3/05/2015

What a Prototype Is (and Is Not)

A good user experience doesn’t get delivered just like that. It’s the result of the countless hours of efforts spent in the product development process, from conceptualization to the final delivery. It involves designing and redesigning your product or app based on a series of exhaustive user testing sessions, and let’s face it, you cannot perform a user testing session with static assets like wireframes or visual mockups. There has to be some sort of interactivity, otherwise your users won’t get a taste of how the product/app actually works.

This is where prototypes come in. There have been a number of occasions where I’ve seen people (both clients and users) not understand what a prototype actually is, and as a result, have ended up expecting all the wrong things from it.

What a Prototype Is Not
A prototype is not the final product. Do not expect it to look like the final product. It need not have a high fidelity or be pixel perfect.

I’ve seen clients and users look at prototypes and say things like: “That’s your final design?” or “Whoa! That is super ugly.” I’m pretty sure a lot of designers have faced this problem and have had a tough time explaining to their clients or users that what they are looking at is not the end product. Again, static assets like wireframes, visual mockups, etc. that show a single state cannot be considered prototypes. Prototypes have a high degree of interactivity.

What a Prototype Is
So what is a prototype? The answer: it’s a simulation of the final product. It’s like an interactive mockup that can have any degree of fidelity. The main purpose of building prototypes is to test whether or not the flow of the product is smooth and consistent.

Prototypes breathe life into any design and provide a great deal of insight into the user interaction at various levels. Not only do prototypes allow us to test the feasibility and usability of our designs before we actually begin writing code, they also lead to unexpected discoveries and innovations that may or may not take our project beyond its initial scope.

How Are Prototypes Created?
There are several tools and techniques that can be used for building prototypes. It is up to the designer to decide which they will use. Also, it’s completely up to the designer to decide the fidelity of their prototypes.

As a designer, I tend to choose low-fidelity over high-fidelity prototypes. Why? Well, as long as a prototype simulates the desired interaction flow and feel of the product, I’m good. Elements like visual design can take a back seat for the moment. And, to be fair, it takes less time and effort to build low-fidelity prototypes compared to their hi-fidelity counterparts.

A prototype is not the final product. Do not expect it to look like the final product.tweet this

The tools that I use (and also recommend) are paper, pencil, sticky notes, and index cards for paper prototyping, and Adobe Fireworks for building click-through prototypes. Each of these techniques—paper and click-through—have their own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Paper Please
In case of a paper prototypes the major advantage is that you can use the same pencil sketches you initially began your design process with. There might be different sketches displaying various screen states, index cards showing dropdowns, and sticky notes depicting modal windows; you can erase and make changes according to users’ expectations and comments—the possibilities are practically endless. But then, a paper prototype does not offer the feeling of “clickability” that a click-through prototype can. So if that is an issue for you, your users, or your clients, you can always use any tool of your choice to build click-through prototypes.

Let's Click-Through
Click-through prototypes take a lot more time to build than paper prototypes, but they do take care of the clickability issue. There are numerous tools you can use to build these kinds of prototypes, but my tool of choice for click-through prototypes is Adobe Fireworks. If you’re wondering why I defer to Adobe Fireworks, check out Mike Locke’s videos on Adobe Fireworks. He’s been in the industry for a long time and is a great advocate of this awesome tool.

Prototypes Are Powerful
I’ll conclude by reiterating that prototyping is an integral part of the UX design process. Let me put it this way: if delivering a good user experience is the ultimate goal of your project (which probably is), then you need to have at least some degree of prototyping.

What tool you use or what level of fidelity you choose is completely up to you. What’s important is to make this step a part of your design process.

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by Arijit Banerjee

2/07/2015

February 10 Webcast- Converting The Mobile SEM Visitor In 2015

Mobile search volumes are about to surpass desktop search. It’s forcing search marketers to rethink how they generate and analyze SEM conversions.
In this webcast, Search Engine Land contributing editor Greg Sterling will explain the important differences between mobile and desktop SEM and the new technologies impacting how people search. Attendees will learn how to create more effective search ads and landing pages specific to a mobile audience and how to optimize mobile AdWords campaigns for Google voice search.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 1:00 PM EST
More info: Click Here

1/14/2015

13 Steps to Effective Emails That Don't Suck

Three things that make an entrepreneur anxious: one, managing cash flow; two, finding the right partners/hiring the right team; and three, pressing the “send” button on an email campaign.
On the surface, email seems straightforward, not least because the people on your list have asked to receive your messages. (You are using an opt-in list, right? I hope so.) That’s an advantage: You have the privilege of interacting with a person by invitation, in the relatively intimate setting of the recipient’s inbox. All you need to do is create a compelling message, and boom—you’re done.
But email is the Rube Goldberg machine of online marketing: There are multiple moving parts in what has become a complicated process. Get one wrong, and you might jam up the whole apparatus. Here’s a checklist to follow to make sure your email machine performs flawlessly.

1. Spend as much time on the subject line as on the body of the email … 

The subject line is to the email what the headline is to an article or blog post. The most compelling prose or the most enticing offer in the galaxy isn’t going to do you a smidge of good if no one opens the email. The few words in the subject line are the most important words in the message, so they deserve extra love.
“The best subject lines use a mix of clear value to the recipient—concise language that’s not too dull or too clever, and an impetus to act,” says Hunter Boyle, senior business development manager for AWeber, an email marketing software company in Chalfont, Pa. “Picture your busy reader saying ‘So what?’ while skimming a full inbox,” he adds. “What can you say that grabs their interest in mere seconds?”
It helps to think of a specific problem that your offer or email resolves, then craft the subject line around that. For example, a message about a business coaching service might tap into the frustration mid-career people feel in their jobs. So your subject line might tease “5 signals you’ve dead-ended at your career” or “carve a new path while keeping your day job.”
The key to any good content, in a subject line or elsewhere, is this: Make it specific enough to be relevant, but universal enough to be relatable.

2. … but keep it brief. 

Emails with subject lines of six to 10 words have the highest open rates, yet most of those sent by marketers have subject lines of 11 to 15 words, according to a report from Santa Monica, Calif.-based Retention Science that analyzed 260 million delivered emails and 540 campaigns.
“All of us need to challenge ourselves to be brief and pack more power into fewer words,” Boyle says. “That’s why Twitter and blog-post headlines can be a great way to pretest subject-line verbiage.”

3. Make it smartphone-friendly. 

Don’t do anything that might render in a strange way on a small screen. The key here is that whatever email provider you use should rely on responsive design.

4. Use subheadlines. 

The seven to 10 words in a preview pane at the top of an HTML email are what the recipient will likely see first. Make sure you tailor the language of this subhead to expand on the subject line or explain it a bit further. Many of us squander this valuable spot by using template messaging such as “Having trouble reading this? View as webpage.” 
“Don’t waste this space!” Boyle says. “Think of it like a meta description tag in search-engine results, and use copy here to support your compelling subject line.”

5. Be a real person. 

Write with a point of view—from an actual person to an actual person. I don’t mean this literally: The “from” line might still be your company’s name, but the content should feel as if it comes from a human being, speaking in the first person (using “I” or “we” and addressing the recipient as “you”), with natural-sounding language.

6. Specify a call to action.

Make it as specific as you can—and say it twice within the email body. So instead of a generic “Get in touch,” try “Get a free 15-minute consult” or “Grab your own copy.”
I like how Joanna Wiebe of Victoria, British Columbia-based Copy Hackers described this approach during the Authority Intensive event last year in Denver: “Don’t amplify the act of proceeding, amplify the value of it. Not ‘Start free trial’ but ‘End scheduling hassles.’”

7. Use compelling images … 

Avoid boring, impersonal stock images in favor of unique ones that don’t look like they could appear anywhere else—including a competitor’s newsletter. Sources for stock images that don’t suck include Mountain View, Calif.-based Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that enables digital sharing through free (and legal!) tools. Its search function is like the Costco of photos, with content from numerous free sources—including Flickr, Google Images and Pixabay—all in one place.
Other image sources: Compfight, Dreamstime, Photo Pin, freeimages, Public Domain Pictures, Fotolia, Ancestry Images (old and antique prints, maps and portraits) and morgueFile (gratis if you give credit to the photographer). 
In all cases, make sure you read the fine print, because there are some restrictions on commercial use.

8. … or use animated images or a thumbnail/video link. 

If a picture is worth a thousand words, animated images or videos are even more valuable. You can embed a static thumbnail video image in an email that links to a video on a landing page, or you could create an animated GIF and embed it directly into the email. 
Various tools allow you to create GIFs—GIFMaker.me, MakeAGIF.com—while GifDeck allows you to turn a SlideShare into a cool, embeddable GIF that’s more compelling than a static image.

9. Include a P.S. 

A postscript after the main body can restate an offer, create a sense of urgency or add a bonus. Additionally, a P.S. is a chance to underscore your human, personal approach.
“There’s a reason we still see these in personal emails, sales emails and even direct mail—they still work,” Boyle says. “Since the P.S. is the end of the line, use it as a call to action that supports your primary offer rather than introducing an entirely new one. This way, people who skim and scroll right to the bottom still know what the big deal is—and they can act on it.”

10. Include feedback and forward mechanisms. 

Give your subscribers a way to share the email as well as get in touch—via share, forward-to-a-friend, blog comments or simple reply. 

11. Grade your email copy to be sure you aren’t talking above your audience. 

Some email providers include a grading or an assessment option. You could also use a service such as The Readability Test Tool (read-able.com), an alternative to the Flesch-Kincaid tool that’s built into Microsoft Word, which provides document-readability statistics, such as the grade level at which it’s written and how many passive sentences it contains.

12. Verify your links. 

Click them to be sure they work and go where you want them to.

13. Before pulling the trigger, send the email to yourself.

The marketing cliché “Always be testing” isn’t just for conversion optimization—“it’s a must for your email process,” Boyle says. “We all make mistakes, but having an experienced set of eyes proofreading every send makes a huge difference. Minimizing typos and, even worse, those dreaded ‘oops’ emails, builds confidence in your brand, so make the time!”

12/19/2014

Facebook’s new Messenger spin-off app lets you put stickers on your friends’ faces


Well, here’s something we weren’t expecting – Facebook is releasing a separate app for its Messenger stickers just in time for the holidays, dubbed Stickered for Messenger.

The new app basically just lets you add stickers to your photos and then send them to your friends on Messenger. You can finally put huge emoticons and cute cartoon animals over your friends’ faces easily.

Facebook is also introducing new holiday-themed tidbits to the regular Messenger app as well.  These include frames for your New Year’s Eve selfies, snow globe chat heads and holiday-themed sticker packs.


Stickered for Messenger will be available from the Play Store later today, and is “coming soon” to the iOS App Store.

12/17/2014

10 Responsive Design Problems and Fixes

The Internet is changing, with responsive websites quickly adapting to any device and screen size to bring the user the most dynamic experience possible. 


From multinational corporations like Sony, Microsoft, and Nokia to global tech stars like Salesforce to online travel giants like Expedia, serious players are turning to responsive web design to march in step with the current trends in and reach an even wider audience of customers.

But making responsive websites has its downsides. The value the site provides to the user is more important than ever, and aesthetics often take a backseat while performance reigns supreme. The problem is that performance cannot be mocked up in Photoshop, and new methods to meet design challenges have to be adopted. So here are 10 problems with creating responsive design websites, along with 10 possible solutions.

1. A More Problematic Visual Stage
In the past, the client had to approve static images and screenshots before development could begin. Today, designing can be a more chaotic and fluid process of sketching and prototyping where the focus is on designing elements and how they will be rearranged, depending on different device dimensions and resolutions.

Fix: There are two approaches to responsive sketching. One approach is creating sketches for a desktop home page, as well as every other website page, and then adapting them for the most popular tablet and mobile screen sizes and dimensions. Another approach is using paper and communicating to the client to demonstrate design layouts and how they will reflow on different screen sizes. Designing in the browser and working with HTML and CSS prototypes starts early on; creating a system of components and seeing how they can be reassembled for different configurations replaces the creation of wireframes for every single page and state. The chosen method is usually dictated by the complexity of the website.

2. Navigation
Before responsive design, every user knew where navigation was. Even though today, the three bars at the top left corner of the page usually represent the de facto navigation "button," many users still find it difficult to navigate beyond the menu, especially when it comes to websites with complicated structure. Today, the whole concept of navigation has to be reconsidered.

Fix: Designers should spend more time trying to make navigation intuitive and self-explanatory. Studying the website’s content and information architecture, and understanding users—how and why they browse the site—is the only way to make a unique navigation decision. In addition, testing navigation on as many products as possible can help developers get it right.

3. The Appearance of Background Images and Icons
Images are crucial to a user’s experience on the web. In responsive design, images and icons have to be flexible to allow users to enjoy the graphics on high pixel density devices, which are becoming more widespread. Making sure the images don’t look blurry and poorly scaled up is the goal of every designer and developer.

Fix: Lazy loading images can help optimize browser rendering and reduce the number of HTTP round trips by deferring the loading of images that are not in the client's view. Making icons scalable (using the SVG format, which keeps icons light yet high-quality) and retina-ready can also help users enjoy the website without loss of quality on any device.

4. Showing Data on Small Screens
Showing data tables (airline flight timetables, for instance) on small screens is a real problem when the tables are complex and convoluted. It doesn’t help that they are also often large with a great number of rows and columns.

Fix: Responsive tables are the best bet right now. There are also other methods: abandoning the grid layout and creating a smaller table that doesn’t call for horizontal scrolling; building more compact pie charts out of tables; replacing tables with smaller versions while offering a link to the full version; hiding unimportant elements on small screens with a dropdown menu with access to the full table; rainbow tables where colors are used instead of columns; and even flipping the table on its side to make it fit.

5. Creating Rich Experiences that Load Fast
One of the biggest challenges is finding the balance between a rich user experience and the fast-paced nature of the Internet. Responsive websites sometimes weigh a lot, and because they attract traffic from both desktops and mobile devices, the experience can suffer from slow loading times. This means losing business, as the majority of mobile users leave after five seconds of not getting what they expect.

Fix: The solution is conditional loading, which allows for loading of only what users need, when they need it. The rule of thumb is this: first load content, then enhancements, then leftovers. With users so used to lots of images, galleries, documents, downloads, etc. on awebsite, with the mobile-first approach, designers should take care to keep only the elements that are absolutely necessary to convey the message of the website. Because the proliferation of mobile devices is outpacing desktops, conditional loading is the way to go. And since in conditional loading many automation tools for scaling and caching images are used, it makes future changes to the site easier and faster. Also, assuming that the user connection is not perfect is a must to provide high performance.

6. Longer Designing, Developing, and Testing Periods
Because responsive websites have to work amazingly well on multiple (very different) devices—all while boasting rich functionality and complicated design elements—they often take longer to design, develop, and test. Usually it takes about twice as long to design a responsive site compared to a regular site.

Fix: The problem already contains a solution. Even though responsive sites may take longer to create, they are also better candidates for gradual change and natural evolution. Instead of having to implement major overhauls to a website, which are costly and lengthy, responsive sites can evolve step-by-step, saving owners a lot of time and effort in the long run.

7. Hiding and Removing Content
Websites with complicated UI elements, advanced search features, multi-step forms, data tables, calculators, dashboards with third-party scripts, and so on often pose a problem because they simply contain too much information. The approach so far has been to hide or remove content from users, but many people feel they deserve access to all information, even if they are browsing on a small device. In some cases, there is no way for a user to get the full version of the website they are browsing.

Fix: Thorough planning from the onset that determines where content is arranged in a way that doesn’t force developers to hide anything is the solution. The goal should be to optimize as much as possible, remove unnecessary elements from early drafts and focus on the core structure of the website, without adding any bells and whistles. Now is not the time to embellish, but to prioritize and cut. It is always best to give the user the possibility to have access to the full version of the website, if they choose to do so.

8. Converting Fixed Sites Into Responsive Ones
This is a huge dilemma: is it necessary to change the less flexible code of fixed-layout websites or can they be left as they are and still provide acceptable performance?

Fix: The conversion process is a challenging, but for light and simple websites, it’s feasible and has been done successfully in the past. The choice is often to reverse style sheets and templates or start a greenfield rebuild, which is a process of rebuilding the site without the need to consider any prior work. When you have a bigger, complicated website, a greenfield rebuild is a better option than not doing a conversion at all.

9. Older Versions of Internet Explorer Don’t Support CSS3 Media Queries
When working with mobile-first techniques, your website might not display properly on older versions of IE. In these cases, developers should find a way to support an older website on mobile devices.

Fix: It is best to take care of Internet Explorer users and to offer them a handy solution. An experienced designer can easily change page layouts, depending on the size of the browser window, using JavaScript. With a goal of maintaining the original layout, the solution is to use polyfill, which is a portion of code that provides the technology that developers expect the browser to provide natively. Another fix may be to use a conditional IE style sheet with elementary styling or do nothing at all if it looks passable. It all depends on the needs of the end user.

10. Not Everyone Understands Why They Should Go Responsive
The process of working with clients is not always structured and orderly, and the methodologies for responsive design are still being refined and tested. Solutions to challenges are rarely set in stone, which sometimes creates uncertainty and confusion for clients.

Fix: Showing the benefits of responsive design in action is the best way to get positive feedback and approval. Responsive design can prove itself a significant advantage in the market in terms of multi-device functionality, making future fixes easy, and appealing to a much widest audience of users.

Conclusion

Even though responsive design is becoming more popular, there are still many questions left unanswered and no official solutions to the challenges that this trend poses. The most important thing to remember is that responsive design should improve experiences, not reduce opportunities for users, and all designer and developer efforts should be aimed at making that goal a reality.

Source: Kirill Strelchenko

12/12/2014

2015 SEO and PPC Strategies for Your Startup

Holiday shopping has started, but that doesn't mean the search engines are giving you a break. There have been a lot of deals in the last few weeks, as well as algorithm updates over the last couple of months.

Holiday shopping has started, but that doesn't mean the search engines are giving you a break. There has been a lot of deals in the last few weeks, as well as algorithm updates over the last couple of months. With everything going on, now is the time to think about your 2015 SEO and PPC strategies.
Whether you haven't thought about mobile, haven't tried optimizing for Bing/Yahoo! or you haven't reallocated your budget to spend more in another channel, you may want to get started. Here are a couple of reasons why:

PPC

As of two weeks ago, Firefox signed a deal to make Yahoo! its new default engine. Siri and Facebook are using Bing, and that means big trouble for Google. With a large portion of Facebook, email and social media users on mobile devices, and mobile device sales increasing with desktop shrinking, this opens up a huge opportunity to not be dependent on one PPC system.
Depending on when the moves take place, you should be planning to invest more into Yahoo! and Bing instead of the normal 70/30, 80/20 or 90/10 split. When these large sources of traffic have a new engine, and if the continued shift from desktop to mobile device continues, this is where your future traffic and sales could be. Make sure to look at how to convert Yahoo! and Bing better so that if they continue to gain market share, your website and sales funnels are ready.

SEO

If Yahoo! can continue to take market share or reach a goal of becoming the default engine for iPhone and iPad, Google could be in trouble. This means more Facebook, Twitter and other mobile traffic sources may be opening up Yahoo! searches instead of Google.
Google is also rolling out mobile icons next to search engine results for sites that it feels are mobile friendly. With these changes it is important to watch out for and take action on a few things.
1. Make sure your site is mobile friendly and optimized. If end users start to use the icon and you don't have one, it may mean your site gets skipped over and eventually gets a penalty for mobile search.
2. Pay more attention to ranking reports and positions in Yahoo!/Bing. Although the traffic doesn't come anywhere close to Google yet, with the current changes taking place, optimizing for these two could mean large rewards in the near future.
3. Find tools like UpCity.com which give you ranking reports by day/week/month in Google and also in Yahoo!/Bing so you can compare them. This is very important for the future of SEO.
If something was good for Google but bad for Yahoo!/Bing, you know to no longer do it if the traffic shifts change. If it was good for Google and had a positive impact on Yahoo!/Bing then you want to remember what the changes were and test them more.
Search marketing experts like Adam Riemer are also saying:
"Microsoft uses bing for clip art search, Siri uses bing, Facebook uses bing, Firefox uses Yahoo! as a new default, if you aren't prepared for a mobile search shift with a multi-engine marketplace with tools and by tracking your negative and positive effects from optimizing for Google on Yahoo! and Bing, you will be left behind!"
The SEO landscape has always changed with Google alone. When you throw the large new traffic sources into Yahoo! and Bing, the world of SEO just became a lot trickier. Moving into 2015, make sure you site is mobile friendly, and you have your Bing webmaster tools set up properly since Bing/Yahoo! are becoming players again.

12/07/2014

Report: U.S. Mobile Search Spend Expected To Overtake Desktop Next Year

eMarketer's lastest estimates encompass PPC and SEO spending on smartphones and tablets.

Starting next year, marketers in the U.S. will spend more on mobile search — both PPC ads and SEO –  than on desktop, according to a new report from digital research firm, eMarketer.
Just last year, the firm estimates, less than a quarter of search spend went to mobile. The report suggests that the tables will turn entirely by 2018, with mobile accounting for 76.7 percent of search spending.
EMarketer includes both tablets and smartphones in its mobile numbers, but says the dramatic shift is being driven primarily by smartphones. Still, it’s worth noting that the market doesn’t have much control over what gets allocated to search advertising on tablets.
Google’s enhanced campaigns eliminated the ability to bid separately on tablet and desktop traffic last year. Bing Ads followed Google’s lead this year and also combined desktop and tablet traffic this fall.
Additionally, because SEO is included in these estimates, it’s not clear what the shift in ad spending actually looks like.

What is UX Design?


History of Programming Languages (Infographic)