All posts tagged “Breaking”

Making and Breaking UX Best Practices

Imagine a website with a beautiful, enticing, full-screen image, where a transparent button leads to pages of well constructed, adaptive content. The navigation functions perfectly across devices, switching from a horizontal to a mobile menu at just the right times. Unfortunately a large portion of the potential audience lives in Africa, and won’t have the bandwidth to use it. Does that mean our best practices failed us? No—it means that an experience is made up of more than the sum of its parts.

A good user experience, like a measurable ROI, doesn’t typically happen by accident. It is the result of careful planning, analysis, investment, and continuous improvement.”
Jeff Horvath

Best practices in User Experience provide the framework for a repeatable process, a way for us to deliver the value of user experience in a reasonable amount of time, without making the mistakes of those who followed in our past. They allow teams to execute with a fair amount of certainty that they are doing the right thing, in the right order.

But while following best practices sets the foundation for implementing good UX, we must avoid letting the best practice substitute for doing the work. When skill, time or budget are limited, it’s easy to want a shortcut to positive UX. What’s more important than the tool, technique or best practice is what the user experience practitioner brings to the table: empathy for the users of the system, and the knowledge that best practices, patterns, and templates are valuable guidelines—not rules.

It’s easy, for example, to sell a client on the benefits of flat design; flat design promotes simplicity and through it’s crispness and clarity can handle more complexity. It reduces the problems of skeuomorphism and easily handles responsive web techniques. But it would be a poor decision to anchor the project to flat design without first learning about the project’s objectives and the prospective audience.

Specifically let’s explore how interaction design patterns, style guides, visual design trends, and design templates can influence the user experience, and with all of these tools in place, how we can to create products that fulfill each individual requirement for an excellent experience, but don’t on their own solve the user’s needs.

Interaction Design Patterns

Interaction design patterns can be thought of as the summative learnings of what has worked well in the past. These patterns illustrate the best practices of the interactive experience. One example of a popular design pattern is the hamburger icon. It was created by Norm Cox for the Xerox Star, which was one of the first graphical user interfaces. The hamburger icon went into hibernation for several years, but gained popularity with the emergence of the smartphone and the need to conserve screen space. Now the icon is used to represent a menu on many responsive, mobile web and smartphone applications.

There are obvious benefits to using an established design pattern. Patterns distill the collective wisdom and testing of past products, while providing a common language for teams. Design patterns reduce product development time and cost, and provide a consistent user experience. Having access to interaction design patterns makes the process of designing an interface easier.

However, we can’t always take design patterns at face value. To quote entrepreneur and design specialist Jeffrey Zeldman, “design considerations beat design patterns. Test and decide, don’t just copy things like the hamburger icon.” It’s often worth a little extra research to find out if there is science to validate the design, and if not, if there is an opportunity to conduct a usability study of the pattern.

In the case of the hamburger icons specifically, James Foster, a developer at ExisWeb conducted a study of the hamburger icon with 240,000 users. He found that only .6% of iOS users and .25% of Android users actually clicked the icon—meaning perhaps it’s not as easily understood as its design pattern status makes it seen. We can never take for granted that a generic design pattern will be understood by our specific users.

Style Guides

Visual style guides, or corporate brand standards, aid in design choices and steer brand consistency. Web designer Peter Hornsoby’s article, Principles Over Standards, discusses some problems style guides and design standards can cause for a user experience, specifically when using a style guide as a substitute for design research. Design standards often represent the solution to a problem that occurred in the past, as opposed to a solution to the current problem an organization is facing, and over time design standards become increasingly outdated.

The Human Interface Guidelines (HIG), for example, provide a style guide for developing web and mobile applications for Apple’s iOS. The HIG is very comprehensive and provides analogies understood by the Apple ecosystem of users. But the HIG doesn’t incorporate research into any one specific audience. The net result of the is that many of the first and second generation iOS apps were usable, but fairly generic-feeling. To avoid this trap, we can view our style guides as a starting point and not a solution.

I worked on a project once for a very complex responsive website. The visual design was created by an agency and most of the development work done offshore. The style guide articulated design standards for several breakpoints— 1200px, 1024px, 768px. and 320px—in great detail. When the first iteration returned from the offshore development team, we found that the site looked perfect at the specified breakpoints, but didn’t work at all for other screen sizes. The problem caused extensive rework early in the project. Both the agency and developers had done their job, but the website proved unusable to users on devices with display sizes not outlined in the style guide. We worked with the agency and development team to instead focus on the intent of the design, and translate that intention into a usable, fluid, responsive website.

One easy way to recognize when to deviate from the style guide is when the visual branding conflicts with an interaction design pattern. Take the US Airways app as an example. Most style guides will state that the company logo should appear in the upper left or right corner of secondary screens. However, the US Airways logo includes a flag, which looks very much like the hamburger icon when mimized and displayed in a corner: a clear usability concern. The US Airways iOS application attempts to solve this problem by removing their logo on secondary screens, contrary to most style guides, but appropriate for their needs.

The US Airways mobile website.

On the US Airways Mobile Website, the logo looks a lot like the hamburger menu icon.

Visual Design Trends

Visual design trends, such as flat design, full-bleed hero images, cards and typography as design can influence the visual design choices we make. But trends, like patterns and process, are not hard and fast rules, and they are not a substitution for understanding the needs of the user.

Let’s explore this topic further through the flat design trend. Microsoft made the trend famous with their release of Windows 8. They advocated a minimalist approach to UI design, with no added effects, a good use of color, and a focus on typography and having a clean layout. The concepts are great from an experience and usability perspective, so much so that flat design is practically synonymous with Web 3.0.

That said, flat design isn’t the right choice for every situation. For example, flat links and buttons may look clean, but Jakob Nielsen conducted a study on Windows 8, and found that when the links in a design is flat, users often didn’t realize they are clickable.

Where can you click? Everything looks flat, and in fact ‘Change PC settings’ looks more like the label for the icon group than a clickable command. As a result, many users in our testing didn’t click this command when they were trying to access one of the features it hides.”

Donald Norman explains this by referring to visual affordance, or how the size, shape and texture of an object impacts how the user perceives and understands it. With this in mind, it’s perfectly fine—even necessary—to break a from the accepted design trend if the trend poorly impacts the user experience. In this example, the designer might choose to add a slight gradient or shadow to a button, even if it means diverging from the flat design standards, to make the button appear more actionable.

The Windows 8 screen.

Design trends should inform, but not steer the user experience.

Visual Design Templates

Themeable content management systems (CMS) and a global industry of visual designers provide easy access to sites such as ThemeForrest and TemplateMonster for downloading free or paid design templates. The templates often incorporate common interaction design patterns and follow industry trends. While a template is a great way to save time and money, there is no substitute for conducting proper user experience activities and creating a custom design. What’s more, saving money in the short-term may actually cost more in the long-term when the design isn’t connecting to the users.

When considering the use of a pre-made visual design template, some of the oft-cited cons include the likelihood of other companies using the same template, the limitations to customization, and the chance of baking-in bad SEO through a poorly crafted template. Of all these concerns, the biggest is that templates don’t take into account the unique needs of a specific audience.

We’ve already seen the necessity of considering user needs. In an extreme situation, consider the hypothetical website with the potential audience in Africa. A template may make beautiful use of imagery, and account for mobile needs, but it’s unlikely to accommodate for low-bandwidth phones—which is a fairly simple fix on a custom-made site! Long-term usability will always trump the “convenience” of a template.

Using Best Practices Responsibly

Best practices, patterns, and templates provide the benefit of delivering a repeatable process in a fast and flexible manner. As companies incorporate user needs into their projects, the push will continue to find better, faster, and cheaper ways to incorporate good UX. Yet delivering a fast, cheap and positive experience means knowing not only how to apply the best practices of user experience, but also when to break the rules.

Here are a few recommendations for UX professionals to use best practices responsibly.

  • Read and learn about the current visual design trends. AIGA, DigitalArts, Smashing Magazine and Dribbble are great places to start. Pay attention to what’s driving the trend—is it just the next thing, or are there user experience lessons being distilled through the trend? Understanding design trends allows for faster assessment during the creative process, and can help steer products away from becoming the next “one of many”.
  • Take time to understand the platform specific interaction guidelines. I recommend starting with the The Human Interface Guidelines. They provide the baseline of knowledge around iOS development, and a deep understanding of the HIG allows for easier conversations with developers when it becomes necessary to break the standard.
  • Continually balance the advantages of a best practice, pattern or template with the value of a higher-touch solution. When considering the time or cost savings, also weigh the impact to users or longer-term impact to business value by not creating bespoke solutions.
  • Finally, think about the concept of engagement. One way of thinking about engagement is through the idea of flow. UX researcher Dana Chisnell explains flow as the ability to increase engagement and add depth to an experience through responsiveness, affordance and feedback, clear information architecture, matching challenges with skills and providing minimal distractions. She has a great article, Beyond Task Completion: Flow in Design, that is worth reading to learn more about the concepts.

Ultimately, creating a positive experience is not about having best practices. It’s about putting those practices into the right hands.

The UX Booth

This Better Call Saul trailer gives the best look yet at the Breaking Bad spinoff

After months of coyness, we’ve finally got a clear look at the upcoming Better Call Saul. Unlike previous glimpses of the Breaking Bad spin-off, AMC’s new 30-second trailer shows a more coherent montage of images from the life of amoral rascal Jimmy McGill, who eventually reinvents himself as the Jewish lawyer Saul Goodman for the “homeboys” who want “a pipe-hitting member of the tribe.” Here, we see Jimmy dramatically declaring that someone will atone for an undisclosed sin, Jimmy gagged and dropped onto the ground, and Jimmy being advised that his line of work can result in one being “so caught up in winning” that they “forget to listen to their heart.” The premiere will air in February over the course of two nights: Sunday, February…

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The Verge – All Posts

Europe votes in favor of breaking up Google

The European Parliament has today approved a non-binding resolution calling for the “unbundling of search engines from other commercial services” in order to ensure “competitive conditions within the digital single market.” This proposal stirred up plenty of discontent when it was revealed a week ago, but it has been affirmed in its original form today, including the controversial unbundling provision. Without the authority to act on this resolution itself, the European Parliament is asking the European Commission and the EU’s member states to ameliorate Google’s dominant and apparently discriminatory position in online search by forcing it to decouple its search and ads businesses. The language is strong, describing search engines as…

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The Verge – All Posts

‘Breaking Bad’ director Michelle MacLaren will direct ‘Wonder Woman’

Wonder Woman has finally found a director. According to The Hollywood Reporter, television director Michelle MacLaren has signed on to develop and direct the film, due out in 2017 with Gal Gadot in the title role. Batman v. Superman director Zack Snyder has been tapped to produce. The decision makes MacLaren the first female director to helm a tentpole superhero film in recent years, and only the second overall.

Warner Bros. reportedly conducted a long search for a female director for Wonder Woman, a movie about who might easily be comics’ most important female superhero. MacLaren is ultimately a solid choice — the Emmy Award winner has worked on popular shows like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and Games of Thrones during the course…

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The Verge – All Posts

Worse than Heartbleed? Today’s Bash bug could be breaking security for years

Linux users got a nasty surprise today, as a security team at Red Hat uncovered a subtle but dangerous bug in the Bash shell, one of the most versatile and widely used utilities in Linux. It’s being called the Bash bug, or Shellshock. When accessed properly, the bug allows for an attacker’s code to be executed as soon as the shell is invoked, leaving the door open for a wide variety of attacks. Worse yet, it appears the bug has been present in enterprise Linux software for a long time, so patching every instance may be easier said than done. Red Hat and Fedora have already released patches for the bug.

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Breaking the Constraints

On August 7, 2014, UX designers and developers around the world cheered to the news that Microsoft would officially drop support for older versions of Internet Explorer, effective January 2016. Yet by and large, the outcry was less “hooray for Microsoft!” and more “why didn’t they do this sooner?” The answer is “because people still use IE,” and yet people still use IE because it’s supported, and it’s supported because people use it. It’s a vicious cycle.

Two years ago, Nicholas Zakas wrote an article for Smashing Magazine entitled “It’s Time to Stop Blaming Internet Explorer,” in which he said:

It’s not actually old browsers that are holding back the web, it’s old ways of thinking about the Web that are holding back the Web.

He went on to explain that constraints will always exist, be they older browsers, business requirements, or user needs, and it’s the UX designer’s job to focus on what can be done rather than how to rid the world of the constraint. It’s an intriguing idea. We do work within constraints on every project, and many of them will never wane no matter how much we complain about them, but some constraints can be cracked, or at least altered, if we know where to begin.
We’re often told to ask for serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage (or coffee) to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. By understanding where constraints originate and why users react to a given constraint the way they do, we can gain the wisdom we need to identify whether each constraint should be accepted, or challenged.

The MAYA principle

Older browsers aren’t the only constraint subject to a vicious cycle. The same is true of any constraint that users are familiar with – users, after all, prefer “the devil they know.” Think, for example, of the best practice “keep the interface simple,” and how often it is broken because usability testing shows the site’s users don’t think to visit a second page, click on a “see more” link, or hover over a dropdown navigation.
As UX designers, we’re (generally speaking) technologically savvy with access to the latest design fads and sleekest interfaces. However, websites created for “everyone” must include the large portion of the population without our technological prowess – which means sometimes breaking with our sleek, hip best practices. It’s in creating for “everyone” that we settle into the cycle of “the users wouldn’t recognize anything else, so we can’t give them something new.”
The way to break out of this cycle is summarized by the industrial designer Raymond Lowey’s “MAYA principle.” The MAYA principle states that designers are responsible for creating the most advanced creations they can, without creating interactions or interfaces that users will be unable to understand. In this way, they can push the envelope bit by bit, gradually breaking out of old cycles and teaching users to recognize new concepts, be they a “swipe” as a method of scrolling or a phone as an acceptable camera-and-iPod replacement.
There are tools that can help users to progress to more advanced, yet still acceptable, ideas. For example:

  • Progressive reduction: providing beginners with additional content to help familiarize them with a new application. Essentially, this works as an in-context help manual.
  • Gradual rollouts: to upgrade an existing tool, follow Google’s plan for integrating Hangouts into Gmail. Rather than updating everyone at once, they are slowly rolling out the tool, allowing users to revert back to “classic chat” for over two years – though we’re approaching the mandatory update!
  • Skeuomorph for familiarity: when creating a new product, utilize familiar models to help users feel comfortable. Kindle, for example, has done a great job of maintaining a familiar “book” interface to help users with the transition away from paperbacks.

Any of these suggestions will help to move users away from potential constraints, but before we do that, we need to identify whether the constraint is, in fact, one to accept or challenge.

Identifying constraints

Much has been written on constraints’ ability to provide shape to creativity. Constraints can add inspiration, and enforce the need for simplicity. But constraints are like walls; some walls are helpful because they keep us from wandering too far astray. On the other hand, if walls are all around us, they merely box us in.
Scope, schedule, and resources are often acknowledged as the three primary constraints we come up against – the “Iron Triangle” of constraints, where each impacts the other two. If the scope is constrained, the project may become easier, as long as the schedule and resources are not also severely constrained. These three constraints are typically constraints that act as helpful walls, guiding us on our way.

The iron triangle: scope, schedule, and resources.

On the other hand, some constraints act as barriers. Common barriers include extremely limited budget, limited access to users or user research, clients who want a product without holistic thinking, a lack of development capabilities, or (of course) a user need that conflicts with a best practice – such as end users on IE 6.
The Indigo Studio Blog classifies a good constraint as “one that enables a designer to discover and realize a great design.” Barriers, however, do not enable designers; they block them from being able to help users, either because of a poor browser experience or because a business requirement has become a constraint that contradicts the user’s need. In the case of the latter, the constraint is unnecessary – and the key is the contradiction.
Identifying a constraint as good or bad is not the same as identifying whether it can be challenged. Unfortunately, some barriers exist for a reason. Just consider the struggles that educational apps face when attempting to create social areas for their users. Due to COPPA, a valuable law aimed at protecting children from privacy issues on the web, classroom teachers cannot sign students up for any website or application without parental approval, which can be difficult to obtain in homes with busy parents or neglected children (who are often those that would most benefit from educational sites). The constraints that COPPA inflicts are necessary, but they are not inspirational constraints. On the other hand, many organizations struggle with the constraint of users using older browsers. Some choose to develop for older browsers. Others simply redirect users on older browsers to pages recommending they upgrade.

Firefox recommends users upgrade to a newer version.

To identify whether a constraint is permanent, consider these three questions:

  1. Do I have the power to change this today?
  2. Do I know who to ask, to change this in the next few weeks or months?
  3. Are there steps I can take to change this gradually, over time?
    If the constraint comes in the form of business requirements contradicting user needs, a UX designer will likely know who to address and how to remove the barrier. However, if the constraint is due to browser choice, it will take more than stakeholders’ permission to change.

    Impacting change

    When it comes to cultural constraints – i.e. what users are familiar with – we are faced with the age-old philosophical question: what is our role as UX designers? Are we responsible for providing clients with what they want or with what will usher in the future of the web? The answer (also age-old) is both. We are responsible for finding the solution that achieves the MAYA principle and gradually moves users toward the future as we see it unfolding. That’s what it means to be specialists in a field that impacts nearly every human being on the planet.
    Thankfully, the end is near for the many constraints that come from IE 6 and 7, but not because Microsoft awoke one morning and decided to stop supporting older browsers. Their decision was likely based on data – such as the knowledge that IE users have dropped from 22% to 8% over the last three years. Users are dropping because of Chrome and Firefox’s marketing, to some extent, but also because of the work UX designers have done to help migrate older or less informed users to better experiences.
    It is not our responsibility to remove every constraint. It is, however, our responsibility to separate the useful constraints from the barriers, and continue the gradual fight against seemingly permanent walls.

The post Breaking the Constraints appeared first on UX Booth.

The UX Booth

Designer Illustrates 62 Breaking Bad Posters Based on Each Episode

Hungarian designer Zsolt Molnar spent over 5 months illustrating each and every episode of the AMC’s hit TV Show ‘Breaking Bad’. Zsolt admits that he was mesmerized with the depth of the show and spent almost 400 hours creating the posters, with each episode taking up to 6.5 hours per poster.

Zsolt’s designs were based on specific markers that surrounded the whole theme of each episode. Because of this you’ll feel like going through the whole show again once you go through these poster designs.

In one of his interviews he said that he was so blown away with the concept of the show that he created these illustrations just to create a ‘memento’ to honor the show and its writers. He initially made sketches and line drawings and then used Photoshop and Illustrator to finish and polish each design.

Zsolt’s work went viral soon after its completion and now it’s all over the web. You can visit his blog to take a look at his other work as well.

Breaking Bad Poster Series

breaking bad  poster tv illustrated Pilot
Breaking Bad – Pilot

breaking bad tv poster illustrated Cats in the Bag…
Breaking Bad – Cat’s in the Bag…

breaking bad  poster tv illustrated And the Cat’s in the Bag
Breaking Bad – …And the Cat’s in the Bag

breaking bad tv poster illustrated Cancer Man
Breaking Bad – Cancer Man

breaking bad  poster tv illustrated Gray Matter
Breaking Bad – Gray Matter

breaking bad tv poster illustrated Crazy Handful of Nothin
Breaking Bad – Crazy Handful of Nothin’

breaking bad  poster tv illustrated A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal
Breaking Bad – A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal

breaking bad tv poster illustrated Seven Thirty-Seven
Breaking Bad – Seven Thirty-Seven

breaking bad  poster tv illustrated Grilled
Breaking Bad – Grilled

breaking bad tv poster illustrated Bit by a Dead Bee
Breaking Bad – Bit by a Dead Bee

breaking bad  poster tv illustrated Down
Breaking Bad – Down

breaking bad tv poster illustrated Breakage
Breaking Bad – Breakage

breaking bad  poster tv illustrated Peekaboo
Breaking Bad – Peekaboo

View Posterology on Tumblr →

The post Designer Illustrates 62 Breaking Bad Posters Based on Each Episode appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.

Speckyboy Design Magazine

How to stop clients breaking their contracts

Read more about How to stop clients breaking their contracts at

Professional relationships are built on mutual trust and respect… and well-conceived contracts. Not surprisingly, as these factors go, so go your projects. Despite best intentions, there are some things that your clients might invite into your projects without understanding how they work to corrupt or destroy trust, respect and the things you’re working to create together. Important stuff, yes?

Creative Bloq

Interview: Rafael Grampá: The award-winning Brazilian cartoonist on breaking new creative ground—partnering with UK studio Red Knuckles to bring his characters to 3D life

Interview: Rafael Grampá

Advertorial content: In the world of comic books, it’s nearly impossible for an outsider to rise out of anonymity. However, that’s just what Brazilian cartoonist Rafael Grampá did in 2008 when he debuted his original series “Mesmo Delivery” in the…

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Cool Hunting

Meg Lewis on breaking industry rules

Read more about Meg Lewis on breaking industry rules at

One of the 10 nominees for Designer of the Year in the 2014 net Awards, Meg Lewis is founder and partner of web design, branding and illustration studio Ghos

Creative Bloq