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    Building User Trust In UX Design — Smashing Magazine


    About The Author

    Adam is a senior lead UX/UI designer with more than 8 years of experience. Adam’s passion for design steadily grew into establishing his own agency, that …
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    Trust is at the heart of a long-term strategy of any product. There are many ways to earn it, and even more ways to lose it. In this article, we’ll go through how you, as a product designer, can make sure your product nurtures and retains trust throughout every touchpoint. To do that, we’ll be borrowing some of the tricks marketers and product people have up their sleeves.

    Building trust is one of the central goals of user experience design. And yet trust is a concept that’s very hard to define in a precise manner. We all know it when we feel it but often fall short of putting it in words. Being able to turn the elusive and intangible into actionable and concrete steps, however, is exactly what makes UX so crucial in the modern business ecosystem.

    Although a product experience that is useful and coherent is what fundamentally builds a sense of security and satisfaction, there’s a lot more nuance that goes building it. That’s what this article is about. We’ll take a deeper dive into users’ trust and how we can use UX to build a lasting relationship with your clientele.

    Instilling trust goes beyond the bare visuals of a product. Ideally, a UX designer’s work starts well before the first lines are drawn and long after designs are deployed.

    Being more present allows us to achieve a comprehensive view of the whole customer lifecycle, which also encourages us to borrow tools and approaches from marketers, product managers and developers. Being well-rounded in the product development activities is yet another aspect that we’ll advocate for throughout the piece. As a result of dabbling in non-design activities, we can gather an in-depth understanding of all areas where trust is vital.

    Think About The Customer Journey

    A central competency of UX design is a good understanding of your users’ needs, preferences, and emotions. Therefore, overtime we, designers, need to develop a wide array of skills to improve our understanding of our users and their interaction with our products.

    One such way entails using qualitative data and detailed analytics, which is vital in allowing us to outline a user’s persona’s most important qualities. Analytics can be used to create hypotheses and validate or discard them. As a result, you’ll be able to create experiences that will foster customer loyalty and a sustained sense of trust.

    Let’s look into the stages of a customer journey and explore how UX designers can bring value to the table. You might also notice the way we suggest to structure the customer journey map is marketing-oriented. Such marketing-orientedness speaks to the purpose of this article: to give designers a broader perspective.

    Below, we can see one such example of a customer journey that’s structured around the so-called “funnel” marketers and sales-people use:

    example of a customer journey
    Designed by Adam Fard UX Studio (Large preview)

    Below is the classic visualization of a sales/marketing funnel. You may have come across different wordings for the stages but this doesn’t change their essence. The reason this visualization is shaped like a funnel is simple: only a small portion of people who come across your product will end up becoming a paying customer. We’ve also combined the intent and action into one stage, since in the context of building trust through good UX they’re fairly similar.

    sales funnel
    Illustration by Adam Fard UX Studio. (Large preview)

    We’ve also combined the intent and action into one stage, since in the context of building trust through good UX they’re fairly similar.

    Now we need to apply this funnel thinking to a customer journey. That’s exactly what we did with the customer journey map (CJM) below. This map was created for one of our projects a while ago, and was tweaked significantly to respect the client’s privacy. By focusing on the whole funnel, we were able to go beyond the product UI, and audit the whole UX from the very first users’ interaction with the product in question.

    Now that we’ve talked briefly about how we can map users’ journey to pinpoint trust-sensitive areas, let’s move on to the first stage of the funnel: Awareness.


    Awareness is the stage where we should analyze how customers learn about a product or service. When devising a strategy for this step, we need to start from our users’ problems and their most common pain points. Being user-centric enables us to think about the best ways to approach potential customers while they are trying to tackle a certain pain point. The goal here is to have a reserved and more educational tone.

    sales funnel
    Illustration by Adam Fard UX Studio. (Large preview)

    Sounding too corporate or salesy can have an adverse effect on a person that isn’t familiar with the product. The way we should approach the awareness stage depends on whether your product is launched or not.

    In order to map a journey that is representative of real users we need real data. The ways of collecting this data will depend on whether the product in question is launched or not. Let’s go through both of these scenarios separately.

    two scenarios of collecting the data
    Illustration by Adam Fard UX Studio. (Large preview)

    The Approach For Launched Products

    A product or service that has already hit the market can learn a lot about the people it attracts. Both qualitative and quantitative methods can provide us with a wealth of valuable insight.

    There are plenty of tools and techniques in the market that will help get to know your users better. Here are the ones that are used the most often:

    Let’s break down the three in more detail.

    Google Analytics

    Google Analytics is a popular tool that is predominantly used by marketers, but it has gradually been adopted by UX specialists as well. It’s an excellent way to learn about the types of audiences you need to design for and create hypotheses about their preferences. More importantly, Google Analytics gives us insights on how people find you. Conversely, it allows you to learn how people do not find you.

    A launched product can dive into a variety of values to better their understanding of their clientele. Here are a few of them:

    • Top Sources Of Traffic
      This allows you to understand what are the most successful channels that drive awareness. Are you active enough on these channels? Can anything be improved in terms of your online presence?

    Here’s how Google Analytics present data on where your users come from:

    Google Analytics' data
    (Large preview)
    • User Demographics
      This provides you with data on your audience’s age, gender, lifestyle, and interests. That’s one of the ways you can validate a UX persona you’ve created with data rather than your assumptions;

    Here’s how Google Analytics visualizes the data on the users’ location:

    Google Analytics' visualization of data
    A screenshot taken from Google Analytics. (Large preview)
    • Keyword insights — you can use two approaches here. The first one involves the usage of Google Search Console. It shows you the keywords your audience uses to locate your page. It provides you with a wealth of insight into user pain points and can inform your keyword strategy.

    The second approach is gauging the data from SEO tools like ahrefs or SEMrush to see how people phrase their search query when they face a problem your product solves.

    Once you have an understanding of the keywords that your potential customers use, put them in Google. What do you find there? A competitor product? An aggregator website like Capterra or Clutch? Perhaps nothing that suits the query? Answers to these questions will be invaluable in informing your decisions about optimizing the very first stages of your custom journey.

    Here’s how Google Search console shows which keywords users use that end up visiting to your website:

    Google Analytics' data
    A screenshot taken from Google Analytics’ Search Console. (Large preview)
    FullStory And Its Equivalents

    There is now a great variety of UX tools when it comes to analytics engines. They help translate complex data into actionable insights on how to improve your online presence. The tool that we use, and see other designers use very often is FullStory. Such tools are a great solution when you’re looking to reduce UI friction, find ways to enhance funnel completion, and so forth.

    By using such tools, businesses can learn a lot about user behavior and how they can calibrate products to their needs. Do your users read the product description you write? Do they skim it? What part of the page seems to grab their attention? Does that validate or refute your initial assumptions?

    FullStory tool
    Image source: (Large preview)
    User Interviews

    Interviewing your user base has a broad spectrum of benefits when it comes to understanding their motivations, values, and experiences. There are many kinds of interviews, i.e. structured, unstructured, ones that feature closed or leading questions, and so on. They all have their benefits and can be tailored specifically to your service or user base to extract maximum insight.

    For the purposes of creating a customer journey map that visualizes real data, consider asking questions like:

    “How would you go about looking for an X service or product?”

    “What information is/was the most important while making a purchasing decision?”

    “What are some of the red flags for you when searching for our service/product?”

    pic of a user interview
    Image source: (Large preview)

    Approach For Products Pending Launch

    There’s plenty of valuable insight that can be gathered without having a launched product. Designs that instill trust from day one are bound to maximize an organization’s success in the long run.

    Here are the tools and techniques you should use:

    Let’s go through each of those.

    Keyword And Online Research

    One of the most straightforward ways to establish whether a product is fit for its market is keyword research. Often, looking for keywords is associated with SEM and SEO practices, but there’s a catch. This kind of research will reveal a lot about the most prominent needs on the market as well.

    There are a few methods of keyword research can be used to establish market fitness:

    • Mining For Questions And Answers
      Think about websites like Quora or Reddit. Are people asking about how to solve a problem your product solves? What are the ways they currently go about solving it?
    screenshot from a Reddit thread
    A screenshot from a Reddit thread. (Large preview)
    • Competitor Reviews And Descriptions
      Is there a trend on why competitors get bad reviews? Conversely, is there something that helps them get better reviews? Is there a gap in their features?
    • Social Listening
      Go through twitter, facebook, LinkedIn hashtags and groups. See if there are communities that are built around the problem you solve or the demographic you target. If so, see what these people talk about, ask them questions.
    • Keyword Research Tools
      This research method helps you learn two things. The first one is whether people have a need for your product or service. By seeing the number of queries in a given period of time you can draw conclusions about the viability of your product. The second valuable insight is seeing how people describe the problem you’re solving. Knowing how people talk about their pains, in turn, will help you speak the same language with your customers.
    User Interviews

    To some, conducting user interviews before product launch may seem pointless, but it’s far from being true.

    By understanding who your potential customers are and learning about their needs and preferences is a valuable vehicle for building trust.

    Here are a few important things you can learn from potential users:

    • Whether or not they like your design.
      The visual side of a product is a vital link, allowing to build trust. For someone to like your design, of course, implies that you already have some designs complete.
    • Whether or not they find your product idea useful.
      This information will allow you to analyze how fit your product is for the market.
    • The features that they’d like to see in your product.
      This will help you quickly adapt to the needs of your customers.
    • Whether or not they find it easy to use your product.
      This data will inform your product’s usability, which too implies having some designs complete. A prototype would be ideal for early usability testing.

    Thorough and well-planned user interviews are instrumental in making intelligent business decisions. They provide you with invaluable insight rooted in feedback directly from your potential users.

    Competitor Research

    Understanding your competitors’ products is vital when it comes to market differentiation. It enables us to learn what customers are lacking and fill in those gaps.

    Here are a few things that’ll help you conduct a simple competitor research with trust in mind:

    • Choose the right competitors to research.
      By the way, these don’t have to be digital products. For example, simple notepad is a competitor to productivity apps, as they solve the same problem: being on top of your tasks and staying productive. How does that help with trust and creating a CJM? It allows you to empathize and put yourself in the shoes of your users. Also, it helps your craft authentic and relatable messaging that resonates with people.
    • Ensure that your analysis is consistent.
      It’s important to have a clear understanding of which aspects you’re going to analyze. Come up with analysis criteria, so that your notes are structured and easy to draw conclusions from.
      Considering different options is almost always a part of a customer’s journey. You have to make it easy to understand how you’re better than the alternatives.
    • Establish the best sources for your data.
      The best source is users: either yours or someone else’s. Period. But a few google searches would certainly do no harm.
    • Define the best ways to incorporate your findings into your product at its inception.

    Studying your competition will provide you with a wealth of quantitative and qualitative data that will guide your business decisions. As a result, you’ll create a product that fits your users’ needs and instills trust and satisfaction.

    Consideration & Acquisition

    Users that have made it to the consideration stage are interested in your product but aren’t prepared to become paying customers. At this point, they’re evaluating the options offered by your competition and assessing whether they’ll get the value they’re looking for.

    sales funnel
    Designed by Adam Fard UX Studio. (Large preview)

    There is a wide array of things businesses can do to motivate users to transition into a paying relationship through building trust. Here are a few of them:

    Explain How Your Algorithms Work

    If your product revolves around AI/ML algorithms, to enhance customer experience, it’s important to explain how it works.

    We’re typically very sensitive about our data. Respectively, there’s no reason to think that users will blindly trust a product’s AI. It’s our responsibility to counteract the distrust by explaining how it works and what kind of data it will use.

    Here are a few great ways you can outline the AI’s functionality while also encouraging them to make their own informed decisions:

    • Calibrate Trust
      AI systems are based on stats and numbers, which means that they can’t replace rational human thought. Emphasize that your algorithm is skilled at giving suggestions, but users should make their own choices.
    • Display Confidence Levels
      An essential aspect of the scientific approach is that there are no facts — there is only evidence. Make sure to communicate how confident your algorithm is of something to be true.
    • Explain Algorithm Outputs
      The results of an analysis must be accompanied by a clear explanation thereof.

    Good UX & UI

    A well-executed UI is at the crux of user trust. Satisfying visuals, consistency, and ethical design will make your product appear trustworthy. Lacking the above will dissuade people from purchasing your product or services.

    Here’s an older design example. Would you willingly use such service, especially when the competitors’ design isn’t stuck in 2003?

    screenshot of how Gmail looked in 2003
    Here’s how Gmail looked in 2003. (Sorce: Vala Afshar) (Large preview)

    No offense to Gmail’s former self, by the way. There’s a reason it doesn’t look like that anymore though.

    The same could also be said about your product’s UX. Confusing user flows, poor feature discoverability, and other other usability issues are a surefire way to scare away a good chunk of new users. A good remedy to such pitfall is making sure your design adheres to the usability heuristics. If you’re dealing with legacy design, conducting a heuristic evaluation would also serve you well.

    Also, stuff like fake buttons, dark patterns, and a wonky interface are guaranteed to seriously hinder your growth.

    an example of a website that employs dark patterns
    An example of a website that clearly employs dark patterns. (Source: (Large preview)

    Testimonials & Reviews

    Customer reviews are essential when it comes to building trust. There’s a significant body of research indicating that positive feedback can boost your sales and conversions.

    You don’t have to take our word for it. Here’s what researchers in Spiegel Research Center have to say about the importance of review:

    Based on data from the high-end gift retailer, we found that as products begin displaying reviews, conversion rates escalate rapidly. The purchase likelihood for a product with five reviews is 270% greater than the purchase likelihood of a product with no reviews.

    A screenshot taken from Clutch with reviews
    A screenshot taken from Clutch. (Large preview)

    Plus, studies have shown that people use testimonials to assess how trustworthy a product is.

    It’s also worth noting that people who have negative experiences are a lot more likely to write a review, rather than the ones who had a good one. That’s why you should be creative in asking people to leave reviews. Here’s how Upwork approaches soliciting feedback.

    A screenshot taken from Upwork with reviews
    A screenshot taken from Upwork. (Large preview)

    Notice that Upwork allows you to see what review a customer left only after you’ve left one. It’s fascinating how they leverage curiosity to encourage users to leave feedback.

    Over 90 percent of internet users read online reviews, and almost 85 percent of them trust them as much as a recommendation from a friend. Reviews are an important part of a trustworthy online presence.

    That being said, it’s important not to create fake reviews that glorify your product. Please don’t buy reviews or mislead users in any different way. People can generally sense when praise is excessive and disingenuous. Furthermore, users appreciate a few negative reviews as well.

    A study conducted by the North Western University and Power Reviews concluded the following:

    “As it turns out, perfect reviews aren’t the best for businesses, either. Our research with Northwestern University found that purchase probability peaks when a product’s average star rating is between 4.2 – 4.5, because a perfect 5-star rating is perceived by consumers as too good to be true.”


    Trust badges are icons that inform your users about the security of your product/service. Badges are especially important if your site has a payment page.

    different types of badges
    Badges like these help instill trust. (Source: Marianne Wright) (Large preview)

    Providing your credit card information on a website is a sign of trust. Therefore it’s essential that we not only abide by security standards but also convey the fact that we do.

    Badges are also invaluable when it comes to showcasing important partnerships or rewards. For example, b2b companies often display awards from websites like Clutch or GoodFirms.

    examples of different badges
    (Large preview)

    Good Spelling And Grammar

    A poorly written copy is a simple way to ruin your online credibility. A few typos will certainly dissuade some people from using your product by losing their trust in it.

    Think of it this way: How can you trust a service that can even get their text right? Would you trust their online security? Would you be willing to provide your card information to them?

    The pitfall of poor grammar and spelling might seem obvious, but oftentimes the UX copy is written in a rush. And we designers are prone to glazing over the copy without giving it too much consideration.

    You’d be surprised how many error notifications and other system messages are written in a hurry never to be reviewed again.

    Blunders like on the screenshot below, in our experience, happen way too often:

    example of error notifications
    Notice how the error message uses jargon. (Source: Alex Birkett) (Large preview)


    Considering that a customer has made it to the retention stage, it’s fair to say that you’ve earned their trust. However, it’s essential to mention that this trust needs to be retained, to ensure that they’ll continue using your product. Moreover, whenever there are people involved screw-ups are bound to happen. That means that you need to have a plan for fixing mistakes and getting the trust back.

    sales tunnel
    Illustration by (Large preview)

    Here are a few things you can do to elevate user experience and maintain a high trust level:


    Effective email communication is paramount to customer retention. A whitepaper done by Emarsys indicates that about 45 of the businesses they surveyed use e-mails to retain their customers.

    As a communication medium, email is among the most expressive. It can convey emotions through text and media while also addressing customers’ needs.

    A user-centric approach to email marketing is bound to keep your customers happy, informed, and engaged. That implies not spamming and providing actual value or entertainment. Preferably, both.

    Forever 21 mailing
    Look at how Forever 21 does damage control to retain their customers’ loyalty. (Source: Iuliia Nesterenko) (Large preview)


    Consistent and well-thought-out push notifications are also a great way to keep your customers intrigued.

    First off, it’s always a good idea to welcome your users. They’ve just made an important step — they’ve bought your product or purchased a membership. It’s a simple and elegant way of thanking your customer for their choice.

    Secondly, consider notifying them about exclusive offers. Sharing information on special deals allows you to provide them with extra value for merely being a customer of yours.

    Finally, consider personalizing your notifications. Using users’ name or recent activity to notify them about relevant stuff will also skyrocket their engagement. However, it’s worth mentioning that being explicit about having users’ information too often or using sensitive data to personalize notifications can come across creepy.

    A screenshot of a Starbucks app notification.
    A screenshot of a Starbucks app notification. (Large preview)

    Whether the notification above is creepy is up for you to decide 🙂

    In-product Perks

    There are a variety of bonuses you can offer to build trust in the retention stage. They nudge our customers to use your product actively. These are especially potent in making up for any screw-ups.

    Here are a few popular ones you can look into:

    • Closed beta access to new features;
    • Seasonal discounts;
    • Loyalty programs;
    • Discounts on renewals.
    an example of Kate Spade’s notification
    Notice how Kate Spade nudges the users towards the purchase. (Large preview)


    Phew, reading this article must have been quite a journey. We’ve almost reached the end. In order to help you consolidate everything in this article, let us try to recap its contents.

    Creating a successful product is all about building trust. Luckily, there are so many ways to improve a product’s trustworthiness through UX. However, it’s essential to make these practices consistent. Customers seek to interact with brands that can deliver great experience throughout all interactions and touchpoints.

    One of the ways to account for each touch point is reconciling two journey mapping techniques — marketing & sales funnel and customer journey map. The funnel allows us to go beyond the in-app experience that designers often are reluctant to do while a customer journey map provides empathy, structure and the depth of analysis.

    Listing all of the ways to boost trustworthiness for each funnel stage would take another couple of pages, so a simple advice would do. Empathy is the key for getting in your users’ shoes and tackling their trust concerns. For a more concrete list of guidelines, scroll up and skim through the headers. That should jog your memory.

    The bottom line is that we encourage you, dear reader, to shortlist the stages your users go through before actually becoming your users. Is there anything that might undermine your product’s trustworthiness? Is there anything you could improve and nudge a soon-to-be user in the right direction? Giving definitive answers to these questions and addressing them is a surefire for a better designed product.

    Further Reading on SmashingMag:

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    web design

    Material Design Text Fields Are Badly Designed — Smashing Magazine


    About The Author

    Adam Silver is an interaction designer focused on design systems and inclusive design. He loves to help organizations deliver products and services so that …
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    Where to put the label in a web form? In the early days, we talked about left-aligned labels versus top-aligned labels. These days we talk about floating labels. Let’s explore why they aren’t a very good idea, and what to use instead.

    I’ve been designing forms for over 20 years now, and I’ve tested many of them for large organizations like Boots, Just Eat and One topic that comes up a lot with forms is: where to put the label. In the early days, we talked about left-aligned labels versus top-aligned labels.

    These days the focus is more about placeholders that replace labels and float labels. The latter start off inside the input. When the user starts typing, the label ‘floats’ up to make space for the answer:

    Material Design text fields use the float label pattern
    Material Design text fields use the float label pattern. (Large preview)

    Some people assume float labels are best because Google’s Material Design uses them. But in this case, Google is wrong.

    Instead, I recommend using conventional text fields which have:

    • The label outside the input (to tell the user what to type),
    • A distinct border all the way around (to make it obvious where the answer goes).
    A conventional text field
    A conventional text field

    In this article, I’ll explain why I always recommend conventional text fields and why Google is wrong about using float labels for Material Design.

    Float Labels Are Better Than A Common Alternative But They’re Still Problematic

    Float labels were designed to address some problems with a commonly used alternative: placeholder labels. That’s where the label is placed inside the input but disappears when the user starts typing:

    Placeholder label text field
    Placeholder label text field.

    Having seen lots of people interacting with forms through my work first hand I know that placeholder labels are problematic.

    This is because, for example, they:

    Float labels don’t solve 2 of these problems: poor contrast and the chance of the label being mistaken for an actual answer. And while they attempt to address the problem of the label disappearing, in doing so, float labels introduce lots of other problems, too.

    For example, the size of the label has to be tiny in order to fit inside the box, which can make it hard to read. And long labels cannot be used as they’ll get cropped by the input:

    Long labels get cut off with Material Design text fields
    Long labels get cut off with Material Design text fields. (Large preview)

    Conventional Text Fields Are Better Than Both Placeholder Labels And Float Labels

    Conventional text fields don’t have the above problems because it’s clear where the answer goes and they have a legible, readily available label. The labels can be of any length and hint text, should it be needed, is easy to accommodate as well.

    Conventional text fields can easily contain long label text
    Conventional text fields can easily contain long label text.

    I’ve watched hundreds of people interact with forms and seen many of them struggle. But not once was that down to the use of a conventional text field. They take up a bit more vertical space. But saving space at the cost of clarity, ease of use and accessibility is a bad tradeoff to make.

    Google’s Test Didn’t Include Conventional Text Fields

    Google’s article, The Evolution of Material Design’s Text Fields shows that only 2 variants were tested, both of which used float labels.

    The 2 variants of text fields that Google tested: float labels with underlines and a white transparent background (left) and float labels with grey backgrounds (right).
    The 2 variants of text fields that Google tested: float labels with underlines and a white transparent background (left) and float labels with grey backgrounds (right). (Large preview)

    Crucially the test didn’t include conventional text fields which means they haven’t actually compared the usability of their float label design against conventional text fields. And having read Google’s responses to the comments on their article, it seems that usability was not their top priority.

    Google Inadvertently Prioritized Aesthetics Over Usability

    I looked into why Material Design uses float labels and discovered comments from Michael Gilbert, a designer who worked on them.

    The comments indicate that they tried to balance aesthetics and usability.

    Matt Ericsson commented:

    This seems to imply that there was more of an emphasis on form over function […] or even a desire to simply differentiate Material components from tried and true (boring) input boxes. […] was there research conducted on the original inputs that validated that they met a goal that was not being met by box inputs? Is there something that stood out as valuable going with a simple underline?

    Google’s response:

    The design decisions behind the original text field predate my time on the team, but I think the goal was likely similar [to this research]: Balance usability with style. I believe at the time we were leaning towards minimalism, emphasizing color and animation to highlight usability.

    Denis Lesak commented:

    […] this is one of those moments where I wonder why all of this research was necessary as I have long thought that the old design was flawed for all the reasons you mentioned.

    Google’s response:

    […] the goal of the research here wasn’t to simply determine that one version was better than another […]. This study was instead focused on identifying the characteristics of the design that led to the most usable, most beautiful experiences.

    Even though Google aimed for balance, in the end they inadvertently sacrificed usability for ‘minimalism’ and ‘a beautiful experience’.

    But aesthetics and usability are not in competition with each other. Something can look good without causing problems for users. In fact, these qualities go hand in hand.

    An example form using conventional text fields that look good and function well too
    An example form using conventional text fields that look good and function well too. (Large preview)


    Float labels are certainly less problematic than placeholder labels. But conventional text fields are better than float labels because they look like form fields and the label is easy to read and available at all times.

    Aesthetics are important, but putting the label inside the box does not make it look beautiful. What it does do, however, is make it demonstrably harder to use.

    Smashing Editor’s note

    At the moment of writing, here at Smashing Magazine we are actually using the floating label pattern that Adam heavily criticizes in this article. From our usability tests we can confirm that floating labels aren’t a particularly great idea, and we are looking into adjusting the design — by moving to conventional text fields — soon.


    Thanks to Caroline Jarrett and Amy Hupe for helping me write this. And thanks to Maximilian Franzke, Olivier Van Biervliet, Dan Vidrasan, Fabien Marry for their feedback on an earlier draft of this article.

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    Form Design Masterclass — Smashing Magazine


    About The Author

    Adam Silver is an interaction designer focused on design systems and inclusive design. He loves to help organizations deliver products and services so that …
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    A couple of weeks ago, we organized a Form Design Masterclass, an online workshop with Adam Silver alongside 81 friendly and smart people. Today, Adam shares his experience and details by highlighting what you as an attendee can expect from a Smashing Workshop, and things to keep in mind when running one.

    It took me around six months on and off to write the content for the workshop. After a lot of deliberation, I decided to structure it like I do in my book, Form Design Patterns.

    It was a 4-day workshop split into two 45-minute segments, with 15-minute breaks followed by a 30-minute Q&A with optional homework between days. Each day we set out to solve one big problem. This provided a way to approach the problem like we do in real life: by analyzing and discussing the options before arriving at a good solution.

    Overall, it was a fun experience. I learned a lot and had a great time teaching and chatting with everyone. I’m already looking forward to the next one which is tentatively planned for Summer 2021.

    Some Of The Highlights Of Each Day

    Here’s a quick rundown of each day including some of the highlights.

    Day 1: Nailing The Basics Of Form Design

    On the first day, we designed a simple registration form from scratch. This provided a perfect way to nail the basics of form design. It covered things like label positioning, form styling and input types. At the end of day 1, we had ourselves a registration form that covered the basics and made the form as simple as possible for users.

    My highlight of this session was the question protocol exercise. Instead of focusing on how to artificially save space on forms (by using things like float labels, tooltips, left-aligned labels and placeholder text), we used a spreadsheet to help know why every question is being asked and the best way to elicit the answer.

    Question protocol spreadsheet
    The question protocol spreadsheet to understand why every question is being asked and the best way to elicit the answer (Large preview)

    For our registration form, this meant a thorough analysis of asking for someone’s name, email address and password. And by the end of the exercise we had halved the number of form fields and had clear justification for the ones that remained.

    Registration form: before and after applying a question protocol
    Registration form: before and after applying a question protocol (Large preview)

    Day 2: Form Validation And Writing Good Error Messages

    On the second day, we took our well-designed registration form and looked at how to help users recover from errors in two ways:

    1. We decided when to validate forms and how to display error messages;
    2. We learnt how to write clear, concise, consistent and specific error messages that help users get back on track quickly.

    My highlight of this session was the exercise to redesign the error messages on Smashing Magazine’s very own membership sign up form.

    Sophy Colbert, a content designer who attended the workshop, volunteered to share her new error messages explaining her rationale for each one.

    Sophy Colbert running through her improved error messages
    Sophy Colbert running through her improved error messages (Large preview)

    Both the messages and the rationale were superb, and I think the group got a lot out of it as they could get an insight into Sophy’s content designer mindset.

    Day 3: Redesigning A Real World Checkout Form

    On day 3, we redesigned the ASOS checkout flow from scratch. This included guest checkout (first time experience) and checking out as someone with an account (repeat-use experience). We covered a lot of ground such as whether to use tabs, accordions or radio buttons. And we also looked at single page checkouts versus multi-page checkouts.

    My highlight of this session was that the process of redesigning several interactions, exposed new content design and service design challenges. For example, we converted the tabs that ask the user to specify whether they have an account or not:

    Original design of ASOS page using tabs to let users switch between ‘New to ASOS?’ and ‘Already registered?’ options
    Original design of ASOS page using tabs to let users switch between ‘New to ASOS?’ and ‘Already registered?’ options (Large preview)

    And we redesigned them into a form with radio buttons:

    New design of ASOS page using radio buttons to let users choose whether they have an account or not
    New design of ASOS page using radio buttons to let users choose whether they have an account or not (Large preview)

    And this exposed the problem that in real life, choices are rarely binary. So I asked the group what the missing option was and they rightly said: ‘What if the user can’t remember?’

    New design of ASOS page with the added option of ‘Can’t remember’ to the question ‘Do you have an account or not?’
    New design of ASOS page with the added option of ‘Can’t remember’ to the question ‘Do you have an account or not?’ (Large preview)

    So even though we originally looked at this primarily as an interaction design problem, it became an issue of content and service design.

    All of these problems nicely encapsulated one of the form UX rules: ‘Make friends with other departments’. As designers, we have to work effectively with stakeholders across the organisation to make sure we avoid as much complexity as possible. And this again is where the question protocol really shines.

    Day 4: Using Shorthand Syntax And Designing Long And Complex Forms

    Day 4 was split into two parts which I’ll discuss in reverse order.

    In the second part, we looked at various patterns that help users fill out long and complex forms — the kind of forms that take days, weeks or even months to complete. I was really looking forward to running this because the design challenges around this are interesting and not well trodden.

    In the first part, we redesigned Smashing Magazine’s registration form using shorthand syntax.

    My highlight of this session was that Vitaly, Mr. Smashing Magazine himself, came along to be our business stakeholder. The group asked him questions to work out why the form was designed the way it was and asking why certain questions were asked.

    The Smashing Magazine membership registration form
    The Smashing Magazine membership registration form (Large preview)

    Here are a few examples:

    • Sophy O asked why the country field is being asked for. Vitaly said that it depends on what the user is doing. If the user is buying a book, we need to know where it’s going. And the taxes on the book are based on the destination country.’ This resulted in either removing the field and asking for this information when someone buys the book — or just being clearer in hint text about why we’re asking for this information.
    • Milos Lazarevic questioned the need for the ‘Do you like cats?’ checkbox. And Dana Cottreau and Jaclyn Ziegler enjoyed the playfulness of the checkbox. But I would weigh up the joy it brings some people against the risk of alienating people who are, for example, less digitally savvy or are simply in a rush to access the content.
    • Emma Stotz questioned the use of live validation given all the usability issues that pop up around that. And Vitaly was keen to explore instantly validating the fields on submit instead.

    My Overall Impression

    For me, the workshop went very well overall and I was chuffed with the way things went and the feedback I received from the attendees. Everyone was so friendly, and tolerant of a couple of technical difficulties I had on the first day (thanks again, everyone!). Running the workshop remotely over Zoom has its problems (we won’t talk about how I accidentally left the meeting in a panic by accident on day 1), but actually I found the remote aspect useful on the whole.

    For example, all being connected to Zoom, meant it was seamless for attendees to ask questions while sharing their screen to bring the problems to life.

    I also really enjoyed meeting people across the world, something that would have been difficult with in-person workshops I think. Also, during the break, I got to quickly dash to put my kids to bed, so I imagine that also worked well for the attendees, too.

    But there’s one thing I wish I knew earlier. I was worried, that with such a large group of people (81 to be exact), letting people talk freely would end up in a chaos. As a result, on day 1, I read out and answered group’s questions from the shared Google Doc during the Q&A. This meant that other people’s voices weren’t heard and there was more of a barrier between me and the group.

    This is something I rectified for day 2 and it really made a difference. It was nice to hear people’s voices and thoughts in their own words and it created more of an open dialogue where other people started to answer other people’s questions which I loved.

    I remember Alex Price jumping in once to talk about his experience in dealing with a complicated form that needed to be completed by different people.

    What I’ll Change For Next Time

    While my overall impression of the workshop was very positive, there were some things I’d look to improve for next time.

    1. Show The Basics, Not Learn The Basics

    Day 1 covered a lot of the basics before going into greater detail on the following days, but it bothered me a bit to teach some of these things as I thought many attendees knew a lot of this stuff already. So next time I’d like to acknowledge that some people have come with a lot of knowledge and set the scene as ‘this is how I teach the basics’ as opposed to ‘this is how to learn the basics’ — thanks to Caroline Jarrett for this tip.

    Also, I’ll probably ask the group if there’s any form design approach that they’ve struggled to convince teammates about as that’s certainly something I’ve struggled with before.

    2. Split People Up In Bigger Groups

    One of the exercises involved people splitting up into groups of 2 using the Zoom breakout rooms, but because people came to this workshop from all over the world, some of the people listening were not able to take part in the exercises.

    For example, some people really needed to take a lunch break because their time zone was ahead of mine. This meant one or two people who did want to participate found themselves in a group on their own. Next time, I’d put people into groups of say 4 and make sure the exercises still work.

    3. Add More Group Exercises

    Despite the issue I just mentioned, the group exercises worked well. People enjoyed them, and it sparked some really interesting ideas from the participants. Some people messaged me after saying that they wished there were more group exercises, so I’ll aim to do just that.

    A Poster Of All The Rules

    As we moved through the workshop, we ticked off over 40 rules and principles of form design which brought a nice additional structure to the sessions.

    A few of the attendees asked me if I had a poster of all the rules and I didn’t — so now I’ve made one.

    All 42 rules from the workshop captured in a handy poster
    All 42 rules from the workshop captured in a handy poster. (Download the poster)

    Thanks again to everyone who came for all their contributions. I’m looking forward to the next one.

    Thanks to Caroline Jarrett for not only reviewing every detail of my workshop but for also editing this article.

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    What Saul Bass Can Teach Us About Web Design — Smashing Magazine


    About The Author

    Frederick O’Brien is a freelance journalist who conforms to most British stereotypes. His interests include American literature, graphic design, sustainable …
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    Film credits, brand logos, posters… Saul Bass did it all, and the principles that informed his work are just as valuable now as they were 50 years ago.

    Web design exists at a lovely intersection of different disciplines. In previous articles, I’ve written about the lessons to be learned from newspapers and from ancient Roman architects. This time we’ll be looking at one of the all-time great graphic designers — Saul Bass.

    Saul Bass is a graphic design legend. Responsible for title sequences in films like North by Northwest and Anatomy of a Murder, as well as a number of iconic posters and brand logos over the years. His work, in the words of Martin Scorses, “distilled the poetry of the modern, industrialized world.”

    A selection of corporate logos designed by Saul Bass
    From United Airlines to AT&T, Saul Bass designed some of the most iconic logos of all time. (Large preview)

    We’re in a different world now, a breakneck speed digital world, but that carries with it its own poetry. Although the backdrop has changed, Saul Bass’s methods and mindset have stood the test of time, and web designers would do well to remember them.

    Before getting into the particulars of Saul Bass and his work, it’s worth outlining his approach to design in broader terms. Big characters inspire big ideas, but as is so often the case the real trick is in the details.

    Concerning his approach to title sequences, Bass said:

    “Deal with ordinary things, things that we know so well that we’ve ceased to see them; deal with them in a way that allows us to understand them anew — in a sense making the ordinary extraordinary.”

    — Saul Bass (Source)

    A similar ethos can and should be applied to web design. As we look at his work, yes, by all means envision homepage splashes, but also think about buttons and signup forms and legal disclaimers. There is just as much beauty to be found in the little things. Sometimes more.

    Saul Bass-designed poster for the feature film ‘Grand Prix’
    Nothing Saul Bass did was an afterthought. Every element had to fit perfectly with everything else, from titles to credits. (Large preview)

    That Bass is even renowned for title sequences is a testament to his creativity. Before Saul Bass entered the scene film titles were usually dull affairs, names and static images delivered with all the bizazz of divorce papers. Under his eye, they became pieces of art, statements on the tone, and texture of what was to come. As he so brilliantly put it,

    “Design is thinking made visual.”

    — Saul Bass

    You can find more about Saul Bass’ vision of his work and his influences in the following pages and videos:


    Let’s start with the most basic aspect — color. Bass once said that ‘audience involvement with a film should begin with its first frame.’ So too should visitor involvement begin upon first load. We process the colors and arrangement of a website before we have time to process its content. You’ll find no greater advocate for quality content than me, but it is hampered if not given a quality canvas to unfold on.

    For Bass is typically translated into simple, vivid color palettes with no more than three of four colors. Not too busy, but plenty of pop. Red, white, and black is one of the golden color combinations — one Bass put to use many times. Bright colors don’t always mean ‘loud’, sometimes they mean ‘striking.’

    Posters for the films ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Advise & Consent’
    Saul Bass loved him some red, white, and black. (Large preview)
    Album artwork of ‘Tone Poems of Color’ by Frank Sinatra
    More stimulating than Sinatra’s mug, no? (Source: MoMA) (Large preview)

    What does this mean in terms of web design? Well, a little more than ‘use bright colors,’ I’m afraid. Study color theory then apply it to your projects in tasteful, audacious ways. Several excellent articles on the subjects on the subject listed at the end of this section, and the ‘Colors’ category of Smashing Magazine is home to plenty more. It’s well worth the attention. The right palette can set a tone before visitors have even processed what they’re looking at.

    For an uncannily Saul Bass-esque example of color and shape in action on the web, take the Holiday Center for Working Youth in Ottendorf. What better way to celebrate bold, functional architecture than through bold, functional design? It’s like a Vertigo poster in digital form.

    Screenshot of the website homepage for the Holiday Center for Working Youth in Ottendorf
    The website celebrates legacy not just through words, but through color too. (Large preview)

    Red, white, and black isn’t always the answer (though it is an incredibly sharp combination). The right mix depends on the story you’re trying to tell, and how you’re trying to tell it. Saul Bass knew full well that color is an incredibly powerful tool, and it’s one still often underused in the prim, white-space world of today’s web.

    Screenshot of the Lubmovka Festival website homepage
    The Lubimovka Festival for Russian speaking playwrights uses color on its website to convey the vibrance of what it does. It takes what could have been a stuffy old image of Shakespeare and makes it dynamic and fun. (Large preview)

    Audience involvement with a website begins with color, so make it count. For those unsure where to start here are a selection of Smashing articles on the topic:


    Words, words, words. Design may be thinking made visual, but sometimes the best way to say something is to come right out with it in words. Bass had a typographical style almost as distinctive as his visual one. Rough, hand-drawn, and almost always all-caps, he made words powerful without being overbearing.

    Collection of stills from the ‘North by Northwest’ opening title sequence
    The title sequence of North by Northwest weds typography with color to turn the mundane into the spectacular. (Source: Art of the Title) (Large preview)

    Fonts can tell stories too. They communicate tone of voice, formality, importance, and structure, among other things. Combined with a strong color scheme they can make copy dance where it might otherwise slouch along feeling sorry for itself.

    Screenshot of the Kotak Toys website homepage
    Russian toymaker Kotak uses typography to reflect the playful, mix-and-match nature of their stacking toys. (Large preview)

    Copywriter Jon Ryder showcases this beautifully on his personal website, which is the full package of strong color and bold, playful typography. As you click the prompts the copy rearranges and edits itself. It’s a brilliant idea elegantly executed. If Saul Bass was around to design portfolios this is the kind of thing you’d expect him to come up with.

    Screenshot of copywriter Jon Ryder’s portfolio website homepage
    (Large preview)

    Art of the Title refers to Bass’s approach as ‘kinetic typography’, and I think that’s a lovely turn of phrase to keep in mind when choosing font combinations for the web. Yes, Times New Roman or Arial will do a job, but with the wealth of free fonts and CSS stylings available why wouldn’t want to try giving your words more life? It’s not always appropriate, but sometimes it can be just the ticket.



    This one is as much about the process as it is about websites themselves. Saul Bass was a big believer in drawing. Even as technologies advanced and opportunities arose to streamline the design process, he understood there is no substitute for working with your hands when trying to get ideas out of your head and into the world. To aspiring designers, he advised,

    “Learn to draw. If you don’t, you’re going to live your life getting around that and trying to compensate for that.”

    Storyboard sketches of the shower scene in the Alfred Hitchcock feature film ‘Psycho’
    The shower scene in Psycho was storyboarded by none other than Saul Bass.(Large preview)

    Whatever it is you’re dealing with — page layout, logos, icons — there is no faster way to get the ideas out of your head than by drawing them. In this day and age that doesn’t necessarily mean pen and paper, you can always use tablets and like, but the underlying principle is the same. There are no presets — just you and your ideas. I’m no Saul Bass, but I’ve had a few good ideas in my time (at least two or three) and most of them happened almost by accident in the flow drawing.

    Pencil sketch plan of a New York Times front page spread
    (Large preview)

    The value of drawing pops up in the unlikeliest of places and I love it every time I do. Every front page of The New York Times starts as a hand-drawn pencil sketch, for example. Are there fancy computer programs that could do a similar job? Sure, and they’re used eventually, but they’re not used first. It doesn’t matter if they’re brainstorming corporate logos, revamping a website’s homepage, or preparing the front page of a newspaper — designers draw.

    Here are some good articles about the value of drawing in a web design context:

    An Interdisciplinary Approach

    It’s near impossible to fix one label on Saul Bass. At any given time he was a graphic designer, a filmmaker, a photographer, an architect. The list goes on and on. Having to be literate in so many areas was a necessity, but it was also a genuine passion, a constant curiosity.

    Take the title sequence of Vertigo. Its iconic spiral aesthetic dated back years earlier when Bass came across spiral diagrams by 19th-century French mathematician Jules-Antoine Lissajous. When asked to work on Vertigo, the idea clicked into place immediately. Mathematical theory found its way into an Alfred Hitchcock film poster, and who are we to argue with the results?

    A selection of Lissajous curve diagrams
    (Large preview)

    Having a specialization is obviously important in any field, but there is so much to be gained from stepping outside our lanes. Anyone with even a casual interest in web development has almost certainly found themselves needing a similarly protean approach — whether they wanted to or not.

    Screenshot of designer Tonya Baydina’s portfolio website homepage
    Sometimes websites need photography, others illustration, others geometry or video or data visualisation. You won’t know until you try. This is the portfolio website of designer Tonya Baydina. (Large preview)

    Engineering, design, UX, typography, copywriting, ethics, law… much like in architecture there are few fields that don’t enrich one’s understanding of web design, so don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in the unfamiliar. You just might find the perfect inspiration.

    Iterate, Collaborate

    Even the masters are students, always learning, always iterating, often collaborating. Bass of course had strong ideas about what form his projects ought to take, but it was not his way or the highway. Look no further than Stanley Kubrick’s feedback on potential posters for The Shining. The two went through hundreds of drafts together. In one letter Hitchcock wrote, “beautifully done but I don’t think any of them are right.”

    A rejected poster design for the Stanley Kubrick feature film ‘The Shining’
    (Large preview)

    One can only imagine how many hours Bass slaved over those mockups, but when you look at those rejected it’s hard to disagree with Kubrick; beautifully done, but not quite right. I think the final result was worth the work, don’t you?

    Poster for the Stanley Kubrick film ‘The Shining’
    (Large preview)

    We live and work in a largely corporate world. Like Bass, that doesn’t have to hamstring the things you make. Hold your ground when that’s what the moment calls for, but always be on the lookout for genuine partners. They are out there. The client isn’t always right, but they’re not always wrong either. Collaboration often brings out the best in a project, and even geniuses have to work like hell to get it right.

    There are few things more valuable than feedback from people you trust. It’s hard to beat that cool, communicative flow where egos and insecurities are out of the picture and it’s all about making the thing as good as it can be.

    Here are a couple of articles on iteration and experimentation in web design that I’ve really enjoyed working on:

    Beauty For Beauty’s Sake

    No-one dreams of doing corporate art, but Bass is a model example of excellence thriving in that world. Decades it still holds its own and is oftentimes genuinely beautiful. He showed better than most that designing for a living didn’t mean creativity couldn’t thrive. Whether you’re making brand logos or homepages there’s a lot to be said for creatives fighting their corner. You owe it to the work.

    Bass put it better than I ever could.

    “I want everything we do to be beautiful. I don’t give a damn whether the client understands that that’s worth anything, or that the client thinks it’s worth anything, or whether it is worth anything. It’s worth it to me. It’s the way I want to live my life. I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.”

    Everything else stems from this ethos, from beauty for beauty’s sake. From color to iteration to delight in the little details, Saul Bass showed the way for graphic and web designers alike. Be audacious, curious, and learning all the time. Make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.

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    From Design To Developer-Friendly React Code In Minutes With Anima — Smashing Magazine


    In this article, we’ll learn how to turn our static designs into a live, code-based prototype with real fields, forms, maps, and animations, and in turn transform this prototype into React code — all integrated in one tool.

    The promise of seamless design to code translation goes back to the early WYSIWYG page builders. Despite the admirable goal, their biggest flaw (among many) was the horrible code that they generated. Skepticism remains to this day and whenever this idea reappears, the biggest concerns are always related to the quality and maintainability of the code.

    This is about to change as new products have made great leaps in the right direction. Their ultimate goal is to automate the design to code process, but not at the cost of code quality. One of these products, Anima, is trying to finally bridge the gap by providing a fully-fledged design to development platform.

    What’s Anima?

    Anima is a design-to-development tool. It aims to turn the design handoff process into a continuous collaboration. Designers can use Anima to create fully responsive prototypes that look and work exactly like the finished product (no coding required). Developers in turn can take these designs and export them into developer-friendly React/HTML code. Instead of coding UI from scratch, they are free to focus on logic and architecture.

    It does that with the help of a plugin that connects directly to your design tool and allows you to configure designs and sync them to Anima’s web platform. That’s where the rest of the team can access the prototype, discuss it, and pick useful specs or assets. Aside from the collaboration functionality, it gives developers a headstart thanks to the generated code.

    This could make a big difference in the traditional back and forth dance that goes between designers and developers. It keeps everything in one place, in sync, and allows both sides to make changes using either code or design tools.

    In this article, we’ll learn how to turn our static designs into a live, code-based prototype with real fields, forms, maps, and animations, and in turn transform this prototype into React code — all integrated in one tool.

    Installing The Plugin And Setting Up A Project

    Getting started with Anima is simple. You first need to create an account and then install the plugin. While I’ll be using Figma for this walkthrough, Anima supports all of the major design tools: Sketch, Figma and Adobe XD.

    Installing the plugin
    Anima plugin is available for Sketch, Figma and Adobe XD. (Large preview)

    Once this is done, make sure you create a project on Anima’s platform — that’s where our designs will appear when we sync them.

    Starting a project
    Creating a new project. (Large preview)

    The plugin itself is separated into three main sections, each with a list of options. Most of what we’ll be doing is simply selecting one of those options and then applying a specific layer or frame in Figma.

    Plugin’s interface
    With options for choosing smart layers, flow or layout options. (Large preview)

    Creating A Responsive Prototype

    For the purpose of the article, we have designed an onboarding experience that will be transformed into an interactive prototype. So far we have prepared screens for the three most common breakpoints and we have linked them together using Figma’s prototyping features.

    Design previews
    Screens for the three most common breakpoints, linked via Figma’s prototyping features. (Large preview)

    One of the interesting things we can achieve with Anima is making prototypes that fit all screen sizes. Traditional prototypes made of clickable images are static and often fail under different screen sizes.

    To do that, click on “Breakpoints” option and Anima will ask you for the frames that you want to connect. Select all of the frames to add them as breakpoints. Then confirm your selection by clicking on “Done”.

    Selecting the frames and adding them as breakpoints

    Once you are ready, click on “Preview in browser” to see the result. That’s when Anima will convert your designs into code.

    The first thing you’ll notice is that the prototype is now transformed into HTML and CSS. All the content is selectable and reflows as the screen is resized. This is most visible when you select the “Responsive” mode in the prototype previewer and play with different screen sizes.

    To achieve smoother transitions, it’s important to use Figma’s constraint features when designing your components. Make sure to also check the box “Use Figma Constraints” in the “Layout” section of the plugin.

    Bring Your Designs To Life With Smart Layers

    We can take things a little bit further. Since Anima converts designs into code, the possibilities are endless for the things we can add to make our prototype more realistic.

    Animations and hover effects would be a great way to make the prototype more alive and to impress stakeholders. Anima offers a variety of options that can be applied to any layer or component. In our case, we’ll select the headline layer, then choose the “Entrance animation” and “Fade In”. In the delay field, we’ll add 0.5.

    For each field, we’ll add a glow effect on hover. Select the field layer, then “Hover effect” and choose “Glow”. Repeat the same for the button.

    Adding hovers and entrance animations with Anima (Illustration by Radostina Georgieva)

    Now that we have applied all the changes, we can see that the prototype starts to feel like a real product.

    A preview of the hovers and animations with Anima (Illustration by Radostina Georgieva)

    One of the unique features that Anima offers is the ability to add live fields and forms to prototypes. Since we are designing an onboarding experience, this will actually be really useful for us. Data entry is one of the biggest churn points in any product experience and it’s really hard to test out ideas without taking it into account.

    Similar to how we added the previous effects, we now select the field component and choose “Text field”. From there, we’ll have to choose the type of field that we need. If we choose a password field, for example, input will be hidden and Anima will add a show/hide functionality to the field.

    Adding text field effect with Anima

    As you can see, fields now work as intended. It’s also possible to gather all the data collected from those fields in a spreadsheet. Select the “Continue” button and then click on the “Submit Button” option in Anima. This will open an additional dialog, where we need to check the box “Add to Spreadsheet” and select redirect destinations in case of success or failure.

    Previewing text input and submission

    Next, we’ll add a Lottie animation for our success screen as it will be a great way to make the experience a bit more engaging. For that, we need to add a placeholder layer in the place of the animation, then select it and choose the “Video / GIF / Lottie” option in the plugin.

    Then we’ll paste the URL of our Lottie animation and check the boxes of “Autoplay” and “No controls”. In our case, we don’t want to have any video player controls, since this is a success animation.

    Apply the changes and open the preview mode to see the results. As you can see, when we fill out the fields and submit the form, we get redirected to our success page, with a looping animation.

    Previewing the Lottie animation

    Share Designs With The Rest Of The Team

    Up until that point, we were working on a draft that was visible only to us. Now it’s time to share it with the rest of the team. The way to do this in the app is by clicking on “Preview in browser”, check how it looks and, if you’re satisfied, continue with “Sync”.

    Everyone invited to the project will now have access to the designs and will be able to preview, leave comments and inpsect code.

    Developers Can Get Reusable React Code

    As mentioned earlier, as developers, we are usually skeptical of tools that generate code, mostly because writing something from scratch is always faster than refactoring something that was poorly written. To avoid this, Anima has adopted some best practices to keep the code clean, reuseable, and concise.

    Inspecting an element and switching between HTML and React

    When we switch to the “Code” mode, we can hover and inspect elements of our design. Whenever we select an element, we’ll see the generated code underneath. The default view is React, but we can also switch to HTML and CSS. We can also adjust preferences in the syntax and naming conventions.

    The classes reuse the names of the layers within your design tool, but both designers and developers can rename the layers, too. Still, it’s important to agree on unified naming conventions that would be clear and straightforward to both designers and developers.

    Even if we have left some layers unnamed, developers can actually override them and make changes when necessary. This experience reminds of the Chrome’s Inspect element feature, and all the changes are saved and synced with the project.

    If you are using Vue or Angular, it’s expected that Anima will start supporting these frameworks in the near future as well.

    Looking Forward

    As we can see, the gap between design and code keeps bridging. For those who write code, using such a tool is very practical as it can reduce a lot of repetitive work in front-end. For those who design, it allows prototyping, collaboration and syncing that would be difficult to achieve with sending static images back-and-forth.

    What’s already certain is that Anima eliminates a lot of wasteful activities in the hand-off process and allows both designers and developers to focus on what matters – building better products. We are looking forward to see what will be coming up next in Anima.

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    How To Design A Simple UI When You Have A Complex Solution — Smashing Magazine


    About The Author

    Suzanne Scacca is a former WordPress implementer, trainer and agency manager who now works as a freelance copywriter. She specializes in crafting marketing, web …
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    Software and apps often solve very complex problems for businesses and consumers in the way of sales, marketing, finances, and so on. But offering a product that solves your users’ problems isn’t enough. If the UI is just as complex as the original problem, user churn is going to be high. Today, we’re going to look at some tips for designing a simple UI regardless of your solution’s complexity.

    What is it they say? Complex problems require complex solutions? That is certainly true when developing apps and software.

    But how do you ensure that the complex backend doesn’t trickle over to the frontend?

    A complex UI, in general, is more than enough reason for many people to abandon a website or mobile app. When it comes to paying or subscribed users, though, don’t expect any of them to settle for your software’s complicated interface.

    It doesn’t matter how amazing your product is. If the outward appearance of it drives your users crazy, you can expect large amounts of costly user churn in return.

    The Flatfile team is very familiar with this problem, having built a successful data importer, which is a technology that many designers have struggled to build on their own. Below, we’re going to look at some of the tips that helped them overcome this UI design challenge and can help you, too.

    How To Design A Simple UI For A Complex Solution

    Your goal when designing the frontend of your solution is to present a very simple and intuitive interface to the user (and sometimes for their end users, too).

    So, how was Flatfile able to accomplish this? The data onboarding process alone can be a complicated one — having to take data from a variety of sources, file types, and users and then translate it into usable data inside the app. Getting users to prepare, validate and sanitize their data on the frontend is no easy task either.

    In addition to the standard software design process, Flatfile took additional steps to ensure that users never caught a whiff of how complex their product really was. Here’s what they learned:

    1. Figure Out Your Users’ Goals So You Can Design A User-First UI

    In order to build a product that users find useful, you have to design for their goals and from their perspective. If you lose sight of that, you could end up with a UI that prioritizes your goals and priorities, which allows the complexities from behind the scenes to shine through.

    Let’s look at how this misstep can have serious ramifications for your app or software.

    Instagram recently updated the header and footer of its long-standing interface. Here’s what the header looked like before and after November 2020:

    Instagram header design: the top is before November 2020 and the bottom is after November 2020
    A comparison of Instagram’s header design before (top) and after (bottom) November 2020. (Image source: Instagram) (Large preview)

    The earlier design contains two symbols/actions:

    • The camera icon to take or upload photos.
    • The Messenger icon to chat with connections.

    The most recent design has pivoted all icons to the right. There are three of them now:

    • The plus symbol to create Instagram posts, stories, reels and lives.
    • The heart symbol to view activity (i.e. post engagement, new followers, etc.).
    • The Messenger icon maintains the same design and placement.

    Looking at the header, you might not think much is wrong here. However, Instagram likely didn’t redesign its navigation to improve aesthetics or usability. The new footer is proof of that:

    Instagram footer design: the top is before November 2020 and the bottom is after November 2020
    A comparison of Instagram’s footer design before (top) and after (bottom) November 2020. (Image source: Instagram) (Large preview)

    Look at the middle and second-to-last icons. After November, the plus and heart icons were moved to the top-right corner of the app and replaced with the following:

    • A link to Instagram reels, a feature that acts similarly to TikTok (and arguably increases the addictiveness of the platform).
    • A link to Instagram shopping, a feature that enables users to shop from popular stores (not ones they actively follow).

    The UI no longer (primarily) encourages users to curate content from their favorite accounts or to make organic connections with other users. Instead, the UI prioritizes the new pay-to-play aspects of the platform, favoring brands and influencers that spend money on it.

    Consequently, the usability of the app has been compromised as the notification and creation buttons have moved out of the thumb zone and into a corner of the app. Not only does it make the app more challenging to use, but this further draws awareness to what’s going on behind the scenes. If Instagram users weren’t thinking about the complex algorithms and business decisions at work, the UI now calls attention to them.

    Before you do anything else, figure out what your users want to accomplish as well as how they expect it to happen. Then, sum up your users’ goals similar to how Randy Wiafe, the Head of Product for Flatfile, does:

    “The goal for Flatfile’s users is to smoothly import their customer’s data. Flatfile’s users need to move data from one software product to another and this process needs to be as easy as possible because it is one of the first product experiences that a new customer will have — importing their data.”

    You can’t afford to lose sight of this. Because if you’re not designing a UI that’s in line with your users’ goals and their preferred journey, then you’re likely to reveal some of the complexity happening behind the scenes.

    2. Evaluate The Competitions’ Products In Order To Create Your MVP

    A minimum viable product is absolutely necessary any time you build an app. Not only do you save time and money by developing only the simplest version of the product to start, but a live and working beta gives you something to gather real user feedback from as you iterate.

    That’s what Flatfile did. Wiafe explains the value of the MVP:

    “The beta really opened our eyes in terms of how customers and their end users interact with the product. Being able to understand why and how users were getting blocked helped us improve the experience considerably.”

    That said, how do you know how minimal to go with the UI of your MVP? Because there’s a huge difference between minimal and unusable.

    Rather than start the design process from scratch, I’d recommend spending time inside the software from your competitors.

    Obviously, I’m not advocating that you steal someone else’s designs. What I’m suggesting, however, is that you get some first-hand experience with them.

    For starters, this will allow you to identify trends across the UIs — design trends that your prospects are already comfortable and confident engaging with. Secondly, you can use these demos to pare down your MPV to the absolute minimum needed.

    Let’s pretend you’re building a payment gateway software. You might start with Stripe:

    Stripe payment gateway dashboard home
    A look inside the Stripe payment gateway software. (Image source: Stripe) (Large preview)

    And 2Checkout:

    2Checkout payment gateway dashboard home
    A look inside the 2Checkout payment gateway software. (Image source: 2Checkout) (Large preview)

    I’ve stripped out all of the data from these dashboards and left only the main components, navigation and labels. What are the common threads we see between the two UIs?

    • A search bar near the center of the header,
    • A link to the user settings or account info in the top-right corner,
    • A left-aligned control panel that takes up between a ⅙ or a ⅕ of the page,
    • Data presented within self-contained blocks,
    • Neutral sans serif fonts used for labeling,
    • Color contrast is minimal and only exists in the dashboard to indicate selected tabs or to distinguish data sets.

    That’s just a basic analysis, but you get the point. By stripping out the details and effectively turning your competitors’ products into wireframes, you can identify the design details that users would feel comfortable and confident in seeing within your software.

    You can also use this time spent on their products to figure out where their complexity is showing through. Is the hierarchy of data presented illogical? Are there elements included that overcomplicate things because they appear on the wrong screens? Are you asking users to take one too many steps in reaching their primary objective?

    One thing that Wiafe suggests is to not treat your MVP strictly like a wireframe:

    “Another area of focus for us was how to make this experience feel good to our users. We didn’t want the beta to be cold and unexciting. We wanted to make a good first impression and that meant we needed to spend time giving the software some character before pushing it out.”

    So, yes, you’ll use the competitors’ software to flesh out the design specs that will keep the UI simple. However, your MVP still needs to be a viable product that users want to use, which means designing it to be engaging.

    3. Introduce Complexity Incrementally And Confirm With User Testing

    Have you ever ordered food from a restaurant via a delivery app and wondered why it’s taking so long?

    You place your order at 8 p.m. The app says the restaurant confirmed the order a few seconds later and you’ll have the food around 8:45. At 8:40, you open up the app to see where the delivery driver is on the map and you wonder why they’re not moving. Or, worse, why they’re heading in the wrong direction. Your stomach starts to grumble and you regret not picking up the order yourself.

    If you’re not familiar with this, lucky you. But if you Google “delivery driver went in wrong direction on app”, you’ll see what I mean:

    Google search for ‘delivery driver went in wrong direction on app’ shows user frustration
    Google search for ‘delivery driver went in wrong direction on app’. (Image source: Google) (Large preview)

    This is a new problem for people that dine out. In the past, all they’d get was an order confirmation message and then they’d receive a call, text or knock on the door when their food arrived.

    But delivery apps have changed over the last year or so, providing full visibility not only into the restaurant’s progress cooking your food, but also showing you the exact whereabouts of the delivery driver.

    Was this a feature that was absolutely integral to the success of delivery apps? If it’s infuriating users to the point where they’re experiencing high volumes of customer service complaints order refunds or user churn, then no, it wasn’t.

    This is why complexity should be introduced to your MVP little by little and only fully integrated once user testing confirms that it’s a worthwhile addition.

    As Wiafe explains:

    “Depending on the user of the product, introducing complexity to the product varies. With our Portal product, we work with developers more frequently so it wasn’t a problem increasing the complexity of the importer. However, Concierge was built for customer success and implementation teams, who tend to be less technically-minded. So we were very careful about adding any complex features or components to the software until we tested them.”

    Understanding your users’ objectives and expectations is valuable when you’re first starting out. But don’t assume to understand everything that’s going through your users’ minds once you have a live app or software that’s out there.

    Unless you’re in your users’ shoes, experiencing it exactly as they are, you really have no idea what new layers of complexity will do to the usability as they perceive it.

    So, it’s incredibly important to formulate working hypotheses related to what will happen when you introduce more complexity to the UI or when you remove something you believe to be too complex. Once you have a data-backed idea, you can start soliciting feedback from your users and refining your product.

    Wrapping Up

    In order to build an app your customers will use, you have to actually give them something to work with and not something that requires them to contact customer support for help every week. Or that has them questioning why they’re using something that causes them more stress and frustration than before.

    So, be careful about how much of the backend complexity you allow to infect the frontend. If the UI is too complicated to navigate or too convoluted to understand, users will revolt and flee en masse.

    Smashing Editorial
    (ra, il)

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    What Is Product Design? — Smashing Magazine


    In this episode, we’re talking about Product Design. What does it mean to be a product owner, and how can you learn the skills required? Drew McLellan talks to expert Chris Murphy to find out.

    In this episode, we’re talking about Product Design. What does it mean to be a product owner, and how can you learn the skills required? I spoke to expert Chris Murphy to find out.

    Show Notes

    Weekly Update


    Photo of Christopher MurphyDrew McLellan: He’s a designer, writer, and speaker based in Belfast UK, he’s a teacher and, like many of us, one who’s still on his own learning journey. As a design strategist, he’s worked with companies large and small, driving innovation by drawing on over 25 years of experience working with clients such as Adobe, Electronic Arts, and the BBC. He now mentors startup founders, with a particular focus on purpose-driven businesses. His work is underpinned by his own startup, The School of Design, a community for creatives who are designing, building, and selling products. So we know he’s an expert in helping others to learn, but did you know he was once taught to play the hurdy-gurdy by Dame Helen Mirren? My smashing friends, please welcome Mr. Chris Murphy. Hi, Chris. How are you?

    Chris Murphy: I’m smashing.

    Drew: As mentioned in the intro, you first and foremost are an educator, a teacher, and your focus and your energy at the moment is being put into a lot of helping design-focused entrepreneurs to be equipped with the skills that they need to build products. It’s a phrase that we hear a lot, but what’s it actually mean to be design-focused?

    Chris: It’s really interesting. I had to do a pitch at the end of the Propel program that I was on from January to June. If I just rewind a little bit and talk about Propel, it’s a startup founder program that I was a mentor on two years ago. Honestly, I was so excited to be a mentor, and the teams were great. Over the summer, last summer, I came back in for what they have, an office hours session, and Ian, who was one of my colleagues on the program, his instinctive … “Well, why are you here?” I said, “Because I think I’m actually going to go on Propel next year,” and they were like, “What,” because they had lined me up to teach on it. I just said, “Look, there was so much excitement in the program, and I just wanted to be part of it.” Plus, I feel that I’ve been teaching for 20 years, and it’s time for a change.

    Chris: I also think that education’s going through this massive re-imagination at the minute, partly because of COVID and just partly because there’s a pushback against very high fees in universities. The other thing is, and I’m going to get back to your question in a second, my daughter, I think she’s 21, and she’s in her third year at Glasgow School of Art, and she’s racking up on an awful lot of debt to study jewelry. I think there must be a better way to teach design in a connected age. But coming back to your question, design-focused companies. At the end of my pitch at the end of Propel, I talked about Apple, and I know Apple’s a bit of a tired example. But it was at the time the world’s first two billion dollar company, and everything they do is design-focused. I mean, the hardware is considered, the software is considered, as we’ve seen recently, the chips are considered, everything is considered in terms of how it goes together.

    Chris: One of the debates I’ve been having in my head recently, Drew, is this idea of … Yesterday, I spoke to somebody about product design, and I have a friend who’s on Propel and he is a product designer, as in he was studying physical product design. I said, “That’s really interesting,” and he said, “I think you’re calling these people the wrong thing.” I said, “But” … Another person on the course, who is a product designer, but she’s what we would call a product designer, someone who’s making digital stuff, and so in my head, I think, “Well, these ideas of these separate disciplines are kind of ludicrous these days,” because you can’t really have a product, a physical product, let’s take this laptop here, without some software on it. You can’t have the software and the laptop working together without getting that laptop into our hands, so we then have to go to a shop to buy that. That’s an experience, and that’s been designed as well.

    Chris: So if we take just this computer that we’re using to record this conversation, design is involved every step of the way. It’s involved in the processes that are used to mill out the aluminum that all the stuff goes into. It’s involved in Big Sur, which is the operating system that’s running on it. It’s involved with going to the Apple Store to replace my computer the other day, and it’s not like the Apple Store anymore, but it’s being designed as an experience that’s designed for COVID. So everything is designed, everything, or I suppose a fairer way to put it is everything can be designed but not everything necessarily is designed. I think that that’s what I’m interested in. Design can touch lots of things.

    Drew: So to be design-focused would mean to make sure to design every little bit of the process that you can or to care about designing more of the bits of the process than a company that isn’t as designed-focused?

    Chris: Yeah, I love that. I love that idea of designing more of it because if we step back and we look at the entire process … And I think designers are quite good at this. Designers are quite good at going into a business and maybe we’re asked to solve this problem over here. I don’t know about other people, but the way I tend to do that when I’m doing work as a consultant is I tend to go in and I’ve been asked to look at this problem, problem X, and I’ll spend a couple of days looking at that, and then I’ll come back and say, “Look, I can totally help you with problem X and we’ll get that sorted, but I really think a more pressing issue is this thing over here. Let’s take a look at that.” Because I am so terrible at business, I usually say things like, “I’ll do that for free, and then I’ll help you with this problem over here,” because I’m really interested in all of the parts of the experience.

    Chris: A lot of companies just don’t really look at … They might be design-focused companies, but perhaps they haven’t considered how they, let’s take an example, package up their products and send them out. For me, when I look at that as an experience … Because one of the things that we’re doing at The School of Design is a thing called designer tools, which is basically these sketchbooks, of which I have thousands, thousands sitting just over here, these bands that go round them which you put your pens in, and a system I use to keep everything organized in my sketchbooks. We’re selling all of that stuff, but I’m not just putting those sketchbooks into a box. I’m putting them in with lots of little things, like badges and stickers and little notes and all of that kind of stuff, because when that arrives at someone’s house, I want them to open that and have an experience. I don’t want them just to open it and have three sketchbooks. I want them to be thinking, “Whoa, that’s a nice experience,” because I think that that will make a deeper connection with that person. I don’t want to use the word customer. I think I prefer to use the word friend who paid me some money for something.

    Drew: So you mentioned Apple there, and despite being, as you say, a slightly tired example, I still think they’re an excellent example. I don’t think it matters that people have mentioned them before because they are such a great example. Are there any canonical examples in the more digital space of companies that do this particularly well, this design-focused approach?

    Chris: Look, I don’t want to use another hackneyed example, but I think GOV.UK are doing an amazing job. I don’t think they’re a company, but I think what GOV.UK have done through the digital cabinet office or whatever that’s called and thinking about the processes of government and how people access services, what’s interesting to me is that has had an impact on lots of other companies. So if we look at … The Co-op is a good example of a company company. A friend of mine, Charles Burdett, who made Workshop Tactics … I don’t know if you know Workshop Tactic. They’re these really, really great cards, Workshop Tactics. I think it’s If you want to run workshops, they’re brilliant for that. But Charles used to work for the Co-op and was a consult … He’s working as a consultant there just now, I think, and they’re very good at designing all of the different aspects of the business, including, I think, visualizing how we might shop in the future.

    Chris: If you want to go into the Co-op, I have a Co-op just down the street, and if I want to go into the Co-op today, what I quite like to do because of COVID is walk around with my phone and scan things as I put them just straight in my bag and then just leave the shop. I don’t particularly want to talk to anybody because usually I’m listening to a podcast. I mean, I do talk to a lot of people in the Co-op, like there’s Anna and there’s a few people in there who are my friends in the sense that it’s my local shop. But there’s always staff I don’t know, and on those days I just want to get in, get out as quick as possible. If we add COVID on top of that as a potential life-threatening issue, I really want to get in there and get out as quickly as possible with a minimum of fuss and with a minimum of connection with other people as well. That current experience is bringing us to a bottleneck, which is a checkpoint, or not a checkpoint, that sounds very Northern Ireland-

    Drew: Checkout.

    Chris: … a till, a checkout, thank you, and that’s a bottleneck. Even with the things on the floor that say, “Maintain two meter distance,” et cetera, people never … They’re so busy that they never really notice those little signs on the ground. That process could be redesigned in a much, much better way. I think there’s scope there and potential to think about how design impacts everything.

    Drew: Thinking in terms of individual founder businesses, entrepreneurial businesses, does it follow that if an individual is design-focused themselves that the product that they make will be that way? Is a product really an extension of the person who designed it?

    Chris: I think that’s a really good question, Drew, and I think that the answer to it is it depends. I think it depends on that person and it depends on the scale of the company. If you take a look at Hiut Denim, and I use Hiut a lot in my teaching, it’s a really good example of a company that’s doing one thing well, and that’s their sort of strapline jeans. I think if you look at David’s previous … David and Claire, because they’re a partnership. If you look at David Hieatt and Clare Hieatt’s previous company, which was Howies, that company had grown so big, there were so many people involved. Once scale starts to creep in, it starts to become very difficult to keep an eye on all of the little touchpoints that matter in the customer journey. I think it’s really telling that when they left Howies, because Howies had been bought by … It’s complicated. Go read it on the Internet. But it was Timberland, and Timberland was bought, and there’s all this story.

    Chris: I think it’s really interesting that what they’re focused on now is jeans. That’s it. They’re telling an amazingly good story around jeans. They’re also packaging everything really, really well, and the jeans are like a vehicle for stories, really. Also, the jeans are … And this is something I think, Drew, is going to become more important as we come out the other end of COVID, which I hope we come out the other end of. Everyone who’s making those jeans is being paid a proper wage. One of the problems I have at the minute when I look at the world is not everybody is being paid a proper wage and I find that a little bit concerning, as someone … Look, I’m 51, my son is 25, 24, 25, something like that. It’s terrible. I should know all this stuff. He’s a wedding photographer. He has been a wedding photographer for a year and a bit. His business is completely decimated because no one’s really getting married at the minute because it’s just difficult. He has no salary because he didn’t have enough self-employed books to get the support.

    Chris: He’s fallen through the cracks, and there’s a lot of other people who’ve fallen through the cracks. I would argue that’s a design problem, that we need to look at that as a design problem. But if I also look at that wider issue of COVID and the government and all of these things without getting too political, I read an article in the Guardian yesterday about Matt Hancock’s neighbor, and anyone who’s listening who’s not from the UK, Matt Hancock is the Health Secretary. His neighbor, who was running a business, was texting him and asking for advice about, “How do I supply products for this COVID thing?” There’s an awful lot of rumblings around the chumocracy, is what the papers call it, friends of friends of government ministers who seem to be getting jobs because they know the right people.

    Chris: I get this sense that we’re going to come to the other end of this and see this … Individuals see that, and they think, “Well, where is this money going, and are people being paid properly? What’s the price of this one pound t-shirt from shop X?” I don’t want to mention any brands. But everything has to be paid for, and everything that’s made, people have to be paid to make it. I think people are increasingly interested in are people being paid fairly.

    Drew: One thing you mentioned in there was design touchpoints, which by a design touchpoint, you mean anything where the customer, if we can use that term, comes into contact with your product or business? Is that what a touchpoint is?

    Chris: Yeah, I hired a placement student this year, which is really unusual because I’ve been teaching at Belfast School of Art for 20 years and I don’t think a member of staff has ever hired a student who’s going on a placement year. But I kind of knew I was leaving, even though nobody else did, so I hired a placement student to help me. I think the last diagram she drew for me was touchpoints because I constantly have conversations with people who say, “What is that?” They’ve never heard that term before. In a sense, that really is what The School of Design is about. It’s teaching you all the things that nobody taught you in art school, basically. So, yes, it’s about building products, but it’s also about just covering gaps in knowledge.

    Chris: But touchpoints are everything. They’re from how you answer the phone, which increasingly is not really something that we do, it’s maybe the tone of voice of your email or the tone of voice of your social media messaging or how you write a blog post. There’s so many different ways you come into contact with people, and all of those ways have to be designed.

    Drew: So things like microcopy and all of the communications, the tone of voice, the-

    Chris: 100%. One of the things that Jasmine, my placement student, has been working on for me is an illustration system for The School of Design so that when she comes to the end of her placement with me, which, at the minute, is looking like about December sometime, but when I embark on The School of Design properly from the first of January, I have everything so that we have visual aesthetic that is considered. If you think back to some of the articles I’ve written for Smashing Magazine on UX design, I’ve always designed those illustrations for those articles with the smashing red, and I’ve always thought, “Well, these are part of the series for Smashing Magazine.” I’ve done some stuff for Smashing in Adobe, and I think, “Well, we should try to make these illustrations on brand,” for want of a better word, because that’s where they’re going to end up, right?

    Chris: What was interesting to me, that if we think back to those articles, Adobe published them on the Adobe blog, and I could instantly tell that they were Smashing because they had that color, and you could see looking down the page, some were by me and some were by other people, but you could see, “Oh, that was from Smashing Magazine.” I was stoked for … I’m so biased because I think Smashing Magazine is doing an amazing job.

    Drew: Thank you very much. Yeah, you often hear people talk about entrepreneurial business saying that, “Oh, it all starts with an idea.” I’m not really sure that’s true, personally. I think, to me, the products that really make it and are successful often start with a problem.

    Chris: Yeah, I knew you were going to say that. Yeah.

    Drew: Or a constraint or a limitation. It always starts with a struggle, and it probably carries on that way as well. Do you agree with that?

    Chris: I do, I do. I think that most products … I mean, if we think of products, they probably fall into two categories. One is problem-solving, like I have an issue and, oh, look, I have this issue and there doesn’t appear to be anyone solving it in a particularly delightful way. Perhaps someone is solving that problem but maybe not in a delightful way, and so we can bring delight to the party, and we can bring delight to the table. I think we should be thinking about that full-stop for everything. So one category is that I have a problem. But I think another category is just delight. We buy a lot of things for no other reason than they bring joy into our lives. I think everybody has probably got something that they bought that they could get a cheaper version of this thing, but they bought this thing because it brings product.

    Chris: I have an example behind me, which is this shoe. I have these shoes in two sizes. Unfortunately for people who are listening to this podcast, you can’t see the shoe. It’s a Camper shoe. All my shoes are Camper shoes. I fell in love with Camper a few years ago. It’s a really good story. Portugal, I think, is the company. I only buy the Pelotas shoes, which have got the balls on the feet and on the soles, and they have a story behind that as well inspired by footballs, I think. This is a Camper Kvadrat. I don’t know how you pronounce Kvadrat. It’s like K-V-A-D-R-A-A-T or something, and it’s a textile company. I bought this in a size 10 because that’s my usual size, and I also have it in a size 11 because it’s such a stiff fabric, it’s really tight. So I had to buy another one, and so these are kind of like an ornament sitting on this bookcase behind me.

    Chris: Now, I could buy these Camper shoes, and I think they probably cost me about 90 pounds or something. Now, I don’t need to buy those shoes for 90 pounds. I could probably go and get a decent pair of shoes for 20 pounds. But they just bring a bit of joy into my life. When I put the shoes on, they’re bright blue, and people usually say, “Whoa, where’d you get your shoes?” So they’re a conversation starter. They’re not just a shoe. So that’s another half. I think if we think of those products as being in those two categories, problem-solving and delight-bringing, ideally, we want a mixture of the two, we want problem-solving and delight-bringing. But I’d say probably 70% are problem-solving and about 30% are no other reason than joy.

    Drew: You mentioned the story behind a product. How important is it to have a sort of origin story behind your products?

    Chris: I think it’s really important. I think that people are hungering for stories now. I think if we think back to the overlong section where I was criticizing the government, which you might want to edit, I think stories are important. I have a whole deck, it’s on Notist as well, which is called Product Storytelling, and it looks at the story behind Hiut Denim, but it also looks at the story behind Field Notes, which are somewhere behind me on that bookcase. Field Notes are a really good example of this. If you go to the Field Notes website, and you click on any of the printed products, they will tell you crazy details like, “Thanks to these three people who invented the staple,” and, “This particular printing press is called a such and such and such and such,” and, “It’s printed with these Pantone Hoya inks,” and, “The paper is this, that, and the next thing.” If you’re spending $9.95 on three tiny notebooks, the story’s kind of important because you could probably just pop down to your local stationer’s and get a much cheaper set of notebooks.

    Chris: But you’re not really buying notebooks, you’re buying a story there. I think that Field Notes are a really good example of that because they’ve taken something which could easily be a commodity and it could easily be something that you buy based upon the price and they’ve turned that into something that is a story and that you’re buying not just because it serves a purpose, it’s useful to put in your pocket and take notes. Just, it’s something that brings a smile to your face. On one end of the spectrum, they have the standard brown field notes, which are kind of the commodity end, and even those aren’t really a commodity. Then, on the other end, they have their editions, where they’re trying different print finishes and they maybe are inserting maps.

    Chris: There’s a huge amount of Field Notes influencing this, the designer tool sketchbooks that we’re working on for The School of Design because Andy McMillan, who folks may know for Build Conference and XOXO, he is the person who printed all of these sketchbooks. When he moved to Portland, I bought them off him, or I bought some of them because we used to share a building and he was one floor down and my studio was above him. I bought a box off him, and I started to use the sketchbooks, and I always used to put my … I’d do them in a particular way. I’d put a postcard on the cover so I can tell that’s the current sketchbook, and then I have a table of contents on the inside and so on and so forth.

    Chris: When he was selling them, he had a shop called Draft Tools or Draft Supply. It was Draft Supply Co. You can see it on the Wayback Machine. He said sketchbooks shouldn’t be celebrated. They should just be cheap. It’s the ideas that should be celebrated. I agree with him, but I kind of wrote something recently where I said, “But why can’t the sketchbooks be celebrated as well?” When he got them printed … I wish I could show you, Drew. There’s literally boxes of these everywhere. They’re printed by a company called Oddi, O-D-D-I, and I remember Andy saying to me that he’d had them printed by Oddi, and I was like, “Why did you get them printed by Oddi? They print books, and they’re probably an expensive place to get notebooks made.” But, for me, I looked at the paper and the print and the binding, and it’s just there’s a story there, and Field Notes have done a really good job of telling that story, and they’re very successful as a consequence.

    Drew: So is it about creating an emotional connection with the customer on whatever level?

    Chris: 100%. And this is one of the things, one of the many things, that I am trying to cover in The School of Design. I’m just writing that down frantically in motion. Because a lot of the purchases that we make today are driven by emotion, not necessarily by rational decisions. When the M1 computer came out, oh, two weeks ago, coming back to my son, the photographer, he is working on a very old computer with the screen hanging off and I happen to have a spare, old-ish MacBook Pro, I said to him, “Okay, you can take this, and it would improve your life considerably.” But at the same time, I was like, “But maybe you should get that M1,” because I had been completely seduced by the visuals and the storytelling and the chip and the memory and all of that kind of stuff. After about 10 minutes of talking to him about this, I was like, “Maybe you should be getting this computer that I have and I should be getting that M1.”

    Chris: Then, after I rationally thought about it the next day, I thought, “I don’t need an M1 computer. There’s nothing wrong with this one. I bought it last year.” But that’s a really good example of emotion getting the better of you. You think to yourself, “Oh,” and you get carried away. I’m sure we’ve all been in a shop where we’ve bought something and we didn’t really need it, but we bought it on a credit card, and then maybe when the credit card bill comes in, we think, “Why did I buy that X?” That’s a good example of emotion and not rational thinking. I think a lot of this isn’t taught in design school. I’m really struggling with what The School of Design is, but it’s definitely this, right? It’s psychology, it’s touchpoints, it’s customer journeys, it’s emotional responses versus rational responses, it’s mental models. It’s all of the things that nobody really mentioned to you when you were at art school but you really need to know in order to work as a designer now.

    Drew: I think having that sort of story behind a product is something that Apple does particularly well. I think they do it so consistently and have been doing it for so long now that perhaps people don’t even notice that it’s happening, but everybody listens to it. They can say, as you were mentioning earlier, “This new product has been milled from a single piece of aluminum,” and they’re telling that story. On a practical level, we don’t care how it’s been manufactured. They can use whatever manufacturing process works best for the end product. But they sell it to you on that, this is the care that’s gone into it, this is the process, we did this research, we found that this was the … Then you see the unboxings on YouTube and the reviews, and they’re all, “Ah, did you know this was milled from a single piece of aluminum?” Those stories really sink in and give people an attachment to the product more than if it was just a utilitarian tool.

    Chris: 100%. Because I’m leaving Belfast School of Art, at the moment, I’m bringing home boxes and boxes of stuff. One of my boxes, I don’t think it’s here, I think it might still be in the university, is called the experience, and it’s a cardboard box full of stuff that’s to do with this whole topic. There’s a lot of stuff from Howies, including a box of Clipper tea that came with a bag I bought. I was like, “Why are you putting that tea in,” and they said, “We always put a box of Clipper tea in with everything you buy.” I was like, “Right, okay,” fascinating for me.

    Chris: But one of the other things, which I don’t have anymore, as a lecturer I used to do about 10 or 15 years ago where I had an Apple computer box in one hand and a Dell computer box in the other hand. The Dell box was a brown cardboard box, silkscreen-printed, pretty utilitarian and not very exciting. The Macintosh box was just the opposite. My story with the students was always like, “If you’ve just bought a computer that was 1500 pounds, this unboxing experience over here is telling you every step of the way you’ve made the right choice. The Dell box, on the other hand, wasn’t really doing anything. It was just getting it from A to B without getting scratched.” I think that that’s a real missed opportunity.

    Chris: Packaging is something that’s often overlooked, and, actually, if you go and look at … There’s some great books on Japanese packaging that we could all learn from in a Western culture. There’s a really good book called How to Wrap Five Eggs, and there’s another book called How to Wrap Five More Eggs. They’re both about the Japanese obsession with wrapping. They take an object, and they wrap that in tissue, which is considered, and they then put that in a bag, which is considered. They then maybe wrap that up and tape it together, which is considered, and then they put it in something else. Every step of the way is like a layering process that makes you just feel amazing, and all you’re unwrapping is an egg. It’s incredible.

    Drew: Does communicating all these sorts of details and thinking about all these little touchpoints … Obviously, it works for big businesses, mega-corps like Apple who’ve got lots of money to spend at it. Can it work for very small companies, too? You mentioned Hiut Denim. They’re just a small company, aren’t they?

    Chris: I love the way you said mega-corp because it feels like it’s out of a film from the future, and they probably colonize planets as well. Yes, I think it works almost better for smaller businesses. I would argue that if you’re a smaller business, you have a real advantage. Let’s say I’m a mega-corp and I’m sending out my stuff. It’s very difficult for me as the CEO of mega-corp to hand-write a note for every single customer because the business is just too big. Then if I write a note and then try and sign it, well, maybe we could scale it a bit, right? But then what happens is you write a note and then you actually print the signature. It’s no longer actually signed. Then people like me who are cynical go like this and they hold it up to the light and they go, “Oh, that’s not signed.” That’s actually now having the opposite effect, in that it’s looking like it’s personal but it’s definitely not personal. Most businesses don’t think about any of this kind of stuff, but I can’t be alone in feeling that way.

    Chris: But, on the other hand, if I’m a small business and I open my package, who’s a good example of this? Counter-Print Books. Don’t go to the website, it’s, I think. Just don’t go to that website. You’re going to spend a fortune on books. But Richard Baird who publishes Logo Archive, which is a fantastic little zine, every issue of Logo Archive that I have had from Counter-Print Books has a little message from … I think her name is Celine, and it always says, “Enjoy your zine, Christopher,” and she says thank you. I’m just like, “Wow, I’m so stoked.” I took a photo of that recently, which I’ll tweet when this comes out. I’ve got all the thank you notes.

    Chris: I was teaching a group of crafts people about two or three months ago, and one of the other crafts people on the call, because I was teaching and they were all muted, I could see that she was wetting herself laughing. I was like, “Why are you … Have I done something?” I’m thinking, “Is there something behind me?” I said to her, “Angela, why are you laughing?” She said, “I’ve also got all these notes as well.” I was just like, “Oh my goodness.” I thought maybe I was the only person who kept these. But I said to her, “It would feel like sacrilege if someone’s written you this little note to just crumple it up and throw it in the bin,” because it feels like that connection has been made with you across time and space. You can do that as a small business. You have advantages as a small business that big businesses don’t.

    Drew: It’s almost like giving it a sense of provenance, isn’t it, like if you went to a local restaurant that has its own kitchen garden and grows its veg and sources its meat from local farms? It’s giving that feel of connection.

    Chris: I wish I could show you. I’m opening up and I’m going to go and find Paint a Product Picture. And Notist is so nice, so slide nine from Paint a Product Picture, which I’ll give to you and you can maybe put in the show notes, is a screenshot of the Apple Dictionary of the word provenance, “The place of origin or earliest known history of something, the beginning of something’s existence, something’s origin.” In my notes beside the slides in the slide view, the tall slide view, which is fantastic, “In an era of cheaply manufactured goods, customers are eager to know the provenance of your product.” That’s a good example of the differentiation you can have as a small business versus a large business.

    Chris: The bigger a business gets, the more people there are in the business, the more there are people in middle layers of management who come along and say, “That thing that we’ve had made by this seamstress in Cardigan Bay, I think” … If we come back to Hiut Denim, they call those people grandmasters. To you and me, they’re … I don’t think you’d call them tailors because tailor to me evokes a Savile Row kind of image, like a suit that’s tailored to you. What they probably are are seamstresses or people with a sewing machine, and Hiut Denim call them grandmasters. But the bigger the company gets, the more this middle layer of management starts to say things like, “Look, we’re paying all these people in Wales 10 pound an hour basically to stitch up these jeans. What if we got those made in Bangladesh or somewhere cheaper, where the cost is less expensive and the cost of living is less expensive and there perhaps are less factory condition checks, et cetera? We could save a ton of money, and we could make more profit.”

    Chris: That’s the slippery slope, and when that happens, the provenance suddenly disappears. People care about that kind of thing now. I think coming out the other end of COVID, I think people will remember … There were certain companies when COVID started, I remember in the UK, that were … If you were an essential business selling food, you could stay open, but if you weren’t an essential business, you had to close. There were certain companies like Sports Direct who were saying, “We are an essential business.” There was a backlash in the public saying, “In what way?” It was kind of like, “Because people need to do sports while this is all happening.” I think that those kinds of things, people have long memories.

    Drew: As a product owner, how important is it to rigidly stick to that vision that you had when you started things up? I think of companies like Basecamp, which was formerly 37signals, and founder Jason Fried there as always marching to the beat of his own drum in terms of what the product should and shouldn’t be. That’s quite often in the face of customers who are saying, “We will pay extra if we can have these features,” and the answer has always been, “No, that’s not what we’re about.” Is that a key to success, or is that just one path that someone might choose?

    Chris: It’s a bit of both, I think. All my answers are always it depends. I think here’s a good example which is closer to home. Over the years, I’ve asked you to make changes to Notist where I’ve said, “I’m an educator. I don’t particularly want to make up fake conferences so I can share my slides.” But your product is really designed for speakers at conferences. I’ve almost come to a form of … I’ve asked you to make changes to your product many times as a customer, and you’ve decided not to do that, and that’s entirely your right to say that because it’s your product. I think that there’s a place for having a vision and not immediately bowing to the needs of one customer.

    Chris: It’s like yesterday, I was thinking about The School of Design and where we’re going. I wasn’t sure if the word designers was an important part of it for the customers, or was creatives a better word? I was having this debate with my other brain in my head, and I was like, “Actually, I think it’s designers.” But the reason I had used the word creatives was because one of the people who’s taking a course with me at the minute is not a designer. He’s a developer, and he said, “I think if you used the word creatives, I would feel part of it. But if you use the word designers, I wouldn’t feel part of it.” So I was almost going to change the whole pitch for the business because of the sake of one person, which, when I thought about it rationally a couple of days later, I thought, “That’s insane,” right? It’s called The School of Design. It’s all about design. You can be a non-designer and you can come into The School of Design, that’s totally cool, but I’m not going to change the language for that one person.

    Chris: I think that comes back to what I was saying about Notist earlier. You have a vision, your product is working really well for that vision, and you’re sticking to it. I think that that’s a good thing. The flip side of that, if we think about 37signals, Jason Fried, et cetera, they are very strong-minded. They know what they want to do, and they also know what they don’t want to do. One of the problems with getting stuck in that way of thinking is that you can miss innovations. You can be so focused on this is what the thing is that customers really need something and just don’t do it, I think, because you feel so dogmatic. When we launched Get Invited, our ticketing platform, which is struggling because ticketing in the middle of COVID is a problem, our vision at the beginning was let’s not be Eventbrite. Let’s not put so much stuff on the page. Let’s just keep it simple.

    Chris: When I briefed Kyle and David, my two co-founders, who were students when we built the business, it’s incredible, I said to them, “Look, above all, we must never lose sight of the fact that these pages for the events need to look beautiful. So we have stop people, normal customers, from messing up the pages by doing design.” And you know what? Actually, we were wrong. Overwhelmingly, people came to me and said, “Is there any way I can change the color scheme here because it just doesn’t fit my brand?” At the beginning, I was kind of really … “Nope, forget it.” People were saying, “Could we put our logo on it,” and I was saying, “Absolutely not because it’s going to ruin the design.” Once we had hundreds of people coming and saying that they wanted to change the color or they wanted to add their logo or could they add more than 140 words to a description, we had to listen to the overwhelming evidence that perhaps we were being a bit too narrow-minded and we needed to flex a bit. So it’s that balance between sticking to your vision and not getting stuck in a cul-de-sac.

    Drew: And how do you weigh into that the fact there might be competitive products or services in the marketplace that might do things that you don’t do or have features that you don’t have? There’s obviously a temptation there to start matching all the competitors feature for feature.

    Chris: I think matching competitors feature for feature is a slippery slope because as soon as you do one, then you suddenly start feeling you have to do another. Before you know it, you’ve lost track of your original vision. If we come back to the Notist example, the thing I was describing to you was probably a different product. It’s probably the guts of Notist but batched as a tool for speakers who are not events, they just make a lot of decks, they make a lot of slide decks, and that’s a different product. So there’s opportunity there in the sense that you could use the same code base to make something different with a different brand and a different audience and a different target, et cetera. But perhaps if you did this thing and this thing and this thing, then suddenly your thing’s lost its identity.

    Chris: Coming back to Get Invited, the example, we were very careful to … If 100 people ask for X and we sit back and look at it rationally and think, “Okay, maybe we should buckle here and we should give them this thing because it’s affecting people’s willingness to take up the product,” so that was something. But it’s the slippery slope. I think you want to be you. You don’t want to be a smorgasbord of your competitors.

    Drew: I suppose there’s a balance there between building a very narrow band, focused solutions for a specific need, versus building something that could fit a number of uses, I guess, to use a metaphor, a bit like a garlic crusher and a chef’s knife. The garlic crusher gets the job done with zero effort, but it only does that one thing, and the chef’s knife can also mince garlic, but it can do a thousand other things at once, but it requires a bit of skill to learn and to use. So, in terms of products, is there a way to balance that up? Do you go down a very focused, easy path and then duplicate it if you want to grow?

    Chris: I think for me, at the beginning of the product journey, it’s really important to have focus. It’s really important to think, “Okay, well, who are my customers? What are they going to spend, and how am I going to look after them to the best of my abilities?” I think you could sell something that appeals to everybody and as such appeals to nobody. For me, at the beginning of the journey, it’s really important to focus down and think, “These are the core people.” It feels bizarre to me, but we’re nearly in December. I’ve been working on The School of Design in a kind of beta form for 11 months. I still don’t really know what it is. When I started the journey in January, my audience was definitely students. It was like, “This is cheaper to learn UX and UI using what was then called Design Track. It’s an alternative to university education, and it’s students.” The more I’ve been working on it, the more I think it’s not students, it’s actually professionals who are in the middle of their career and there’s just a lot of things about design they need to know. But I haven’t said, “Okay, I’m now going to include those people.” What I’ve actually said is, “This is the wrong audience and this is the right audience, and these people, I am not going to waste any time over.”

    Chris: I think that, at the beginning of your journey, if you try to be a knife … This is going to be so cool with this metaphor here because people are not going to understand us if they come right into this bit of the podcast. At the beginning of your journey, if you try to be a knife, you’re being all things to all people, and I think it’s better to be a garlic crusher at the start and then over time add more things, as you scale slowly. So, for me, what’s really important, what are we trying to do and can we get a group of people to be really happy with what we’re doing and also pay us some money in the process because, otherwise, this is just a hobby. Once we’ve got those people happy, can we start to expand a little bit but not just in a massive way where then we’ll lose focus and we’ll become a knife? But at some point in the future, it might be worth considering becoming a knife because a garlic crusher at that point is perhaps too limiting.

    Drew: You mentioned finding the right audience. It’s obviously important to find a market and work out what that market should be and tailor the product to fit that market. Is that something that the program at The School of Design addresses? Is that something that it equips people with?

    Chris: 100%. I think that one of the things that we’re looking at is definitely audience. Who’s the audience for this thing? One of the modules that I was … I mean, I don’t even know if we have modules, actually, if I’m honest. But, certainly, one of the things that I will be teaching is a thing I call venture testing. I talked about this in a workshop I was doing on Wednesday for startups in the Northwest, up in Derry, Londonderry, Derry. Covering all the bases here, Derry for one audience and Londonderry for a different audience, that’s a big city in the Northwest. I was talking about this process called venture testing. For me, it’s like build a smoke test page, use Facebook and Instagram to drive traffic to that smoke test page, and if there is interest and there are sign-ups, great, keep working on it. If there is no interest and there are no sign-ups, then either you’re driving the wrong traffic to the page, in which case, modify and change, but if no one is signing up for anything, then it’s time to close and move onto the next thing.

    Chris: So I talked about a workshop that I’d launched with a friend of mine on the Propel program, and we had one sign-up. I kicked off the talk on Wednesday with, “This was a success.” Most people are looking at you thinking, “But you only had one sign-up.” Then I’m showing the structure of the course that I was going to have to write and saying, “One person is not worth writing all of this content and making all of these screencasts, so this has saved me a massive amount of time.” It’s really important not to get deluded with your own … “I really believe this product’s going to be amazing,” and you don’t really check with anybody else, and you’re like, “This is going to be” … That’s how the Segway kind of happened. The Segway kind of didn’t really turn into what the Segway guy thought it was going to be. It’s now a tours around Berlin type product. It’s not the future transportation.

    Drew: On a practical level, what sort of format does The School of Design take? Do you know yet? Is that still up in the air?

    Chris: Yeah. I literally have absolutely no idea. What I’m doing … Well, two or three people I have to say are massive. First of all, the team on Propel have been amazing. Secondly, Ben. There’s a particular guy, Ben Allensi, on Propel who’s been really great. He’s young, he’s early 20s, and he has a startup. He really inspires me because he’s young and he’s got a lot of commitment and passion. Another guy, Mehall, as well, he’s 19, and he, with a friend, has made over 40 grand. He’s a first-year student at Ulster University, I’m amazed, and he’s making a product that connects to satellites for farmers. It’s incredible. Another friend, Al Parra, who’s been helping me with my website, which has been the slowest website build known to man or woman or any other gender. It’s been very, very slow, and that’s because I haven’t really been sure what I’m doing.

    Chris: I think the biggest clue I got was signing up for Anne-Laure Le Cunff’s Ness Labs. Ness Labs is amazing. About two weeks ago, I got an email from Anne-Laure, who’s a friend of mine, saying, “Welcome to … The course starts on Monday.” My immediate reaction was, “Have I signed up for a course that I can’t remember?” It wasn’t. It was more a case of if you’re a member of Ness Labs, you get access to these course. That, for me, was a real turning point because at that point, Drew, I realized that up until now I was selling workshops and with the workshop, you got access to a community. I then realized that what Anne-Laure was doing was selling a community that gave you access to workshops. That’s the same thing, but different. I think that that’s the biggest clue I have in terms of where I’m going.

    Chris: It’s a community. It’s not a community you can join right now because I’m still working on it, and there is a very small community of around 30, 40 people who are on our Slack who are all helping each other, and they’re super, super early beta people. So it’s a community, and then my feeling is that if you’re in the community, you just get access to learning. The best way to explain it, if I pull up my Notion … I have a library in Notion, which is free, and it’s, and it’s essentially everything I’ve learned and everything I’ve taught. But there is a book called Hello: A Practical Guide to Building an Email Newsletter That Works, and it’s part of the series of books that I envisage that I’ll be working on over the next year or so. There’s three ways to read the book, and I think this explains The School of Design.

    Chris: Way number one is read it from first page to the last page in that order, right, just pick it up and read it. Way number two is just dip into it, okay, just read bits. Way number three is don’t read it. I realize that that sounds a little bit like, “What?” So I’ve written here, when I say don’t read it, I don’t mean ignore it. A lot of people just don’t have time to read at the minute. They’re too busy rushing around. So I’m going to be taking the books and the learning materials and saying, “Join me on Thursday evening at 7:00, and we will run through the contents of that book.” Then, if you want to go and read certain aspects and go into more depth, you just go and get that book, and it’s free, and it’s in the library, and you have access to it.

    Chris: So what I see The School of Design being is a community of designers who know they need to know more, that they haven’t learned everything there is to know, and I think that I’m going to probably get into trouble by saying this, but I think that membership price is probably quite low. I think it’s something like 60 pounds a year or something. All my friends have told me that’s far too low. But I think that the community, it should be open to as many people as possible, and, to me, that’s more important than making money. Somehow or another, Drew, I have to earn enough money to pay my bills in order to just help as many people as I can. That is essentially my vision.

    Chris: Essentially, my vision is that The School of Design is like a master’s course but it doesn’t cost what a master’s course would cost. Because if you went to do a master’s course in London or something, it would be 10,000 pounds. I think that in The School of Design, there probably are some courses that are more premium that you can do, but the majority of stuff is just being part of a community. I don’t know about you, but I think communities are going to be big as we move forward. I think that places like Smashing’s community and The School of Design community and Anne-Laure’s Ness Labs, people are hungry for that, especially in this world where we’re not really connected to people. So that, for me, is really exciting.

    Drew: It is very exciting. You don’t refer to students as students, do you, in The School of Design? You have another term that you use.

    Chris: Yeah, I was calling them founders because that was informed by the Propel program. Founders was the word I was using a while back. I’m not 100% sure if it’s still the right word because I’m not necessarily sure that everybody in The School of Design is a founder. I think that some of them want to build their own businesses, but some of them just want to do a better job of building businesses for other people. I’m torn at the minute, Drew. Last week, I was like, “It’s for people who want to build their own products,” and, yeah, it’s definitely for those people, but they might be a subset. That’s because I was having a conversation with somebody recently who works at I’m helping this particular person with some mentoring, and he doesn’t want to leave He’s very happy, but he knows that there are certain things that he wants to learn to enhance his current understanding, and he’s been out of art school for probably about eight or nine years. He just is at that point where he feels like there’s a few more things he’d like to learn but maybe doesn’t have 10 grand to go and do a master’s.

    Drew: I guess it comes back, like you were saying, about Hiut calling their workers grandmasters, it highlights the importance of the choice of language in our products.

    Chris: 100%. And I probably would still lean towards founders than students because, to me, students has so many connotations. Students, to me, is the wrong word. I know that. Also, I’ve written two books on language, The Craft of Words with Nicklas, my partner at the time. So we’ve got The Craft of Words, Part One, which is on macrocopy, and The Craft of Words, Part Two, which is on microcopy. We should put a link in in the show notes. But language is so important. How you choose to describe things affects how people perceive things. Language is another part of The School of Design.

    Chris: One of the things that I’m doing at the minute is looking at the library, which has some rather ambiguous section titles, like Life First, Work Second, and I’m like, “God, that’s awful. Why don’t I just call it Process or something?” But there are sections in the library like Marketing, Branding. Pricing is another one. There are sections in the library that will still be there. Productivity is another one that I’m adding, in terms of how can you be mindful but be productive as well, and Mental Health or Mindfulness is another one because, to me, living a life intentionally and not just autopiloting through your life is important, and living a life with purpose is important as well. But maybe I’ve just got old and I started to realize these things.

    Drew: Is the program focused on founders who are making digital products or the founder who’s … Would they feel just as at home if they were making shoes?

    Chris: Yeah, I think for me it’s products. I would remove digital because I was talking to Cara, my wife, about this yesterday. She’s a silversmith. For me, that distinction isn’t really there. So if we think back to when we were talking about Apple earlier in the conversation, there’s the service design aspect, there’s the physical product design aspect, there’s the software aspect, all of these things we need to know. I don’t think that one designer can do all of those things, but, for me, one of the things we used to start the master’s off with was this idea of a t-shaped person. Tim Brown from IDEO talks about this. You’re really good at a thing, but you understand the other things as well. So I think that the kinds of people who are joining The School of Design are t-shaped people. They’re really good at something, but they understand how to work with other people who are good at their thing, too.

    Chris: We have a section of the library which I’m working on, I’m going to be launching next year, which is called Beacons, which are examples of companies that we can learn from. In my Notist decks, it’s, N-O-T-I, dot, S-T, slash, mrmurphy, there are a number of the beacons are in there. Hiut Denim is one. Field Notes is another. Ustwo Games is … I’ve been talking to Mills at Ustwo Games, who’s super, super interesting, Mills, amazing. There’s a … Blok Knives is another one, Benjamin Edmunds. What’s interesting to me is quite a lot of them are not digital products. They’re physical products. We can learn by just looking at all of the landscape of stuff, that consumers give you money in return for you to give them, as we’ve said earlier, solutions to their problems and joy. How do we as designers build those kinds of things? I think we’re good at doing solutions to your problems, sometimes we’re missing joy, and sometimes maybe we could a bit more work into just joy and no solutions to problems.

    Chris: But we can learn as designers of products digitally from physical products as well. For me, if you look back to the Bauhaus at the turn of, well, not really at the turn of, but the beginnings of the 20th century, you have a lot of people, Walter Pierce, Johannes Itten, Walter Kandinsky, who are … They don’t have … They’re not like, “Oh, I” … Mies van der Rohe is doing chairs, but he’s also designing buildings, and he’s also designing textiles. At no point, did anyone say, “Oh, no, mate, you can’t do that because you’re a chair guy.” If you look at Charles and Ray Eames, which is more than Charles Eames, it’s Ray Eames as well, and Ray always gets way overlooked, which I think is wrong, the Eames partnership were making films, they were designing chairs, they were … These people, to me, are like mega-mega-beacons. So we can learn from Dieter Rams. We can learn from Charles and Ray Eames. We can learn from the Bauhaus. We can learn from the Ulm School. If I suppose the only way I can describe The School of Design is that it’s like a master’s education minus the master’s price tag, it’s basically all the stuff I used to teach on my master’s at Belfast School of Art but for a fraction of the price.

    Drew: So you’re launching at the beginning of January?

    Chris: First of January, yeah.

    Drew: What does that launch look like?

    Chris: On the first of December, I’m just going to start my blog properly at And I’ve got a mailing list, which I’m going to start properly sending emails out and things like that. It’s been busy for me because I’ve been teaching for the last semester. But from the first of January, probably inviting more people into the Slack and then finding our way forwards, lots more customer conversations. What’s really important to me, Drew, is not opening the doors to all and sundry with something I haven’t thought through. I would’ve thought by now that I would’ve got it finished because I’ve spent the last year thinking about this, but it’s been through so many iterations that I’m still learning. What I would say is you can access the library right now, it’s at, and there’s a lot of stuff in there.

    Chris: That, for me, is not going anywhere anytime soon. But I see some of those sections being turned into mini-lectures or workshops. It’s just like, “Do you feel like you need a shot of creative injection energy in your arm? Show up on Thursday evening at 6:00, and we’ll do a session on something this week, marketing or product storytelling or mental models.” I’m sure most designers, they don’t need to turn up to all of them to get their money’s worth. They just need to show up to a handful. The other thing I think we’ll probably be doing on the first of January is sharing the first season of speakers. We have this idea of seasons, like a Netflix type thing. So Mills from Ustwo has said he’ll do a talk for us. We’ve a few other interesting people who we’ve lined up.

    Chris: That first season is called … Oh my word, what is it called? I can’t remember. It’s something about the fact that the world has changed. It’s to do with what is tomorrow with COVID. Basically, we just get people to come and they … They had a thing on Propel called Founder Firesides, which was amazing. I loved it because you would show up and someone would be beaming in from somewhere in the world and Chris, who is the person who ran Propel, would just ask them a bunch of questions and then we as people on the course could ask some questions, too. I don’t know if anyone in Smashing community knows Farnam Street. Farnam Street do something similar. They have monthly AMAs, and they get really interesting people. They ask the community if there’s anything you want to ask this person, what would you ask them? I just see there as being an opportunity to build a community of people who want to learn together.

    Drew: It all sounds really exciting, and I look forward to following it as it all happens and seeing what comes of it. It sounds like a great opportunity for those who wish to continue their design education or maybe start their design education.

    Chris: Well, start as well. Start as well. There’s an awful lot of people that I’ve been teaching on Propel over the last couple of years who maybe when they started did not really know much about design. By the time I’d finished with them, you’re running a few sessions, they were picking up pens, they were sketching interfaces, they were a bit more design-aware. I think we all need to be design-aware as we move forward. We’ve talked about a lot of it just now, which is great. Awesome.

    Drew: I’ve been learning all about product design. What have you been learning about lately, Chris?

    Chris: What I’ve been learning about is Facebook advertising. Facebook gets a really bad rap, but I have this idea in the venture testing module, which is what I call traffic beating. It’s terrible. I’m going to pull it up here because I can read it off here. So you’ve built your smoke test page, okay? You’ve got your product described. What I’ve written here in beating traffic, “If you’re unfamiliar with the world of grouse shooting, the idea of beating might be new to you. Here’s a description from the National Organization of Beaters. A beater flushes birds, pheasants or grouse, from cover, driving them in the direction of the guns. In this peculiarly British metaphor, the birds are your customers, and the guns are your smoke test page.” I’m really interested in how do we get people to see the page that we’ve built to describe the product, how do we find the right people, and how do we get them pushed over to here?

    Chris: Facebook is one way, but Reddit ads and Google ads … I think that designers moving forward need to have some of the skills that startup founders have, which is startup founders are trying to achieve a lot on usually not very much money, certainly, the model of startup thinking we have on this side of the Atlantic. In the San Francisco, Silicon Valley kind of world, it’s like, “Don’t worry about customers. Here’s 100 billion dollars, and good luck.” That’s a completely crazy way of running a startup if you’re in the UK. If you’re in the UK or somewhere that’s not Silicon Valley, it’s like you build things, you try them. If people are interested, you do more of it. If they’re not, you move onto the next thing. So that’s what I’ve been learning about. It’s like how do I get more people to see the things that I’m testing?

    Drew: If you, dear listener, would like to hear more from Chris, you can follow him on Twitter, where he’s @fehler, that’s F-E-H-L-E-R, and you can find The School of Design online at Thanks for joining us today, Chris. Did you have any parting words?

    Chris: Yeah, my parting words would be just start. If you have an idea, just start, right? Don’t build it in your head and make it really, really complicated. Until this year, I used to do that. I used to think, “Oh” … if you look at my Tiny Books, which was my previous thing,, it was so big in my head. There was going to be a book about this, a book about something else, a book about this, and then there was going to be a smaller book about this and even smaller book called a Comet about something else. I had this huge solar system in my head, and the one thing I did this year was embrace an everything is a prototype mentality. Everything I am doing is a prototype. So if something works, great. What did I learn from it? If something doesn’t work, great. I still learned something from it.

    Chris: My advice, my parting words, would be if you have an amazing idea, just start because I’ve met so many people in the last 30-something years who have an amazing idea and when I say, “Can I see the homepage or do you have anything done,” it’s still in their sketchbook. I’d rather see it out there on the web or somewhere. So start, one word, simple.

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    Best Practices For E-Commerce UI Design — Smashing Magazine


    About The Author

    Suzanne Scacca is a former WordPress implementer, trainer and agency manager who now works as a freelance copywriter. She specializes in crafting marketing, web …
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    The goal of e-commerce design is to create interfaces that won’t get in the way of the overall shopping experience. In this post, we’re going to look at three key parts of a digital store and what you can do to design each to help customers more quickly and effortlessly get to the checkout stage.

    When you envision shoppers moving through the e-commerce sites you build, you more or less expect them to follow this journey:

    • Step 1: Enter on the homepage or a category page.
    • Step 2: Use the navigational elements to orient themselves to the store and zero in on the specific things they’re looking for.
    • Step 3: Review the descriptions and other pertinent purchase details for the products that pique their interest.
    • Step 4: Customize the product specifications (if possible), and then add the items they want to their cart.
    • Step 5: Check out.

    There are deviations they might take along the way (like exploring related products, perusing different categories, and saving items to a wishlist for a rainy day). But, for the most part, this is the top pathway you build out and it’s the one that will be most heavily traveled.

    That being the case, it’s especially important for designers to zero in on the interface elements that shoppers encounter along this journey. If there’s any friction within the UI, you won’t just see an increase in unexpected deviations from the path, but more bounces from the site, too.

    So, that’s what the following post is going to focus on: How to ensure that the UI along the buyer’s journey is attractive, intuitive, engaging, and friction-free.

    Let’s examine three parts of the UI that shoppers will encounter from the point of entry to checkout. I’ll be using e-commerce websites built with Shopify to do this:

    1. Create a Multifaceted Navigation That Follows Shoppers Around

    There once was a time when e-commerce websites had mega menus that shoppers had to sort through to find their desired product categories, sub-categories and sub-sub-categories. While you might still run into them nowadays, the better choice is a navigation that adapts to the shopper’s journey.

    The Main Menu

    The first thing to do is to simplify the primary menu so that it has only one level beneath the main category headers. For example, this is how United By Blue does it:

    “Shop” menu on United By Blue website with categories for Womens, Mens, Bags and Accessories, On-the-Go and Sustainable Living
    The main “Shop” menu for the United By Blue e-commerce site has just one level of product categories. (Image source: United By Blue) (Large preview)

    The product categories under “Shop” are all neatly organized beneath headers like “Womens” and “Mens”.

    The only exceptions are the categories for “New Arrivals” and “Masks & Face Coverings” that are accompanied by images. It’s the same reason why “Gifts” is in a lighter blue font and “Sale” is in a red font in the main menu. These are super timely and relevant categories for United By Blue’s shoppers, so they deserve to be highlighted (without being too distracting).

    Returning to the site, let’s look at how the designer was able to keep the mobile site organized:

    The United By Blue mobile site uses a more mobile-friendly menu design.

    Rather than shrink down the desktop menu to one that shoppers would need to pinch-and-zoom in on here, we see a menu that’s adapted to the mobile screen.

    It requires a few more clicks than the desktop site, but shoppers shouldn’t have a problem with that since the menu doesn’t go too deep (again, this is why we can’t use mega menus anymore).

    On the Product Results Page

    If you’re building an e-commerce site for a client with a complex inventory (i.e. lots of products and layers of categories), the product results page is going to need its own navigation system.

    To help shoppers narrow down how many products they see at a time, you can include these two elements in the design of this page:

    1. Filters to narrow down the results by product specification.
    2. Sorting to order the products based on shoppers’ priorities.

    I’ve highlighted them on this product results page on the Horne website:

    Horne e-commerce website design with filters and sorting for internal navigation
    The Horne e-commerce site uses a filters bar and sorting options to help shoppers navigate the inventory. (Image source: Horne) (Large preview)

    While you could store your filters in a left sidebar, the horizontally-aligned design above the results is a better choice.

    This space-saving design allows you to show more products at once and is also a more mobile-friendly choice:

    Horne includes a search bar, filters and sorting options on mobile site for easy inventory navigation
    A look at how filters, sorting and search appear on the Horne mobile website. (Image source: Horne) (Large preview)

    Keep in mind that consistency in UI design is important to shoppers, especially as more of them take an omnichannel approach to shopping. By presenting the filters/sorting options consistently from device to device, you’ll create a more predictable and comfortable experience for them in the process.

    As shoppers move deeper into an e-commerce site, they still might need navigational assistance. There are two UI navigation elements that will help them out.

    The first is a breadcrumb trail in the top-left corner of the product pages, similar to how tentree does:

    Tentree e-commerce product page with breadcrumbs pointing back to “Sustainable Women’s T-Shirts & Tanks” category
    An example of how tentree uses breadcrumbs to help shoppers navigate from the product page. (Image source: tentree) (Large preview)

    This is best used on websites with categories that have sub-categories upon sub-categories. The further and further shoppers move away from the product results page and the convenience of the filters and sorting, the more important breadcrumbs will be.

    The search bar, on the other hand, is a navigation element that should always be available, regardless of which point in the journey shoppers are at. This goes for stores of all sizes, too.

    Now, a search bar will certainly help shoppers who are short on time, can’t find what they need or simply want a shortcut to a product they already know exists. However, an AI-powered search bar that can actively predict what the shopper is looking for is a smarter choice.

    Here’s how that works on the Horne site:

    The Horne website’s search bar accurately matches an inputted phrase with product categories and products
    A look at the smart search capabilities included in the Horne website. (Image source: Horne) (Large preview)

    Even if the shopper hasn’t finished inputting their search phrase, this search bar starts serving up suggestions. On the left are matching keywords and on the right are top matching products. The ultimate goal is to speed up shoppers’ search and cut down on any stress, pressure or frustration they might otherwise be feeling.

    2. Show the Most Pertinent Details at Once on Product Pages

    Vitaly Friedman recently shared this tip on LinkedIn:

    He’s right. The more time visitors have to spend digging around for pertinent details about a product, the greater the chance they’ll just give up and try another store.

    Shipping alone is a huge sticking point for many shoppers and, unfortunately, too many e-commerce sites wait until checkout to let them know about shipping costs and delays.

    Because of this, 63% of digital shoppers end up abandoning their online carts because of shipping costs and 36% do so because of how long it takes to receive their orders.

    Those aren’t the only details digital shoppers want to know about ahead of time. They also want to know about:

    • The returns and refund policy,
    • The terms of use and privacy policy,
    • The payment options available,
    • Omnichannel purchase-and-pickup options available,
    • And so on.

    But how are you expected to fit this all in within the first screenful?

    Present the 30-second Pitch Above the Fold

    This is what Vitaly was talking about. You don’t have to squeeze every single detail about a product above the fold. But the store should be able to sell the product with only what’s in that space.

    Bluebella, for example, has a space-saving design that doesn’t compromise on readability:

    A description of what the image shows for alt text
    Bluebella’s space-saving design delivers all the product details a shopper needs above the fold. (Image source: Bluebella) (Large preview)

    With the image gallery relegated to the left side of the page, the rest can be dedicated to the product summary. Because of the varying size of the header fonts as well as the hierarchical structure of the page, it’s easy to follow.

    Based on how this is designed, you can tell that the most important details are:

    • Product name;
    • Product price;
    • Product size selector;
    • Add-to-bag and wishlist buttons;
    • Delivery and returns information (which neatly appears on one line).

    The rest of the product details are able to fit above the fold thanks to the accordions used to collapse and expand them.

    If there are other important details shoppers might need to make up their minds — like product reviews or a sizing guide — build links into the above-the-fold that move them to the relevant sections lower on the page.

    Quick Note: This layout won’t be possible on mobile for obvious reasons. So, the product images will get top billing while the 30-second pitch appears just below the fold.

    Even if you’re able to concisely deliver the product’s description, extra sales and marketing elements like pop-ups, chat widgets and more can become just as annoying as lengthy product pages.

    So, make sure you have them stored out of the way as Partake does:

    Example of how the Partake Foods website includes miniaturized and non-intrusive widgets for accessibility and rewards in its product page design
    Partake Foods includes non-intrusive widgets for accessibility controls and a loyalty pop-up on its product pages (Image source: Partake) (Large preview)

    The red symbol you see in the bottom left enables shoppers to control the accessibility features of the site. The “Rewards” button in the bottom-right is actually a pop-up that’s styled like a chat widget. When opened, it invites shoppers to join the loyalty program.

    Both of these widgets open only when clicked.

    Allbirds is another one that includes additional elements, but keeps them out of the way:

    Allbirds product page design with a sticky bar explaining gift returns and a sticky chat widget meant for self-service
    Allbirds moves information about gift returns as well as its customer service chat out of the way of its product pages. (Image source: Allbirds) (Large preview)

    In this case, it includes a self-service chat widget in the bottom-right that has to be clicked in order to open. It also places information about its current returns policy in a sticky bar at the top, freeing up the product pages to strictly focus on product details.

    3. Make Product Variants As Easy to Select As Possible

    For some products, there is no decision that shoppers have to make other than: “Do I want to add this item to my cart or not?”

    For other products, shoppers have to define product variants before they can add an item to their cart. When that’s the case, you want to make this process as pain-free as possible. There are a few things you can do to ensure this happens.

    Let’s say the store you design sells women’s undergarments. In that case, you’d have to offer variations like color and size.

    But you wouldn’t want to just create a drop-down selector for each. Imagine how tedious that would get if you asked shoppers to click on “Color” and they had to sort through a dozen or so options. Also, if it’s a standard drop-down selector, color swatches might not appear in the list. Instead, the shopper would have to choose a color name and wait for the product photo to update in order to see what it looks like.

    This is why your variants should dictate how you design each.

    Let’s use this product page from Thinx as an example:

    Thinx product variant designs
    Thinx product pages include variations designed for the specific variation. (Image source: Thinx) (Large preview)

    There are two variants available on this page:

    • The color variant shows a row of color swatches. When clicked, the name of the color appears and the product photo adjusts accordingly.
    • The size variant lists sizes from extra-extra-small to extra-extra-extra-large.

    Notice how Size comes with a link to “size chart”. That’s because, unlike something like color which is pretty clear-cut, sizing can change from store to store as well as region to region. This chart provides clear guidance on how to choose a size.

    Now, Thinx uses a square button for each of its variants. You can switch it up, though, if you’d like to create a distinction between the choices shoppers have to make (and it’s probably the better design choice, to be honest).

    Kirrin Finch, for instance, places its sizes inside empty boxes and its color swatches inside filled circles:

    Kirrin Finch product page design with square size selectors and circle color selectors
    Kirrin Finch’s product pages use an empty box design for sizes and a filled circle design for colors. (Image source: Kirrin Finch) (Large preview)

    It’s a small difference, but it should be enough to help shoppers transition smoothly from decision to decision and not miss any of the required fields.

    Now, let’s say that the shop you’re building doesn’t sell clothing. Instead, it sells something like beds, which obviously won’t include choices like color or size. At least, not in the same way as with clothes.

    Unless you have well-known abbreviations, symbols or numbers you can use to represent each variant, you should use another type of selector.

    For instance, this is a product page on the Leesa website. I’ve opened the “Pick your size” selector so you can see how these options are displayed:

    Leesa mattress product page that displays not just the size but the corresponding normal and sale price for each
    The Leesa website presents mattress sizes along with corresponding sales prices. (Image source: Leesa) (Large preview)

    Why is this a drop-down list as opposed to boxes?

    For starters, the size names aren’t the same length. So, box selectors would either be inconsistently sized or some of them would have a ton of white space in them. It really wouldn’t look good.

    Also, Leesa wisely uses this small space to provide more information about each mattress size (i.e. the normal vs. sale price). So, not only is this the best design for this particular variant selector, but it’s also a great way to be efficient with how you present a lot of information on the product page.

    A Note About Out-of-stock Variants

    If you want to remove all friction from this part of the online shopping process, make sure you come up with a distinct design for out-of-stock variants.

    Here’s a closer look at the Kirrin Finch example again:

    Kirrin Finch shirt in “Pink Floral” is out of stock in sizes 0, 2, 4, 6, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 and 22
    A shirt in “Pink Floral” on the Kirrin Finch site has a number of sizes that are out of stock. (Image source: Kirrin Finch) (Large preview)

    There’s no mistaking which options are available and which are not).

    Although some shoppers might be frustrated when they realize the shirt color they like is only available in a few sizes, imagine how annoyed they’d be if they didn’t learn this until after they selected all their variants?

    If the product selection is the last step they take before clicking “add to cart”, don’t hide this information from them. All you’ll do is get their hopes up for a product they took the time to read about, look at, and fall in love with… only to find it’s not available in a size “16” until it’s too late.

    Wrapping Up

    What is it they say? Good design is invisible?

    That’s what we need to remember when designing these key user interfaces for e-commerce websites. Of course, your client’s store needs to be attractive and memorable… But the UI elements that move shoppers through the site should not give them pause. So, simplicity and ease of use need to be your top priority when designing the main journey for your client’s shoppers.

    If you’re interested in putting these UI design philosophies to work for new customers, consider joining the Shopify Partner Program as a store developer. There you’ll be able to earn recurring revenue by building new Shopify stores for clients or migrating stores from other commerce platforms to Shopify.

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    Get A Faster Client Buy-In Through A Guided Design Showcase — Smashing Magazine


    About The Author

    Kelly Schummer (she/her) is Associate Design Director at 10up, where she’s led design of key websites for clients like the California DMV, Facebook, and …
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    How can you convince your clients to make a faster (and easier) buy-in? With the help of a guided design exercise, Kelly Schummer explains how the Design Shopping workflow can help guide you throughout the design phases.

    Regardless of where you live, getting your driver’s license renewed or the address updated on your personal ID card may often be a painful chore. It’s such a frustrating experience that Disney’s Zootopia movie (IMDb) thought it best to represent DMV employees as sloths. Despite popular opinion, however, the California DMV (California Department of Motor Vehicles) is highly motivated to better serve the 30 million licensed drivers in California.

    Better serving those citizens means improving a frustrating website experience — the primary way Californians access necessary services. That’s why the DMV Strike Team hired our design team at 10up to reimagine the entire California DMV website.

    In the following case study, we’ll take a close look at a design exercise that we call internally Design Shopping. This exercise allows us to better communicate with the client and to more easily move our collaboration in the right direction.

    Note: This article is geared more towards experienced UX/UI design teams working on some rather large projects.

    Design Shopping?

    Before we get to the finished product (the new DMV website), we have to start at the very beginning: understanding the client. As a government agency, they (therefore, we) had many stakeholders to juggle with varying motivations. This meant gaining client alignment during the discovery phase was our top priority.

    While we don’t expect clients to be design-savvy — many find the concept of design confusing or intimidating — we need to get everyone on the same page. But how were we able to move the needle on design in a government works project?

    We took them shopping. Design Shopping, that is.

    Why “Design Shopping”?

    When it comes to client services, first impressions are everything. Leaving a lasting impression, however, isn’t always easy, especially when working with a large and varied stakeholder group. To do so, let’s take a lesson from the great American poet, Maya Angelou:

    I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

    — Maya Angelou

    Cue the trumpets! From the very first to the very last interactions with our team, to leave a lasting impression on clients, we must make them feel good.

    With these precious first moments in mind, our team experimented with various approaches to provide the DMV team a safe space to feel a connection and build rapport so everyone feels confident and comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions without judgment.

    What we landed on is a concept that everyone simultaneously understands and immediately puts them at ease: shopping!

    Shopping removes the pressure of being right or wrong — a layman immediately understands “picking and choosing” the right “fit.” Shopping also releases dopamine, which activates the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. This is important because it creates positive feelings while driving clients toward action.

    Voilà — the birth of the Design Shopping exercise! Good feelings and design discussion equal nerd out!

    An animated GIF, little cute animals partying
    Live look at design nerd-out! (Image source: ‘Mochimochi Land’ by Anna Hrachovec)

    Yay! Now that we’ve set the tone, let’s get into the thick of this process: defining why and what we’re shopping for. This gives our team a much-needed opportunity to slow down and get inspired. In other words — get deep on the project. Our research and final set of artifacts are what frame the design conversation during the exercise.

    To have a meaningful “I see you” moment with the DMV team, we needed to demonstrate to the stakeholder group that we were engaged and ready to translate their goals into tangible design results.

    Swim In That Research

    Ground your design thinking prior to visual exploration and workshop planning. Not all of these are required, but if it’s within your team’s control, have the following ready:

    • Identified project goals;
    • Problem statements;
    • Competitive analysis;
    • Mental model comparisons;
    • Historical context;
    • Project brief;
    • Preliminary UX discovery;
    • Content maps.
    An animated GIF, a yarn bird pooping out hearts
    Sharing all the love for design. (Image source: ‘Mochimochi Land’ by Anna Hrachovec)

    Go Deep

    Make time for your brain to wander and get lost. When collecting artifacts for the design shopping exercise consider both sides of the coin: successful and unsuccessful examples that demonstrate what you’ve grocked from the research above.

    Lead the conversation with ease by using the artifacts as a path and conversation trigger. Look for opportunities to point at:

    • Aesthetics or preferences;
    • Design understanding toward user experience;
    • Business goals;
    • Specific calls to action;
    • And how design can help support all of that beyond just looks.

    This gives clients greater ownership of the design vision based on tangible benefits to their organization or user experience.

    Tactical Inspiration

    Don’t limit design inspiration to what you’re familiar with. Get weird! Here’s a brief list of where our team looks for inspiration:

    • Pure creativity and latest trends:
    • Vertical review, competitive analysis, and identity-specific exploration:

    Focus Your Artifacts

    We’ve found that limiting the number of design shopping artifacts to 5-7 total, helps the team maintain focus and avoid fatigue. To narrow down the website artifacts, choose:

    • One in their vertical for familiarity and showcasing an understanding of fundamentals.
    • One outside the vertical that demonstrates or challenges brand attributes.
    • One that demonstrates challenging design choices (you think they’ll hate it).
    • One that demonstrates thoughtful design choices (you think they’ll love it).
    • Something they outlined in your research (ie. something the client has already pointed out) you want to dive deeper into.
    • One that’s reflective of the mental model of their audience (what you think will appeal to your understanding of their target).

    Set Those Wheels In Motion

    Choose Your Champions

    Pump the breaks — before you jump into showing the client these sites, assign a facilitator. This champion will guide the group through the workshop, encourage participation, and help the group work toward outlined goals. Also assign an official notetaker to document the conversation to allow our facilitator(s) much appreciated space to focus on the participants.

    Kelly Schummer showcasing screenshots of websites appended on a wall
    Facilitating design discussions with multiple stakeholders. (Large preview)

    With the DMV, we had an unusually large stakeholder group so we had two facilitators run the room. To achieve the same experience in a virtual setting, using multiple breakout rooms with more than one facilitator also works really well.

    Workshop Materials

    Next, gather your materials. Virtual or on-site, you should have:

    • Red and green color coding labels aka dot stickers;
    • Emoji stickers — these are a fun addition to the traditional red and green for votes;
    • Post-it notes for comments;
    • Screenshots of websites.

    Here’s how it looks set up on a Miro board:

    A sample miro board of a Design Shopping exercise
    Setting up a Miro board. (Large preview)

    Stop, Collaborate And Listen

    Whether your workshop is online or in-person, you must first set ground rules. Take the first 5-10 minutes of the workshop to break the ice — make sure the loudest stakeholders don’t control the entire conversation.

    If driving a virtual workshop (the answer these days is a resounding YES), be sure to unblock technology paralysis. Confirm all systems are a go with a quick demo of how to use the tools you’ll be accessing during the workshop. This can take another 5-10 minutes.

    If time is of the essence, send the virtual board ahead of time with some DIY instructions so workshop participants are more prepared to participate.

    Then, set clear expectations and reiterate the purpose of the workshop.

    Voting Parameters

    Make sure to limit the number of votes each participant has. Whether these votes are virtual dots or real stickers, limit the amount of dots to 5 green and 5 red, for a total of 10 votes.

    We’ve found that limiting the number of votes forces participants to be more deliberate when shopping, which leads to richer conversations and results. As a fun bonus, we provide a set of emojis for those emotionally charged shopping moments. This tends to get a lot of love from participants!

    Super large emojis
    The Miro emojis. (Large preview)

    Ready, Set, Shop!

    Once your client has all the tools, it’s time to shop shop shop! Set the timer for 15 minutes and invite participants to mingle while they vote on their favorite and least-favorite aspects of the designs before them. While they vote, ask pointed questions about the “whats” and “whys.”

    We’ve found that standing while completing this exercise shifts the lens and puts participants on an even playing field. During this pandemic, we’ve explored options to add this experience to the virtual space and found that pre-filling the voting panels with avatars of the participants adds a nice human element and shifts the lens in much the same way as standing together does. Ghost cursors are just weird, am I right?

    Guiding The Conversation

    When the timer runs out, discuss the team’s shopping success. This is where you get to the heart of the shared language for the project. As you walk through each artifact, discuss patterns that start to emerge — both negative and positive.

    We invite shoppers to volunteer. For example, say “I’m seeing a lot of green dots here. Let’s talk about why?”

    Screenshot of annotations of websites
    The visual feedback of stickers allows an at-a-glance starting point for conversation. This screenshot showcases both live and post-workshop notes annotated above on Miro. (Large preview)

    Rather than singling out participants, this opens up to the room for discussion and evaluation. This is especially important when dealing with a large and varied stakeholder group like the DMV. This is a team effort and every step should feel collaborative.

    The intent is to eliminate the pressure of a “correct answer.”

    You want to hear the client’s design vocabulary and build upon that. Through this evaluation, you can begin to connect the dots and lead the team to foundational design principles and decisions you’ll be making throughout the following design phases.

    Communicate Results

    After everyone is done shopping, validate with the team what you’re seeing as a result of the exercise.

    A screenshot of a Miro board capturing client feedback
    One way we parse client feedback after the workshop for our internal use. (Large preview)

    Outline all the areas where you have consensus, where you diverge, and note what the next steps look like.

    We are not responsible for any impromptu dance moves from participants.

    Once More, With Feeling

    While we just outlined all the major ways you can run the design shopping workshop, this isn’t limited to a one-time exercise. We often have one final round of Design Shopping at another date.

    This is where you take what was established in the first workshop and create.

    Once in the middle of prototypes, moodboards, style tiles, and design principles — whatever you deem to be the best platform for expressing the design direction — you can use the Design Shopping exercise as a way to validate your own design solutions. If still stuck, throw in a Design Spectrum exercise to get really specific.

    With a comfortable rapport already built and the client already familiar with the workshop, you can move past the initial aches of building a design vocabulary and move straight to evaluating and discussing the design.


    The Design Shopping workflow allows you to move quickly toward a shared design vocabulary and foundational design principles in a deliberate, meaningful way. It’s like taking a road trip across California: you need to review your destinations and how you want to experience them before hitting the road.

    As an industry, we are always talking about educating the client, but rarely structure that education in a way that’s not only painless but fun. Considering the amount of pressure the DMV team was under, the last thing our team wanted to do was add further stress, as further stress leads to poor outcomes for client relationships and of course, design.

    The thing to remember is that the fun has a purpose — you’re gaining collective agreement for future communications to preemptively head off conflict. The visual nature of this workshop also adds value for stakeholders that may have missed the live session. When they refer back to the shopping exercise, it’s clear what direction to double down on and what to avoid.

    In the end, Design Shopping is less about shopping for nice fonts or colors and more about showcasing the ROI (Return on Investment) of thoughtful design. It’s about creating a forum that allows creative possibilities to be discussed openly in an accessible way.

    When done right, this exercise allows your client to see real potential because you showed them real examples where design has come to life. The abstract has now become concrete! With that foundation in place, you can look forward to creative innovation and confidence from your toughest critics: your clients.

    Special Thanks

    All the Kudos to Lea Alcantara (Visual Design Director at 10up), my design nerd out partner (who helps me craft useful workshops for our clients at 10up, including this one), and for the additional article tweaks and research done!

    Smashing Editorial
    (mb, ra, yk, il)

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    web design

    5 Ways Google Analytics Helps Web Developers In UI/UX Design — Smashing Magazine


    About The Author

    Clara Buenconsejo currently works as a Digital Marketing Consultant for The Clay Media, a niche web development and digital marketing agency. While she’s …
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    Ever wondered what all those Google Analytics code snippets are for and why your marketing team regularly asks you to add a new one? In this article, we’ll look at 5 features in Google Analytics that can help web developers and designers in making a better user experience on their website.

    Google Analytics is one of the most popular marketing analytics platforms out there — and not just because its standard version is free. More than a million organizations worldwide use this platform to gain better insights on user behavior on their websites.

    However, for most web developers, their involvement with Google Analytics ends with just installing the base code for pageviews. This code usually looks like this, when using the gtag.js version of the code:

    <!-- Global site tag (gtag.js) - Google Analytics -->
    <script async src=""></script>
      window.dataLayer = window.dataLayer || [];
      function gtag(){dataLayer.push(arguments);}
      gtag('js', new Date());
      gtag('config', 'UA-35169008-1');

    Or it looks like this, with the analytics.js implementation:

    <!-- Google Analytics -->
    (i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o),
    ga('create', 'UA-XXXXX-Y', 'auto');
    ga('send', 'pageview');
    <!-- End Google Analytics -->

    While there’s already many data points made available with this basic implementation, they end up missing out on other key features. Due to the lack of available data to consult, there have even been cases where web developers or designers choose to remove a specific feature on the site, without realizing that most users use that feature regularly.

    Hence, here are five of the most important features in Google Analytics that you can utilize to improve user experience — and separate you from the rest of the web developers and designers out there:

    1. Use Events To Identify User Interactions On Specific Parts Of Your Website

    As stated above, the basic Google Analytics code only tracks pageviews by default. If you want to track actions on your website, such as button clicks or form submissions, you’ll need to fire a separate Google Analytics event. These events can be implemented by adding the following code with the appropriate Event Category, Action, and Label information:

    ga('send', {
      hitType: 'event',
      eventCategory: 'Event Category',
      eventAction: 'Event Action',
      eventLabel: 'Event Label'

    A shorthand version of the code is also available in this format:

    ga('send', 'event', 'Event Category', 'Event Action', 'Event Label');

    Once the events are set up, they will show up in the Google Analytics UI under the Behavior > Events > Top Events report:

    Where to find the Behavior > Events > Top Events report in Google Analytics
    Where to find the Top Events report in Google Analytics. (Large preview)

    As a best practice, you can use Event Category to group events based on a specific function (ex. Page Engagement, Ecommerce). Meanwhile, you can use Event Action to identify the exact action the user made (Click, Scroll, Form Submission) while you can use Event Label to get the URL where the event was fired.

    Alternatively, a better way to implement these events would be to use Google Tag Manager instead. In lieu of the actual Google Analytics code, you will need to install the Google Tag Manager code instead:

    <!-- Google Tag Manager -->
    new Date().getTime(),event:'gtm.js'});var f=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],
    <!-- End Google Tag Manager -->

    Then once Google Tag Manager is set up, all you need to do is to set up the Google Analytics Page View tag and the Event tags you need. Simply create a new Tag by clicking the “New” button, then click on Tag Configuration, and Google Analytics will be one of the default options available:

    Google Tag Manager - Creating a Google Analytics tag in Tag Configuration settings
    Creating a Google Analytics tag in Google Tag Manager. (Large preview)

    You’ll then be able to select between the different Google Analytics tag types, which includes “Event” as one of them. Once you’ve filled in the Tag Configuration details, you’ll just need to set up the appropriate trigger to fire the event. There are already built-in triggers such as clicks on Google Tag Manager; you’ll just need to select the one suitable for your event.

    Don’t forget to test the tag in Google Tag Manager’s preview mode, then click publish once the set up is complete.

    Take note that it’s important to be careful when you’re implementing events via Google Tag Manager or by adding the actual code for events via Google Analytics. Whatever approach you choose for implementation should be the same all throughout the site. Either you go all the way with Google Tag Manager or with hard-coding the actual event code.

    Otherwise, you may end up tracking the same website action twice — once by adding the event code, another via Google Tag Manager — and recording duplicate data inside Google Analytics.

    Adding events even become more important when it comes to setting up Ecommerce and Enhanced Ecommerce tracking for Google Analytics. While you do need to turn on these settings in the Google Analytics interface, you’ll need to go back to your tracking and add separate ecommerce events. These events are needed to send the complete set of e-commerce data back to the Google Analytics servers.

    2. Learn How Far Users Scroll Down The Page With Scroll Tracking Events

    Other than tracking clicks and form submissions, events in Google Analytics can be also used for scroll tracking. This can be done by adding the Google Analytics event code to fire once a specific element appears in the viewport. You can also set the code to fire if the user has scrolled a specific percentage down the screen.

    Alternatively, in Google Tag Manager, scroll tracking can be implemented much easier by using the Scroll Depth trigger. All you need to do is to create a new trigger, select the “Scroll Depth” trigger type, then fill in the necessary details.

    Google Tag Manager - Finding the Scroll Depth trigger option
    The Scroll Depth trigger type in Google Tag Manager. (Large preview)

    So how can this feature help you in terms of user experience? For starters, this obviously can help you determine up to what part of the page are users willing to scroll down. Since that data is in Google Analytics, you can segment that data based on device or browser, time of day, location, etc.

    That way, if you’re deciding whether you can place a specific widget for a specific kind of user, you have some data to back up your decision. This can also eliminate the need to purchase separate scroll tracking software, as all you’ll need is a bit of time to implement this feature.

    3. Get An Estimate Of How Much Time They Actually Spend On Your Website

    Learning up to where people scroll is one thing; finding out how much time they spend on the site is another. Thankfully that’s also possible to measure with Google Analytics.

    By default, after installing the Google Analytics pageview tag, users can already get a metric called Avg. Session Duration. This metric is generally understood to measure the amount of time that a user spends on each visit to your website (a session).

    However, this metric can be inaccurate at times. After all, Google Analytics really only measures Avg. Session Duration based on the timestamps of the data (hits) that it receives.

    This also explains why most bounces — or visits on the website with either only one pageview or event in them — have an Avg. Session Duration of 00:00:00.

    So how would you get around this limitation? By firing timing hits. These can help accurately calculate the amount of time a user spends on a page without recording another pageview or event. You just need to send the timing hits by implementing this code to fire at specific intervals on your site:

    ga('send', 'timing', [timingCategory], [timingVar], [timingValue], [timingLabel], [fieldsObject]);

    A more detailed description of each field is available on the Google Developers’ site.

    Once implemented, these hits will be visible in the Behavior > Site Speed > User Timings section in Google Analytics.

    Alternatively, since timing hits have a cap of 10,000 hits per day, you can create custom events that fire at specific intervals instead. Like other regular events, these would then be visible in the Behavior > Events > Top Events section.

    A word of caution when setting up timing hits, however: make sure to add a “timeout” of sorts for them. That way these hits won’t continuously fire — and the data sent to Google Analytics — for too long, if the page was just left open on an unattended browser.

    4. Find Out Where Users Get Stuck Or Other Pain Points On The Website

    Once you’ve implemented events and timing hits on Google Analytics, you’d see them in the different sections of the platform. However, this introduces a new challenge: how can you unite these different data points into one report that shows the entire user journey on your website?

    That’s where the Behavior Flow report in Google Analytics comes into play. This report, which appears as a flowchart, shows how users arrive at the site and the subsequent pageviews or actions they take before dropping off.

    Google Analytics: Behavior Flow Report
    The Behavior Flow report in Google Analytics. (Large preview)

    By default, the Behavior Flow report uses the Landing Page and the specific pages that groups of users go to.

    You can also change the Behavior Flow report to focus more on events. Simply click to the dropdown menu below the report’s header and select “Events” or “Pages and Events.”

    Google Analytics Behavior Flow Report - View Options
    Google Analytics Behavior Flow Report — View Options. (Large preview)

    A little caveat with using the Behavior Flow reports, however: when looking at data for larger websites, such as those with millions of pageviews, sampling may occur. This sampling is set in place to help Google Analytics crunch through all the data in a specific amount of time.

    To minimize sampling, you can adjust the date range covered by the Behavior Flow report to reduce the amount of data that Google Analytics needs to analyze. In addition, you can also adjust the granularity of your analysis by clicking on the “Level of Detail” dropdown and setting it to “Show fewer connections.”

    Google Analytics Behavior Flow Report - Level of Detail Options
    Adjust granularity in the Google Analytics Behavior Flow Report by selecting the ‘Level of Detail’ option. (Large preview)

    If the Behavior Flow report is not enough, you can also set up Custom Reports in Google Analytics. To set these up, go to Customization > Custom Reports, then click the “New Custom Report” button.

    Google Analytics Custom Reports - How to access custom reports
    Where to access Custom Reports in Google Analytics. (Large preview)

    Custom Reports can come in three different formats:

    • Explorer, which looks similar to the default Google Analytics reports.
    • Flat Table.
    • Map, best for geographic overlays.

    You can also adjust the settings to filter based on specific metrics using exact match or regular expressions.

    That said, some dimensions and metrics may appear off when combined with each other. This may be due to these metrics having different scopes–one metric may be measured at the user level, while another metric may be measured at the session (website visit) level. For more information about Google Analytics scopes, you can check out the Processing section of this Google Analytics Help Center article.

    5. Discover The Kinds Of User Behavior That Lead To Conversions And Which Actions Don’t

    At the end of the day, a client or your employer is having a website made to achieve a tangible objective. This can be as diverse as selling your company’s products online (ecommerce), generating sign-ups for a service (lead generation), or even just to promote the company’s services (awareness).

    That’s where the true strength of Google Analytics lies. By collecting data based on a combination of pageviews and different events, you can get more in-depth insights into what users actually do on your website. In addition, you can isolate specific key actions as conversions on your website by creating goals.

    To do so, simply go to Admin > Goals, and then click New Goal. You can then choose from a template or set up a custom goal based on a destination ‘pageview of a specific page), events, duration, or even a number of pageviews.

    Google Analytics Goals - Accessing Goals in Admin Section
    Access goals in Google Analytics by going to Admin > Goals. (Large preview)
    Google Analytics - Goal Settings
    Set up conversions with Google Analytics goal settings. (Large preview)

    Once you’ve set up your goals, you can then use Google Analytics segments to analyze the actions that users with conversions have, versus those who did not convert. This is available by default — simply select the Converters or the Non-Converters segments to apply on your reports.

    Google Analytics Segments: Selecting the Converters Segment
    Google Analytics Segments: Selecting the Converters Segment. (Large preview)

    If you want more specific segments regarding conversions, you can click on the Actions option to copy the segment and add your own criteria. For example, you can add age, gender, location, or language for further filtering based on demographics. You can also create segments based on how users got to your site (source and medium), the device they’re using, or even based on the chain of actions they took on your site (under Advanced > Sequences).

    Of course, you can always create segments from scratch in Google Analytics. Simply open the Segments dropdown then click on the red New Segment button to make your own.

    Google Analytics Segments - Segment Options
    Google Analytics Segments — Segment Options. (Large preview)

    With all these features available for free, Google Analytics is truly one of the most powerful tools that any web developer or designer can utilize. However, adding these features to your site is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other functionalities there to explore, such as the Measurement Protocol that allows Google Analytics to collect data from IoT devices.

    To know more about Google Analytics, you can check out these official Google resources:

    Lastly, before implementing Google Analytics, make sure to double-check the data privacy regulations in your region to avoid any unintentional violations. For more information about ensuring compliance with these regulations, please consult this Google Support article.

    By balancing the end user’s data privacy rights plus the need to collect data for actionable insights, Google Analytics is definitely one of the finest tools for UI/UX design that’s out in the market.

    Smashing Editorial
    (ra, yk, il)

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