Saturday, 28 February 2015


Global SEO updates like Panda and Penguin changed fundamental ranking processes across the board, but one of Google’s latest changes, deemed the “Pigeon”  update, has made an impact on a much more local level. The Pigeon update, designed to give users a better search experience when looking for local businesses, has put a stop to some old local SEO tactics while paving the way for a handful of new ones.

Google now favors the information found on local directory sites, such as Yelp, with more weight, and uses more offsite information to generate immediate local search results. If you’re running a local business and you want to stay ahead of your competitors, start implementing these three new local SEO  strategies:

1. Ensure Data Accuracy and Consistency Across the Web.

Now, more than ever, Google is cracking down on local businesses whose information is inconsistent or difficult to verify, and rewarding local businesses with clear, concise, and easily-available information. Your first and most important tactic should be to peruse the Web for mentions of your business and claim new profiles on local directories. Mentions of your NAP (business Name, Address, and Phone Number) are becoming major local ranking signals, so the more instances of that information there are across the web, and the more consistent that information is, the better.

Your first step is to claim your local profile pages on every local directory you can find (or at least the ones that are relevant for your business). Google+ and Yelp are must-haves for almost any business, while other sites like TripAdvisor and UrbanSpoon are dependent on your specific niche. Most of these sites allow you to claim your local profile for free and take charge of updating it with accurate information and images. Yext provides a tool to easily check many of the major directories, and also shows you how your NAP information appears on each one, highlighting any inconsistencies.

Quantity is significant; the more instances of your data appearing on the Web, the better. But the more important factor here is consistency. Google notices when your NAP information is in the same format, and it will reward you if that format is exactly repeated across each platform. However, any discrepancy—even changing the word “road” to the abbreviation “rd”—could register as an inconsistency, and weaken the impact of your efforts.

Once you’ve completed an initial round of claiming and cleanup, you can start your regular ongoing efforts. Once a month or so, do a routine check of your local profiles and see what other opportunities there are for you to update your information or claim new profiles on up-and-coming platforms. It’s also a good idea to include your NAP (consistent, as always) on other forms of external posts, such as press releases and guest blogs.

2. Drive Your Customers to Google+ and Yelp (and Similar Local Directories).

The Pigeon update did more than just boost rankings for sites with consistent information across the web. Possibly in response to an accusation that Yelp pages and reviews were not treated favorably in Google’s algorithm, Google updated their ranking structure to improve Yelp page ranking positions. For some small businesses, Yelp review pages actually started ranking higher than the company’s website.

This new ranking system has been seen as interference by some business owners, diverting traffic away from their companies’ webpages. However, it also represents a key opportunity. If more people are visiting Yelp to help make purchasing decisions, and Google wants more people to go to Yelp, all you have to do is spend more time getting people to go to your specific Yelp page.

There’s one key strategy that can simultaneously improve your company page’s ranking, improve your Yelp page’s rank, and give more honest information to your potential customers that could influence them to pursue your business: Encouraging more Yelp reviews. There are several ways to do this, but one of the easiest is to get some promotional material that asks customers to post a review directly. You can include these as stickers on the walls of your establishment, or as leave-behinds when you first meet a new customer. You can also post about it on social media, encouraging your current or past customers to post about their experiences. Positive reviews are, of course, better than negative reviews,but  don’t be afraid of seeing some negative reviews. It’s just a part of doing business.

Of course, this strategy works for more than just Yelp. More positive reviews on Google+ is also an important local ranking factor, and positive reviews on other local directory or local information sites will only boost your rankings further. Encourage your customers to leave positive reviews wherever they can—just don’t pay for positive or fake reviews, or else you’ll suffer a penalty instead of gaining a boost. Also, never discourage your customers from leaving negative reviews.

3. Include More High-Quality Images and Videos.

The Internet is evolving into a format that favors more visual experiences than written text. As a result, Google is favoring local businesses with more high quality images and videos available for customers to view. For example, let’s take a look at the “local carousel”—the strip of local business entries that pops up immediately under the search bar. These are populated with brief descriptions, reviews, and images of local businesses relevant to the search query, and are formatted in a way that draws the eye of the person searching for them. While the exact algorithmic factors that generate these results are as secretive as the rest of the Google algorithm, it’s possible to optimize your business to show up in the banner. The first step is to include as many high-quality images of your business as you can on your Google+ profile (and other profiles around the web). Include images of the interior and exterior of your business, as well as your signature products (if applicable). It’s also a good idea to update these images regularly.

Next, upload videos to YouTube that feature your business. YouTube is owned by Google, and it therefore receives some extra weight in search rankings. People will have the ability to see your official videos immediately from the search results page, and you can include your exact location to increase your local relevance. The secondary benefit of including so many images and videos is that your online visitors will have a window into your business, and they’ll feel more comfortable choosing your business after having that virtual online experience.

While the Pigeon algorithm caused some major shake-ups in the world of local search, its biggest changes resulted in key opportunities for local business owners. By adapting to Google’s newfound preference for local directory sites, you’ll be able to increase traffic to your own site while engaging new potential customers directly on your review pages. And by ensuring accurate information and high-quality images across the web, you’ll make it even easier for new customers to find your business and make an informed purchasing decision.

The fundamental principles of quality SEO have remained the same: give your users a great, informative online experience. The only difference is what platforms work best to give them that experience, and what strategies you need to execute to accomplish it.


4 reasons web designers should be playing more video games

No really, you should. If anyone asks why you’re up at 3am playing your favorite shooter-MMO-hybrid, you can point them right to this article and say, “See? See!?” We should all be playing multi-player and co-op games because, like it or not, our business isn’t only about websites. It’s also about people.

Others have written about using gamification in design. Some have written about things we can learn from the successful (and sometimes horrible) UIs we find in games. I’d like to talk about what we can learn about ourselves, other people, and human behavior in general by playing multi-player and co-op games.

This could be especially useful for those who are rather introverted like me. Face-to-face social situations can quickly become exhausting, but the only way to get better at them is to practice. Well, why not practice from the relative safety of your own home?

Lesson 1: We’re all on the same side (well, except for those other guys)

When someone hires you to design a website, or when you get together to make one with other people for non-client work, you’re forming a team. In client work, that team must include the client.

we all have a common goal: to kill the other team

In the heat of a verbal argument over the best way to do things, it can be easy to forget that. This is especially true if the person you’re arguing with is demonstrably ignorant of the mechanics of the game, or the principles/process of good design. It’s easy to see them as an obstacle to progress.

They are not the obstacle. Their ignorance, fear, or whatever emotion is holding up communication, that is the obstacle. In a game, it’s good to remind ourselves, and each other, that we all have a common goal: to kill the other team. In your work, you may have to remind a worried client that you want their website to succeed as much as they do. You’re invested in this.

Neither of you is the enemy.

Lesson 2: Newbs are to be loved; n00bs are to be squelched

Some people are not kind to new players (“newbs”). This is self-defeating, because if you drive people away from the game you love, that game loses business. All new players must be treated with love, care, and respect. They’re spending time and possibly money on this game that you love; and that’s something we can all get behind.

“N00bs” are those players who absolutely refuse to learn, despite sometimes having played for years. They don’t take any advice, won’t stop giving bad advice, and sometimes engage in disruptive and jerk-ish behavior. There is often nothing that can be done for these people.

In our work, it’s easy to forget that not everyone’s taken a computer science course in school. Some people only learn enough about their own computer to check their e-mail, and that’s it. Others might have experience with touch devices or game consoles only. Patience isn’t just a virtue in these situations. It’s essential.

Some people, however, just can’t be helped, whether they be your client or team-mate. You need to get away from these n00bs before you start to mistrust everyone. Seriously. If you’re not careful, you’ll get burned, and it can be next to impossible for others to earn your trust in the future. Should that happen, you’ll find yourself working alone more often than not.

Working alone is great, but not always and forever.

Lesson 3: People remember how you made them feel

When I see a familiar name in my team or questing party, one of two things will happen:

  1. I will be happy because I remember liking them.

  2. I will be unhappy, because I remember vague unpleasant feelings.

More often than not, I can’t remember exactly what happened, or even whose fault it was. Most of us, sometimes unconsciously, attempt to forget the details of things that felt bad. That’s normal and natural. What we won’t forget, are the raw emotions.

If you have to squelch (permanently mute) another player, do it quietly, and without fanfare

In your gaming, and in your work, always try to at least part on friendly terms. You can’t exactly control how other people feel about you. There are so many potential factors involved that it’s not even funny. But you can address issues directly, and as calmly as possible.

If you have to express your frustration in less-than-polite terms, mute the microphone, make an “UUURRRGGGGHHHH” sound, and then continue. Don’t do it in front of them. If you have to squelch (permanently mute) another player, do it quietly, and without fanfare.

In business, you may never have to work with that person again, but they may refer you to others. They might have driven you insane, but you probably shouldn’t tell them that, unless you know they have skin thick enough to take that kind of honesty. They won’t tell others how good your work was if you made them feel like crap and they resent you for it.

Lesson 4: Be clear, be specific

When playing a fast-paced game, a lot of communicating has to be done on the fly. Sometimes this happens via voice chat, where you have your words and tone, but no facial expressions, to convey meaning. Sometimes you are limited to text.

Until you’ve played (or worked) with someone long enough, and you’ve both adopted the use of the same slang or shorthand, you have to make the extra effort to be perfectly clear. There’s no shortcut. There’s no easy way to do this. It’s all trial and error.

Each player, client, or team member is different. Their lives have been different. Their skills are different. Sometimes, common English words will come with a different meaning or connotation to them. You cannot assume that what worked with one individual will necessarily work with the next.


Play games and meet people. There’s more to learn than what I’ve covered here, and you’ll have to learn a lot of it for yourself. But the key take-home is that being part of a successful team is about practicing and honing the skills that make you an effective collaborator.

So go kill something, and don’t forget to eat and sleep!

4 reasons web designers should be playing more video games

Thursday, 26 February 2015


Letter Press typography is very popular at the moment in both web and graphic design. Here’s a little step-by-step tutorial that will make you master the letter press effect for sure.


Step One: Create A Document

First things first, create a new document with a 800 X 600 pixels in size and make sure it’s set to transparent background.


Step Two: The Background

For the background, I will be using a very regular and simple gray color #7f7f7f, you can just use the Paint Bucket tool (G) and fill your layer out.



Step Three: Adding Text

Now using the Text Tool, type something! I am using a font that you can download for free called Honey Script, with the color #414141, and the size is 200 pt.


Click on the little icon that looks like multiple tabs for more options.

Then match your settings to mine.




Step Four: Drop Shadow

On your text layer, right click and select “Blending Options”, then go to “Text Shadow”. Match your setting to mine.



The reason I want the drop shadow to be white is because my background is dark, if you want a light background, you can keep the default drop shadow settings but maybe change the size, distance and opacity (shown above).

Step Five: Inner Shadow

Now select “Inner Shadow”, and match your settings to mine.


This setting should work fine with both light and dark backgrounds.

So, we are now done with the text.


Step Six: Add A Little Something

Now let’s add some effects to our poster. On your color panel, make the foreground color #686868 and your background color #7f7f7f.


Now go to your background layer, and then go to Filter > Render > Clouds.



Step Seven: Some Color Would Look Nice

Make a new layer and place it between the background and the text layers. Now fill it with a gradient of a foreground #d71069 and the background #c61061. And make a line from the middle of the poster to the bottom left.



Set the layer to Overlay.


Step Five: Merge Everything, And You’re Done!

Merge all visible layers by right clicking and choosing Merge All Visible.


That’s all folks! Here’s how my final image looks like. (Click on the preview to see it in full size)



Wednesday, 25 February 2015


I’m pretty sure I haven’t blinked in a while. I think this because my eyes are dry and so is my mouth. My face is tense and my chest feels tight. I’m noticing that my breathing has become shallow and I’ve got a weak feeling in my gut. Suddenly, I notice the doubt rising from the pit of my stomach.

The woman has heard that I make websites. I confirmed. But what she didn’t know was that I still felt like I was getting away with something and that someday soon, everyone would figure me out. As I become more aware of the sea of white on the screen, I can’t help but think that maybe this is the moment where I come out empty handed. Nervous foot tapping accompanies the urge bubbling within to open the window, pick up the monitor and then throw said monitor out the window.

“That’s cute. You added ribbons to distract from the trash!” “You have no idea what the hell you’re doing right now, do you?” “Really? That’s what you’re going with?” This is what designer’s block (DB) feels like for me. If I snap out of it and am able get outside my head, I find the internal dialog comical. On a good day, it’s an annoyance; but on a bad day, it’s utterly debilitating.

As design professionals, learning to manage designer’s block is essential to staying fulfilled in our careers

As design professionals, learning to manage designer’s block is essential to staying fulfilled in our careers and getting the good stuff that’s lurking inside of us out. I’ve realized that this resistance comes with the creative territory and it’s not something I can totally eliminate. So what is a designer with a deadline to do?

Random tactics for plowing through DB are usually some variation of, “Step away from the work!” and “Go for a walk!”, or “Look at magazines!” These tactics of avoidance and faith never seemed to consistently work for me. What if I was fighting against a deadline? I could never rely on complete faith that a surge of creative genius would strike while I was making eggs. Has it happened? Yes, it actually has; but not consistently enough for me to feel confident that someday these tactics won’t desert me. On the flip side, I’ve also thought, “Maybe if I just tried harder, I’d be able to get through this…” which was equally ineffective. So I’ve found that was does work is to create a system that saves me from myself.

It’s my hope that following the three steps below could help you develop your own system for working through resistance:

  1. Identify when it happens;

  2. understand why it happens;

  3. develop a system — a collection of habits and frameworks — for managing it.

In the following paragraphs, I’ll be outlining how I worked through these steps to create my own system that works for me.

Identify when it happens (triggers)

After having plowed through many rounds of designer’s block, I noticed a clear pattern. Every time a project that was outside of my comfort zone came across my desk, I would feel the anxiety rising. All of the psychosomatic reactions I outlined above would subsequently emerge. Inevitably, it would lead to an extended period of “I’ve got nothin’.”

But the upside was that I found that my trigger was laughably predictable and within my realm of control. I found that the height of my anxiety always came at the beginning of a project and was most pronounced when I considered it out of my comfort zone. It was a funny pattern; after an initial conversation with a client, I would genuinely feel eager and enthusiastic. Unfortunately soon after, when it was time to shut up and start the work, I would hit a wall. This lapse in creativity could range from minutes to days.

My trigger: the beginning of projects I consider to be out of my comfort zone.

Understanding why it happens

Recognizing when DB would rear its ugly head isn’t enough to fully understand the nature of the beast. The next step is to dig deeper to understand why it happens.

One of the most common and pervasive afflictions that creative professionals experience today is fear

Why this was a trigger: as a perfectionist, I’ve realized that I tend to be overly critical of myself. So when a challenging project comes along, my initial excitement gets replaced by the fear that Id be judged or “found out” as a fraud. This was deeply rooted in my need for perpetual perfection (which is hardly realistic or practical).

As it turns out, I’m not alone. One of the most common and pervasive afflictions that creative professionals experience today is fear. David Kelley, founder and chairman of IDEO, categorizes these fears as fears of the messy unknown, fear of being judged, fear of the first step, and fear of losing control.

By tracking these events back to an original feeling, I was able to find the root cause of the block and build an arsenal of habits and frameworks to manage it.

My system for managing designer’s block

Identifying the triggers and understanding why they caused designer’s block allowed me to create a system that seems to short-circuit the lesser side of my brain. It didn’t mean that these feelings of fear totally went away. However, it did allow for me to develop a way of thinking that ignited actions, which ultimately gave me the legs to work through any fear with courage and confidence.

Here’s my system:

  1. set constraints;

  2. change my physical state;

  3. mindlessly run through a pre-established routine.

Set constraints

I’m hardly alone when it comes to being susceptible to the temptations of the internet and my physical surroundings. So when I’m priming myself to work, I’ve learned that setting constraints drastically minimizes any risk of giving into the resistance.

My constraints are:

  1. Setting up a specific account on my computer using the parental controls feature that blocks all social media and distraction-friendly apps. Apps like Freedom and RescueTime also work well for blocking the internet and are available for Mac, Windows and Android.

  2. Working specifically in the office in my apartment where there is no TV or food.

  3. Turning off my phone and putting it in another room.

  4. Time-boxing the work. I’ve been using the Pomodoro technique where I work 25 minutes and take a break for 5 minutes. I use Alinof Timer on my Mac as an alarm. I don’t use my phone since I’d be tempted to check out notifications each time the alarm went off.

Turns out, Maya Angelou uses constraints, too. She’s been known to reserve a hotel room where she consistently retreats for the sole purpose of writing.

Change your state

DB has a way of manifesting itself physically. For me, I’m like a deer in headlights and my hands get clammy. Taking on the posture of someone who was confident and in control was a super easy way to adjust my mental state.

…simply holding one’s body in expansive, “high-power” poses for as little as two minutes stimulates higher levels of testosterone (the hormone linked to power and dominance in the animal and human worlds) and lower levels of cortisol…In addition to causing the desired hormonal shift, the power poses led to increased feelings of power and a greater tolerance for risk.

– The science behind why this works outlined in the TED talk by social psychologist, Amy Cuddy

Mindlessly run through a routine

My routine is comprised of two parts that go hand-in-hand: Physical habits and mental frameworks.

Physical habits

Habit 1: write before you design.

Start with what you know and work your way through a series of questions that will expand on that knowledge. Before I design, I write. I write down the things I know that the client’s already told me, and I list down questions when I’ve hit a dead end and need more answers. Then I go and ask them. I also write lists of adjectives that describe the brand and how I want it to be perceived through the design, so it’s there and available for me to reference when I’m ready. I find it appropriate sometimes to create a mind map.

Fellow designers have written about this here, and here.

Habit 2: thumbnail lots of options without judgment. (I like to tell myself, “the crappier, the better” to get myself in a judgment-free mode of operation.)

By allowing myself the time to explore the breadth and depth of a project, I was able to generate multiple ideas without the distraction of the tools available in software

Back in college, I had an Illustration professor that always assigned thumbnailing as part of the process for each project. Without fail, every project started with at least 50 thumbnails and each thumbnail represented a different idea. It was quantity over quality at this stage. Even though it was painful for me to do it at the time, he argued that this was an effective way of clearing out the bad and/or obvious ideas to get to the best ideas that were inside all of us. This also developed the habit of not getting too married to any one idea, which taught us adaptability. What he didn’t mention, was that this was also really effective at defeating designer’s block. I didn’t remember to integrate this habit in my professional life until I was sick of living in the funk of designer’s block. I have a newfound appreciation for it now.

Additionally, insecure and less experienced Christine would jump into Photoshop thinking that by working on the deliverables right away, I would come up with a solution faster. The opposite was actually true. By allowing myself the time to explore the breadth and depth of a project, I was able to generate multiple ideas without the distraction of the tools available in software.

Habit 3: talk to other people about the problem (designers and non-designers).

Explaining the design problem and talking about possible ideas has helped me immensely with getting hidden ideas out. I’ve surprised myself by uncovering insights and additional gaps in understanding when I’ve forced myself to articulate the problem to someone else. There’s also the added bonus of alleviating any loneliness I might’ve been experiencing after locking myself in the office and churning (as outlined in the habits above).

Mental frameworks

Mental frameworks are an important part of your arsenal, too. Some days, the creative flow seems to be effortless while on others, you’ll find yourself experiencing multiple false starts. The key here is not to allow yourself to ask stupid rhetorical questions, e.g. “Why do you suck so bad?”

For me, the following frameworks I use are:

  1. “If I was an expert, what would I do? By asking this question, I was able to think of the next step instead of staring at a blank page or screen;

  2. “If there was no possibility of failure, what would I do?” This allows me take more risks in my work.

To feel fulfilled in any career, it’s important to dance around the perceived limits of your ability. It’s why we have no choice but to drag ourselves through the outer boundaries of our comfort zone. But to say so is much more difficult than doing so. This is why creating a system helps. It’s a crutch that occupies our lesser minds and generates momentum for our more enlightened selves. Executing on a prior planned system creates the conditions to do work you’re proud of.



One of the most renowned magazines in the world, The New York Times Magazine, has undergonearedesign with two key aims: to carve out a distinct identity, and to embrace the current digital climate.

When a publication with this lengthy a history — it’s been in print for 119 years, its print version is inserted into the Sunday edition of the New York Times as a supplement, and currently boasts a circulation of more than 1.5 million copies per week — goes through a redesign, much care and thought has to be invested to ensure that its readers aren’t upset.


Branding for the Web

The new look of the publication primarily centered on three, crucial areas:

  • its logo;

  • its suite of fonts;

  • its abbreviated social media logo.

All told, the changes have worked well together to give the magazine a facelift that’s more in tune with the demands of the Web, but doesn’t make longtime readers feel like they’re reading something alien.

Revised logo

Readers will be taken by the most notable of all three changes, which is the update to the magazine’s logo. Whereas the old logo had letters that were spaced together very tightly — and, as a result, was harder to read — the new logo design features more generous tracking. This greatly increases legibility on the Web.


Accordingtoaneditorial by editor Jake Silverstein that takes readers behind the scenes of the revamping, “…the new logo is more modern, more graciously spaced.” Credit for this logo update goes to typographer MatthewCarter.

New typefaces

The changes to typeface didn’t stop at the logo of the magazine. The publication has also introduced a whole new suite of original fonts. The typefaces were the creation of Henrik Kubel from A2-Type. The magazine got rid of their entire slew of old fonts to make room for this sweeping design change.


As you can see, the new collection of fonts boasts slab serifs a more modern sans serif face and pleasing serifs.

According to the same editorial by Silverstein, “Not a single letter in this relaunch issue has ever seen the light of day. They are infants. Treat them gently.” Interestingly, none of the new fonts has even been named yet. The inside joke at the magazine is that they were close to christening their new typeface “really crappy font” to prevent another outfit from ever using it, should the magazine somehow let its exclusivity get compromised.

All jokes aside, though, the reason behind the new direction in typeface is a practical one: The editor wanted to ensure that The New York Times Magazine had a more literary feel — that makes sense when you consider how the magazine is substantially different from its sister newspaper.

Unlike the paper, whose stock in trade is shorter, more journalistic articles that focus on reporting and features, the magazine’s aim has always been to publish “work with more writerly ambition than you usually see in newspapers.” By using this new collection of fonts for this publication, Silverstein is able to makereadersdistinguish between it and coverage found in The New York Times’ online editions. Surprisingly, Silverstein admits that, up to this point, many of the magazine’s readers had a hard time understanding that they were reading content separate from The New York Times’ articles.


Redesigning for the Web

That brings us to the next goal that the editor wanted to accomplish in this redesign: making the magazine more friendly to readers on the Web, one thing that the magazine struggled to successfully pull off…until now, they hope.

an increasing number of Times’ readers have switched to digital-only

Traditionally, The New York Times Magazine, for all its longevity, has only always been a so-called “in-betweener.” It was both trapped in the middle of the Times’ bulky Sunday print edition, as well as being a “long-form subsite” on the Times’ website. Because an increasing number of Times’ readers have switched to digital-only, Silverstein wanted to build up the magazine’s branding on the Internet, through its web edition. That’s where having a new family of custom typeface will prove so instrumental.

Shorter social media logo

As part of this new strategy to build up the web presence of the publication, it’s no surprise that Silverstein also focused on social media in the redesign, particularly the magazine’s social media logo.


Such a condensed version of the magazine’s logo is perfect for more casual settings like itsTwitterpage. Whereas the longer, redesigned logo with the more generous tracking would be overwhelming for a smaller profile photo, the condensed version is nicely truncated for a social media audience that’s looking for brevity.


Cleaner page layout

Now, a part of the redesign of the magazine also goes beyond just the typography. In keeping up with the design trends of minimalism in the last, few years, Silverstein also decided to introduce a much cleaner layout to the magazine’s pages.

Sporting a more stripped-down look, the publication’s pages now feature fewer columns than in the past. Currently, readers will only see seven columns, but past editions featured as many as 12. The redesign team decided that having 12 columns on a page made the magazine appear too congested and excessively symmetrical. By reducing the number of columns, each page can now “breathe,” which is vital to providing the design with a cleaner appearance.

trying to make itself more friendly to Web readers, the magazine is striving to reflect the environment around it

For a publication that’s been around for more than a century—and with no signs of slowing down—The New York Times Magazine sure hasn’t been resistant to change, to its credit. Itslastredesign was almost four years ago, and the editor’s decision for another redesign so soon after is a sign of the publication’s commitment to keeping up with the times (no pun intended).

The mission of the redesign was to make the magazine stand out and emerge from the shadow of its more well-known parent, The New York Times. By constantly evolving in its design approach, The New York Times Magazine ensures that it still stays relevant to readers, even 119 years after first being published. By updating its look to simpler and cleaner minimalism while also trying to make itself more friendly to Web readers, the magazine is striving to reflect the environment around it.


Monday, 23 February 2015


Designers love UI Kits. They’re a great way to explore ideas, and they’re a great palette cleanser after a difficult project. Another reason to love them is that they give us incredible insights into the minds of other designers, without a client complicating things. As such they’re a great way to spot trends as they develop.

Today we’ve gathered together some of the very best UI Kits from the last month, together with some slightly older kits that plug a few gaps. All of these UI kits are free to download and you’ll find resources for Photoshop, Illustrator, and Sketch, amongst others.

UI Kits are an especially good jumping off point for our own projects, so let’s jump in!


Oh no, not another UI Kit

A great flat UI kit with tons of elements, “Oh no, not another UI Kit” features simple line icons, straitforward layout and a cheeky sense of humor.



Flat UI Kit

A flat UI kit based on Twitter Bootstrap. Supplied in PSD format.



Retina UI web kit

A retina ready UI kit in which dark elements combine with Material Design colors for a powerful effect.




A comprehensive UI kit with tons of pop culture colors.



Hero UI

Don’t be fooled by the name, this pseudo-flat UI kit is suitable for any number of projects, although it certainly gives off a comic book vibe.



Yosemite UI Kit

Designed exclusively for Sketch 3 this UI kit is perfect for mocking up Mac app screens.



L Bootstrap

This kit features over two dozen different PSDs, in the Android Lollipop style.




This unique UI kit is designed for prototyping, but will also give your finished designs a lovely hand-drawn feel.



Publica UI Kit

Publica is a comprehensive set of block-style UI elements ideally suited to responsive design.



Mini UI Kit

Designed for Sketch 3, the dark tones in this UI kit add an extra feel of sophistication.



Clino UI Kit

Clino UI Kit is a simple set of UI elements in PSD format, that will suit most modern design projects.



Quadruple Ferial

This UI kit is a perfect blend of minimalism and Google Material Design. It’s ideal for mobile projects.



Clean White

This sophisticated and sexy UI kit has more than 55 separate elements and is perfect for all manner of high-end design projects.




Eventray is an amazing, comprehensive UI kit that beautifully executes Flat Design.



Number One UI Kit

This sports-based UI kit includes some great specialist UI elements like league tables, and individual sports icons.



Free Minimal UI Kit

This UI kit is based on the Twitter Bootstrap framework and is fully responsive.



Gumballz Web UI Kit

Gumballz Web UI Kit is a quirky, original take on the standard UI kit. Clean minimal design meets beach house colors.



Winter UI Kit

This UI kit has over 50 elements and icons, all supplied as scaleable vectors in PSD format.



eShop UI Kit

eShop UI Kit is a vibrant set of UI elements aimed squarely at ecommerce designers.



Free Combination UI Kit

With bold colors and simple Material Design inspired shapes, this UI kit is perfect for modern dashboard designs.



Free Android UI Kit

Free Android UI Kit gives you 8 sets of related elements for designing mobile apps.



Clean & Light Gradient UI Kit

This light dashboard UI kit features line icons and subtle gradients.



Personal Dashboard UI Kit

A bold and confident dashboard UI.



FooKit Web Footer PSD Kit

This UI kit is aimed at website footers. It includes social media links, site navigation, and more.



Boring Cards

Boring cards is a card based UI kit all designed around the golden ratio.



iPhone 6 UI Kit

The iPhone 6 UI Kit is designed for the latest version of Apple’s smartphone, but it works just as well for Android and Windows.




Usability isn’t something you just can cook up in any one phase of design, but must be developed and refined throughout the entire process. If you want the best end product, you have to anticipate real user scenarios from the prototyping phase. Usability testing should be the last place to start thinking about usability.

Why worry about usability testing so early in the process when prototyping already has a big enough to-do list? Because unless your prototype is usable, all your testing will tell you is that people don’t like terrible products.

unless your prototype is usable, all your testing will tell you is that people don’t like terrible products

It almost goes without saying, but you’re designing the product to be used by real people. In order to prepare it for real people, it should be tested on real people. Prototypes are built for experimentation, so it only makes sense to test them on real users.

With that in mind, let’s look at how to keep usability in mind as you build the prototype, how to test usability before you have a prototype, and tips for testing with prototypes…

Usability tests before the prototype

Usability testing doesn’t have to start with prototyping — in fact, if you have the resources to start sooner, you should. While mostly conceptual, these tests can pinpoint the best way to structure your prototype’s navigation and information architecture. The most common pre-prototyping tests include :

  • Card Sorting: simple and steadfast, this test reveals how users would prefer your product’s information architecture. All the elements of your product are written on cards, and the test-takers are asked to organize them under predefined categories (“closed”) or under ones they’ve thought up (“open”). For details, see Donna Spencer’s Card Sorting: A Definitive Guide.

  • Tree Testing: the “sister test” to card sorting, tree testing evaluates the effectiveness of existing information architectures. Users are given a basic, stripped down map of the site/app/etc. and asked to click through to complete certain tasks. The test monitors if they choose the correct route, and if not, what got them lost. Founder of MeasuringU Jeff Sauro explains the details.

  • Interviews: sometimes the best way to understand your users is to simply ask. It sounds simple enough, but the nuances and strategies for user interviews are endless. Kate Lawrence, UX Researcher at EBSCO Publishing gives some tips on how to run these specifically for usability testing.

Fixing problems earlier is always better, and these preliminary tests will ensure the conceptual foundation of the prototype is in good shape before a single line is drawn.

The right users and the right tasks

While usability tests are all different, all of them need users, and most of them involve tasks. Since these two elements are prominent in all usability testing, we’ll briefly explain how to best deal with both.

  1. Recruiting users: after all the work with personas, by now you should have a clear idea of your target users. It also helps to segment your users based on behavior. In fact, you shouldn’t obsess over demographics. The biggest differentiator will likely be whether users have prior experience or are knowledgeable about their domain or industry — not gender, age, or geography.

    Knowing who to recruit is just the first step. The more involved part is finding and recruiting them. Jeff Sauro outlines the 7 best ways to locate the ideal users for your testing.

  2. Writing tasks: tasks determine what the user actually does during the test, and therefore determines what usability factors are being examined. Tingting Zhao, Usability Specialist for Ubuntu, describes some distinctions to keep in mind when designing a task. There are 2 main decisions:
    a. Direct vs. scenario: a direct task is one that is strictly instructional (eg. “Search the website for a Tandoori chicken recipe”) while a scenario task comes with context (“You’re hosting a dinner party for some old friends, and you need a Tandoori chicken recipe”).  Direct tasks work best if you’re testing technical data, while scenario tasks are better in all other cases.
    b. Closed vs. open-ended: A closed task has clearly defined success criteria, while an open-ended task can be completed multiple ways. Closed tasks check specific functionalities, while open-ended tasks are better for understanding how your users’ minds work. A closed task would be:  “Your friend is having a birthday this weekend. Find a fun venue for up to 15 people.” An open task would be: “You heard your coworkers talking about the iWatch. You want to learn how it works.”

General advice for testing prototype usability

Given the “incomplete” nature of prototypes…users will have questions…that a moderator will have to answer

One of the first questions usability testers ask is whether or not it should be moderated. While there are a lot of good reasons for unmoderated tests, for prototype tests we recommend moderation. Given the “incomplete” nature of prototypes, chances are that users will have questions about the UI that a moderator will have to answer.

Another common mistake in testing is to stop or alter the test if the user experiences difficulty. Since the goal of usability testing is to find and solve difficulties, this situation could actually make the test a success. If, for example, the user strays off onto paths that haven’t been developed yet in the prototype, you could ask them why they went there and what they would have liked to accomplish. A few follow-up questions about the obstacles may yield more valuable feedback than a user with a “perfect run”.

Different fidelities for testing prototypes

While some believe in testing early with rough prototypes and others advocate testing higher fidelity prototypes, we believe the best approach is to test at every fidelity possible — and as often as possible. Chris Farnum, the Senior Information Architect at Enlighten, explains the pros and cons of each type. As we’ll describe below, lower fidelity tests are better for testing concepts while higher fidelity tests are more suitable for testing advanced interactions.

the best approach is to test at every fidelity possible

  1. Low fidelity: lo-fi prototype usability tests, including paper prototypes, can work at the early stages of development, but become impractical later on. Lo-fi prototypes also encourage more honest criticism, since it’s immediately clear that it’s just a work in progress.

    However, at the later stages, when usability tests check advanced functionalities, lo-fi prototypes stop becoming helpful since you’ve hit the fidelity limit. This is especially true for paper prototypes, since you need a “human computer” to manipulate all the parts, and that can become extremely difficult as you add menus, interactions, pages, and elements.

  2. High fidelity: hi-fi prototype testing gives the user a near-realistic experience of what the final product will be like. Hi-fi prototypes are ideal for testing complex interactions and your solutions for usability issues discovered in earlier rounds of testing. However, unlike lo-fi prototypes, these are costlier to make.

  3. Medium fidelity: can’t decide between high or low fidelity? Mid-fi prototypes work best when you need a balance between fidelity and cost. If you’re only going to run one round of usability tests, go medium fidelity.

Four content guidelines for testing any prototype

When you start building the prototype, it’s not only acceptable to gloss over minor details in lieu of the essentials, it’s at times recommended. But when it comes time to test your prototype, make sure you’ve filled in some of these details that may get overlooked in lower fidelity. In our experience, these are the most helpful tips for preparing your prototype for testing: 

  1. Avoid lorem ipsum: distracting, confusing, and lacking meaning, lorem ipsum text does not fully capture your product’s message.

  2. Use generic names: tests may be more fun with silly or celebrity names, but fun isn’t the point. Any distractions will bias the results, so keep names generic and realistic.

  3. No placeholder images or icons: boxes with Xs may work during wireframing, but not in testing. Images and icons play a large role in UX, so these should be implemented by testing time, even if only with temporary sketches. The exception is if these images are purely decorative and don’t help to understand the UI.

  4. Use realistic data — Don’t fill data like phone numbers or addresses with Xs or jokes — these are distracting. Realistic and believable data here will give your user test the most accurate results.

Test participants may become fixated on details that you thought were negligible, so be careful what you don’t say. These small steps to reduce distraction and confusion can go a long way toward cleaner test data.


Friday, 20 February 2015


You cannot design without content. It’s a mantra repeated by designers worldwide, it’s a plea in countless emails to clients, it’s a cornerstone of responsible design.

This is because design is about solving problems. If content were a pill, design would be the sugar coating.

However designing with content is contrary to the direction the Web is moving in, and may even be damaging for your clients…

The myth of designing content

The truth is, you aren’t designing with actual content.

Let’s leave aside the idea that clients don’t deliver content on time — plenty do, and those that don’t simply need you to project manage — for the sake of discussion, let’s assume you begin the design process with a nice shiny email from your client with comprehensive content attached.

You’re still not designing the actual content, because the nature of content on the Web is that it’s transient.

changes in content should not necessitate a redesign

When was the last time you worked on a website that didn’t run on a CMS? Did you think the company just wanted to keep their phone numbers up to date? Companies don’t change their phone numbers. What they do is let the VP of marketing run riot with the WordPress login the first weekend your back is turned.

Content on the Web is always temporary. Natural changes in content should not necessitate a redesign.

We’ve sold ourselves the myth of designing content because it syncs nicely with our view of good design being invisible. However, with this approach what we’re really designing is a single iteration of content, the lifecycle of which is undetermined. Designing content is damaging for clients if we allow ourselves to be seduced by the idea that we’re working with fixed content.

Think of being content agnostic as responsive design, from the other direction: whilst still respecting content, we accept that it’s substantially unknowable and so our designs must adapt to whatever content is inserted.

Designing dummy content

Unless you’re typesetting an academic essay written entirely in latin, then lorem ipsum will not be representative of your content, and most web designers rightly avoid it. However, it’s wrong to say that dummy content serves no purpose. Dummy content can be valuable if it’s prototypical of site content. Ideally it will have three characteristics:

  • it will be the same language as your content;

  • it will be the approximate length and rhythm as your content;

  • it will be on a similar subject to your content.

These three characteristics will ensure you encounter the same problems in your design process, as your actual content will when live.

Take for example a staff biography. Provided you know that it’s written in English, is the résumé of a senior manager with an engineering background, and will be a single paragraph of no more than 100 words, then you can design that element. Staff bios are frequently updated, and staff turnover is often high. Any solution you provide needs to be robust enough to adapt to these kinds of changes, or it’s not fit for purpose.

Our work isn’t theoretical, but that doesn’t mean we need actual content to design. What we need are content models: accurate prototypes that allow us to explore design issues, without the restrictions of ‘final’ copy.

Design precedes content

When we expect content to change, we have to design not content, but placeholders for content.

Take a look at a newspaper. It is a practical impossibility that the entire content be designed each night. Thousands of lines and hundreds of columns are slotted into a pre-designed structure. When the structure doesn’t fit the content, it’s the copy that is padded or truncated; not the design. Pt size on inserts can be tweaked, images can be scaled, but in general terms the design of a newspaper dictates its content.

Happily we don’t face the same issue on the Web; we have scrolling. However, similar problems online are resolved with similar solutions.

The Guardian newspaper has just launched an excellent responsive redesign of its website. When designing headlines, they’ve worked to ensure that a five word headline sits comfortably alongside a fourteen word headline. The approach is successful because the team at The Guardian have designed the site, not for content, but for a range of potential content. There are restrictions — you couldn’t insert a fifty word headline — but the solution is flexible enough to handle content growth.


Because content is liable to change, design will inevitably precede content. The solution to this problem is to adopt a content agnostic approach using techniques such as Samantha Warren’s Style Tiles to design for models of content that are robust enough to survive in the wild.

Design is content

We know from eye-tracking research that the only time your content is read is when it’s parsed by Googlebot. Most human beings never read websites, they barely look at websites. You and I might, but we’re the exception. Most humans scan a page quickly, click something that looks interesting and repeat the process until they land on an approximation of what they were looking for.

And so, the client’s core message isn’t conveyed by content, it’s conveyed by brand. The colors, type, imagery and a few snatches of content here and there, are what most users base decisions on.

This is the main reason micro-copy is proving to be such a vital part of web design: you won’t make a sale with the opening paragraph of your ‘About Us’ page, but you might with the privacy statement above your contact form.

what we’re really designing…is the framework within which to create content, not the content itself

With the rise of SaaS, designers are increasingly finding that their design work, visual, UX, and strategic, is taking on the role of content. As the Web continues to move away from passive content delivery, to active content creation, design becomes increasingly important as the primary means of communicating.

A product designer doesn’t need to know what words a pen will write in order to design it. He needs to know the general use — whether it will be a brush pen, fountain pen, or rollerball — but the words that it will write are irrelevant to the design process.

The Web is increasingly becoming a place of content creation. We can provide parameters — a maximum 140 characters being the obvious example — but what we’re really designing, whether we do it for clients or their customers, is the framework within which to create content, not the content itself.


The myth that we’re designing content is rooted in print design, when content was final as soon as it was dispatched to the printers. Designing content for the Web requires that we embrace the inherent transient nature of our content, or risk limiting the content’s potential by imposing a rigid design on it.

As the definition of what consitutes a website continues to evolve, design will continue to function as content, and content will continue to perform as a design solution. What we design is not a site’s content — which is transient — but rather its aims, its values, its aspirations; what we design is (for want of a better word) its soul.

Far from being decoration, a content agnostic approach forces us to produce a robust design solution that doesn’t impose itself on future content.

Design precedes content. Content in the absence of design is not content, it’s a brief.