Browsing Tag: Boost

    web design

    How To Boost Media Performance On A Budget — Smashing Magazine

    03/25/2021

    About The Author

    Akshay Ranganath is a Solution Architect at Cloudinary responsible for bringing customers on-board, helping them create work-flow for media management and media …
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    How do we get media performance right while staying within performance budgets? Let’s take a look at the recent stats and data around performance budgets, video playback performance issues and some techniques and tools to address these issues.

    American scholar Mason Cooley deftly described a hard fact of life: “A budget takes the fun out of money.” Unquestionably, media enlivens websites, adding appeal, excitement, and intrigue, let alone enticements to stay on a page and frequently revisit it. However, just as out-of-control spending bodes ill in the long run, so does unbudgeted digital media decimate site performance.

    A case in point: a page-load slowdown of a mere second could cost Amazon $1.6 billion in annual sales. Of the many factors that affect page-load speed, media is a significant one. Hence the dire need for prioritizing optimization of media. By spending your money right on that task and budgeting your media, you’ll reap significant savings and benefits in the long run.

    A web perf summit, with a slide on evidence showing positive impact of performance, and an attendee arguing it it's all a big hoax and we create a better user experience for nothing.
    Have you been in the same sitution as well? Illustration by Joel Pett, adapted by Jake Archibald.

    Performance Budgets

    “A performance budget is ‘… just what it sounds like: you set a ‘budget’ on your page and do not allow the page to exceed that. This may be a specific load time, but it is usually an easier conversation to have when you break the budget down into the number of requests or size of the page.”

    Tim Kadlec

    A performance budget as a mechanism for planning a web experience and preventing performance decay might consist of the following yardsticks:

    • Overall page weight,
    • Total number of HTTP requests,
    • Page-load time on a particular mobile network,
    • First Input Delay (FID)
    • First Contentful Paint (FCP),
    • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS),
    • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP).

    Vitaly Friedman has an excellent checklist that describes the components that affect web performance along with useful tips on optimization techniques. Becoming familiar with those components will enable you to set performance goals.

    With clearly documented performance goals, various teams can have meaningful conversations about the optimal delivery of content. For example, a budget can help them decide if a page should contain five images — or three images and one video — and still remain within the planned limits.

    budget speedcurve
    Performance budget, as used on performance monitoring tools, such as SpeedCurve. (Large preview)

    However, having a performance budget as a standalone metric might not be of much help. That’s why we must correlate performance to organizational goals.

    Business Performance

    If you splurge a lot of bytes on nonoptimal videos and images, the rich-media experience will not be so rich anymore. An organization exists to achieve outcomes, such as enticing people to buy, educating them, motivating them, or seeking help and volunteers. Anyone with a web presence would appreciate the relationship between the effect of various performance measures on business metrics.

    WPOStats highlights literally hundreds of case studies showing how a drop in perfrmance — from a few hundreds of milliseconds to seconds — might result in a massive drop in annual sales. Drawing that kind of relationship greatly helps track the effect of performance on business and, ultimately, build a performance culture for organizations.

    Similarly, slow sites can have a dramatic impact on conversion. A tough challenge online businesses face is to find the right balance between engaging the audience while staying within the performance budget.

    It’s not surprising then that a critical component for audience engagement is optimized visual media, e.g. a captivating video that weaves a story about your product or service along with relevant, interesting, and appealing visuals.

    According to MIT neuroscientists, our brain can absorb and understand visual media in less than 13 milliseconds, whereas text can take the average reader over 3.3 mins to comprehend, often after re-reading it and cross-referencing other places. No wonder then that microvideo content (usually just 10–20 seconds long) often delivers big engagements and conversion gains.

    Appeal Of Videos

    While shopping online, we expect to see detailed product images. For years, I’ve come to prefer browsing products that are complemented by videos that show, for example, how to use the product or maybe how to assemble it, or that demonstrate real-life use cases.

    Apart from my personal experience, a lot of research attests to the importance of video content:

    • 96% of consumers find videos helpful when making online purchasing decisions.
    • 79% of online shoppers prefer to watch a video for information on a product rather than reading the text on a webpage.
    • The right product video can raise conversions by over 80%.

    Speaking about the delivery of videos on the web,

    “The average video weight is increasing dramatically every year, more so on mobile than on desktop. In some cases, that may be warranted since mobile devices often have high-resolution screens, but it may also be due to a lack of ability to offer different video sizes using HTML alone. Many large videos on the web are hand-placed in marketing pages and don’t have sophisticated media servers to deliver appropriate sizes, so I hope in the future we’ll see similar simple HTML features for video delivery that we see in responsive images.”

    Scott Jehl

    The same sentiment was conveyed by Conviva’s Q4 2020 State of Streaming (registration required), which noted that mobile phones saw 20% more buffering issues, a 19% higher video-start failure and 5% longer start-time than other devices.

    Apart from rendering troubles, video delivery can also raise bandwidth costs, especially if you cannot deliver the browser’s optimal formats. Also, if you are not using a content delivery network (CDN) or multiple CDNs to map users to the closest edge regions for reduced latencies — a practice called suboptimal routing — you might slow down the start of the video.

    Similarly, unoptimized images were the leading cause of page bloat. According to the Web Almanac, the differential in image bytes sent to mobile or desktop devices is very small, which amounts to a further waste of bandwidth for devices that don’t really need all the extra bytes.

    Doubtless, going overboard with an engaging yet unoptimized content hurts business goals, and that’s where the fine art of balancing comes into play.

    The Art Of Balancing Performance With Media Content

    Even though rich media can promote user engagement, we need to balance the cost of delivering them with your website performance and business goals. One alternative is to host and deliver video through a third party like YouTube or Vimeo.

    Despite bandwidth savings, however, that approach comes at a cost. As the content owner, you can’t build a fully customized branded experience, or offer personalization. And of course, you need to host and deliver your images.

    You don’t have to offload your content. There are also other options available. Consider revamping your system for optimal media delivery by doing the following:

    Understand your current usage

    Study the weight of your webpages and the size of their media assets. Web-research expert Tammy Everts recommends ensuring that pages are less than 1 MB in size for mobile and less than 2 MB for everything else.
    In addition, identify the resources that are displayed on critical pages.

    For example, can you replace a paragraph of text and the associated images with a short video? How would that decision affect your business goals? At this stage, you might need to review your Real User Monitoring (RUM) and Analytics and identify the critical pages that lead to higher conversion and engagement rates.

    Also, be sure to synthetically track Google’s Core Web Vitals (CWVs) as part of your toolkit with tools like LightHouse. You can also measure CWVs through real-user monitoring (RUM) like CrUX. Since the CWVs will also be a signal for Google to crawlers, it makes sense to monitor and optimize for those metrics: Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).

    Serve the right format

    Serve images or videos in the most appropriate format in terms of size and resolution for the viewing device or browser. You might need an image CDN for that purpose. Alternatively, create variants like WebM, AVIF, JPEG-XL, HEIC, etc. and selectively serve the right content type based on the requesting User-Agent and Accept headers.

    For one-off conversions, you can try tools like Squoosh.app or avif.io.
    A related practice is to convert animated GIFs to videos. For more insight, see this Web.dev article. Want to try setting up a workflow to handle video publishing? See the great tips in the article Optimizing Video For Size And Quality.

    Serve the right size

    Over 41% of images on mobile devices are improperly sized. So, rather than serving a fixed width, crop your images and videos to fit the container size with tools like Lazysizes. Better yet, AI tools that can detect areas of interest while cropping images could save you a load of time and effort. You could also leverage native lazy-loading for images that are below the fold.

    Add subtitles to your videos

    Almost 85% of videos are played without sound. Adding subtitles to them doesn’t only provide an accessible experience, but it would capture audience attention and boost engagement. However, transcribing videos could be a tedious job; you can work with an AI-based transcription service and improve it instead to automate the workflow.

    Deliver through multiple CDNs

    CDNs can alleviate last-mile latency, shorten a video’s start time, and potentially reduce buffering issues. According to a study by Citrix, a multi-CDN strategy can reduce latency even further and offer continued availability in case of localized outages in the CDN’s edge nodes.

    Instead of leveraging multiple discreet tools, you could explore a product like Cloudinary’s Media Optimizer, which effectively and efficiently optimizes media, delivering the right format and quality through multi-CDN edge nodes. In other words, Media Optimizer optimizes both quality and size, serving high visual fidelity in small files.

    Progressively render video

    Auto-playing preview videos on YouTube has shown to increase video watch time by over 90%. Video auto-play has few benefits and plenty of drawbacks, so it’s important to be careful when to use and when not to use it. It’s important to have the option to pause the video as a minimum.

    A good way to balance the page-size budget would be to first serve AI-created video previews and poster images only, loading the full video only if the user clicks the video. That way, you can eliminate unnecessary downloads and accelerate page loads.

    Alternatively, load a preview video at the beginning and let the player autoplay the full version. Once the preview completes, the player checks the connection type of the device with the Network Connection API and, if the user has good connectivity, swaps the source from preview to the actual video.

    You can check a sample page for a demo.
    Here’s a tip: since CDNs can detect network connection types more reliably, your production-quality code could leverage the CDN to detect network speed, based on which your client code could progressively load the long-form video.

    Wrapping Up

    Down the road, thanks to its remarkable ability to tell stories in a way that words can’t, visual media will continue to be a dominant element for websites and mobile apps. However, determining the right content to deliver depends on both your business strategy and site performance.

    “A performance budget doesn’t guide your decisions about what content should be displayed. Rather, it’s about how you choose to display that content. Removing important content altogether to decrease the weight of a page is not a performance strategy.”

    Tim Kadlec

    That’s sound advice to keep in mind.

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    web design

    Obscure Solutions For Mobile Design That Boost UX — Smashing Magazine

    03/08/2021

    About The Author

    Gert Svaiko is a professional copywriter and mainly works with digital marketing companies in the US and EU.
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    Gert

    To inspire mobile designers, let’s look at how some clever design solutions tackle mobile navigation, confirmation dialogs, animations, and gamifying the waiting experience.

    It’s no secret that smartphone usage has doubled over the last five years, accounting for an estimated 3.8 billion users this year. This tells us clearly where people’s attention is and how important mobile web designers are to improving the user experience.

    We’ve seen plenty of web design experiments in recent years adopted by companies of all sizes. These changes include trends such as the infamous parallax scrolling, non-traditional layouts, and improved accessibility with dark mode. However, many paths are still left to explore, if we’re willing to break out of trends.

    To get those creative juices flowing, let’s look at some hidden design gems related to navigation and confirmation dialogs, the waiting experience, and swiping animations. While these solutions are mostly unconventional, the point isn’t to highlight them for their own sake. Design solutions have to be built with the pillars of accessibility and usability, but they can be refined according to your ultimate goals for user interaction and experience.

    So, let’s bring these elegant off-the-beaten-path design solutions into the spotlight.

    Rethinking Navigation

    The change of pinning the navigation menu to the bottom has been a game-changer for handheld devices because it allows for more natural thumb-controlled navigation. But as smartphone screens get more expansive, the thumb’s reach gets more restricted. Therefore, we’re long overdue for new mobile design solutions that allow easy access using only the thumb.

    Some creative approaches to this problem combine elegant design and functionality. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

    Nature Encyclopedia

    Nature Encyclopedia is a great learning resource for youth and adults alike. It features interactive infographics and on-point illustrations, but that’s not the part that captures our curiosity.

    Nature Encyclopedia’s scrollable navigation
    Nature Encyclopedia’s scrollable navigation (Source: tubik studio) (Large preview)

    In addition to all of the swiping functionality that we’ve become accustomed to in other mobile apps, there’s a nifty feature that allows you to change the information displayed by scrolling a wheel. You can also access previously shown information simply by scrolling the other way.

    While the action wheel was implemented to ease access to information, it could also be used to navigate between screens. This could potentially address the restriction of the thumb’s reach at the left and right edges of the screen, as you would now be able to effortlessly swipe left or right to navigate.

    V For Wiki

    You can already access Wikipedia in your phone’s browser. However, V for Wiki has made it even more accessible by featuring an elegant style of presenting the content. It features a nifty world map that instantly pops up information related to the area you’re browsing from.

    V for Wiki scrollable navigation
    V for Wiki scrollable navigation (Source: V for Wiki) (Large preview)

    While the interactive map makes browsing a lot more entertaining, it’s not the feature that first caught our eye.

    If you look at the navigation, on top of the guide you’ll see interactive lines to various landmarks, and you can scroll between the locations horizontally. This is a beautifully designed alternate way to navigate the menu because you can use your thumb effortlessly.

    This approach could serve as inspiration for a scrolling navigation menu, in which a customer can bring the far-left or far-right menu items closer by scrolling the wheel.

    Ada

    Ada is an application for the startup Ada Health, which aims to revolutionize how we approach going to the doctor with modern solutions, such as AI, video calls, and interactive design. We’ve all gone through the rabbit hole of looking on Google for advice on symptoms, so getting straightforward access to reliable information is a godsend.

    Ada’s thumb-friendly navigation
    Ada’s thumb-friendly navigation (Source: Daniel Diggle) (Large preview)

    Apart from the app’s clean look, it’s clear from the start that it’s designed to be used effortlessly with the thumb, because the navigation button is on the bottom right and opens the menu in a sidebar on the right. Furthermore, all of the actionable elements are within reach of the thumb, so the user would generally only need to click on the bottom or the right sidebar to get to where they want to go.

    Ada, then, is another example of solid navigation built into the app’s concept from the start. The experience of navigating the app feels natural and accessible.

    Overhauling Confirmation Dialogs

    Confirmation dialogs face the same challenges as navigation menus as a result of people holding their smartphones with one hand. The options are usually binary, one on the left side and the other on the right. As handheld devices get wider, access to one of the two dialog choices becomes complicated due to the limited range of thumb movement.

    Let’s look at some unconventional solutions to hard-to-reach confirmation dialogs.

    Vice Versa

    Vice versa is a diagonal UI pattern for binary options. It takes into account the thumb’s natural movement and acknowledges the limitations of abnormal movement. On a small screen, you could reach to the opposite side with your thumb, but that creates tension and feels uncomfortable.

    Vice versa diagonal confirmation dialog
    Vice versa diagonal confirmation dialog (Source: Michael Oh) (Large preview)

    The vice versa pattern addresses this problem by diagonally dividing the screen in two, allowing binary options to be made using only the thumb. Not only does it make it easier for the thumb to reach both options, but the accuracy issue is solved by giving users a larger area to touch.

    While the concept is intended to make voting mechanisms easily accessible, you could adapt this interactive design to all kinds of binary options.

    One of the obvious downsides of the pattern is that it’s heavily optimized for right-handed usage. The solution to this problem is that a customer can shake the phone, and the orientation will change. Good solution? We don’t know, but definitely an interesting alternative for confirmation dialogs.

    Omni Swipe

    Another solution for hard-to-reach confirmation buttons (or navigation, for that matter) is found in Omni Swipe. While this concept is meant for personalizing a smartphone’s UI, it could also be adapted to standalone applications.

    Omni Swipe confirmation and navigation concept
    Omni Swipe confirmation and navigation concept (Source: PR Newswire) (Large preview)

    While most navigation buttons open the menu horizontally or vertically, Omni Swipe allows users to access the controls in the thumb’s range of movement. This solves the complex challenge of creating a confirmation solution for all screen widths, because, regardless of size, the actionable elements would appear under the user’s thumb.

    Unlike the last concept explored, which allows only binary options, this solution has virtually no limitation to the choices you can add to the menu.

    Gamifying the Waiting Experience

    In a study by Statista in 2020, 65% of respondents in the US said they used a smartphone for online shopping in the past 12 months. This indicates that e-commerce UX and mobile design go hand in hand. Furthermore, if we look at modern e-commerce platforms, we can see that pretty much all of them highlight mobile-optimized themes. Together, both of these factors paint a clear picture of where the online retail industry is headed.

    However, even the slightest disturbance can cause a cart to be abandoned or create a negative shopping experience. Research into the psychology of speed perception shows that a person’s mood affects how they perceive time. In a relaxed and happy environment, you’ll sense time flying by. However, if you’re grumpy, in a bad mood, or anxious, time seems almost to stand still.

    Loading screens, shipping flows, preparation stages, and so on all keep users waiting. Let’s look at examples of how mobile designers have tackled the perception of speed in the online food-ordering and food-delivery industry.

    Wolt

    We used to get anxious waiting in line at a canteen. Well, we still do, but nowadays, we can comfortably order food online and have it delivered to us. However, we still need to wait until the courier arrives.

    Wolt is one of the many apps that enable you to purchase food and have it delivered to your doorstep by a courier. If you didn’t have anything better to do, you’d feel like, instead of waiting in line, you’d be waiting for the courier instead.

    Wolt’s gamified waiting experience (Source: Wolt app)

    Wolt has numerous nifty features that target this perception of speed. It shows you the progress in stages, notifying you once a step is complete and showing you the courier’s GPS location. There’s also a clever little game hidden away that helps you to pass the time more quickly and elevate your mood (if you’re OK with being a little competitive). In this minigame, you tap the screen as many times as you can in five seconds, trying to beat Wolt’s team.

    While a simple feature, it plays straight into human psychology. Even though the gaming element doesn’t take away your feeling of hunger, it helps you to pass the time more quickly.

    Bolt Food

    In the previous example, we saw how gamifying waiting times helps users to pass the time more quickly. Bolt Food is another example of a food courier facing the same challenge of waiting times.

    Bolt Food animated waiting experience (Source: Dribbble)

    Their approach to showing progress is to animate the delivery steps. While not a straightforward game, it still combines a sense of movement with the user’s perception of time. In short, the principle is that if something is moving, then it’s making progress. If the user were to stare at a lifeless screen, their sense of time would slow down, and, with an empty stomach, that would make them more anxious.

    So, if your service relies on multiple steps, instead of taking the order and sending a confirmation email afterward, engage with the customer by showing progress at all stages.

    Using Animation for Swiping

    Card screens have long been a favorite of designers. Customers can easily access different parts of an app simply by swiping and switching cards. However, instead of just applying the swiping function’s UI aspects, you could gamify the app to enhance the user experience.

    It’s common for people to react to movement and get drawn into animation. Let’s look at a couple of examples that use the gamify principle in action.

    Bookotel

    Bookotel is an online reservation app for restaurants and cafes. What strikes home with this app’s design is the innovative way they’ve created the swiping animation in the intro cards.

    Bookotel swiping animation concept (Source: Behance)

    Instead of just switching to the next card, the whole application seems to move and transform to the following image, message, and prompt.

    We don’t see this interaction applied to other parts of the application, so we’re left with some guesswork about how it would look on a larger scale. However, you can’t deny that it would draw the user in and get them to play around with the app.

    It’s worth noting that these movements might need to be readjusted if the customer opts-in for reduced motion to prevent accessibility issues from creeping in.

    Teatr Lalka

    Teatr Lalka was one of the first puppet theatres in Poland and is now over 75 years old. However, its website is anything but ancient. Its dominant motif is interactivity, which is what you’d hope to see on an entertainment-related website.

    Teatr Lalka mobile animation design (Source: Teatr Lalka)

    The first animations you see when visiting Teatr Lalka’s website are the puppets. While representing the actual puppets used in the shows, they also serve another purpose: gamification. You can swipe through animated puppets in a carousels and interact with them by clicking on them, prompting sound and vibrations from your smartphone. The puppets also react to tilting. It’s a wonderful example of how a mobile website can engage with the user from the very first page.

    You can apply the same techniques to other applications and websites, enhancing the user experience and playfully engaging with visitors.

    Unconventional Solutions Pave the Way for Future Mobile Design

    There you have some clever solutions to seemingly simple problems; solutions that hopefully improve the user experience in turn. While following trends isn’t necessarily bad, veering to the edge of innovation can yield a more rewarding result.

    With user experience becoming an ever more critical part of our digital lives, it pays to see things from a psychological perspective. Don’t be afraid to test cutting-edge solutions that play into people’s habits, psychology, and sense of convenience. It might be worth it.

    Further Resources

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