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8 Usability Musts for Good Web Design

Users’ attention spans are short. They make judgments they may not even consciously realize about websites in seconds. Every element of a website’s design works in coordination to sway those judgments negatively or positively. There’s an overwhelming list of elements to consider for web design, but to be helpful I’ve highlighted the following 8 design areas I think are important to offer a good user experience.

Redesigning A WordPress Blog

Websites are like living creatures. We’re constantly interacting with them, updating them with new content, and making technological and design advances that shape our expectations of them. Knowing when it's time then to redesign a website can be tricky. Learn how I identified what needed updates on my WordPress blog one year after starting it.

A Social Media Strategy Pitch: Scratch Baking

Having strategy for your brand on social media is always important, but when you have a specific goal you'd like social media to help you achieve, it becomes vital. I've previously posted about how to determine a small business' social media presence, create a calendar, build personas, and write community management guidelines using one of my favorite businesses, Scratch Baking in Milford, CT. Based on this work, I've created the following slides and presentation outlining a social media strategy they could use

Using Personas and Micro-Moments for Social Media Strategy

Whatever the business-related goals of your strategy, you need to focus on the user-centered goal of bringing value to your audience through your social media presence. By empathizing with your audience you will build content that will make your brand more relatable and more trustworthy which will ultimately translate into brand awareness, website traffic, customer leads, revenue, brand engagement, loyalty, or success with any other goals you may have. Personas are good tools to help you start building a social media strategy with empathy.

Creating A Small Business Social Media Content Calendar: Scratch Baking

In my last post, I explored how to decide the social media presence for a small business using one of my favorite small businesses – Scratch Baking in Milford, CT. Now it’s time to activate that presence. It’s time to plan and create content. No matter how strategic you are in choosing your business’ social media platforms, that will mean nothing if you’re not strategically and regularly creating engaging content for them.

A Small Business Social Media Presence: Scratch Baking

Small businesses can face challenges such as human and financial resource shortages when trying to access the benefits of social media. With little money to pay someone to focus on this for them and little time or energy to do it themselves small business owners sometimes don’t even know where to start. Using one of my favorite small, local businesses – Scratch Baking in Milford, CT – as an example we’re going to walk through how to approach evaluating and planning your business’ social media presence.

Unmasking the Truth: Social Media and News

The sheer amount of information social media now presents us to digest is enough in and of itself to overwhelm us in to being less discerning about the truth. Add into this mix every individual’s opinion and the voices of those interested in misleading others or sowing division and social media becomes a very chaotic and confusing source from which to get your news. I decided to find out just how much of a filter I had to apply to find factual news on my social media accounts.

Social Media and Brands in the Time of Coronavirus

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our daily lives, perhaps forever, in countless ways we are still trying to grasp. But as a social media professional I’m acutely interested in how this crisis is affecting the medium I work in. What I’m seeing is the possibility that we are moving into a new phase of our relationship with it.

Getting Real with High-Fidelity Prototypes

There comes a time in every project when an idea transitions from conceptual to actual. In website and app design that time generally comes during the prototyping process. Prototyping can be done in a range of fidelities, or levels of detail, from low to high. Low-fidelity prototypes can be a great tool for quickly iterating design ideas and starting usability testing early in your design process, but the type of experience they offer is quite removed from a product’s endgame. High-fidelity prototyping is when things start to feel and look real.

Usability Testing Isn’t Optional

Good, usable design comes from an iterative process in which you create and revise designs in repetitive cycles, coming closer to the desired result with each cycle. One of the best ways to learn how a design needs to be revised is usability testing. Many development process eliminate this important step or leave until the final product is built for a number of reasons. Learn how I used the Prototyping on Paper app and Zoom to push forward with usability testing of paper prototypes for an app I'm designing despite the social distancing restrictions of COVID-19.

Improving UX with User Flows

Flowcharts are a common tool used for a variety of purposes in a variety of industries, including engineering, business, and education. UX designers create a type of flowchart called a user flow to depict and communicate the process of user movement. User flows utilize the same symbols as flowcharts in order to represent every route users can take to achieve a specific goal on a site or app. See how I've developed user flows for a proposed Resident app for the city of Milford, Connecticut and how these charts can improve user experience design.

Designing App Information Architecture

Information architecture (IA) design involves creating an organized structure in a website, app, or product that helps users navigate and understand where to find what they need easily and quickly. Hear about my experience creating a proposed site map for a resident companion app for my hometown and find out how and if designing IA for apps differs from websites.

Information Architecture: Designing the Framework of a Website

What else is a website or an app, but a container for copious amounts of information like a library? Left unorganized or badly organized, a website experience for a user can quickly become consumed with simply trying to find what they want instead of accomplishing their intended goal for visiting. Information architecture (IA) design is about creating a structure on a website, app, or other product that helps a user understand where they are in it and where they can find the information they are seeking.

Designing an App for Good with Ideation Techniques

What if there was an app for centralizing and connecting those in our communities with resources and will to help with those in need? So many of us are ready and willing to help our neighbors and local communities, but we just don’t know who needs help and where to look all the time. Our efforts often siloed by our social circles. I decided to do some ideation on this problem of how to crowdsource a community to see if I could spark the beginning of an app solution.

Thinking Through Chaos with Mind Mapping

There are an endless number of ideation techniques you can try. You should pick one, though, that works best for the kind of ideas you need and the experience and abilities of those who will be participating in your ideation session. My current abilities, being the frazzled mess that they are because of the current pandemic and social distancing, called for a technique that could help me get my perspective and spinning thoughts in order: mind mapping.

7 Principles of UX Design

To be a UX designer is to understand the holistic picture of an experience while simultaneously paying attention to minute details in the pursuit of identifying and solving problems. Whew! Approaching this subject may seem overwhelming or intimidating at first, but good UX design is an invaluable asset for a product, service, or brand. That’s a tall order. No matter your project, to create a good user experience you must understand some of the key principles of UX design.

Choosing Ideation Techniques

Knowing where to start is the hardest part of any project. In the design thinking process, you spend a lot of time learning to empathize with your users through research, then properly defining the problem that your project needs to help them with. At some point, though, you have to pivot your brain to put all this understanding and definition to use. Luckily, there are ideation techniques that you can employ to add guidance and structure to your efforts, sparking creativity and innovation.

Brainstorming with Mash-Up Ideation

One of the obstacles to good ideation is that people often practice it in a haphazard or chaotic way. Everyone today likes to talk about the value of brainstorming, but they often think of it as unstructured imagination that magically and randomly produces ideas. Effective ideation requires that you stop thinking in terms of these amorphous activities and instead apply a rigorous and purposeful set of rules to your efforts. One technique to help guide you in brainstorming is mash-up ideation.

Defining the Right Problem with POV Statements

Being a UX designer is, of course, about designing a solution to a problem that users of a product or service have. It can be really fun and exciting to brainstorm, come up with new ideas, and maybe even change the world. But if you base all your work on the wrong problem, you won’t change anyone’s world with your designs. This is why you use a tool like point of view (POV) statements to add rigor and structure to your problem definition.

Finding Your Problem with Problem Statements

You can’t solve a problem you don’t know about. Seems like an obvious concept, right? But too often we don’t follow this advice. We assume we know what the problem is going into a project and just jump straight to coming up with solutions. To find out what users need, you spend the first stage of the design thinking process conducting research - often in the form of interviews, observations, and surveys – in order to empathize and better understand the needs of all users in a product’s ecosystem. Your research findings then inform the second stage of the design thinking process, define, and help you craft your project’s problem statement.

Building Empathy and Guiding Design with Personas

No one website, app, or piece of software can cater to the infinite number of differences its users may have. You simply can't design everything for everybody. You can, though, look for the common denominators in people and solve for those problems. While a website may have a million users, each with a unique experience on the granular level, you may create just 3 or 4 personas into which most of them would relate in some way. You would do this in order to keep your project user-centered, but out of the weeds and focused on attainable goals.

Building Bears and Building Empathy in Undercover Boss

By using empathy, a UX designer can recognize people’s needs and design products, services, or experiences that work for them. The reality show Undercover Boss is an example of how someone can gain empathy for users. I watched an episode featuring the CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop to show just how much user information you can gain in a relatively short amount of time. My empathy maps of the company's CEO and an employee demonstrate how multiple people can have different experiences, even within the same company, and why UX designers must gain insight into every type of user in the ecosystem of a product or service.

Connecting with Users Through Empathy Maps

Empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and trying to understand their feelings, even if you haven’t had the same experiences as them. It's an important part of the design thinking process. In order to gain empathy for users, UX designers conduct extensive user research. Empathy maps are a great visual tool for organizing, communicating, and synthesizing this research into helpful user insights.

UX/UI Design and the Streaming Wars

When Disney Plus, the company’s streaming service, launched last November, I was intrigued by the possibility of adding some Disney magic to my life again, if only through the TV and movie content I’d loved as a kid. That content has proven as satisfying as I remember, but the Disney Plus experience has left a bad taste in my mouth. Learn how I used a feelings and needs website analyzation of UX and UI elements on Disney Plus and Netflix to find out if Disney's design is the root of my negative opinion.

On the Pecha Kucha Clock

Sometimes the best way to learn something is to hear it, but not everyone is talented at speaking. Enter the Pecha Kucha. This presentation style limits you to 20 slides and just 20 seconds per slide to convey your message. Thus, encouraging a swift pace and simplified delivery.

Alexa, are you my role model?

Is Alexa your child’s role model? As voice assistants become ubiquitous in our children’s lives, they are beginning to act as pseudo-parents in a way that has some doctors and researchers concerned. Children’s inability to distinguish computers from people has AI teaching developmental lessons in manners, patience, perseverance, and gender.

Brand Yourself

When you think of branding, you may assume it’s something only businesses should be concerned with. But everyone can benefit from doing the work of defining who you are and how you want to be perceived professionally. It can help you stand out from others and give you an edge in your career.

A Menu of Promotions

Reading can be much like eating, sometimes you want the whole meal and sometimes you just want a snack, sometimes you want to sit for the 5-course dining experience and sometimes you just want to hit the drive-thru. I’ll be posting an in-depth piece soon and I thought I’d provide a menu of promotions for it to show how you can use shorter forms to grab readers’ attention and persuade them to invest time in your longer-form writing.

No One Hates Effective Writing

The podcast 99% Invisible showcases the design elements that we never notice. Host Roman Mars argues that thoughtful design means we don’t recognize individual parts as they are so well integrated. The same is true of effective writing. As a result, it’s often easier to critique only what is wrong. To be a better writer you need to learn to examine writing for what it does right as well.

The Relationship with the Reader

Every actor wants to play Hamlet—Carl Sandburg even wrote a poem about it. A lauded portrayal of the great Dane can be career-defining. Actors and writers are similar in this manner as both practice a craft in which success depends on audience approval. How important, though, should the audience be to the writer?

In Search of Readable Content

Working in social media, there seems to be a new feature to research and explore every week. Despite Google searches providing pages of links claiming they can help me, not every click is a revelation. It’s not that I find a lot of incorrect content, rather that many writers don’t present their writing in an easily readable way. Let me help you learn what makes the difference difference between good and bad readable online content.

Deep Work as a Solution to Millennial Burnout

When Anne Helen Petersen published her seminal Buzzfeed News article on millennial burnout, 2 voices rose up in response: one of joyous relief that someone had finally validated their life experiences and one of critical judgment about the inferiority of the aforementioned generation By indulging in this second common narrative, we are ignoring the reality of who this generation is today. They now make up a majority of the American workforce and are overworked, always on and suffering from rampant burnout. 7 in 10 millennials report feeling its effects some of the time, more than any other generation of workers. However, by promoting the practice of deep work amongst their employees, companies can help heal and prevent this problem. Solving burnout in this generation of workers creates economic opportunity and gives employers who lead the way in championing solutions a competitive edge.

Never Too Much

We’ve entered an age in which our ultimate longings center around the elusive sense of balance in our lives. Technology now leaves us fatigued from constant communication. In reaction we worry about its harmful effects and put ourselves on crash diets from social media and our smartphones. Just as crash dieting is not the way to lose weight healthily and maintain it, neither is it the road to productivity.

Shower Thoughts

I get some of my best ideas in the shower. Even after some of the roughest days, when my brain feels like it’s been put in a blender, somehow I emerge from the steam of that tiled cave with the best copy or the clearest approach to a project I’ve been fighting with for hours in my head. Cal Newport calls this use of time productive meditation. Not only is this strategy offer efficiency for those of us with full schedules and lives, but it’s also a great technique to help increase your concentration to aid in deep work.

Do the Wrike Thing

There are knights in shining armor out there ready to help you slay that dragon of overwhelming work. They're called project management systems. You may have used or heard of one or more of these systems: Asana, Trello, Podio, monday.com, Basecamp, there are pretty much endless possibilities. When speaking about choosing a strategy for accomplishing deep work, Cal Newport says he believes you must choose a style that fits you and your reality. Since a project management system is a tool made to help you be productive and do your best work, I believe your choice should be made using similar parameters. Not every system will spell success for every user. I'm going to share about the system I currently use at work, Wrike, and reasons why it works well for my personal needs as a social media professional.

Breaks Are the Food of Life

We underestimate the importance of taking breaks from our hamster wheels to do nothing. I shouldn't describe this use of time as being for nothing, because that's only the perception of our productivity focused culture. We are taught to view activities that are not directly in service to progress as useless. This judgement couldn’t be farther from the truth. Activities such as dancing, self-pampering or just general hermiting serve an important purpose.

In My Data’s Eye

I enjoy using social media personally, but I’ve never thought of myself as being addicted to it. I’m not naïve, though, to the widely discussed debate over its risks and side effects. I’d like to think I’ve focused on having a healthy relationship with this technology, one in which I’m benefiting more from the positives than the negatives. My self-assurance that I’m doing the right thing, though, isn’t enough. The time came last week for me to try to put my data where my mouth is. The challenge: no personal social media use for 5 days.

My Kingdom for a Door

I'm a millennial and I work in social media. What image pops in your head when you visualize the type of office space I have at work? If you saw a hyper-modern, open room with bright white walls and glass doors where dozens of workers type away on long countertops, then you wouldn't be too far off. This image of the cool looking open office has become the default prescription for today's knowledge workers. Those of us in creative and tech-forward jobs are told we want and enjoy these types of spaces because they offer increased opportunity for collaboration and help us increase buzzword behaviors such as synergy. But are these spaces really supporting the kind of work we need to do, or are they just aesthetically trendy?

To Skim or Not to Skim?

Once upon a time I was Rory Gilmore, able to sit in a crowded cafeteria or a bumpy bus and loose myself in the pages of a book. Now I’m more like Dug, that dog from "Up" whose focus switches on a dime at the sight of a squirrel. What happened to me? Apparently, the same thing that’s happened to many of us. Our increasing habit of reading on digital devices is altering our reading styles. Even when I’m enthusiastically interested in a piece of writing, I now fight my eyes’ physical compulsion to skim over the lines rather than digest the beauty of each word. The idea of getting lost in a piece of writing now feels more anxiety-inducing than comforting.

Social Media Community Management Guidelines: Scratch Baking

Social media has given everyone a voice and in doing so the general public has taken control of the conversation. Some businesses, used to having all control over their brand narrative, may find themselves lost as to how to effectively operate in this space. Instead of saying “why bother” or, worse, futilely moderating your social media presence within an inch of its life, effectively killing all authenticity, you should place your brand as the steward of your brand community by creating community management guidelines.