What a piece of string under my utility room cupboard told me about design

Ok, strange title. But it grabbed your attention right?

I was making glitter Christmas tree cards with my daughter yesterday and afterwards hung the cards on a clothes line we have in the garage to dry – and this got me thinking this morning about digital design. And how it’s not always possible, or preferable to always meet all a clients requirements.

What has a piece of string under the utility room cupboard got to do with digital design?

Well, quite a bit actually. You see, our kitchen and utility room was redesigned over 2 years ago and one of the many requirements I laid out to our ‘kitchen designer’ was that the string which was attached by hooks under the cupboards in the utility room must be incorporated somehow.

This was important to me because we often hung the kids’ paintings via clothes pegs on this line to dry, and whilst the overall effect looked messy, there was something we found strangely comforting about having these colourful creations drip drying.

Now the designer met many of our requirements however this particular string under the cupboard one was one she skirted over several times. At the time I went along with her calm, “That’s fine, I’m sure you’ll be able to attach some hooks underneath once the room is complete…” And I kind of convinced myself we’d be able to do this too. And, it seemed damned important at the time!

However, over time I’ve gradually realised it wouldn’t quite work for 3 reasons. 1) The new cupboards are much deeper and so the wet pictures would be dragging along the work top and in the sink.

2) The new units aren’t made of wood and I’d be worried about making a mess of the new units if I tried to put hooks in (now something being difficult shouldn’t be a reason on it’s own for not doing something, however this leads on to my third point.)

3) The pictures hanging down would look messy and actually, I quite like our new look, clean and tidy utility room.

So, I’m no longer bothered about the string hanging down under the utility room idea. Instead I traipse the wet paintings through to the garage and they dry there. Not perfect as it’s a bit cold in there and the pictures shrivel up bit however, it’s fine. I can cope !!  And actually I realise it wasn’t that important. And I think our designer knew this would be the case too.

So I’m pleased our kitchen designer ignored my continued nagging about’ the piece of string under the cupboard’ comments. I’m also pleased we ignored the lsat minute idea from our kitchen fitter to fit a wine rack in the corner of the kitchen.

It would have looked really cluttered and spoilt the lovely clean lines of the room. But at the time the idea seemed appealing as the fitter ‘could do it easily, and at no extra cost.’ That brings me on to the subject of last minute, “can we just do this? ” “one final change please” and “just humour me” requests many senior stakeholders (who prior to this time expressed no interest in your work) like to throw in towards the end of a project.

But that’s a post for another day. I have far too much material for that one !


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Time to drop IE8?

The announcement Microsoft made last month around only supporting the latest version of IE available for a supported operating system from January 2016 led to a plethora of excited ” Woop woops” from some developers and commentators across our industry. “Finally” , it was stated, we can drop support and stop worrying about building for and checking these antiquated browsers. In fact since Windows XP hasn’t been supported since April 2014, it’s been suggested that IE 8 should “die now” as it’s increasingly vulnerable to security attacks.

Unfortunately for us, it’s not quite so black and white as we’d like. Many customers/ businesses still use XP – also many customers use IE8 on Windows 7 and Vista so actually , it is still a fully supported browser – for the moment. So I think my advice is don’t suddenly stop building/ supporting for IE8 users, they may still be a significant proportion of your web traffic.

I think the industry will generally adopt a wait & see approach until nearer the time when they may start pushing messages to customers on IE8 and also potentially customers on IE9 or 10 who should be on a more up to date web browser for their operating system. What do you think ? I’d like to hear what other UX practitioners have to say…

Additionally, customers who don’t update their browsers and operating systems are increasingly at risk… So do companies (and us as UX practitioners) have a duty of care to at least encourage customers who visit our websites on older browsers (or not the most recent browser available on their operating system) to ensure they are on a relatively modern browser with all the latest updates… Again, I’d like to know what people think



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Test everything twice – then test it again !

Test everything ! That’s always and will continue to be a popular mantra of mine. And it’s still as true today as it ever was. A  recent project I’ve been working on involved building a responsive form for a client. ” Don’t worry – It’s fully responsive !! ” we were told by the developers. I couldn’t resist a little look though- on IE,8,9,10,11,Safari, Chrome, Firefox and then across various tablet and mobile devices including iPad,iPad mini, iPhone, Samsung, Nexus to name a few on native browsers, chrome mobile, and various orating systems. And boy am I pleased I did!!  Just in the same way as you need to test across a wealth of browsers and not just Firefox, just because someone says the site works on mobile doesn’t mean it works across all the major mobiles/ tablets and their various broswers and operating systems…

There were too many issues with the prototype form to mention here, however here’s a selection of some of major (major meaning conversion would drop off a cliff!!) issues I found with the form.
1) Using Google Chrome on Android devices showed that the dropdowns weren’t working properly on the form. When you selected something it didn’t actually show the choice until the next field was selected. This was to down to  the way the form handled inline field validation. Yet on Android native browser these dropdowns worked fine. Obviously if a dropwdown isn’t initially showing the value a customer has selected it’s gong to cause customer issues.
2) Recent testing on Samsung devices on the default browser showed gradients in fonts still aren’t always picked up – so the lovely graduated colours in the title of the form (probably pretty fundamental to the client and to the brand team) was replaced by a large graduated block of colour !
3) There were issues with the form not being as responsive as you’d expect. Again different viewports and devices can throw up several issues and show that the site isn’t as responsive as you may think. Obviously with different viewports coming on the market it’s a good idea to review your site or projects on some of the key devices which are likely to access your site. A good example is the new iPhone 6 which will have a very slightly wider viewport than the traditional 320 in portrait view and means your site may not look quite so hot as it does on an older iPhone – 5 and below…
Emulators can be used however in my experience there’s nothing like having some of the kit available and to try and replicate the software settings you think your customers are likely to have. And keep testing, again and again until you know it’s right.
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Can Sliders be part of Seductive Design

What do we reckon about the use of sliders or slide bars on online application forms ?
Personally, I’m not completely convinced. What does everyone else think ? Confused.com’s (see above) slider has been around for some time now and is actually ok (ie it looks like a slider and actually works quite well with a mouse when you interact with it.) It goes up in sensible increments which are helpful and breaks up the monotomy of the form. Wonga.com also use sliders and they are actually quite good fun to play with and work well with their whole marketing campaign…                                                                                                                                                                  
And I get the thinking behind sliders, make it FUN for the customer or prospective customer. It’s all part of the seductive design process, if you have a fun experience then you’re more likely to be engaged, seduced, sucked in and even talk about the website or app. I think it also depends on where it’s used, maybe if it’s an activity where the user is prepared to devote some time and actually is prepared to have fun then it could be a good thing.
I think some tasks, such as Car Insurance are tasks where you want to get it over with as quickly as possible and maybe fun doesn’t feature highly. But then again, I may be wrong  – if it can be just as quick and fun – then why not ? I guess the thing is (as with all great UX) is to get testing on real people as early as possible. It’s easy for business owners and stakeholders to get carried away with a ‘ swishy slider’.  I’ve even heard people talking about adding ‘ sound effects’ and they weren’t joking! But you can’t beat testing on the actual people who are going to use your product or service.
I notice however that Confused don’t use sliders on iPad or iPhone. Instead switching to the more traditional dropdowns with increments. So sliders may not research well on touch screen devices. In fact, in my view I bet they are sometimes damn irritating !
If companies are to implement sliders, my advice is to consider a similar approach to Confused where they can identify mobile and touch screen devices early and not serve a slider.
Also I think an overwrite facility where the customer can use a plus or minus button and also be able to over type into the slider field is a good fall back. Having said all that, if you have to have a fall back, then why do it…it’s almost like admitting the thing doesn’t work
Anyway, I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts and examples, good and bad of sliders in the digital world.
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M & S Banking

Am loving the new M & S Banking site. It’s light and simple, uses great imagery, and has all the content in one page which is labour (finger ! ) saving. The reward programme seems good although I could do with a bit more info to really intice me in.

I can see how much I need to earn to earn a point. What I can’t see easily (unless I’m missing something obvious) is what a point is worth and therefore how much in vouchers I’ll actually earn…

The other slightly confusing aspect is that the Bank’s website is a microsite and is divorced from the main M&S Money site. I can see why they’ve done it – the customer can be more focused just on the Bank product and registering interest – however it does leave the proposition slightly disjointed…- ie. what’s the difference between M&S Bank and M&S Money? other than the obvious I suppose.

Still, I guess many people won’t worry about that. Personally, the only thing that would stop me applying is the monthly fee – I know you can feed into a higher interest rate account if you have money to spare, but I’m just not ready to start paying for my current account – especially when there’s still free ones around…   

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Extendable navigation buttons

Quick note for future reference from the Nike site – I quite often use this site as inspiration and this is one I’ll keep in the locker for when I need it.  They have a clever button which extends to a choice button on roll-over state – so rather than having two buttons for men and women, they’ve actually only got the one button  – and actually rather than four buttons they’ve managed on two…and it has a nice ‘feel’ to it. As I said, one to bank for another day, subtlbut clever way of ensuring a clutter free page.

Nike buttons

Nike's clever buttons

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BBC launches new homepage Beta version

I think they’ve done it again – it doesn’t seem 5 minutes (it was 2008) since they last revamped their homepage – allowing us to personalise (a little) the website to our own liking and change our colour scheme.

Current Homepage

Image of current website

Current website

The BBC is set to launch a site that makes other website owners sit up and take note – oh yes – the bench has been truly raised and I’m sure we’ll see more sites adopting some of the Beeb’s ideas. 

New homepage in BETA

Image of BBC new website

New homepage

The page is much more focused on popular content and laid out like an online iPad magazine – it definitely has touchscreen in mind.

I like the carousel which has chunnks of content which you can flick through – the navigation feels easy – and allows a lot of content to be shown without taking up too much real estate.

I think some of the navigation rollover states could be better thought through as they have the same colour as the active state and people may miss the customise this page features however overall I do like it.  It’s a shame I think that the iPlayer shows don’t play ‘in the page’ and you get taken to a seperate section. I’d quite like to be able to view my clip/programme – expand the view if required – go off to the inforamtion page if required but also minimise down and keep on the same homepage. That’s pretty a pretty subjective view however and dosn’t mean their curent strategy is wrong.

Strangely the homepage dosn’t feel so great on an iPad – the swipe functionality doesn’t work on the carousel and the buttons back and next seem clunky on iPad. I haven’t reviewed the homepage on other web tablets but will do when I get chance. 

The homepage rebrand does make the other sections of their site seem terribly dated now – I’m sure it won’t be long before the news site and even the iPlayer site itself gets another refresh.

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