Monday, 22 June 2015

How to successfully localize your app for other countries

For many app marketers, localizing an app to fit new markets simply means translating it into different languages. Entrepreneurs then sit, and wait, hoping this will instantly turn their app into an overnight success. But in order for an app to successfully penetrate a foreign market, there’s a whole lot more than translation that needs to take place.

Scratch the Surface

If you want to keep effort to a minimum but still localize your app as much as possible, ASO (App Store Optimization) is the way to go. This means optimizing what users in a certain country see in the app store: title, description, and visuals.

Using Google Translate is extremely risky, and thus I strongly recommend working with a professional translator who is also experienced in ASO and localization. It’s important to ensure that your description includes the most common relevant search words in that specific country and that your visuals correlate with the local culture. The Spanish language, for example, contains dozens of different jargon – jargon that is not necessarily used across the board among all Spanish-speaking countries. Therefore, using native speakers as translators (instead of resorting to Google Translate) is the only reliable way to overcome such cultural differences.

As always, it’s best to run A/B testing for creative materials, keep up with ongoing industry changes, and optimize the text and title on a regular basis.

Copy & Paste

This is still a basic level of localization, which includes translating not only your app page but the content of your app word for word (of course some UI tweaks are required to make sure the interface accommodates the text). This means that people everywhere are exposed to the same type of app regardless of their cultural differences.

While this can be enough for utility apps (such as Google Maps), it’s not enough for apps that either offer a more “complex” experience, have more than one feature, or attempt to engage with the user on an emotional level.

Beat the Culture Shock

In order to successfully penetrate a foreign market, you’ll have to do more than just perform the two steps above. You’ll have to make in-app alterations beyond basic translation. To make appropriate tweaks, you must first conduct extensive market research that examines various aspects: the use of mobile devices in the country, competing apps, and users’ purpose for using the app.

The conclusions you draw from such a study should give you a better clue as to how you should adapt your app to the desired market. If the target audience, for example, seems to like highly expressive emoticons, a messaging app should make the emoticons button more accessible to users than the photo attachment button.

The same app could also be aiming to penetrate another market where locals are fond of utility features. You could expose those locals to a version of the app where the voice recording button is more prominent than the emoticons button. Successfully penetrating this country could also mean having to alter the emoticons themselves to make them more culturally appropriate.

Even the most basic steps are somewhat tricky, but it is definitely worth investing in these measures. Remember: These minor tweaks can turn out to be the difference between success and failure.

How to successfully localize your app for other countries

Thursday, 18 June 2015


Have you ever heard the saying “web design is 95% typography”? If you have, it’s with good reason: it’s 100% true, the majority of what you’ll encounter on the Web is written content. The idea was coined back in 2006 by design firm Information Architects.

Think of blogs. Written content. Social media, homepage copy, landing pages, white papers… all written content. The list just goes on and on. Seems like the only exception could be videos, but even those have written descriptions.

All this boils down to one, overriding principle: to get more site visitors for your clients, you have to learn how to make your content easily readable…

How people really read on the Internet

Before you can write content for the Web, you have to be intimately familiar with how users absorb it. If you think that people actually read on the Internet, you’re mistaken, my friend. Many people never bother taking the time to read an entire webpage or article on the Internet. If you’re a designer who’s writing content like an author writes for pages in a book; then you don’t understand your users and are going to drive them away, unfortunately.

If you think that people actually read on the Internet, you’re mistaken, my friend

See, the truth of the matter is that people are just skimmers, as the research shows. They enjoy scanning webpages as a way of quickly sorting out if the page’s content is worth their time at all. To facilitate this scanning behavior, your written content should be grouped into smaller paragraphs instead of long blocks of text, which inhibit scanning.

Now that you know this, it’s time to design pages to satisfy this user behavior. Regardless of whether you’re also handling copywriting duties, or work with an actual copywriter who creates written content, it’s high time that anything written is extremely readable from the user’s perspective. Here’s how you do it:

1) Shorter and smaller paragraphs

Since users are mainly scanners who skim through content, it’s necessary to group your content into small paragraphs. Best practice dictates paragraphs no longer than three or four sentences at the most. But, hey, since brevity is extremely in-demand on the web, take it a step further. Don’t be scared to even write one sentence per paragraph.

To stick to this best practice, commit yourself to devoting just one idea per paragraph. This limitation is going to make it easier to write really short paragraphs.

Better Homes and Gardens gets this 100%. On their bathroom DIY ideas page, the written content is chunked into short, readable paragraphs of one to three sentences each. Talk about pithiness!

2) Go heavy on the sub-headings

You can think of sub-headings in written content as guideposts that quickly preview what each new section will be about. As such, they’re very welcome intervals in copy that could otherwise seem overwhelming if it appeared as one, long, uninterrupted chunk of text. A page that encourages smooth scanning will have many sub-headings — just like this article that you’re reading now.

Sub-headings also act as prodders, pushing your readers along the length of your content, particularly if they’re interesting or build excitement. After all, subheadings are just mini-headlines, so they work in the same principle as real headlines.

CNNs coverage of the Texas floods epitomizes the use of subheadings to draw the reader in and prompt them further down the written content. Note how each section is broken up with sub-headings that preview the section’s content in a gripping way that’s meant to suck the reader in.

3) Bulleted lists to the rescue

In keeping with the overall theme of keeping things shorter to facilitate better scanning and skimming, we give you bulleted lists. These lists are ideal at condensing and summarizing a section’s most vital ideas. Again, since your web readers don’t care for long content that’s hard to read, bulleted lists enable them to pick out the important facts efficiently and quickly.

The logical companions of these bulleted lists are numbered lists. Numbered lists go a step further and highlight either the importance or sequence of a group of points or data. They’re good for when you want to enumerate things for a set of directions or steps.

Yahoo! Parenting gets this perfectly. In an article about taking children to a therapist, they number the seven red flags, thereby not only making the content easier to read, but also understand.

When you chunk the information in this easy-to-digest way, you make it more likely that your web readers are actually going to come away having learned something.

4) Bold words convey significance

Bold-styled words in your copy signal which words and phrases your readers should pay attention to more than others. The fact that they also draw the eye of readers is a bonus. When readers come across bolded words, it immediately tells them that this section is important, and they’ll read and reread them to really understand the meaning being conveyed.

Of course, using bold words is a design tactic that can be overused as well. There’s hardly anything worse than excessive bold words on a page because that defeats the purpose of the styling by making it meaningless. Instead, good designers should use bold words sparingly and intelligently. Only the words and phrases that are the most vital to readers’ comprehension should get the bold treatment.

When site content isn’t readable or legible, your UX suffers

Wayfair, one of the largest furniture e-commerce retailers on Earth, demonstrates the effective use of bold choice words in its different guides about home d├ęcor. For instance, in its guide to choosing the perfect bathroom vanity, the company uses bold words that represent the specific choices that customers looking for a vanity have in each category and stage of the buying process.

This encourages readers to absorb the helpful information efficiently, as their eyes naturally hone in on the most important parts of the content.


Your clients are losing out if you don’t make a site’s content easily readable. When site content isn’t readable or legible, your UX suffers. This leads to higher bounce rates and, ultimately, a lower conversion rate. You can do a great deal to lower the likelihood of both of these happening, and it all starts with minding how you format and present your content.

The goal of stellar web design is always to put yourself in your users’ shoes and anticipate how they’d feel navigating the site you just designed. If they can figure out what they’re looking at, read the content very easily, and understand the main details of site copy, then you’ve done a great job with content formatting. If it’s not, then it’s high time to start making adjustments… fast.


Saturday, 13 June 2015

Wikipedia to start using secure HTTPS by default for all users

Wikipedia will soon have HTTPS enabled by default, creating a more secure connection between a user’s Internet device and Wikipedia.

In an announcement earlier today, Wikipedia’s parent organization, the Wikimedia Foundation, said: “We believe that you should be able to use Wikipedia and the Wikimedia sites without sacrificing privacy or safety.”

HTTPS is a communications protocol often used by security-conscious bodies such as banks, with encryption adding an extra layer of security atop the traditional HTTP protocol for online customers. But other companies have increasingly adopted HTTPS in recent times, including the likes of Twitter, which has had it switched on by default since 2012.

Today’s news isn’t entirely surprising — Jimmy Wales, founder of the Wikimedia Foundation, has been an ardent, outspoken critic of the National Security Agency (NSA) and mass surveillance. The co-penned announcement post from the organization’s legal counsels today stated:

In a world where mass surveillance has become a serious threat to intellectual freedom, secure connections are essential for protecting users around the world. Without encryption, governments can more easily surveil sensitive information, creating a chilling effect, and deterring participation, or in extreme cases they can isolate or discipline citizens.

Accounts may also be hijacked, pages may be censored, other security flaws could expose sensitive user information and communications. Because of these circumstances, we believe that the time for HTTPS by default is now.

The Wikimedia Foundation has been working behind the scenes to implement the requirements for HTTPS by default. Since 2013, those who are logged in to Wikipedia have had HTTPS on by default, and anyone could manually enter the “HTTPS” in the address bar if they wished. Search engines would also include HTTPS when redirecting an Internet user to a page operated by the Wikimedia Foundation.

In addition to HTTPS, the Wikimedia Foundation is using HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS), a mechanism that helps prevent “downgrade attacks” which attempt to intercept traffic.

The HTTPS rollout kicks off today, but it will take a few weeks for the process to be complete.

Wikipedia to start using secure HTTPS by default for all users

Friday, 12 June 2015


Yesterday’s keynote at the Apple WWDC featured two new OS. The new MacOS is named El Capitan after a rock formation in Yosemite (which has been taken by most commentators to indicate that Apple sees its next OS as a minor, rather than major, version). MacOS El Capitan, and iOS 9 are available now to Apple developers, will be released to public beta next month, and will go live in the autumn.

Hidden amongst the underwhelming announcements about Apple pay rolling out to a whole two countries (Canada and the UK) and Apple’s streaming music service, were a number of clues as to how Apple sees the Web, and Safari’s role, evolving in the next few years…

1) Scroll snapping

One of the biggest announcements for web designers is the implementation of CSS scroll snapping. Scroll snapping — which is currently achieved with JavaScript — is a method of adjusting the easing on a scroll so that the scroll snaps to a predefined position. If you’ve ever scrolled a single page site that slid to the next section, as opposed to an arbitrary number of pixels, you’ve experienced scroll snapping.

Apple expects the trend for single page sites…to continue

It’s an indication that Apple expects the trend for single page sites, with sections that fill the whole viewport, to continue unabated.

Safari 9 introduces the following CSS scroll snapping properties: -webkit-scroll-snap-type, -webkit-scroll-snap-points-y, -webkit-scroll-snap-points-x, -webkit-scroll-snap-destination, and -webkit-scroll-snap-coordinate.

As scroll snapping is largely viewed as a progressive enhancement, it may soon be practical to switch this effect from JavaScript to CSS.

2) Pinned sites

Safari 9 introduces pinned sites. Pinned sites is a way to keep your favorite websites open in the browser for quick access, without actually leaving a tab open. To use pinned sites in Safari 9 just drag an open tab to the left and a small icon will be created in the bookmarks bar allowing you to quickly access the page.

Users will undoubtedly expect to use this feature, so all sites need to be prepared. In order to be ready, all you need to do is create an icon: make it solid black, with a transparent background, and save it as an SVG. You can then link to the icon in the head of your HTML document, like so:

<link rel="icon" sizes="any" mask href="webzin.svg">

If you’d like to color the icon to match your brand, add this meta tag immediately after it:

<meta name="theme-color" content="#FAB23A">

3) HTML5 video enhancements

Safari 9 introduces a couple of enhancements for HTML5 video.

Airplay allows custom controls for HTML5 media. Using JavaScript you’ll be able to detect Airplay availability and where possible (ie. in Safari 9) supply custom controls. Ideal for anyone else who’s tired of default controls breaking brand consistency.

PiP (Picture in Picture) is a style of video that’s used extensively on TV. PiP involves playing a video in the corner of the screen while other content is viewed elsewhere; browsing the channel guide on a Tivo box whilst the current channel plays in the corner, is a good example.

Safari 9 introducing PiP is an incredible innovation for anyone who likes to watch live events (like the Apple WWDC keynote) whilst actually working. However, like most technologies PiP is open to abuse; you’re likely to see the first PiP adverts popping up in the corner of your browser in the next 6 months. Fortunately Safari 9 also includes the option to mute all audio across all tabs with a quick click.

4) Force touch events

Apple’s new MacBooks feature force touch trackpads; trackpads that detect not just taps, but the force with which you tap. Safari 9 introduces several new JavaScript events — ironically classed as mouse events — to handle the feature:  webkitmouseforcewillbegin, webkitmouseforcedown, webkitmouseforceup, and webkitmouseforcechanged.

Force touch events are only likely to be useful for supplementary navigation at this point as the technology is not just software, but also hardware, restricted. However, if used as a progressive enhancement they open up some interesting possibilities, especially in the area of gaming and experimental UI design.

5) SFSafariViewController

At first glance, SFSafariViewController appears to be of more interest to app designers than web designers. It will allow apps to display Web content within an app using Safari’s rendering.

Designed for streamlining scenarios such as opening a native app, then creating an account on a company’s web page, before returning to an app to log in with the account, the significant thing about SFSafariViewController is that allows web, rather than native, to be the keystone of a company’s online systems. It’s a small piece of software that sparks a very large step towards closer integration of native and web.

6) ECMAScript 6

JavaScript is a step closer to becoming the OOP language that it really should be

JavaScript developers will be excited to learn that Safari 9 includes full support for classes, computed properties, weak set, the number object, octal and binary literals, symbol objects, and template literals. This support means JavaScript is a step closer to becoming the OOP language that it really should be by now.

7) CSS Filters

The backdrop-filter CSS property has been added to Safari 9. blur, brightness, contrast, drop-shadow, grayscale, hue-rotate, invert, opacity, saturate, and sepia filters are all available.

8) Developer mode updates

Responsive design mode has been introduced in Safari 9 as a way of providing fast switching of layouts across different viewports. All Apple devices are included as presets, but it’s more of a useful presentation tool for client meetings than a dev tool as best practices favor content, as opposed to viewport, breakpoints. It’s important to note that responsive design mode only alters the viewport, it doesn’t simulate different devices. It may be useful as a quick test whenever new Apple devices are launched, before device simulators catch up.

The web inspector has been redesigned. Together with some UI tweaks to improve the UX, there’s a greater emphasis on frame rendering and performance.

9) Unprefixed CSS

Some updates are more welcome than others. One of the most welcome, but less likely to be noticed, is the dropping of browser prefixes for over 45 CSS properties. Whilst it does little in the short term with legacy browsers still in use, the sooner browsers drop prefixes, the sooner we’ll say goodbye to them for good.

The most significant to go prefix-free are the flex properties, the transition properties, the transform properties, and the animation properties.


Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Computers Can Talk Too: Google Launches Tone Extension for Chrome

Google developed an experimental audio-based extension for Chrome that can share any URL with other computers using sound. The new add-on is called Tone, and it allows you to share information from one computer to another within hearing range. The extension uses the computer’s microphone and speakers to swiftly and practically exchange URLs. It is possible to share any content from web pages: texts, pictures, documents, blog posts, products, YouTube videos, search results and such. When a certain page is selected for sharing, you simply click on the little Google Tone icon on your browser and a short series of beeping sounds will be heard and nearby machines will receive a clickable notification that will open the same tab.

It is necessary to be logged into a Google account when sending files for your profile details will be displayed in the Google Tone notification.


According to developers, the idea was to create a simple broadcasting mechanism that rested on the basics of the human voice. Google’s Interaction Researcher Alex Kauffmann and Software Engineer Boris Smus wrote on the company’s research blog that in the new age of digital information sharing emails or chats across the globe is simple but it’s somewhat complicated to share information between people standing near each other. For that purpose, they developed Google Tone to makesharing as simple as talking to people.

Google Tone is still in the stages of development so it is not completely flawless and there is room for improvement. Its main characteristic is to emulate the principles of the human voice and many factors can affect sharing such as room acoustics, microphone sensitivity, and speaker volume so not every machine will always pick up the broadcast, similar to the flaws of a real conversation.

For now this application is suitable for students in classrooms, small teams, and families with multiple computers, but it can evolve into more of a cloud-based sharing service. They’ve also confirmed that it works over Hangouts too.

Computers Can Talk Too: Google Launches Tone Extension for Chrome

Monday, 25 May 2015


Almost every web design story has three main actors. Each of them occupies a particular place in the story, and each has different motivations and expectations. These characters are the client, the designer, and the user.

There is a particular hierarchy that is supposed to exist between the three; but due to the nature of the process, this hierarchy frequently gets mixed up. The result is a plethora of poorly designed websites that are cluttered with unnecessary extras, which exist because of a power struggle between the client and the designer.

What we need, in order to avert this disaster, is something I like to call “Design Frugality”. It sounds fancy, but it’s actually very simple. Just the way websites ought to be…

1) Being important isn’t important!

In the hierarchy I mentioned earlier, the user always believes themselves to be the most important actor in the cast because it is ultimately their money that the client is trying to earn.  The client often believes himself to be the most important because he is putting up the money to make the website.  And, sadly enough, the designers often believe that they are the most important because without them the website will not be the masterpiece that the client needs.

The truth is that it’s really the design itself that is most important.  This is what connects your client’s business with the users.  But clients often make ridiculous feature requests, and the designer often tries to impress the customer with how many “cool features” they can build into the site.  Did you notice who gets forgotten in all this?  That’s right – the user!

2) What clients want isn’t always what they need

When you put the needs of the client ahead of the needs of users, or your own needs ahead of both, the result is often a website that fails to achieve its task (connecting users with your client’s business).

I’ve lost count of the number of consultations that went something like this:

BOB: …And I want you to make the site in WordPress, and I want a carousel on the home page, and we need to have RSS…

ME: Why?

BOB: What do you mean “why”?

ME: I mean why do you need WordPress? Why do you need a carousel? Why do you need RSS?

BOB: Well… doesn’t everyone have those things?

ME: No, Bob, they don’t. Let me explain something. You own a hammer factory. You make four different kinds of hammers. You’re not going to be updating the site regularly, your inventory certainly doesn’t require a carousel to display it, and it’s pretty doubtful anyone will want to subscribe to a feed about hammers.

BOB: So what are you saying?

ME: You don’t need that stuff, Bob. It’s dead money. We need to show people your hammers and tell them why your hammers are the best.

Bob’s problem is that he suffers from copycat syndrome. If everyone else is doing something, he figures he should be doing it too. Sure you could just give him what he wants, but you’ll be doing him a greater service by educating him about what his users will want.

Users visit sites to find information, or to be entertained.  When you visit a supermarket for the first time, do you spend your time admiring the interior of the store or wishing it was easier to find where they keep the liquid soap? Focus on making it easy for the users to find what they are looking for and make that your priority.

3) Make your site just as awesome as it needs to be

I’m not saying you can’t make a really cool design that totally rocks.  What I am saying is: Don’t just add things because they are awesome, add them because they are needed. If you don’t need something, don’t add it!

Avoid flashy technologies and stick to standards-compliant HTML5. Add JavaScript sparingly; if you only need to show 2 images then using a slideshow looks silly. Really, it does! Avoid putting too much content on CDNs, and limit the number of assets you’re loading. Optimize everything, there is literally nothing on a website that cannot be compressed, sped up, or improved in some way. Don’t go crazy with images.

Web design has inherited a lot from other design disciplines, but if there’s one thing that’s more true in web design than any other field, it’s that less is more.


Saturday, 23 May 2015

Facebook Messenger games could goose its Payments business

Facebook’s core users are going mobile, and they’re taking their money with them. Rumors this week suggest that the company may turn to mobile games inside Facebook Messenger to bring those dollars back.

Revenues from the company’s Payments division are stagnating, because the microtransactions that used to fuel that growth — especially for games — are now taking place more often on mobile platforms. The company’s first-quarter financials indicated a 5 percent year over year drop, which is a lot of money for a $1 billion-revenue division.

“Social gaming audiences have been moving to mobile for a while now,” said Joost van Dreunen, the chief executive of market analyst SuperData Research. “In response, companies throughout the ecosystem — including Facebook, Kabam, Zynga and King — have committed themselves to smartphones and tablets. This creates somewhat of a downward spiral [for desktop social gaming]: with a declining user base, content providers will be reluctant to invest and develop for the platform, thereby making it increasingly less relevant.”

Three-quarters of Facebook’s advertising revenue already comes from mobile, for example.

Enter Facebook Messaging. App Annie’s Top App Charts say this is the top downloaded app for both iOS and Google Play (more than the core Facebook app itself, which was the No. 2 spot). But the top-grossing apps are nearly all games, with Clash of Clans, Game of War, and Candy Crush Saga in the lead. Earlier this week, The Information magazine reported that Facebook is considering games for its Messenger app store.

Facebook representatives wouldn’t confirm that report, offering a prepared statement:

“Currently, we think Messenger Platform is best suited for apps that focus on content creation and curated content. But, one of the reasons we were excited to announce that Messenger Platform is open to all developers is to see what people build. From there, we’ll think about what else might make sense.”

Gaming apps absolutely would make sense for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the built-in audience, larger even than Facebook’s own app base, for social gaming on mobile platforms.

Facebook Payments is experimenting with free one-to-one cash transactions for individuals. That seems like a loss for the company, until you consider all those credit and debit cards stored in profiles that could make it easy for Messenger users to buy games or the microtransactions inside them. (To be fair, the same is true for other Messenger apps, which so far have been largely limited to emojis, video calling, chat alteration, and images.)

So could Facebook Messenger games provide the boost that Payments needs? It definitely seems possible. The successful model is already on the market in the Far East.

“It’s a proven model in Asia to offer games on a messenger platform,” van Dreunen said. “A giant like Tencent makes a mint by both perpetuating viral user acquisition and monetizing this audience. If Facebook can follow this example, it could prove very valuable, especially as social gaming continues to lose momentum to mobile. The question, of course, will be whether or not this model will resonate with Western audiences.”

Hong Kong-based Tencent publishes games, but it also has hosted games as part of its QQ instant messaging platform, selling in-game goods for MMOs using an online currency called Q coins. QQ has 832 million monthly active users.

It’s fairly clear that Facebook is considering precisely that question: Will Western audiences respond the same way?

What is unclear is whether games via Messenger would use the app as a conduit for separate games, or whether you would actually play them inside the app. Apple and Google have some fairly strict rules for in-app transactions, and Facebook will have to tread carefully if Messenger appears to conflict with the giant business on Google Play or Apple’s App Store by being a sales platform competing with those stores.

Facebook Messenger games could goose its Payments business

Friday, 22 May 2015

Twitter Inc Strengthens Bond With Google Inc To Boost User Traffic

Twitter Inc.  has strengthened its partnership with Google Inc.  in a bid to boost user traffic and pursue its expansion plans. Recently, both tech giants renewed the deal that had expired in 2011.

The new and improved deal will show tweets on the world’s largest search engine. A simple click on a tweet appearing on will take the person to Twitter, where they can share, comment and access more content.

“When tapping on a tweet in Google search, you’ll be taken directly to Twitter where you can view the Tweet and discover additional content,” Jana Messerschmidt, VP of global business development & platform at Twitter said. “By deeply integrating Twitter’s real-time content into Google search, we hope you find it easier than ever to explore your interests across both Twitter and Google.”, she added.

Apparently, the partnership will help Google in getting more search queries, and at the same time boost Twitter’s declining user traffic. Lower user traffic has affected Twitter’s stock price. Since its initial public offering (IPO) in November 2013, Twitter stock has plummeted 16.48%.

Now, Google has full-access to Twitter’s real-time stream on its social media, called Firehose. It shoots roughly 9,000 tweets per seconds, which is a substantial amount.

“It’s a great way to get real-time info when something is happening,” Ardan Arac, senior product manager for Google wrote in the company’s official blog. “And it’s another way for organizations and people on Twitter to reach a global audience at the most relevant moments.”, he further added.

According to the blog, the new feature is only available on the Google app for Android in english for now, although it will soon be available on smartphone browsers as well. Both tech companies are also working to introduce the service in more languages, and to make the feature available on desktop systems. Initially the service will be available in the US and will gradually extend to other countries in the coming months.

Apart from Google’s search engine, Microsoft Corporation’s search engine, Bing, would also integrate tweets.

Twitter Inc Strengthens Bond With Google Inc To Boost User Traffic

Thursday, 21 May 2015


Every freelancer has heard the pitch from clients about “no money now, but there will be later”, “help start my business and you’ll be my ‘go-to’ person in the future”, or “when things get going, you can charge more and make up your lost fees”.

These promises are of course lies! Every business has money. The trick is, getting them to part with it. Here are some handy ways of creative billing and other methods for turning a cheapskate into a great client… who pays your invoice!


The great thing about businesses that demand free work is that they usually don’t realize, in the end, that they have no rights to the copyrighted work you have created. Free work followed by broken promises can be followed by legal suits to pay you for the rights they never legally had.

That, of course, is not a good way to do business in the long term, but the idea is on the table if you’ve been screwed in the past and never signed over the copyright for your work. A letter warning the client they are using copyrighted material in breach of promise can get a rise from a client, but they’re not just going to roll over and show you their wallet.

It’s best to lay some ground rules from the start. First, chances are you haven’t laughed out loud in the client’s face because you are interested in working for their company. If only they would pay you!

Well, there’s a chance they want you to work for them just as badly or they wouldn’t be going out of their way to risk an eternity roasting in Hell by lying to you. Seriously, they see you have the talent that they both want and need, and they respect design just enough to know they can’t use an art student — although they might use that threat as a negotiating position.

You have the upper hand in negotiations because you have nothing to lose by turning down working for free. The only other things you’ll need are the guts and knowledge to know how to negotiate an acceptable solution for both parties.


You’ll know whether the prospective client is just cheap, or doesn’t actually have any money for design within the first few moments of your first meeting. If they are cheap, They’ll tell you why you should be working for free. Whatever you say next in defense of your need to be paid will be met with one of these two reactions:

  1. An angry threat that they can get an art student to do the work for free, thereby denying you the rare chance to ply your trade, or:

  2. They will be interested in what you have to say, because they truly do respect you as a freelancer and never thought of other ways you could be paid a fair fee for your work.

There are ways to gamble on the client but assure yourself of payment either in barter, investment, or extended payments. Barter may in some cases be illegal as it is taxable but hard to track for the IRS.

1) Bartering

Bartering a fee may include:

  1. Trading work for office space. This is fairly common. Many freelancers want an official office space that has a conference room, receptionist, better address for a more professional appearance, and other people around. (You know, so they stop wearing a bathrobe for six straight days and keep talking to themselves because they feel like the only person to survive a zombie apocalypse.)

  2. Trading for hard goods, such as groceries, office supplies, equipment or any goods the company manufactures or sells.

  3. Trading work for “exposure” is one of those lies many free work-seeking clients use. Sure, if Disney is promising exposure, that might be tempting (although they have lots of money for design work), but a smaller firm, blog or website might actually be great exposure and allow you a link back to your professional website. You have to weigh how much exposure is gained/work you might get vs. the work required of you.

  4. Complete creative control. If you are desperate for portfolio pieces, having complete creative control will give you a better professional sample than having to water down your creative abilities because the client wants orange type on a blue background. This, however, is not a sound reason to give away your work, but if push comes to shove, it’s a last ditch offer to do free work.

The problem is that barter is a swap of services or goods that are worth money and must be declared on one’s taxes as income. If you are trading services for several thousand dollars of work, then that’s what you legally must declare on your taxes. Still, if you receive these at wholesale prices, even paying taxes on those goods will leave you ahead of the taxes owed.

2) Investment

Investment credit and a percentage of the company:

If you argue about having to provide thousands of dollars to use your design work to help build up a startup, you might demand a percentage of the company itself, just like those who have invested financial funds. While this ploy never seems to work, even with the best intentions on the part of the client, it might happen with a savvy client who needs ongoing work and respects design enough to see that he/she needs an experienced, competent professional. I suppose this is why it never happens!

If it does happen, you’ll need to hire a lawyer (they don’t work for free, oddly enough) to make sure:

  1. You are legally a partner.

  2. You have access to company records to make sure you are being paid your true percentage.

  3. You can’t be bought out of your percentage for pennies on the dollar.

  4. You have limited liability so you won’t be the only partner being sued, or going to prison if the startup fails.

As with any investment, there is a chance to fail, however, imagine being part of a growing company as a partner, even with a small percentage. You might be the “Corporate Creative Director” and assured of a career move that will continue to grow and pay you an income.

3) Extended payment

Extended or deferred payment can assure you of a legally binding way of recovering fair payments down the road. This can include:

  1. Invoicing for the full fee, but giving an extended payment time of several months.

  2. Invoicing for the full fee with tiered payments spread out over a longer period of time.

  3. Invoicing for the full fee, with the intention of claiming the unpaid fee as a tax loss for a tax break (check with an accountant for how much you can legally claim on your taxes – accountants, like lawyers, also never seem to work for free, or extend payments).

An extended payment needs a strong, iron-clad contract to assure that if payments are missed, or stop completely. Make sure the contract calls for interest payments and that any legal costs are paid by the client if the extended payment agreement falls apart.


Naturally, being paid in full and in a timely manner is the ideal situation, but in the freelance business, sometimes you have to think quickly on your feet when provided an opportunity that may seem to be a scam to start off, but end up truly being an opportunity… just like the client promised you, but not with “rich friends”, “exposure”, or possible “lots of money later”… at least not without the aforementioned contract!


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Gmail’s New Login Processes

Google quietly rolled out a new login screen for Gmail this week, and not everyone is happy with the update.

Where before, Gmail users would enter their username and password on the same page, the new login flow separates this process. Now, you’ll first enter your username, then be directed to a second page where you enter your password. Some complain that this change slows them down, while others point out that the update has broken their ability to log in using various password managers.

According to Google, the change was implemented to prepare for “future authentication systems that complement passwords.” The company is vague on the details as to what those may be, but may be referencing other methods to secure accounts like two-step/two-factor authentication, hardware dongles, or perhaps even some web-based variation of Android’s “Smart Lock” system.

That latter item allows Android users to keep their devices unlocked when they have a trusted Bluetooth device connected, are in a trusted location, have the device on their person (“on body detection”) or the device recognizes their face. While Google obviously wouldn’t say what it has planned for Gmail on the web in the future, like everyone else in the industry, it knows that securing accounts by way of a username/password combination is far from ideal.

Google already separated its login flow on Android last year in order to support such features, so it’s interesting that the company is now doing the same on the web.

In addition to whatever future login methods Google aims to support, the company notes that the new system will be a “better experience” for SAML SSO users, meaning corporate users or students, who sign in with a different identity provider than Google, and will “reduce confusion” among people who have multiple Google accounts.

Those two points are debatable, however. So far, the responses to Google’s announcement have not been too positive. Users are complaining that the change wastes time, as it now displays two pages where there used to be one. Others have been bothered by the fact that entering their user ID then displays their full name and sometimes even their photo before they confirm their identity by way of their password, which they feel is a privacy violation.

And of course, most of the popular password managers used today now don’t work with the new Gmail login screen, though this is likely a temporary situation. (LastPass, for example, says its fix will be released today).

Clearly this change is an incremental step between the old way of doing things, and some future where Google hopes to augment or otherwise improve logins either by adding another layer on top of the password entry, or by doing away with the password altogether. But rolling it out before this “better” system is fully introduced has confused a number of users, it seems.

Gmail’s New Login Processes

Tuesday, 12 May 2015


Many of us dream of being our own boss, being able to set our own hours and choose what kind of work we take on. But achieving this aim takes years, and even the first step can feel intimidating. Giving up that regular paycheck and setting up on your own is a big step. That is why it is important we prepare beforehand.

Before you consider leaving your existing job take the time to build your business so that on day one you have the basics in place: things like a reputation that will bring in work.

1) Build a reputation

In our industry, reputation is everything. If you have a good reputation then people will think of you when they come to hire. It will also increase the chances of you winning work. Whether you are planning to go independent soon or in several years, it is never too early to start building your reputation.

Despite what many say, reputation is not just about producing good work. Relying on word of mouth recommendation alone will leave you wondering where the next piece of work will come from. To build a reputation, you need to put yourself out there. You need to be entering awards, blogging your experiences and networking at conferences.

Most importantly, you need to find yourself a niche. You need to be able to express what you do and who you do it for.

Before you launch your business, people need to already be aware of you. They need to know you as ‘that guy who does amazing iOS interfaces’ or ‘the woman who has done all those great charity websites’. Focusing on a particular area increases the chance that somebody hears of you, if looking at that specific area. If you try and be a jack of all trades you will spread yourself too thin to have much impact.

Not that the quality of your work is unimportant. That is what helps you build a loyal client base.

2) Build a client base

One of the hardest parts of setting up your own business is finding those first few clients. This is not something you want to do when you are desperate for money. This will lead you to accept work from bad clients or reduce prices to ensure you win. Instead, the best time to win your first few clients is before you set up the business when you have a regular salary still coming in.

Some people reduce the number of hours they work at their day job so that they can build up a separate client base. You may not have the luxury of being able to do that; so instead you will need to work weekends and evenings for a short while to get those initial few clients under your belt.

These clients are important because they may well lead to repeat business and recommendations. At the least, they will look good in your portfolio and give you something to talk about on your blog (you do have one of those don’t you?)

But taking on a few clients while still paid by the day job has one more benefit: it allows you to earn some extra money.

3) Build your reserves

It is hard building a client base in the evenings and weekends, while still holding down a full-time job. You may think you are due a reward. You may want to spend some of that hard earned cash to treat yourself. Resist the urge!

No matter how well you prepare to launch your new business, some months will be better than others. The chances are you will not always break even; and that means you will need some cash reserves behind you. Not only will these cash reserves help you pay the bills, they will also stop you getting too desperate and stressed. If you’re worrying about money, it will undermine your productivity. It will also damage the chance of you winning quality work because you will be desperate to close a deal.

You will also need those reserves to help pay some initial setup costs for your business. They will also help cover the inevitable unexpected costs that will crop up in the first few months of work. No matter how well you plan, you will always miss some expense. There will always be some surprise. That is why you need reserves and time to build up experience of running your business before going full time.

4) Build your experience

Many people are ill-prepared for striking out on their own, even when they think they understand what is involved. Too often we believe ourselves capable of running a business because we think we will be doing the same work we’ve been doing for years.

But there is so much more to running a business than building websites. Or offering any kind of digital service. There is:

  • the financial side to the business, from chasing invoices to paying taxes;

  • the paperwork involved in founding the company;

  • purchasing the software and equipment to operate daily;

  • the client and project management issues.

The list could go on…

None of these areas are particularly difficult to master, but they will take time. The problem is that you need to hit the ground running with your new business. To be profitable from day one you will need to be earning revenue within the first month. This means you cannot waste time learning new skills or dealing with the logistics of setting up the business.

That is why it is important to have this already in place by the time you go full-time. As you build your client base in the weekends and evenings make sure you treat this part-time business as if it is the real thing. Set yourself up properly so that when you do finally go full-time everything is already in place.

Give yourself a break

Setting up by yourself is a pressurised experience. So give yourself a break and make the transition as easy as possible by preparing beforehand.


Thursday, 7 May 2015


While web design has become a hot commodity in today’s competitive market, many clients still don’t have a clear understanding of what exactly they are trying to accomplish with their website. The most frequently listed goal is “establishing an online presence”, but the sheer vagueness of the statement makes it not much more than wishful thinking.

This is why user experience, or UX design, is very much in demand: it’s a fresh take on the design process; one that emphasizes ease of use and access for the user, instead of useless features or design elements. One of the main purposes of UX design is finding the right balance between adhering to the users’ needs and accomplishing business goals of the website.

Of course, since UX design is a relatively fresh concept, there are still a lot of misconceptions on the subject, ranging from the simple misunderstanding of the fundamental principles of the UX, to reaching false conclusions on the approaches that work.

So here are seven of the most common UX design myths that are still doing the rounds well into 2015. Let’s put them to bed once and for all…

1) UX is optional

All businesses have a user experience. It’s just that not all businesses design their user experience. When your company dispatches an invoice, the tone of that invoice can be on-brand, or it can be a template; both solutions will get you paid, but one of them also stands a better chance of retaining your customer’s business. When your company answers the phone, you can match the approach of your website, or you can provide a disjointed approach; both result in a conversation, but one stands a better chance of winning new business.

Think of how awesome it is to watch a service like Netflix on your phone whilst you commute, then to automatically transfer to your TV when you get home. That’s a consistent user experience. If Netflix didn’t tie those two devices together, you’d be getting the same product, but the user experience wouldn’t be so sweet.

2) Users make rational choices

The misconception that has caused the most businesses to fail ever, would probably be that users make rational decisions. Thousands, if not millions of great ideas have failed because people didn’t account for the fact that just because your product is the rational choice when you take into account all the objective facts, it won’t necessarily be the choice for people in your market.

Sometimes subjective, irrational aspects influence the buying decision the most; and figuring out those triggers for your user experience can make all the difference.

3) You understand your users

Perhaps the most common mistake of any business marketing itself, is believing that it understands its audience, knows what they like, and what they expect from the company. This should be made clear to all businesses: you always love your product too much, and think that others must love it, too. The only way to achieve results is to test everything and collect clear, comparable and objective data.

Understanding customers can only come from in-depth research. If a company makes assumptions about the experience users need, then the company is designing for itself. Sure, you’ll hit the mark by chance sometimes, but if you want to be confident designing a user experience assume you know nothing, and research research research.

4) UX is a type of web design

Many still look at UX design as some magical formula that’s supposed to “fix” a design’s problems, but in fact, UX design encompasses the entire design process and beyond. If a brand is a company’s values, then UX is how the company implements those values.

UX plays a huge role in web design, but its importance extends beyond the Web into every aspect of a business and especially into areas where that business connects with its customers.

5) UX is just about usability

While usability is an essential part of any UX and web design, the fact is that natural principles of business and targeting can’t be ignored as well. In order for a design to be a success both financially and as a branding tool, learnability and behavioral-emotional responses by the target audience have to be studied and then implemented. It represents an essential part of the equation in the success of a project.

6) UX is a one time thing

Perhaps one of the more common UX design myths is that it is a project that can be finished and put to bed. The fact is that because of the insurmountable opportunities for improvement, and the ever-changing landscape of the online markets, only those that continually monitor and work to improve their user experience can achieve measurable and sustainable success.

When companies implement a UX design, it’s not about choosing to rebrand, or adding a new channel to contact customers. UX design results in a UX strategy, and that strategy needs to be referred back to anytime a decision is taken in the company.

7) UX design is about new technology

In this age of technology, many businesses have been dazzled by the flashy possibilities of new, emerging technology, but just because a new technology is available, doesn’t mean that it’s the best option, especially when it comes to UX design. Technology is just a tool to achieve results, which means improving the user experience; and if it doesn’t serve that purpose, it’s simply a waste of time and resources.

Remember that UX design is about the customer, and customers often don’t have the time or inclination to retrain in order to understand something new. Implementing new technology is fine, provided that it meshes seamlessly with your existing business so that established customers aren’t alienated.


Even though UX design is increasingly recognized as an essential tool for business, too many clients, and too many designers, view it as part of a website design project. That couldn’t be further from the truth. UX design is an all-encompassing approach that covers everything from web design through to customer service. Running an ecommerce store, UX design covers not only the design of your site, but your returns policy too. Running a blog, UX design gives your unsubscribe process as much attention as your sign-up.

The most important thing to remember is that all businesses have a user experience, it’s just that the smart ones choose to design theirs, the others leave it to chance.


Friday, 24 April 2015


Getting your website mobile-ready is attracting a lot of attention of late. Just yesterday Google rolled out a hefty algorithm change that will put an increased emphasis on mobile-usability as a key ranking factor.

Most businesses are starting to realize that more customers are visiting them on the web via their mobile devices yet few are acting on that potent piece of information. In a recent study of the top 10000 websites, fewer than 19% were utilizing responsive design, and for the top 100 websites that number is a puny 12%. Some of the largest companies in the world are serving up a very poor user experience to about half the users hitting their site.

Some of the largest companies in the world are serving up a very poor user experience

People don’t have the patience to scroll over, expand the screen and try to determine what the meat of the page is on those tiny smartphone screens. They are just going to click the back button and try out your competitor. For the companies who get it, this is a huge opportunity to add value to their customer experience and win new business in the process. For those who don’t, I hear there are some cool new animated gifs they might want to try out.

Now we know Google hates non-responsive websites on par with cruddy link spam. We’ve also established that your visitors have you on an extremely short leash, but are we asking the right questions? After all if a website converts, shouldn’t that be what truly matters? Its time to ask that critical question — do responsive websites actually translate into higher sales? Let’s dig into the raw data and determine if responsive design really is the hat trick of web development.

Are you providing poor customer service? You’ve got well-trained phone reps. You consistently grade out as one of the top customer service providers in your industry. Yet if you don’t have a mobile-ready website, your customers think you don’t care. 48% of users said just that when faced with a traditional website hopelessly trying to adapt itself to a mobile environment. Who can blame them?

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Can you navigate those tiny drop down menus? What about picking a different shirt pattern from those minute color swatches? Can you even get back to the website once you land on the terms and conditions page? Trying to force a traditional website into a mobile environment puts hurdle after hurdle in front of your potential customer that ultimately leading to abandonment of the sale.

Monetates numbers seem to support this. One of their metrics looks at conversion rates by device quarter-over-quarter. In the most recent quarter, traditional desktop environments converted 3.11% of visitors while tablets were not that far behind at 2.59%. Smartphone heavily lagged the pack at a paltry 1.01%. When you consider a responsive adoption rate of 19%, is there really a question why this great divide exists?

62% of companies saw increased sales following a conversion to a mobile-ready website

Econsultancy reported that 62% of companies saw increased sales following a conversion to a mobile-ready website. While that number is nice, it is also painfully vague. It begs the question who are these companies that are seeing results and at what magnitude?

WebUndies specializes in sleepwear for the whole family. This e-commerce retailer took the mobile plunge in 2012 and saw sales rally 169.2% over the year prior. Think Tank Photo provides any accessory a photographer could ask for. When they made the switch to responsive, it translated into a 188% increase in revenue. Not only that, but mobile page views jumped 200% with double the transactions originating from smartphones and tablets.

O’Neill Clothing saw…Transactions…up 112.50% on iPhones and 333.33% on Android.

It turns out even surfers are browsing the world wide web while looking for that perfect wave. O’Neill Clothing saw perhaps the most impressive increases after their conversion to mobile-ready. Transactions went up 112.50% on iPhones and 333.33% on Android. Conversions rang in at 65.71% on the iPhone and 407.32% on Android. Total revenue cleared 101.25% on iPhone and 591.42% on Android. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got to wonder what the heck was so different about that Android-optimized platform that resulted in these spectacular gains over iOS…

Still not convinced? Chris Leake captured some random Tweets on Twitter of companies showing off their responsive gains: State Farm saw a conversion rate of 56% post move; Career Builder tweaked their email design and had click through rates run up 20%. While they aren’t the eye popping numbers we saw before, it is still impressive. It also may hint at the fact that responsive design can’t overcome poor design which can blunt your overall results.

Responsive design doesn’t just boost sales. The Aberdeen Group looked at a bucket of customer engagement metrics including brand awareness, average order value and company revenue. The year-over-year results showed significant improvement across the board. Conversion rates were 8% higher with responsive design (10.9% to 2.7%). Brand awareness increased a whopping 30% (34.7% vs 4.8%). There wasn’t a single category that didn’t see significant gains after the responsive design switch.

With desktop PCs on the decline and mobile devices quickly taking over our lives, people will rely more and more on the convenience of shopping on their mobile devices. Companies that ignore this tidal wave of human behavior will ultimately pay the price in lost revenue and lost market share.

I must admit that I’m oddly curious to witness the aftermath of Google’s mobile algorithm this week. Will massive traffic drops be the lightning strike that forces a change, or will companies continue to go extinct online by not prioritizing their website presentation?


Thursday, 23 April 2015

12 social media truths no one tells you

There’s no shortage of social media tips, how-tos, and advice for small businesses and entrepreneurs getting started and building a strategy. But if you’re like most business owners, you don’t have a lot of time. So here are 12 social media truths I hope can save you some time, avoid some common pitfalls, and focus your efforts on success.

1. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have.

People often fall into the trap of chasing follower numbers (or worse, paying for them). I’d rather have a network of 500 people in my industry who I can learn from and influence than 10,000 randomly-acquired bots and spammers and self-promoting chuckleheads. Build your networks by engaging like a real human being and helping people and you won’t have to worry about this.

2. You don’t have to be on every network.

I love Pinterest. These days I’m pinning ideas to spruce up our back patio. (It’s a thrill a minute ’round our place.) As a former social media snake oil salesman, I can make a convincing argument why any business can get value out of Pinterest or Instagram or Periscope or Glabberplat (I made one of those up). But if you have limited time, focus on providing value on the networks where your customers and prospects are most active. Better to not be somewhere than to have a presence there and ignore it.

3. You know your audience better than anyone. And if you don’t, ask.

You could pay a consultant to do an audience survey and explain the demographics of each social network and make recommendations about what networks you should use and what your customers want to see from you. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of smart consultants out there who can do that well. Or you could just spend the next couple of weeks asking your customers yourself.

4.Yes, your customers are on Facebook.

There’s, like, a billion people on Facebook. No, I mean literally. The number grows so rapidly that I check it every time I mention it. Your customers may not use Facebook daily to conduct business, but they’re definitely there, sharing pictures of their kids and finding out which Game of Thrones character they are and researching products and checking out local businesses. If you’re there too, and are interesting and helpful and human, they’ll appreciate that and remember you.

5. Social media isn’t free.

Have we thoroughly debunked this by now? Even if you only use free channels to engage and don’t pay to promote your posts, social media requires a time commitment, and like everything in life except making hamburger patties, the more time you put into it, the better it will be. Is your time free? Nope.

6. You don’t have to be a millennial.

Yes, “digital natives” have a lower learning curve when it comes to picking up apps and new social networks, but none of this is hard, no matter your age. Can you balance a checkbook? Can you do a Sudoku puzzle? I can’t, and I do social media for a living. Apps and networks won’t get traction if they’re hard to use, so the makers have an incentive to create a good user experience.

7. No, your cousin’s kid can’t do it for you.

Maybe Little Jimmy can build a wicked house in Minecraft, but does he know your business? Your customers? Does he have anything of value to add to a conversation about your industry? He can probably use a telephone, too (as long as it isn’t a pay phone, because how does that thing work and who even has change, gah!) but would you ask him to lead a call with your biggest client?

8. Yes, you do have time.

You’re busy. I’m busy. Everybody’s busy. Do you ever watch television? Then watch a little less and spend that time building your business. Need another example? I’m writing this post on my smartphone on the…train. (What did you think I was going to say?)

9. You can produce content. Yes. You can.

Have you ever sent an email to a business associate giving your take on the impact of some piece of industry news? Do you talk to your sales team about the potential ramifications of a piece of legislation, or a big move by a competitor or industry leader? That’s content. Just type it up next time. Your customers will find it valuable too. Don’t you want to be a thought leader? It’s so much better than being a guru. The hours are better and you don’t have to sit on the ground.

10. A blog post is whatever you say it is.

Some people think a blog post is a 2,000-word white paper. Some of the most useful posts I read are lists of links to important news in my industry. They might take 10 minutes to create, start to finish, but they can be very valuable. One paragraph that gets a customer thinking (and thinking about you) is a successful blog post.

11. Your customers really do care where you went on vacation.

Have you ever had a prickly email or telephone exchange with a new prospect or client, and then you met in person and found out your kids both play volleyball and are going to the same tournament in two weeks and then you were pals? That’s Facebook.

12. You can do it.

Building a social media strategy doesn’t have to be a big, hairy, difficult thing; in fact, it can and should be fun. Imagine having better, more human relationships with your prospects and customers, all the time. Social media can be the part of your marketing strategy you’ll actually enjoy. And if you’re having fun, your customers and prospects will have fun, too, and they’ll want to work with you. And that’s how you’ll know it’s working.

12 social media truths no one tells you

Sunday, 19 April 2015


It’s been a while since Style Tiles were brought into this world by the genius of one Samantha Warren. For those of you who might have looked at them once, and then forgotten what they are, here’s a quick explanation:

Style Tiles are a sort of template that allows you to quickly test and preview various colors, fonts, textures, and other aesthetic style-related options for your designs before you create a high-fidelity mockup, but after the wire-frames are made. They’re meant to be presented to clients, stakeholders, or any other interested parties fairly early in the design process. That way, you can get past concerns about the font choice, and questions like “Can we have a ‘flashier’ red?”

Simply put, you should be using them, even if only for yourself. It might seem like a lot of trouble to add yet another step to the design process; but I can tell you from personal experience that it’s worth it. I design in the browser: staring at a blank Photoshop canvas can be daunting; staring at a blank browser window seems to hit that much harder.

The sense of direction provided by creating a Style Tile makes designing the rest of the site so much easier. It’s nothing so complex or constricting as a style guide; thus, it gives both a place to start, and the freedom to adjust things as you go along.

This does bring up a small problem with the original Style Tiles, however. They’re PSDs. Browser-based designers like myself will want browser-based Style Tiles. We want to see how this stuff is going to look in the Web, after all, and on as many devices as possible.

Pre-made options

Several people have already gone way ahead of us on that front. There are pre-made templates for people who want to get started with making Style Tiles in their browser. Check them out:

The Style Prototype

The lovely people at Sparkbox created a responsive Style Tile template based on HTML and Sass. It’s one of the simpler options, as seen in the demo, but the code is well-commented. They even went and included optional scripts to make it compatible with IE 7 and below, in case your client hasn’t updated their browser in… forever.


Created by Namanyay Goel, Webstiles have a lot in common with the other solutions on this list. What makes them different is that they were built with the lesser-known (some would say underrated) Stylus CSS pre-processor.

Compass Style Tiles

If you work with the Compass framework, along with things like Ruby and Sass, try this one on for size. It can be installed like any other Ruby gem, so it should drop quite neatly into your work-flow. Interestingly, body copy can be “generated” via a Sass variable and the content: attribute. The whole thing’s designed so you never have to touch the HTML.

Responsive Boilerplate for Style Tiles

The Responsive Boilerplate for Style Tiles brings some rather harsh drop-shadows with it, but it’s responsive, and uses nothing more complicated than classic HTML and CSS. No frameworks, no pre-processors, nothing. It’s a good starting point if you just want to open it in a text editor and go.

Make your own

With this many pre-made options out there, why would you want to build your own HTML/CSS Style Tiles from scratch? Seems like a waste of time? Well, yes and no.

If you’re making a simple site, and you don’t have all the content planned out yet, or the client hasn’t sent it, one of the pre-made options will do fine. However, if you’re building a complex web app, or a very large site with a lot of distinct content types or UI elements, you might want to make a Style Tile template from scratch.

The existing ones just don’t account for the sheer range of possible content and element types out there. Thus, you might want a Style Tile that includes an embedded video, audio player, or map. You might want one that showcases a tabbed interface, or an accordion menu.

If you’re building a site that depends on certain uncommon user interface elements, you might want to make a Style Tile template that includes those features.

It doesn’t have to be that hard. Just set up a simple two-three column layout, and start including the visual elements that will be most important to your design, based on the content/functionality. These will include:

  • color, pattern, and/or texture swatches;

  • typographical elements (headings, paragraphs, list elements, perhaps a blockquote);

  • image styles (if you plan to include image galleries, for example);

  • most commonly used form elements;

  • any extra UI elements you deem important to the design, based on content and site structure.

There’s generally no need to make it production-ready code for all browsers. Keep it simple, keep it to HTML5. Unless you’re using a non-standard UI element that has to be coded from scratch in HTML and CSS, don’t bother with JavaScript.

The best part? You get to refine and re-use all of the relevant CSS as you start coding your browser-based mockup!


Style Tiles are more than worth looking into if you’re not already using them.

Show them to clients, keep them to yourself, use the pre-made options, or roll your own… it doesn’t matter. Just having that sense of stylistic direction will make filling in that blank browser window so much easier.


Wednesday, 8 April 2015


Affordance is a term originally coined by a psychologist, J.J. Gibson, in the 1970s. He defined it as the relationship between an environment and an actor. Today, affordance extends beyond behavioral or cognitive psychology and into the design of digital interfaces. Understanding affordance will allow you to better understand product and interfaces design, in turn, making you a much better designer.

What is affordance?

A situation where an object’s sensory characteristics intuitively imply its functionality and use.

Crowdcube’s layman’s term definition is spot on. All of the objects around us have affordances, some more obvious than others. Affordance is the possibility of an action with an object; it is not a property of the object itself. In other words, a button can be pushed; the possibility of pushing a button is its affordance.

The original definition coined by J. J. Gibson described all possible physical actions you could take with an object. Over time the definition shifted. Now, the definition is broader and includes discoverability of actions. This change has been brought about the technological evolution of digital interfaces. Discoverability is an interesting concept in the digital realm, as when you’re using a computer, you get to discover actions through the hints given to you within the interfaces themselves.

Physical objects

Take a step back to the physical world, where you see that objects have physical properties like size, shape or weight that provide hints as to what you could do with them. Here are a few classic examples. Let’s start with a teacup; it’s small and has a handle, which affords holding. Its dipped bowl-like shape, indicating that it can hold something too. When it’s holding tea, the affordance is that you can hold the teacup and drink out of it. Another example is a toothbrush: it has a long-but-thin handle, which affords gripping, and so on.

Physical objects can be sorted three affordance types:

Perceptible affordance is the basic definition of affordance, where an object’s characteristics imply an action.

Hidden affordance is when an object has affordances that are not so obvious; for instance, simply looking at a beer bottle you wouldn’t be able to tell you that you can use it to open another beer bottle.

False affordance is when there is a perceived affordance; but no results happen from the possible action. For example, pressing a button that doesn’t do anything, like using your TV remote to turn the TV on, but it doesn’t work for some reason. The affordance is still there — you are free to press that button as much as you want — but nothing happens, there is no function.

Affordance in digital spaces

Digital interfaces are special. They allow us to do things that are limited to a two-dimensional world that is a computer screen. There are so many things we could do within any app, website or program; but they all have one big, crippling limitation: they cannot provide you with physical clues as to what you can do. Instead, they all rely on visual clues or affordances. This can be very tricky if you don’t understand the important role affordance plays in creating successful interfaces.

If you understand how affordances work, you will be able to use them to your advantage. When you can make affordance a tool you will be able to create designs that are intuitive and easy to use. Intuitive designs have this certain appeal to them — most likely because we find a lot of websites or apps tedious and annoying — so it’s really refreshing to use them. Additionally, affordance effects conversions, which matter a lot in creating a successful design.

Types of affordance that affect UX

If you want to fully understand how affordances work in interface design, we need to get specific. Let’s do that now by covering six different affordance types seen within digital interfaces including: explicit, pattern, hidden, false, metaphorical, and negative affordance.

1) Explicit affordance

Similar to perceptible affordance, explicit affordance is the hints given off by language or physical appearance of the object. A raised button that says ‘Click me’ is a great example of both language and physical cues. The button’s raised appearance indicates the possibility of clicking and so does the ‘Click me’ text. It’s obvious.

Language plays such an important part of guiding users through digital interfaces. An input field that asks you for your ‘Full name’ affords entering your name into it. Language provides clear guidelines on not only what you should be doing, but also what you could be doing. Entering letters, like your name, is different than entering numbers, like your phone number and you can tell which one you’re able to do by the context of the text. However, it’s also important to consider how obvious your interface is to use without explicit, spelled out directions. Your design needs to be usable and intuitive without holding your user’s hand at every step.

2) Pattern affordance

A pattern affordance is affordance set out by conventions. A great example would be a logo that’s at the top left corner of a webpage being clickable. It’s a pattern we see everywhere; so we expect it everywhere. Text that is different color, sometimes maybe underlined or italic, among unchanged body text like a paragraph, is assumed to be a link. Email is often represented with an envelope, while settings are represented with a gear.

In these examples, email doesn’t require an actual envelope — it never has — and neither do settings require dealing with gears. It’s a metaphorical pattern we have been exposed to for a long, long time; so it became a convention.

Patterns are great for communicating mental shortcuts, but only if your users are aware of these patterns. There are new patterns introduced all the time, for example, the hamburger menu is a relatively new concept for menus and navigation. When designing with new patterns in mind, you have to make sure your users are familiar with them. But, when you know your audience has been previously exposed to these patterns, you have the ability to create some amazing designs without being explicit.

3) Hidden affordance

Hidden affordance in digital designs is similar to that of physical objects. In the digital world, however, the actual affordance isn’t available until an action has been taken to reveal it. For instance, hovering over a button to see whether to not it’s active, and therefore clickable. Drop down menus are another example, where you don’t see the menu unless you hover or click on the parent list item.

Hidden affordances are oftentimes used to simplify the visual complexity of a design. In the drop down menu example, we use the drop down to hide all of the navigation options, as there are too many to show all at once. If a user wants to navigate somewhere, they have to find it within the drop down. Now, a big drawback to hidden affordances is that they require the user to find the affordance while sometimes giving them no hints of their existence. You don’t know what to expect. It’s a guessing game, so to speak, based on finding these affordances as you go.

4) False affordance

False affordance in the digital space affords something else that is unexpected — like turning on your lights instead of the TV with the TV remote – or no action at all. This type of affordance is all over the Web, mostly by accident, like a button that looks active but does nothing, a logo that isn’t linked to anything, the words ‘click here’ within text that aren’t at all a link, or a red button that does something good with a green button that does something bad.

False affordance is most plentiful in designs where details have been missed, like a broken link situation. Colors have specific associations with them. In the western world, green is good while red is bad. When you switch the two, you will most certainly confuse some of your users, especially when the buttons are side by side. This doesn’t mean you can’t do it; but you should be cautious when doing so. You don’t want any false affordances within your design if you can help it. You shouldn’t surprise your users like that.

5) Metaphorical affordance

Skeuomorphism relied heavily on metaphorical affordances, like imitations of real objects, to communicate. Icons are wonderful examples of this: map, shopping cart or basket, home, printer, video, microphone, phone, etc. Take the concept of email for example. Its roots are in the metaphor of a physical letter; its icon is usually an envelope. It’s a great example of metaphorical affordance all around. If you are designing something and are not sure how to convey it, it’s always good to go back to the physical world, at least for inspiration and a starting point.

Now, you don’t need you go over the top like Apple’s old designs, where for their game app they made the background a green pool table cloth. But, compare that to their current Games app icon which is just a few bubbles. What do they have to do with games? I don’t know, the metaphor is no longer there. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up to you to decide. Whether the metaphor needs to be there in your design, or not, is up to you.

6) Negative affordance

Negative affordance can be thought of as specifically indicating no affordance; it’s when you have an inactive button or a button that looks inactive. The most common instance of this is when a button or a link is greyed out. Now, here is the tricky part: it’s not that you are specifically trying to tell a user you can’t use this button — although it could be — but that the button appears that you cannot use it, even if in fact you can.

There are certain instances where you’d want to clearly indicate that you couldn’t do something. For example, if a user if filling out a form and they haven’t filled everything out yet, your button state could appear inactive because you don’t want them to proceed yet. But, if the button looks inactive, but is active, then it’s simply poor design. Be careful with this one.