Archive for February, 2011

Photoshop will kill your creativity

Posted on: February 28th, 2011 by Fransgaard 2 Comments

PSD kill

In recent months I have come across several non-connected people complaining about Photoshop in relations to designing website. My answer is always the same:

Photoshop is just a tool. If you rely on a single tool you are dependant on the creativity of the people who created this tool.

Using more tools means more than one choice; it means you are less reliant on the embedded creativity and it means the tools support your creativity and work for you.

Don’t get me wrong; Photoshop is my weapon of choice, I love Photoshop, but I use other tools where Photoshop do not immediately do what I have in mind and I have seen great work created by colleagues using a mix of tools. Here are some effective combos:

  • Pen’n’Paper/Photoshop – Just can’t knock this oldie
  • Photoshop/Fireworks– The added interactive features of Fireworks makes this a real interactive combo.
  • Illustrator/InDesign – Often used by print designers turned digital designers. Good for linking creative elements, bad for pixels in my view, but I have seen reasonable results.
  • Photoshop/Illustrator – This classic is often deployed by traditionally trained graphic designers (myself included).
  • HTML/Fireworks – Often wielded by self-taught web designers to great effect.
  • Fireworks/Photoshop/Axure – A real evolution that steps away from creative flat visuals and adds real interactive elements. Perfect for dynamic interfaces.

I have also seen some decent designs created by a specifically creative client in Powerpoint… it shouldn’t work, but it did for her and the final website didn’t look too far off her original scamps.

The tools within the tools

Using a broader selection of tools also goes for the tools within the tools. Using Photoshop as an example I have created a drop shadow on a basic square post-it note. I have done this exercise very quickly on purpose .

Post It notes

The post-it notes are identical, but the left one has a default Drop Shadow filter while the right one has a drop shadow created manually.

I won’t go into details how I created the manual shadow; It doesn’t matter since there are several ways to do it, but it took me around 3 minutes to do and I am happy to say I think it looks better than the standard Photoshop Drop Shadow filter.

That is not to say filters don’t have a purpose. In fact I used the Gaussian Blur filter in the process, but I didn’t rely solely on it. I used an array of tools to reach my vision of the drop shadow.

Lesson learned: Use as many tools as possible and use whatever works for you.

There’s only 416 serious Danish Tweeters

Posted on: February 23rd, 2011 by Fransgaard 2 Comments

According to this Danish newspaper article there are two million Facebook users in Denmark (population: 5,5 Million) but only 28,000 Twitter users of which only 416 are serious tweeters.

It doesn’t surprise me at all, but I don’t agree with all the reasons given in the article. They include:

1: The very high percentage of Danish Facebook users

I am not convinced Facebook and Twitter exclude the use of each other. They serve to different purposes.

2: The difficulty in communicating in 140 letters

While I appriciate some languages can convey more in 140 characters the Danish language does not provide a bigger barrier than most languages. I’d say it is on par with English and easier than German.

3: Danes do not need an alternative news channel

However, I do agree with this statement:

Danes do not need an alternative news channel.

Danish people have always had enough in themselves and in Denmark. In general they rarely seem interested in the global community and crave local/Danish news more than anything else. They are a bit like Hobbits in that sense:

Keep your nose out of trouble and no trouble will come to you.

This behaviour is actually quite similar to teenagers who generally don’t see the point in Twitter either. To them it is too broad, too global and as such not relevant enough for their defined and limited environment (ie. school, friends etc). I have noticed that when hobbies enter the scene teenagers do appear on Twitter, but other than that, Twitter doesn’t have a lot to offer teenagers.

So is that it? Is the answer really Danes do not care about anybody else but themselves?

…not quite.

Secret option 4: What language does Danes tweet?

Digging a bit deeper it turns that the survey concerns tweets with Danish content rather than tweets written by Danish people.

This makes a massive difference. Denmark is a small country and not a lot of people speak Danish in the world. To counteract this Danes are taught English from an early age and even before that we are fed English/American TV with subtitles rather than with Danish voice over.

Writing tweets written in Danish defies the purpose of Twitter as a global forum.  You instantly limit the reach of your tweets to only Danish speaking people which means the response you get is not representative of the collective knowledge on Twitter.

To get the full value of Twitter you need to reach as many as possible and to do that you need to use a language use more widely on a global scale. The Danes get that. Ofcourse they do.

416 is a funky number for a headline but I do not believe it represents the reality of seriously tweeting Danes of which many (possibly most) participate in the global conversation by tweeting in English.

Can a website be too user friendly?

Posted on: February 20th, 2011 by Fransgaard No Comments

The original version of this article can be seen at the Capgemini – Capping IT Off blog.

A recent discussion on Linkedin led me to post:

“Perhaps it is possible to make things too uniform or too easy for users?”

This may seem like an odd thing for an experienced UX designer to say. But the idea stuck with me and it made me think about the user experience we, as the UX community, aim to deliver and how we approach it.

  • We create fantastic structures to help users through different tasks as painless and fast as possible.
  • We follow tried and tested standards we know users react favourably to such as positioning the search box top-right and the logo top-left.
  • We use clearly identifiable coloured and underlined links and big button-like calls-to-actions to help and guide users. Yes, a button at the center of a landing page achieve most clicks.

…in the end, are we just creating the same website over and over? And what are the implications to the brand experience if all websites provide the same experience? Are we potentially missing a vital opportunity to create a memorable brand experience online by funneling users through our sites as fast as possible?

Delivering the right brand experience online

It makes sense for big e-commerce/ service sites to deliver a speedy, low-barrier web experience. They aim to reach as broad a segment of the population as possible and after all the average web user is impatient and just want to find that book, that flight or that baguette fast.

But when designing for more a brand-reliant client with a more much defined and brand-conscious audience it may be better to step back and look at the website as a broader experience and not just a quick checkout machine.

Yes, ofcourse we would like our customers to buy something, but are they buying a pair of jeans or are they buying an idea? To a brand architect the experience is part of the product. It is a tangible element as valuable (if not more valuable) than the fabric and the shape of the object. A facet with a value extending beyond the immediate purchase or even the life span of the product itself. Done right this brand experience can turn customers into brand ambassadors.

Customer turned brand ambassadors have always been valuable. They advocate the use and purchase of products to their friends and family. But with the introduction of social networks brand ambassadors can reach a much bigger group of listeners.

Bringing personality to the pixels

Creating a non-uniform website gives the site an exclusive personality. It makes it stand out by not conforming to the standards, by being independent and by stepping away from the grey masses of the world wide web.

If you are familiar with such a site and its interface you are “in”. You are member of the club of the independent site. You are a leader, not a follower, a digital rebel riding a pixelated chopper in the middle of the information highway.

In fact, I’d love to see a website with exclusive items that can only be accessed in a certain way. Maybe you need a password from a Tweet; Maybe the items can only be bought if you are in a certain physical location; Maybe you need an invite from a friend or maybe you need to scan that QR barcode stuck under Tower Bridge. Suddenly the website experience becomes a gaming experience.

Game on!

Creating a website with added friction to the experience goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of “Gamification”, the use of game play mechanics for non-game applications. Giving customers the opportunity to explore and achieve helps create a fun and memorable environment. Crediting people for their gaming efforts, be it badges or discounts, can also increase return usage of the website.

Adding friction to a web experience need to be done right and in that sense it is much like traditional graphic design; You need to learn the rules to break them effectively. Friction should be identifiable challenges with the promise of real wins and must never look like mistakes.

Conclusion

User experience is giving the users the best experience. However, it is too often seen as identical to giving the users the fastest experience, but this can be at the expense of a memorable experience.

Looking at user experience as a brand experience opens the door for long term customer relations possibilities extending beyond the website visit and beyond the single customer to their friends.

Rather than fast-track and forgettable task, users should have the freedom to enjoy brands online and be part of a memorable experience they want to share with their peers – our future customers.

Robert Fransgaard is a member of Capgemini UK’s User Experience and Rapid Design Visualisation team and a self-proclaimed digital native. You can find Robert on Twitter.