from and where you’ve arrived, and they provide cues about how information on the new layer relates to everything else.
Sliding is one of the most common animated transitions because it’s relatively easy to execute and simple to understand. Navigation menus, hidden panels—just slide them out quickly whenever you need them, right? But like anything “simple,” sliding requires more care than you might expect.
The ubiquitous left-hand menu, used in many mobile apps including Gmail, is a perfect example. When activated, Gmail’s menu doesn’t slide anywhere; it’s actually the main window that slides to the right, revealing the menu on the left underneath your inbox.
The distinction is important, because the ability to see the first few words of each subject line keeps the inbox functional even when the menu is engaged; without that persistence, there’s little point to the inbox remaining there at all. Mobile websites that seek to mimic this interaction should take note—sliding a left menu over the top of a webpage usually feels clunky and intrusive compared to sliding the main view over instead.
You can also slide existing elements out of view to reveal hidden panels. Tweetlist slides the keyboard down to show additional tweet options like geotagging or attaching a photo. It’s a clever way to display secondary features that don’t need to be visible at all times, and using the back of the keyboard reinforces the relationship between these options and sending a tweet.
Zoom animation has been around for a while, but its frequent use in Apple’s iOS 7 has increased both its popularity and its infamy. Some people have said the zooming used throughout the operating system—particularly when opening and closing apps—makes them nauseous. While this may be the case, it’s worth understanding the different ways we can use zooming to transition from one layer to another, and why some types of zoom may be more stomach-churning than others.
Enlarging or shrinking single objects has been a common animation in the Apple universe since the release of Mac OS X and the introduction of the dock. It naturally found its way into the mobile world on the iPhone, and users quickly grew accustomed to tapping a photo and zooming into it to see more detail.
In the case of photos, zooming is a simple illusion created by enlarging the image. Everything around the photo remains in place; only the photo itself moves.
The zoom effect used in iOS 7 is more complex. It works by moving the “camera” in and out as you open and close apps so that everything on the screen changes, not just one object. When you close an app, for example, the app window shrinks down into its icon on the homescreen. Watch the background behind the window and you’ll see all the other homescreen objects zoom back into the view as well.
This key difference—zooming the camera rather than a single element—creates a much more immersive illusion. It shifts the viewer’s perspective to a new level on the z-axis. That simulated perspective-shift adds to the wow factor by introducing an element of super-realism: it mimics real-world physics, while producing an effect that would be impossible in real life. It’s no wonder designers are eager to take advantage of the possibilities it offers, in spite of the potential side-effects.
This design experiment from Creative Dash shows how zooming the camera all the way out allows us to use the liminal space around a window. Our canvas is both deep and wide, and this takes advantage of both—though the extreme zoom depth would probably make quite a few users feel sick.
Foursquare has used a much more subtle version of zooming the camera to reveal map details. You don’t travel very far forward, but the zoom-in reinforces the notion that you’re going to a deeper level of information.
Whether you apply zoom to a single object or an entire view, it’s important for the animation to be consistent with the information hierarchy you’re using. When you move the camera out, you should be at a higher level, while zooming in should provide more detail.
Sliding and zooming are two of the most common animated transitions used today, but there are other options, including flipping or folding.
Three-dimensional objects have two (or more) sides, but most user interfaces are like the moon: they have a “light” side that’s always visible and a “dark” side we never see. Flipping an object over creates a new visual space that’s easy for users to understand. The only downside? Flipping is, well, flipping slow.
While flipping is sometimes applied to create a more magazine-like feel, 180 degrees is a big transition; it often feels slow and disruptive. In contexts where speed is critical, the time a flip adds to interactions usually isn’t worth it. That said, if deployed in the right place in the right way, it could be flipping fantastic. Card-based layouts offer plenty of opportunities to flip objects over and reveal additional information.
What comes next
Gesture-based command centers, holographic interfaces—whatever technology lies over the horizon, we’ll be better prepared to adapt our skills if we understand the principles of designing for information, not just visual tricks for laying things out with boxes and color. Just as print designers once learned to take their talents to the web, we need to learn to take our talents beyond the screen—and getting comfortable with the z-axis is a great place to start.
- Network Performance Testing
It’s extremely likely that sometime in 2014, the number of internet users will pass 3 billion. Not surprisingly, the largest areas of growth are developing markets—predominantly Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. These markets are being flooded with mobile devices small and large, fast and slow, smart or otherwise.
Connectivity in these regions is of great interest to large tech companies scrambling for control. Today, however, bandwidth is limited, reliability is questionable, and data plans are small. Even in markets saturated with mobile usage, like the US and much of Europe, connections are often flaky and unreliable.
For all those reasons and more, now is the time to test what you build in sub-optimal situations. Thankfully, there are a handful of tools that can help you do just that from the comfort of your high-bandwidth connection and favorite chair, rather than trekking out to a remote field with a Faraday cage.
Slow your roll
If you’re using Grunt or Node.js, there’s a fantastic plugin and module, respectively, that can slow your local server’s connection down to a configurable speed. It’s a great start to network performance testing, but it’s fairly one-dimensional.
Charles is a more robust throttler exposing a lot more control. In addition to amazing tools allowing complete insight to all network requests, Charles can throttle your entire connection, so when enabled, all traffic in and out of your machine is affected. Throttling isn’t the only factor of network performance, however. Latency is a major contributor, and Charles provides control over that aspect, as well.
Unfortunately, these tools don’t expose control over the final, and potentially most important aspect of network performance—packet loss. It has always been the toughest aspect to simulate, but if you’re a Mac and/or iOS user, you have access to the Network Link Conditioner. With control over upstream and downstream transfer speeds, latency, packet loss, and even DNS delay, Network Link Conditioner is a super-powered system-level tool that will fundamentally change the way you build and test things.
Apple provides the Network Link Conditioner through their developer platform, and luckily, it’s accessible through the free developer program, so you don’t have to pay to use it.
The Network Link Conditioner comes with some built-in presets to match common connections, such as EDGE, 3G, and DSL. You can even create and save your own presets, allowing you to easily switch between connection levels for fast testing.
All of these tools open up a new realm of testing and optimization available to us, and as the world changes, network performance testing becomes more and more important. Have you used any other tools or techniques for testing? Share them below in the comments!
- Laura Kalbag on Freelance Design: Me and My Big Fat Ego
Designers are renowned for having egos. But we’re really not all big-headed prima donnas. It’s just that we can devote so much of our time and care to our work that it becomes entangled with our self-esteem.
We’d all love our work to be perfect at the first draft. If we could solve all the potential problems in the project in one pass, without anybody else’s intervention, wouldn’t that make us perfect designers?
Our desire for perfection sets us up for that crushing feeling when a client doesn’t love our work the first time. It creates anger, tears, condescension, bitterness: all the ugly things. Our ego doesn’t want us to see ourselves as flawed, so we’re tempted to see the client as foolish in order to have something to blame the flaws in the work on. That’s how this big fat fragile ego can really get in the way of a good client relationship.
As with any working relationship, we need to be able to empathize with the other party, and understand the position that they’re coming from with their opinions. Design is nuanced; there’s far more to it than finding that one right way to solve a problem and rejecting all the “wrong” ways. Our ideas and the client’s are as likely to be conflicting as they are to be complementary. We can’t let ego get in the way of compromise.
But ego also gives us confidence
Bravado is ego’s younger, stupider brother. Most days I feel in control of my bravado, but sometimes I’m a little too vocal and critical of the work and actions of others. By showing off my supposed knowledge, I’m trying to mask my insecurity when my work doesn’t feel good enough. That pretty much explains my general attitude at art college and university… (Hey fellow RSAD and Bath Spa students and tutors, I’m sorry you had to put up with that!).
But we need that spike of confidence that ego brings. How could we ever share our work if we didn’t think it was any good? We could spend forever revising our ideas until our designs feel “good enough.” We need a little bit of ego so we can share with others.
Let’s not let ego get the better of us
Striving for perfection without the input of others doesn’t just put pressure on our self-esteem, it also restricts the scope for a solution. Every time I get that downhearted feeling over client feedback, I remind myself of other projects where I felt that way. In the end, the solution on those projects was always far stronger after multiple iterations. Feedback from clients brought in valuable constraints and thoughtful ideas from someone who understands their context and goals far better than I do.
Sometimes I just need to remind myself that I’m working on a solution with the client: we are both invested. And what we create together may be my adopted project for a few months, but it’s their product to own for many months or years to come.
- Bringing Responsive Images to Browsers
After almost three years in pursuit of a standardized solution to the problem of responsive images, the Responsive Images Community Group is excited to announce that the
pictureelement is officially coming to a browser near you. Once it lands, we’ll see the trend toward massive, bandwidth-heavy responsive websites begin to slow—and hopefully, reverse—over time.
Since starting out, the Responsive Images Community Group has evolved from a handful of passionate developers sending emails to an organization producing detailed specifications alongside WHATWG and HTML WG members and holding summits attended by representatives of all the major browsers. It took us a while to learn all the rules, but we’ve gotten pretty damn good at playing the web standards game.
When a company is interested in seeing a feature added to the web platform—something that they feel stands to benefit developers and users alike—they invest. After getting a formal thumbs-up from browser representatives, they’ll contribute their employees’ hours to seeing that feature through—from writing the initial proposal to submitting the code that brings that feature to the browsers. Adobe’s work on the WebKit project is a great example of this process in action.
Unfortunately, the last step is the one where we saw ourselves coming up short, for sheer lack of time: submitting the code to land the feature itself. The
pictureelement specification came to life during evenings and weekends, thanks to the efforts of dozens of designers and developers just like you—mailing list conversations took place during desk lunches and Friday nights spent in front of a screen. Blog posts were—and are, in fact—written on crowded commuter trains. We can compete on determination and willingness to put in what time we have, but we just don’t have as much time as a dedicated team of employees. Writing browser patches takes that kind of time.
For that reason, the RICG recently asked the community to sponsor Yoav Weiss’s work on the Blink and WebKit implementations of
picture, and together we’ve managed to raise over $10,000 in a little more than a week—enough to cover several months of full-time work on implementation.
Having helped write the spec and prototyped
picturein Chromium before, Yoav will know many of the the potential gotchas right out of the gate. In the meantime, the Blink team has plenty of work to do on their side, well beyond just reviewing Yoav’s code. This is a collaborative effort—adding the new code for the
pictureelement means a lot of changes to Chrome’s internals, and those are best left to the experts on the Blink team. Blink developer Christian Biesinger is our point person there, and he’s already working hard to pave the way for
picture. Without Christian’s changes throughout the rendering engine, getting
pictureinto the DOM wouldn’t be possible.
Alongside Firefox’s upcoming implementation, spearheaded by Mozilla’s Marcos Caceres—of RICG fame himself—and John Schoenick, this will give us coverage in Firefox, Opera, Chrome, and hopefully soon, Safari. Our aim is to have
pictureland in the majority of common rendering engines within the year.
We’re putting a lot on Yoav, I know—but I also know that he’s the right person for the job, and implementation is already well underway. Let’s clear the way for him, and together we’ll do something that has never been done before: introduce a feature to the web that was specced, tested, funded, and implemented by the community.
Together we have an opportunity to contribute to the web in tremendously meaningful ways: by introducing a feature that could reverse the trend toward massive, resource-heavy responsive sites, and by further changing the role of web developers in web standards from spectators to active participants. We have a chance to provide a solution to our fellow developers and, above all else, provide a better experience to users—not just our users, but all users of the web.
- Content-out Layout: the Resources
The method I outlined in my recent article, “Content-out Layout,” is actually the culmination of quite a few different influences. If you’re interested in a deep dive, I have compiled this list of the most useful thinking on the web about ratios, grids, and fluid design. Enjoy!
Grids, as we know them, are having to adapt to a fluid canvas. It helps, first, to have a strong understanding of how grids are built, how they’ve traditionally been applied in design, and how they work into responsive design:
- “Five simple steps to designing grid systems” by Mark Boulton
- The Grid System created by Antonio Carusone
- “Fluid Grids” by Ethan Marcotte
Philosophy of Fluid Layout
As we stop designing pages on the web, and start designing systems to be applied across myriad viewports, it helps to have the right mindset:
- “A New Canon” by Mark Boulton
- “The In-Between” also by Mark Boulton
- “The Infinite Grid” by Chris Armstrong
Ratios in Nature and Design
Ratios are nothing new in design. The underlying mathematics of natural phenomena have inspired architects, sculptors and humans in general for centuries:
- Dynamic rectangles on Wikipedia
- “You do the math!” an interview with Peter Crnokrak
- Mathematics and Architecture on Wikipedia
Ratios in Web Design
Using ratios in web layouts has been explored before. I found these two very different posts inspirational in searching for a way to work with ratios in fluid design:
Working with a Scale
Typographers will find working with scales familiar. There is lots of great thinking, here, that can be adapted for layout:
- “Don’t compose without a scale” from The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web by Richard Rutter
- “More Meaningful Typography” and Modular Scale by Tim Brown
- “A More Modern Scale for Web Typography” by Jason Pamental
On Harmony in Book Design
I didn’t get the space to touch on this much in my article, but even in a fluid environment, it is ideal to think about the relationship of your content area and the viewport. Book designers have been exploring this idea since the 16th century:
- Rachel Andrew on the Business of Web Dev: Our Enclosed Space
I speak fairly frequently at conferences, and I get to listen to a lot of web designers and developers giving their presentations at these events. I often have my laptop open on my knee to keep an eye on Perch support while I listen. What I hear from designers espousing the latest techniques in my conference circuit world jars with the queries I answer in support. An ever-widening gulf seems to be emerging between the “thought leaders” of the web, and the reality of people doing great work for clients on often extremely limited budgets.
At one conference recently, a speaker was reminiscing about how we used to charge for websites by the page. Yet the fact that companies such as SquareSpace are doing so well shows that out there in the world, people do want to build a few web pages. There are many people who do see their sites as being a homepage and a collection of other pages. Perhaps design businesses are charging “by the page” because it makes sense to their customers.
The echo chamber
It is very easy—and I know because I’ve been there—to assume that everyone knows what we know, cares about the things that we care about, or has and wants the same business opportunities we do. We can end up participating in a Twitter echo chamber of people who have experiences similar to ours; who are at a similar stage in their career, and tend to think in a similar way. We attend conferences that have a high ticket price and so attract only those sent by companies—and therefore working in larger teams—or highly successful independent designers and developers.
Unless you are sent by a company, speaking at a conference has a cost. If you are someone who charges an hourly rate, you will find that even where a speaker fee is paid, it doesn’t cover the time it takes to prepare the talk, travel, and attend the event. Writing web books is a money earner for only a very few authors. Therefore the voices we hear most frequently are from a particular segment of the industry—those who can afford to spare the time.
We can find ourselves with a small segment of our industry speaking to the same small part of our industry. We can quickly forget that there is a much wider industry, and people working outside of our circle often have quite different challenges and concerns.
Through supporting Perch, we encounter people who are the web designer for their local area. They operate in a “high touch” world, sitting down with their customers and working out how to best serve their business. They are often charging very little for their services, yet are making a huge difference to the businesses they develop sites for. They are doing great work, if we value that work by the difference it is making to those who benefit from it. Yet I rarely hear this type of work discussed outside of talking with our customers.
It is important that best practice is discussed and strategies for working in large teams hammered out. We need thought leaders; we need the people who enjoy debating specifications; we need people who create new tools and ways of working and want to share them with us all. It’s important that there are people who have the time, energy, and space to do this—because people who are just working hard to make a living often don’t have time. The fact that it is perfectly normal on the web for companies to share the things they have learned, even releasing the source code of projects for other people to use, is one of the brilliant things about the world in which we work. It is something we all benefit from.
Like talking to a wall
My fear is that by allowing ourselves to believe that everyone knows certain things, or everyone is working in a certain way, we stop producing great materials for the generalists who create small websites, on their own, with a tiny budget.
When we assume that everyone is working in a similar place to us, we risk masking the important things behind a layer of opinion about the “right” way to do things. We risk creating a barrier to knowledge by bundling accessibility with workflow and solid good practice with personal preferences. It then can all be dismissed as irrelevant in one batch, by a person who builds a website a week for a few hundred dollars for a business who couldn’t afford anything else. That’s no way to encourage the wide adoption of modern methods of building the web.
- Content-out Layout
Grids serve well to divide up a predefined canvas and guide how content fits onto a page, but when designing for the web’s fluid nature, we need something more… well, responsive. Enter ratios, which architects, sculptors, and book designers have all used in their work to help set the tone for their compositions, and to scale their material from sketch to final build. We can apply a similar process on the web by focusing on the tone and shape of our content first, then working outward to design fluid, ratio-based grid systems that invite harmony between content, layout, and screen.
Columns are boring. Build with relationships.
Layout choices can set the tone for our designs. As graphic designer Anne Burdick liked to teach, “the structure of the page can be seen as the embodiment of a particular philosophical perspective.”1 Do we favor order for our content? Or does it require a humanist touch? Should we tempt chaos? Whatever the tone, each can be successfully introduced in your layout through the use of a ratio: even (1:1), golden (1:1.618), or random proportions (no ratio), respectively.
Our chosen ratio will be the DNA from which all of our layout decisions are formed. This one number will connect every element of our design, and by adjusting it, we will be able to dramatically affect the tone of our designs. Ratios with a lower proportion—or smaller difference between numbers—will yield subtler layout differences, and work well for nuanced, quieter content like personal blogs or long reads. Greater proportions energize a composition with dramatic size differences, perfect for more dynamic content.
A ratio can consist of any two numbers, giving us an infinite palette of possibilities, but to narrow things down it might be best to start with some familiar territory. Rational ratios are friendly enough, as the math isn’t too scary:
Even 1:1 Halves 1:2 Thirds 1:3 Fourths 1:4
The Rule of Thirds is a well-known example of the power of rational ratios in layout. Highly structured content—like arrays of images or videos, or text with a neutral or formal tone—is represented best by a rational ratio. These ratios work well when designing for symmetry, but can be used for asymmetrical layouts as well.
In The Book of Rectangles, Spatial Law and Gestures of The Orthogons Described (1956), Czech designer and architect Wolfgang von Wersin compiled a set of dynamic ratios used by artists, architects, and calligraphers throughout history to guide their compositions. According to Wersin, it was believed that “nothing excels these proportions.” Not a bad place to start, then.
Quadrat (or Square/Even) 1:1 Hemidiagon 1:1.118 Trion 1:1.154 Quadriagon 1:1.207 Biauron 1:1.236 Penton 1:1.272 Diagon 1:1.414 Bipenton 1:1.458 Hemiolion 1:1.5 Auron (the golden ratio) 1:1.618 Hecton (or Sixton) 1:1.732 Doppelquadrat (Halves) 1:2 Wersin’s 12 “orthagons” with ratios (PDF)
The most famous irrational ratio in design is, of course, the golden ratio (the “Auron,” according to Wersin), which is derived from patterns in nature and the human form. Irrational ratios give us smaller increments in proportions, and their idiosyncratic relationships work best in asymmetrical layouts.
On its own, a ratio is not enough to create an engaging composition. Luckily, pure geometry is not our only guide here. I’ve always loved Bringhurst’s concept of choosing typefaces based on who designed them, and where. Perhaps a similar methodology can be applied to layout, where we derive ratios from tangential influences like type choices, or even music.
Working within a scale
Successful compositions use variety to create hierarchy and movement. Using our chosen ratio, we can extrapolate an array of sizes much like notes on a musical scale, then build our layouts using the “notes”—or widths—from that scale. We can then repeat and skip around the scale to create a kind of visual melody.
To build our scale, we first select a base unit. I would suggest using your typography’s base font-size to further connect the proportions of your layout to your content. Let’s use 1em to keep the math simple. We then multiply our base unit by the number on the right side of our ratio to generate the next size up the scale, and repeat until we have enough size variants to build our layout. Eight should do.
By deciding sizes based on a scale, we can choose relationships that better fit the tone of our design. Large leaps across the scale can be dramatic. Small steps can be more nuanced than in traditional columnar layouts. No matter the size of the change, the result is geometrically connected by our ratio.
Lightening the cognitive load
When working with ratios and scales, your layout decisions will become more strictly defined. For example, if we were laying out the content of a blog with the common image-plus-copy pattern (I call this a “blurb”), three or more columns are needed in an even-column grid to give any size distinction between the elements.
In a ratio-based grid, only two columns would be necessary here. Since blogs are intended to be a more personal expression, I think the golden ratio, with its humanist proportions, would be appropriate.
Each text width is 2.618 times larger than its corresponding image, or two steps up on our scale.
Reducing columns helps us out in two ways, giving us:
- more layout clarity: hierarchy and alignment are strengthened by the restricted threshold options;
- fewer decisions when designing: constraints keep our minds free to focus on bigger issues like content and usability.
Our simpler, ratio-based blurb grid codifies a relationship between two elements based on the shape of the content. Using this relationship as a start, we can now flesh out a fluid, content-based grid system.
Grids within grids
We can now design simpler grids that build upon and within each other, sharing a common ratio to keep harmony between their various contexts. I call grids like the one used for our blurb example a “content grid.” Content grids define relationships within a portable piece of content and work well for articles, sidebar modules, and other reusable elements of a design system.
To divide up the available viewport space, we can use a global “layout grid” that behaves more like the grids we’ve been using on the web for years now.
A system emerges
Continuing our blog example, we’ll use our scale to derive another content grid for our posts. In a typical blog post, we have a large image, the body of text, social media links, inline images, and some supporting content pulled out into the margins. By trying various arrangements from our scale, we can arrive at a grid that accommodates our content needs.
To convert these widths into fluid CSS percentages, we just need to total the corresponding widths from our scale, and then convert each column using Ethan Marcotte’s famous formula:
…with “target” being a column width and “context” being the sum of all columns used in the grid. (Or if you’re braving flex-box for layout, you can just use the exact ratio numbers from your scale.)
We can build a simple three-section “layout grid” to accommodate our larger content sections: an area for branding and navigation, an area for the main body of content, and a third area for related and featured content links. Our main content area likely needs to be much wider to house our post content, and the navigation area much thinner. We’ll find column widths from our scale that feel right for our layout, giving the appropriate room for each section.
Finally, we place our content grids (the article grid and our blurb grid from earlier) into our layout grid, creating a layout that is both fluid and completely driven by our content. (View the blog demo.)
For comparison, I also built this same layout on Twitter Bootstrap’s 12-column grid. (View the Bootstrap blog demo.) While fairly similar, the ratio-based layout holds up better at any random size.
Fitting to constraints
Adapting our layout to various viewports now becomes much simpler, as we have fewer variables to consider. For this process, we can build a fluid prototype in the browser, then scrutinize where the layout starts to falter when resizing the window.
Identifying the usual suspects
As the viewport stretches and narrows, our relationships will strain and crack, especially at sizes in between typically targeted device sizes like “tablet” and “desktop.” After exploring how fluid layouts crumble on many well-trafficked sites, I’ve isolated some common issues that signify where a change in grid is needed:
Sevens find an image shortened as its width is scaled down, and adjacent text squished to a tall, unreadable measure. The resulting form resembles a “7,” and creates a conspicuous square of white space beneath the image. This is especially distracting when repeated across a layout.
Drifts are so far removed from their related content that they no longer have any relationship to anything. They may wind up paired with other disparate pieces of content flotsam, or just drift all by their lonesome. Across a layout, drifts destroy hierarchy and cause troubling rivers of negative space to creep in.
Pinches happen as elements get too close to other pieces of content. Relationships are destroyed as the viewer makes incorrect associations: images pair with the wrong headline, links run into a list of their own creation. In extreme cases, content collides—at the cost of all readability.
Finding elemental constraints
After adjusting your layouts for fluidity, certain elements will need special attention. Paragraphs should maintain a readable measure, ads should maintain size and relative position, and images should not enlarge beyond what their resolution will allow. Setting a specific width is an easy fix, but does not truly embrace fluidity. Instead, we can set a
max-widthin our CSS to maintain the integrity of this content.
A fitter method
A ratio-based, modular approach to grids allows us to navigate a medium where we cannot know the container size, nor what type of content will flow into that container. We can build layout systems from our content, and rely on ratios to keep harmonious compositions from these disparate parts. From there, a keen understanding of how fluid designs fail can show us when to adapt these systems, and when to add constraints.
In 2009, and again in 2010, Ethan Marcotte gave us the tools with which to respond. In 2011, Mark Boulton gave us a guiding philosophy. By weaving these highly influential ideas together with a pliable method, we can move towards more sophisticated layouts tailored to the needs of our content, patterned with unique character, and perfectly suited to the nature of our ever-changing web.
- 1. Burdick, Anne, Stephen Farrell. “An interview with Stephen Farrell” Emigre 37 (1996). Print.
- People Skills for Web Workers
The web touches everything an organization does—marketing to customer service, product development to branding, internal communications to recruitment. This is the era of cross-platform digital services, fast networks, and mobile devices. Sounds like the ideal time to be a person who makes websites.
The problem is that we need to collaborate, but we haven’t focused on developing our people skills.
Back in the day, we could get by with technical skills alone. If you could get HTML and CSS to work across browsers, you’d find work, and you might even break new ground. Technical skills still matter, but today making digital services that meet users’ needs also depends on our ability to collaborate across many types of boundaries:
- Disciplines like interaction design, content, front-end and backend development, user research, and product management
- Departments in the organization like marketing, sales, IT, communications, and customer service
- Channels like websites, native apps, social media, print, and the call center
People skills are as difficult to learn as technical skills
Learning people skills is challenging, but when you take the time to develop them, it’ll seem like you’ve gained a superpower—one that allows you to:
- find common ground with people who have different perspectives, like when marketing demands its latest campaign go on the homepage, regardless of the user experience;
- handle stressful situations—like difficult conversations between backend developers and content editors who need to use the CMS—with grace and compassion;
- feel confident about your contributions without criticizing others, e.g., when your product team implements an agile process and you’re concerned that your area of expertise might be sidelined.
Behind each of these scenarios are collaboration problems. Let’s talk about four of the most common ones, and the people skills that can help with each.
- You don’t get appreciation for your contributions.
- You struggle to keep up and know everything.
- You experience conflict with people who are scared of change.
- Your organization can’t adapt.
1. You don’t get appreciation for your contributions
Although it’s counterintuitive, the first person you need to look out for when you want to collaborate is yourself. Everyone needs appreciation for their contributions. When that need isn’t met, we feel frustrated or angry, and we start judging others.
For example, imagine you’re presenting a prototype of a mobile application to your team. They seem to object, saying that the app would take too long to develop and isn’t “intuitive.” Your defensive instinct might be to tell them that they’re wrong—this is the way we “should” do it—while feeling frustrated because they’re rejecting your work. Notice the judgment? These judgmental behaviors lead to conflict, which prevents collaboration.
Learn to communicate without judgment
You can begin to spot this behavior by looking for language that implies people are “bad” or doing things “wrong,” or that tells people what they “should” do. You may also notice self-judgment, where you tell yourself you’re wrong, or that your work sucks. The jargon term is “negative self-talk” and we all do it.
Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model helps us identify these moments before they lead to conflict by focusing on four steps: observations, feelings, needs, and requests. You can observe that your colleagues offered “feedback” (rather than “criticism,” which contains a judgment). Then you can identify your feeling, in this case frustration. (If you’re stuck on “angry” or “upset,” try the NVC list of feelings to get more specific.) Next, figure out what you need: is it respect, appreciation, contribution, autonomy, growth? You may have several unmet needs: try this list for ideas.
Finally, put it all together into a request. You could say, “You shared your feedback about the prototype. I’m feeling frustrated because I need appreciation for my contribution. Would you be willing to share areas where the prototype meets user needs, as well as those where it may not?” Notice that you’re taking responsibility for your own feelings and needs.
NVC is difficult to pull off in the heat of the moment, so you need to practice. Get started by reading Rosenberg’s book.
2. You struggle to keep up and know everything
When we collaborate, everyone shares control and no one knows exactly where they’re going. It’s uncomfortable because we’re leaving what we know and stepping into discovery. We need trust to tolerate this discomfort together. When we aren’t confident about our expertise—when we feel insecure—we can’t build trust, so we find collaboration difficult.
People want the “right” answer, the solution with proven return on investment, the fail-safe plan. Whether it’s a fixed budget, the “right” CMS for the corporate website, or the “best” mix of mobile platforms, people are asking you for certainty. You don’t have all the answers, so you can’t offer certainty without faking it. And you’re afraid that your colleagues won’t accept you unless you pretend to know everything. You feel insecure because you have an unmet need for acceptance, and it prevents you from building the trust you need with your team or client.
Learn to coach yourself and others
Instead of feeling insecure, you can choose to tell yourself that it’s okay not to have all the answers, and use coaching techniques to identify both your strengths and the areas you would like to develop. You can also learn to coach your colleagues. This will help you meet your need for acceptance because you’ll be providing real value to them, instead of pretending to have all the answers.
Coaching others means acknowledging that we we can’t “fix” other people’s problems and instead supporting them to make decisions about their own development. This allows us to get real about skills and growth while also being kind.
Get started with the GROW model, which is a structured conversation based on a set of questions. Notice that the coach doesn’t offer their own ideas or fixes:
- Goal: Where do you want to be, and how will you know when you get there?
- Reality: Where are you now? How far away is the goal, and what are the challenges?
- Options: How could you overcome these challenges to get nearer to the goal?
- Way forward: What action steps will you take to carry out your preferred option?
You can both learn to coach other people and ask for coaching yourself. For yourself, this means being honest about the areas you want to develop and being brave enough to ask for help. You can even buddy up with a colleague and coach each other using this tool.
3. You experience conflict with people who are scared of change
The internet is a symbol of disruption for many people: marketers are nervous of the shift from mass media to direct customer relationships, salespeople worry that websites make their skills obsolete, and publishers’ entire business models are threatened by the decline of print. We want to do digital work we can be proud of, but we’re on the front line of this disruption—a front line that’s thick with unmet needs and the feelings they create: anger, frustration, and fear.
Our culture makes things worse. We try to avoid conflict, as if ignoring it will make it go away. We tiptoe around sensitive issues or send long emails that we hope nobody will read instead of engaging face-to-face. We agree to a spec we know will never work, because it seems easier than risking an honest conversation. We choose to avoid “difficult conversations” instead of doing what the project needs.
Learn to turn conflict into collaboration
Imagine a conflict situation: the IT director won’t approve the budget for your new cloud-based web server. Ask yourself what the other person is afraid of. What don’t they know? Why do they perceive the situation differently? To turn conflict into collaboration, you need to listen with empathy.
Listening is a superpower. When you listen to someone with empathy, you meet their need for understanding, which makes them more likely to listen to you. When you see shared humanity—that is, when you realize the person you’re talking to is a human being—you can always find common ground.
Web designers talk about having empathy for users. To overcome conflict, we need to have empathy for our clients and colleagues, too. When our needs for trust and respect are not met, we feel tense, as if we’re about to fight. That makes it difficult to listen with empathy. We can get better with practice. To get started, check out the active listening technique, where you listen, reflect what you heard the other person say, and clarify your understanding.
4. Your organization can’t adapt
Our organizations are structured like industrial factories, with each department separated and optimized, working in isolation. Often digital work seems like diplomacy, as you try to get departments to collaborate instead of fighting over turf. If the team designing the mobile application won’t talk to the desktop website team, what hope do you have? You can’t change your organization’s structure on your own, so why even try?
I’ve fallen into the trap of complaining about culture as a way to avoid leading. If I say, “The culture here is the problem,” that’s a version of, “You’re doing it wrong”—i.e., somebody else needs to change. Change only happens when individuals choose to lead. Even if your organization’s culture is blocking collaboration, you can help it to adapt by leading change on a small scale.
Learn to lead by being honest
You might think that to lead your colleagues through change, you need to present strength, crush opposition, and have a bullet-proof plan. You’ve probably seen managers behaving like this.
But being aggressive is actually a defensive response to feeling insecure. You’re trying to build yourself up by putting other people down. This makes people feel resentful and afraid, which stops them from listening to you.
In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown teaches that showing vulnerability is the true indicator of courage. It takes courage to be yourself, to admit that you’re imperfect. If you admit that you don’t have all the answers, people will trust you, and you’ll inspire them to be brave, too.
Being a leader often means being the first person to listen. Share your vision—e.g., designing a digital service that puts users’ needs ahead of organizational structure, and makes a profit too—and listen to your colleagues’ ideas, feelings, and needs. Overcome your insecurity, take a risk, and be brave. It could be as simple as proposing an agile process for your next project, admitting that you don’t know whether it will work, and convincing people to try it by building trust. Or you might bring together a multidisciplinary team from across the organization and work up a minimum viable product, while convincing various stakeholders to trust you. The outcome may surprise you.
People skills are web skills
As the web continues to transform our society—in ways that both excite us and scare us—we need more than new technologies to keep up. We need collaboration.
Now that you understand how people skills can enable collaboration, you have an opportunity to change your work, and perhaps your organization. Invest your time in people skills and you might just change the world.
- Save Your Eyes with f.lux
I never thought I felt eye strain from looking at big, bright screens all day—I thought my young eyes were invincible. Then I started getting sharp headaches at the end of every day, and I realized I needed to change something.
I decided to finally take the jump and start using f.lux. f.lux is an app that changes the color temperature of your display, adapting the light you see to the time of day, which helps to reduce eye strain. There’s a new beta out for Mac that brings some really fantastic improvements and enhancements (don’t worry, there’s a Windows version too!).
In the morning and afternoon, you’ll see the blue-ish colored light that your screen normally pushes out. As the sun sets, the light will shift to a more reddish color, and when night falls, it’ll become an even deeper red. Every color step is customizable, so you decide how red-shifted you’d like each phase to be—I like mine on the deeper end of the scale.
It’s normal to see blue light during the day, but as it gets darker, that light is harsh on our eyes. Red light is easier on your eyes, especially at night—it’s why red lights are used to preserve vision at night.
When I tell people in our industry about f.lux, I often hear something like, "But what if I’m doing color-sensitive work?" The newest f.lux beta has a feature that allows you to disable f.lux in certain applications. As you switch into an application where you’ve disabled f.lux, your screen will slowly transition to normal colors. The smooth transition will help prepare your eyes for the blue wave of light you’re about to get hit with, so it’s not too jarring.
For anyone who spends hours a day looking at a screen, f.lux is a must-have. We spend a lot of time and effort making sure we use ergonomically correct keyboards, chairs, and desks, so it’s time we gave our eyes a similar level of treatment.
- Cennydd Bowles Makes a Case for Android
» Cennydd Bowles Makes a Case for Android
Cennydd believes Android will be the dominant platform in the next decade, and has compiled his responses to the main arguments against his stance.
- Laura Kalbag on Freelance Design: Inspiration
“Where do you get your inspiration from?” It’s an odd question that designers ask each other. But it’s not asking what motivates us to do our work, or what makes us want to be designers in the first place.
What is inspiration?
When we’re asked where we get our inspiration from, we’re usually being asked where we find that little seed of an idea that grows into a creative solution to a problem.
As a web designer, the expected answer is often a CSS or Responsive Web Design gallery website, and the underlying question is, Where do you pinch your best ideas from?
When I was in high school, art class exercises were usually formed of slavishly copying an artist’s work. We’d use the tools and techniques the artist used in order to better understand how and why the work was created. This helped us experience the process the artist used to create such work.
Following these exercises, we would usually complete a piece of our own work, with subject matter of our choosing, but using the same tools and techniques as the artist. Here we were learning how to apply the artists’ thinking in the context of our own work.
Every design problem is unique. The context, environment, audience, and goals will never be the same again. But the problems we’re solving can be similar to those that went before. These similarities are what we can use to research potential solutions. When we’re researching the solutions through the experience and ideas of others, it’s like being back in art class again. We’re learning how it feels to use other designers’ tools and techniques, so that we can discover what might suit our own processes. Our wide-ranging explorations lead us each to find inspiration in a different artist or technique. Just as every design problem is unique, there’s no single designer, book, or gallery site that can solve every design problem.
Borrowing ideas isn’t a bad practice. We can research and learn from these resources, although to copy their aesthetics or functionality in their entirety is bad practice. If we copy other designers’ work, regardless of the context of their origins or our projects, we won’t have learned anything, and it will likely result in poor work and an inappropriate solution.
I was discussing inspiration with my friend Bevan Stephens a few weeks ago. We talked about how, at some point in our design careers, we seemed to stop looking for ideas in galleries and similar resources. We didn’t realize it at the time, but somehow we’d gained confidence, and felt we didn’t need to actively search for ideas from aesthetic showcases anymore.
When we start out, we are usually very conscious of every design decision we make. It takes time for us to familiarize ourselves with our preferred rules and patterns. The more experience we get, the more subconscious these design decisions become. We can make a decision without any conscious justification, although we can then unravel our reasoning in a perfectly clear way. I believe this confidence comes to all designers with time.
A similar thing happens with the way we research solutions. We spend a huge amount of time interacting with other designers’ work; in our research and in the products we use. Sometimes a solution, or an element of the execution, will stand out to us. We may just absorb the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness). Or we’ll remind ourselves to save it for later, in a notebook, some kind of resources library, or just in our heads.
The more experience we have, the greater the osmosis. The viewing and filing of the solutions becomes quicker, more automatic. We become more efficient at storing the information and ideas that we need.
Whilst I think I’m getting better at subconsciously storing ideas and potential solutions, occasionally I find myself returning to the design galleries. It’s not usually for a general browse, but more often for looking at a specific category, a particular type of website. I find myself needing to learn again. I seek out ideas from gallery sites when I’m feeling unsure. This usually happens when the context of a project is new to me. It’s a different type of site, product, audience, or approach. I need to supplement my mental library of ideas. I’m not blindly copying work like I might have done when I was starting out, I’m now better at identifying when I need more resources to help me understand a problem. I understand more about how to appropriate ideas and techniques without copying. Still, I need to bolster my confidence. I want to feel as though I know what I’m working with.
Design as a practice and process stays constant, but the technology, audiences and other outputs change around us. We will always be able to apply our skills of seeing, solving problems and making decisions, but the industry standards and best techniques are always changing. The evolving web means we need to keep learning. Still, we need to be smart about how we learn, and understand the difference between learning and copying so we don’t fall back on the work of others when we should be innovating for ourselves.
- A Q&A on the Picture Element
The revival of the
pictureelement—the responsive images proposal that has seen the most support from the developer community—is exciting news, but there are still some outstanding questions about how the element will really work. Marcos Caceres and Yoav Weiss have put countless hours into the Responsive Images Community Group’s efforts, and are now working toward
pictureimplementations in Firefox and Chrome, respectively. Mat Marquis asked them some questions.
So, we’re getting
srcset? I thought
srcsetwas never bad in itself—some parts of the syntax were just hard to understand, and it wasn’t able to handle an important use case: “art direction”. The
pictureelement works in conjunction with
srcset, giving developers a set of solutions for whatever problem they are trying to solve.
What happened to the
src-nproposal that was going around a short time ago?
src-nproposal (put together by Google’s Tab Atkins and John Mellor) elegantly solved a lot of problems, but introduced some weird markup (the numbered attributes bit), which would have made a mess of browsers’ internals. Some WebKit folks went so far as to call it “a grotesque perversion of the HTML language.”
YW: The biggest innovation in
sizesattribute. This attribute allows you to specify the dimensions for a set of images and lets the browser take care of the math behind all the resource selection. We’ve incorporated that feature into the latest
src-nproposal was an important step in getting the complete solution that we have today.
picturewas done-for—what brought it back?
MC: It was really the rejection of
src-nby WebKit that brought it back. By taking
pictureoff the standardization table, there was a new sense of urgency to finding a solution for responsive images.
Mozilla was quite keen on
src-n, as we thought that, despite being hard to implement, it did a fair job of addressing the problems developers were facing. But, when the WebKit community said no to
src-n, the Blink community backed out as well—the Blink folks weren’t sold on it to start with, so they weren’t apt to do something the WebKit folks were not keen on either. With Mozilla having rejected the original
srcsetproposal, this really only left
pictureon the table.
Then, a clever dude from Opera software—Simon Pieters—had an epiphany: what if we flip the way that browsers process
picture? If we used the
pictureelement as sort of a controller for an old-fashioned
imgelement, we could get all the same functionality with way less implementation overhead.
YW: The old proposal’s version of
pictureacted like a better featured version of
imgitself, in the new proposal the
pictureelement is there only to contain possible resources for the
imgelement, and assists it in choosing the right one.
imgcan keep doing what it does best: loading and displaying a resource, and the new element just handles the parts that
imgdoesn’t excel at—namely, picking the most appropriate resource based on a combination of factors: viewport size, pixel density, and so on.
This design enables browsers to avoid re-implementation and re-testing of
img’s core functionality with
picture, and reduces the maintenance costs of the feature significantly.
pictureneed to land before we can do any real performance testing, or are there tests in place before the element officially hits browsers?
MC: I think
picturewill need to land before we can get any real numbers. However, given that
srcsetis already in Chrome 34, sites might already be seeing some of the benefits that come from a responsive image solution.
YW: Some of the performance benefits can be measured by using today’s polyfills. For example, the data savings from using
pictureare not likely to change significantly compared to the data savings benefits of using Picturefill, minus the actual polyfill download. One difference is that current polyfills have to work around browser-level optimizations—like prefetching sources—while a native solution will be able to take advantage of them.
How does the current implementation in Chrome differ from implementations in existing polyfills? Do I need to change my code to get it working natively or will it integrate seamlessly?
YW: The Blink implementation is of
srcset’s DPR syntax, which is a subset of the original
srcsetsyntax. If the polyfill you use has implemented that syntax (the
srcset), and does feature testing, it’s highly possible that you won’t have to modify your site’s syntax.
MC: As with any emerging standard, things can change quickly. There is always risk in prematurely adopting a solution before it becomes a standard. Fortunately, the high visibility and level of interest in this feature means the community is already updating their polyfills. For example, Scott Jehl is planning to update Picturefill to support the new syntax and attributes of
sourcebe supported when
pictureis implemented in Chrome and Firefox?
MC: I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be. An important part of a responsive images solution is having the ability to use emerging image formats like WebP, particularly if using these formats will benefit users without excluding those still using legacy browsers. As a community, we need to make sure there is a solid test suite to check for support of the
typeattribute—and we need to hold them accountable if the browsers don’t get it right!
YW: What Marcos said!
How interoperable will
picturebe with MQ variables?
MC: In most cases, as long as you can use the final MQ variable syntax anywhere you would use a media query normally, then it should“just work”.
YW: The latest MQ variable proposal—dubbed “CSS aliases”—is still in its very early stages, but we’ve been thinking about how it might work with
picturealready. Interoperability with
pictureis going to be important for any MQ variable proposal.
Is bandwidth a consideration right now, or is this all mostly about viewport sizes and densities?
MC: Bandwidth detection itself isn’t a relevant factor. Consider, when you go to a conference, the Wi-Fi you connect to has high bandwidth, yet you get slow speeds. Bandwidth is variable—particularly on cellular connections. Most of the time,what users care about is costs, particularly on mobile. I think what we want is for users to have the ability to tell the browser, “If I’m on my cellular plan, just give me the 1x images.”
This is the beauty of the declarative
picturesolution: all developers have to do is provide a suitable set of images for the browser to choose from. It’s then on browsers to do the right thing, on behalf of the user.
You can expect that minimizing the cost of browsing is something we browser vendors will be competing on—a definite win for our users.
YW: Initial implementations likely won’t take network quality into account—but as Marcos said, the solution’s markup provides all the information the browser needs to later take that into account. All in all, the solution aims to give this control to the browsers, and through them, to the users themselves.
Is it safe to use the
pictureelement in a production site, once these implementations launch?
MC: I would wait a little bit—until there’s public confirmation from all the big browser vendors—before using
pictureon a production site. I’d hate to see people include this prematurely, and a change to the markup come along later. With that caveat: the really nice thing about the new
picturemarkup is that developers must include an
imgelement for it to work. This means that by default—and with no exception—the fallback for
picturewill work with legacy browsers. It’s then up to authors to include an optimized image for legacy browsers inside the
YW: In general I agree with Marcos, but I guess it also depends on the polyfills available and their support for the new markup. Once Picturefill and other polyfills support the markup, it might be possible to roll the new markup out to live sites that we control—like our own—as long as we make sure that we can adapt quickly in the unlikely event that the markup changes.
- The Quest for Randomness
Can you ever be reasonably sure that something is random, in the same sense you can be reasonably sure something is not random (for example, because it consists of endless nines)? Even if a sequence looked random, how could you ever rule out the possibility that it had a hidden deterministic pattern? And what exactly do we mean by "random," anyway?
- #000000 and #FFFFFF
- Harmonized data sets with varying sample sizes....
The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World's Richest. The American middle class, long the most affluent in the world, has lost that distinction. Comparing income by country. About the data.
- How Hip-Hop Failed Black America
The Root's ?uestlove on the invisibilizing of Black culture... "...you can point to this as proof of hip-hop's success. The concept travels. But where has it traveled? The danger is that it has drifted into oblivion. The music originally evolved to paint portraits of real people and handle real problems at close range — social contract, anyone? — but these days, hip-hop mainly rearranges symbolic freight on the black starliner. Containers on the container ship are taken from here to there — and never mind the fact that they may be empty containers. Keep on pushin' and all that, but what are you pushing against?"
For those who don't know: Questlove; The Roots.
- "For male action heroes, it's an arms race now."
- Dying Of The Light
"These people want to believe in a false reality, they want to believe in conspiracy theories, they want to believe that their government is evil, they want to believe that the biblical Anti-Christ sits in the White House and that the so-called End Times are upon us, they want to believe that the President is plotting their demise because that justifies their hatred and bigotry and their miserable unhappiness." Jim Wright, retired naval officer, occasional military intelligence consultant, craftsman and blogger, illustrates the process by which the media exploits lazy critical thinking to create a false narrative that alienates us from one another.
- Identity Dominance: The U.S. Military's Biometric War in Afghanistan
As part of its effort to combat insurgent forces interspersed within an indigenous population, the use of biometrics has become a central component of the U.S. war effort. Having expanded heavily since its introduction during the war in Iraq, biometric identification and tracking of individuals has become a core mission in Afghanistan with initiatives sponsored by the U.S. and Afghan governments seeking to obtain the biometric identifiers of nearly everyone in the country.
Previously in biometrics
- Thirty Errol Morris movies that can be streamed
Inside, please find a list of twenty-eight movies, TV episodes, and short subjects by Errol Morris and two movies about Errol Morris, all of which can be streamed, along with some short descriptions of their content.
- Gates of Heaven (1978) - A documentary about pet cemeteries. (Wikipedia) (Werner Herzog vowed to eat his shoe if the film was completed and shown in a public theater. It was and he did. Previously)
- The Thin Blue Line (1988) - A documentary about the wrongful conviction of Randall Dale Adams. The documentary resulted in Adams's case being re-assessed and his eventually being released. (Wikipedia)
- A Brief History of Time (1991) - A documentary about Stephen Hawking. (Wikipedia)
- Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999) - A documentary about Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., an electric chair technician, holocaust denier, and practitioner of a "death row shakedown". (Wikipedia)
- A Brief History of Errol Morris (2000) - A documentary about Errol Morris by Kevin Macdonald.
- First Person (TV Series, 2000-2001) Previously
- Mr. Debt - An interview with Andrew Capoccia, a (now disbarred) lawyer for folks carrying credit-card debt.
- Eyeball to Eyeball - An interview with Clyde Roper.
- Stairway To Heaven - An interview with Temple Grandin.
- The Killer Inside Me - An interview with Sondra London.
- I Dismember Mama - An interview with Saul Kent.
- The Stalker - An interview with Bill Kinsley, employer of postal worker Thomas McIlvane.
- The Parrot - A documentary about the murder of Jane Gill, possibly witnessed by a parrot.
- In the Kingdom of the Unabomber - An interview with Gary Greenberg, pen-pal of Ted Kaczynski.
- You're Soaking In It - An interview with crime scene cleaner Joan Dougherty
- Mr. Personality - An interview with Dr. Michael Stone, Columbia University forensic psychologist and host of Most Evil.
- The Only Truth - An interview with mob lawyer Murray Richman.
- Harvesting Me - An interview with Josh Harris.
- One in a Million Trillion - An interview with Rick Rosner.
- Leaving the Earth - An interview with Denny Fitch. Previously
- The Smartest Man in the World - An interview with Chris Langan. Previously
- A Short Film About Movies (2002) - A short film that played before the 2002 Academy Awards.
- The Fog of War - Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003) - An interview with former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. It won that year's Oscar for Best Documentary.
- The Nominees (2007) - A short film that played before the 2007 Academy Awards. (Please ignore the title.)
- Survivors - A collection of interviews with Cancer survivors.
- They Were There (2011) - A documentary for IBM's Centennial about the history of the company. Previously
- The Umbrella Man (2011) - An Op-Doc for the New York Times, talking with Josiah "Tink" Thompson about the significance of the Umbrella Man.
- Team Spirit (2012) - A short documentary for ESPN about sports fans who take their love to the grave. Previously
- El Wingador (2012) - An Op-Doc (with a corresponding article) about Bill Simmons, five-time champion of the Wing Bowl.
- November 22, 1963 (2013) - A documentary about Josiah "Tink" Thompson and his research into the assassination of JFK.
- The Making of The Thin Blue Line - Televised interview with Errol Morris and others about the making of The Thin Blue Line.
- "Black beauty. Dark beauty."
Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o has landed the cover of People's annual World's Most Beautiful issue. In February, she gave a moving speech (transcript) about how media depictions of "beauty" affected her. Why Lupita Nyong'o's 'People' Cover Is So Significant.
- Hippocrat and Midas walk into a clinic.
UC OKs paying surgeon $10 million in whistleblower-retaliation case. 'The settlement ends a case brought by the ex-head of UCLA's orthopedic surgery department, who says the medical school allowed doctors to take industry payments that may have compromised patient care.' 'In 2012, the surgeon sued UCLA, the UC regents, fellow surgeons and senior university officials, alleging they failed to act on his complaints about widespread conflicts of interest and later retaliated against him for speaking up.'[SL LATimes, use privacy settings in browser]
'He also alleged that UCLA looked the other way because the university stood to benefit financially from the success of medical products or drugs developed by its doctors.
One of the orthopedic surgeons that Pedowitz complained about testified at trial about receiving $250,000 in consulting fees in 2008 from device maker Medtronic. In memos to university officials, Pedowitz raised concerns about the financial dealings of other doctors as well.'
'At trial, Pedowitz said he was deeply troubled by the large amount of money Shamie was paid. He testified that he was particularly concerned that Shamie was trying to enroll patients in a research study involving Medtronic at the time.
"I saw this as an obvious problem," Pedowitz testified.'
'"These are serious issues that patients should be worried about," Pedowitz said in an interview. "These problems exist in the broader medical system and they are not restricted to UCLA."
'Before UCLA, Pedowitz worked at UC San Diego and as chairman of orthopedics and sports medicine at the University of South Florida.
Mark Quigley, an attorney representing Pedowitz, said the case could have been avoided if the UC system enforced the policies it already has in place.
"What good are all the policies if they protect the wrongdoers and fail to protect the actual whistleblower?" Quigley said. "The university wanted to cover it all up."'
- "Inaccurate maps are valuable aids."
Made for French television to promote a map exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris Raúl Ruiz's (wiki imdb) Zig-Zag is a good place to begin one's trek through the Chilean artists work.
"The metafictional universe of Ruiz is neither real nor realistic — only possible, or let's say conceivable, because Ruiz thinks and films it. Whether this makes it good or bad, commercial or uncommercial, is another matter, existing off somewhere in a parallel universe."
Longer Documentary: (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)
Six Functions of the Shot
Partially annotated filmography
Review of Poetics of Cinema
Some films: City of Pirates. Treasure Island. On Top of the Whale. Dog's Dialogue. La chouette aveugle. Tres Tristes Tigres. Histoire de Glace. Querelle de jardins.
- "Let's stop telling Adam and Steve jokes."
"We've run off at the mouth, said things we shouldn't have said. We've run around like a peacock all over the platform. We have said things because we were playing to the home team, and they all liked our act. On this issue, nobody likes our act, except the redneck factor." That was Pastor Greg Belser speaking at the Southern Baptist Convention's first ever conference on human sexuality currently being held in Nashville. As promising as those remarks are, however, Slate notes that the SBC still has a long way to go.
- Mery Talys and Quicke Answeres
- Dedicated "to those who have held the bag on a Snipe hunt"
Published in 1910, William T. Cox's Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods, With a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts is one of the earliest written accounts describing fabulous beasts of lumberjack lore, together called "fearsome critters." Read of tales of the peculiar wapaloosie, the spiky, hairless hodag that swallows trees whole, and the bizarrely violent splinter cat, which smashes trees with its head until it finds food. When you've been there a spell, take a gander through Paul Bunyan's Natural History, in which the goofang fish swims backwards to keep water out of its eyes and the teakettler walks backwards, nostrils steaming. For more harrowing yarns on yesterday's monsters, thumb through Henry Tryon's Fearsome Critters, which closes with a tantalizing snipet about an eternally elusive bird.
- 3 levels of lasers. It's rescanning the udder and looking for the teats
Something strange is happening at farms in upstate New York. The cows are milking themselves. Rise of the Milkbots.
- "So... do you... do you suppose we should... talk about money?"
- The Most Dangerous Mission...The Most Daring Escape...Behind Enemy Lines
VHS Cover Junkie showcases examples of the now lost art of the home videotape cover. [SLTumbr]
- Inside the giant panda research centre
Photographer Ami Vitale was allowed exclusive access into the Wolong National Nature Reserve managed by the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda as it trains pandas to be released into the wild.
The Problem With Pandas.
Is Breeding Pandas in Captivity Worth It?
How China's Panda Business Works
Eats Shoots, Leaves and Much of Zoos' Budgets
- ROMEO: I WILL NEVER LOVE AGAIN
- HBO content to be available via Amazon Prime
"Amazon and HBO on Wednesday announced a first-of-its-kind deal that will make HBO content available to Amazon Prime subscribers. ... Content covered in the new deal includes The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Eastbound & Down, Family Tree, Treme, Band of Brothers, John Adams, and early seasons of Boardwalk Empire and True Blood." No Game of Thrones yet, however. Read more here. And here.
- "Whip out your gun and follow that car." ~ Vladimir Nabokov
Dmitri Nabokov, Car Guy [Part One], Dmitri Nabokov, Car Guy [Part Two]: Dmitri Nabokov, son of Vladimir: his father's work (Lolita, Pale Fire, Ada, etc.), and cars.
Some stand out photos include:
- Véra Nabokov with the Bizzarrini Strada
- Four of Dmitri's cars in Switzerland: Ferrari 348 TB, Ferrari 456 GT, Viper, my second Ferrari 308 (GTBi Quattrovalvole)
- In San Remo, with Véra and Vladimir Nabokov, aunt, and cousin
- Vera Nabokov with a Ferrari 308
- Dmitri in Viper GT2
- 36 ventilators, 4.7m³ packing chips
- Interior Design
Curiosity led me to cut my collection of golf balls in half to see what the cores looked like. To my surprise, what I found inside inspired me to consider that I could discover, in the unlikeliest of places, elegant formal qualities and surprising metaphorical possibilities.
- Bounty Mutiny
"If an NHS trust proposed today that it was going to introduce Viagra sales reps into men's genitourinary wards, or reps for walking aids to orthopaedic wards, the very least you'd expect would be some stout resistance. It is a measure of the strength of the association between "motherhood" and "buying stuff" that the presence of commercial representatives on maternity wards has been tolerated for so long."
For several decades, the NHS has given 'parenting club' and data marketing company Bounty direct access to pregnant women and new mothers, in exchange for an estimated £2.3 million per year. In participating NHS trusts, pregnant women are given 'Bounty packs' by midwives at antenatal appointments and are visited by sales reps from Bounty in hospital after giving birth, who give out more packs, offer to sell baby photographs, and take details to sell onto third-party companies. Bounty are also paid by the government to distribute forms for claiming Child Benefit (a payment the majority of UK families with children are eligible for), which are included in the postnatal Bounty packs.
Recently, both Bounty and the NHS have come under fire for the commercial partnership. The British Medical Journal published an editorial from Dr Margaret McDonald questioning the ethics of combining commercial advertising with NHS advice, the National Childbirth Trust criticised the arrangement with Bounty specifically, and a House of Commons motion called for an end to the practice of allowing sales representatives on maternity wards.
The parenting site Mumsnet has been campaigning against Bounty with its Bounty Mutiny, which began after a number of the site's members shared their experiences of sales reps using dishonest, invasive or high-pressure tactics to get them to give their details or buy photographs of their babies.
But can the NHS afford to end its partnership with firms like Bounty? As the continuing crisis into NHS maternity services (particularly in England) continues, it is unclear how the Department of Health can afford, or practically implement, improvements.